Year B – 4th Sunday of Lent

Second Chances

(2Chron.36:14-16, 19-23; Eph.2:4-10; Jn.3:14-21)

What would you do if you were offered a second chance?

In Victor Hugo’s famous story Les Misérables, Jean Valjean is caught stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving family. He’s sent to gaol and when he’s released years later, he’s totally destitute. No-one wants him. A bishop offers him food, shelter and hope, but Jean responds by stealing his silverware.

Again he is caught, but this time the bishop tells the police the silverware was a gift. Jean is stunned. Later, the bishop says to him: ‘You no longer belong to evil, but to good. It’s your soul I am buying for you… and I give it to God!’

Jean is given another chance. He accepts it and his life is transformed.

This is a great story, but what makes it stand out is the fact that our world today is so cruelly unforgiving. If someone makes a mistake, they’re more likely to receive a cold shoulder than a second chance. And yet, it’s natural for us to make mistakes.

Learning and growing can take us a lifetime.

If you need a second chance right now, it’s worth noting that that’s exactly what God is offering us. From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the Heavenly Garden in Revelation, the Bible is packed full of stories about God giving people another go.

There are so many examples. Adam and Eve disobey God; Jonah escapes from God; David commits adultery and has someone murdered; Rahab is a prostitute and Peter denies Jesus three times. But God doesn’t reject any of these people. He gives them all a chance to redeem themselves, and they do.

Then there’s Moses. He murders a man, but God still asks him to lead His people. Then after receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses gets angry with his people’s golden calf worship and he smashes those tablets. He regrets it, though, and expects to be punished, but he finds himself with two new tablets instead (Deut.9-10).

And Zacchaeus, the pint-sized tax collector in Jericho, feels guilty for his greed. The people hate him, but Jesus doesn’t. Jesus invites him to a meal and offers him a fresh start.

The Woman at the Well, too, has lived a life of sin. She’s shunned by her community and filled with shame. But when she goes looking for water, she finds Jesus instead and He offers her hope. Her life is also transformed (Jn.4).

Then there’s that famous fruitless fig tree. Its owner wants to chop it down, but the vinedresser says ‘Give it another chance!’ The owner agrees, and gives it another year (Lk.13:6-9).

But perhaps the most famous second chance story of all is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where the son insults his father by leaving home and taking his inheritance with him. After getting into trouble, the boy returns home, but the father doesn’t punish him. Instead, he celebrates his return with a feast of love.

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All through the Scriptures there’s this constant thread of stories about people being given another chance in life. And underpinning it all is today’s Gospel, with perhaps the most famous Biblical verse of all time: ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life,’ (Jn.3:16).

This one sentence summarises not only the Gospel, but also the whole Bible, and it explains God’s plan from the beginning of time.

It points out how much God loves us, because He gave us His only Son, and it promises that if we truly believe in Jesus, then we will live forever with him in heaven.

Now, it’s worth noting here that Jesus says ‘everyone’ – not ‘some people’ but everyone, regardless of who we are, where we come from and what we might have done. We’re all being offered a second chance at life, regardless of our circumstances (Prov.28:13; 2Pet.3:9).

All we have to do is take Jesus into our hearts and trust Him. 

Right now we are in Lent, and Lent is the perfect time for us to reflect on this message, because it’s central to Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are all about second chances – and new life.

By his Cross and resurrection, Jesus shows us that it’s always possible to break free from our past, to begin a new life in the light of God’s grace. 

This is the paschal mystery, and the heart of our Christian story.

There’s new life waiting for us all.

Year B – 3rd Sunday of Lent

The Long Nose of God

(Ex.20:1-17; 1Cor.1:22-25; Jn.2:13-25)

One of the most famous descriptions of God in the Bible comes from the Book of Exodus, where He is described as ‘… the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness and truth…’ (Ex.34:6-7).

In the original Hebrew, the phrase ‘slow to anger’ reads: אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם (pronounced: erech apayyim), which means ‘He has a long nose.’ What does that mean?

When we get angry, our nostrils tend to flare, especially when we express our indignation. So, saying that God has a long nose is an ancient Hebrew expression, meaning that God is very slow to anger. [i]

We can be grateful for that, because many people today seem to have very short noses; they are often angry. Consider the story of the young woman who was engaged to be married. Her fiancé had saved $360 to buy her a Valentine’s Day gift. But she was tempestuous, so he decided to deduct $1 whenever she yelled at him.

By Valentine’s Day, all he had left was $40.

Benjamin Franklin once said that whatever is begun in anger ends in shame. But is that always the case?

In the Old Testament, the first person who gets angry is Cain. He is so jealous of his brother Abel that he kills him (Gen.4:1-8). And in the New Testament, the first person to get angry is Herod. He gets so angry that he decides to kill all the male infants in and near Bethlehem (Mt.2:16).

These acts are shameful, but Jesus demonstrates that anger can also be a normal, healthy emotion that leads to positive change.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in Jerusalem celebrating the feast of Passover. Every year, thousands of people went there to thank God for freeing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

Now, the Jerusalem Temple is meant to be a sacred place of worship. But Jesus finds that it’s become a noisy bazaar, with merchants selling animals for sacrifice. He’s furious and cracks a whip, telling them to get out. ‘Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’ he roars, and the place clears.

In one sense, Jesus’ action is not surprising because the prophet Zechariah predicts it in the Old Testament; ‘There will be no more traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day’ (Zech.14:21).

But at the same time, Jesus shocks everyone because He’s condemning the whole system of Jewish worship. He’s declaring that Temple worship, with its ritual and animal sacrifices, has become irrelevant and is no longer effective in bringing people to God.

Jesus is protesting that religion has become too narrow, nationalistic and exclusive, for Israel has failed to fulfil her mission. God had wanted the Temple to become a house of prayer ‘for all nations.’ But instead, the Temple has been kept exclusively for the people of Israel.

The area where the Jews had set up this marketplace was called the Court of the Gentiles. It was the only part of the Temple where non-Jews were allowed to pray. But the hustle, bustle and noise of the traders made that impossible. [ii]

The people are shocked by Jesus’ anger; however, it isn’t uncontrolled rage. Rather, He’s demonstrating his authority. He makes it clear that everyone is important to God: both Gentiles and Jews.

In the process, Jesus changes the way people worship: from sacrificial to spiritual worship. And He teaches us that anger can be a natural and important way to express emotion.

The American theologian Brian McLaren describes anger as a source of creativity; a vaccination against apathy and complacency; a gift that can be abused – or wisely used; and part of the gift of being human and alive.

He compares it to the physical pain reflex. He writes: ‘What pain is to my body, anger is to my soul, psyche, or inner self. When I put my hand on a hot stove, physical pain reflexes make me react quickly, to urgently address whatever is damaging my fragile tissues. Physical pain must be strong enough to prompt me to action, immediate action, or I will be harmed, even killed.  

‘Similarly, when I or someone I love is in the company of insult, injustice, injury, degradation, or threat, anger awakens. It tells me to change my posture or position; it demands that I address the threat.’ [iii]

We can be thankful that God has a ‘long nose,’ for it means that he’s patient with us. But anger isn’t always such a bad thing.

Jesus shows us that anger can be a gift from God, especially when it prompts us to say ‘Enough is enough!’


[ii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year B, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2017:82.

[iii] Brian McLaren, quoted in Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations: Anger Does Its Work, January 18, 2023.

Year B – 2nd Sunday of Lent

The Holy Face of Jesus

(Gen.22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Rom.8:31-34; Mk.9:2-10)

What did Jesus really look like? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t tell us, and we have no 1st Century pictures of Him.

One guess is that Jesus looked ordinary (Is.53:2), and much like other Palestinian men of the time. That might explain why Judas had to point Him out in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jn.18:4-9).

Whatever Jesus’ appearance, though, we know from today’s Gospel that it changes there on Mt Tabor. For but a moment, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes become dazzlingly white, His ‘face shines like the sun’ (Mt.17:2), and the disciples briefly see Jesus as He truly is: the Son of God.

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Ever since then, people have been fascinated by Jesus’ Holy Face. Today there are so many icons, paintings and statues of Jesus; most depict Him as tall, lean and handsome, with long hair and a beard. This image was heavily influenced by the Shroud of Turin, which was discovered in France in the fourteenth century. [i]

At about that time, a Eucharistic miracle occurred in Walldurn, Germany. A priest accidentally spilled the Precious Blood during Mass, and an image of the Crucified Christ mysteriously appeared on the corporal, surrounded by eleven identical faces of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns. Pope Eugene confirmed this miracle in 1445, and it spurred great devotion to Jesus’ Holy Face. [ii]

This devotion spread further in the 1840s, when a young Carmelite nun, Sr Marie of St. Peter, in Tours, France, reported receiving messages from Jesus. Jesus encouraged her to spread devotion to His Holy Face, and said to her: ‘Those who contemplate the wounds on my face here on earth will contemplate it radiant in heaven.’

Jesus also described to Sr Marie the pain he feels when people blaspheme against His Holy Name. He called it ‘a poison arrow’ that pierces His heart. Then He gave her a prayer called The Golden Arrow, and said that anyone saying these words would pierce Him delightfully, and would help to heal the wounds that have been inflicted on Him:

Year B - 2nd Sunday of Lent 2
      May the most Holy, most Sacred, most Adorable,
      Most Incomprehensible and Ineffable Name of God
      Be always Praised, Blessed, Loved, Adored and Glorified,
      In Heaven, on Earth and in Hell,
      By all the Creatures of God,
      And by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
      In the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. 

In those days, Leon Dupont was a wealthy man living in Tours. He knew Sr Marie well and took great interest in her revelations. He dedicated his life to encouraging devotion to Jesus’ Holy Face, and when he died in 1876, his home was turned into the Oratory of the Holy Face. [iii]

Sometime later, St. Louis Martin, the father of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, visited that Oratory and enrolled his family as members. It had quite an effect, because when Thérèse joined the Carmelites, she formally adopted the name ‘Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face.’

Jesus’ image was everything to her. It inspired her to look for his hidden face everywhere, and she wrote many prayers expressing her love for him. In her Canticle to the Holy Face (1895), Thérèse wrote, ‘Jesus, your… image is the star which guides my steps… Your sweet face is for me heaven on earth.’

She also wrote, ‘Make me resemble you, Jesus!’ on a small card and put a stamp of the Holy Face on it. She kept it in a little box pinned near her heart.

In the 1890s, photos of the Holy Shroud of Turin were first published and interest in the Holy Face of Jesus grew even more.

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At about this time, another child was born in Milan, and in time she, too, became very devoted to Jesus’ Holy Face. In 1913, she joined a convent and took the name Sr Maria Pierina de Micheli.

In 1926, she started getting visions of Christ in which He asked her to spread devotion to His Holy Face. He wanted reparation for all the insults He had suffered during His Passion, when He was slapped, spat upon and kissed by Judas, and for all the ways He is dishonoured today through neglect, sacrilege and profanity.

‘Whoever meditates upon Me, consoles Me,’ Jesus said, and He asked Sr Maria to have medals of His Holy Face made. She achieved that, and today these medals include an image from the Shroud of Turin.[iv] [v]

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The transfiguration of Jesus is not just a historical event. It’s an invitation to each of us to get to know Jesus much better, by adoring His Holy Face.

And as we do that, remember that our adoration and prayers will help to heal His terrible wounds.

[i] Edward Lucie-Smith. The Face of Jesus. Abrams, New York. 2011:14-18.





Year B – 1st Sunday of Lent

Busy, Busy

(Lev.13:1-2, 44-46; 1Cor.10:31-11:1; Mk.1:40-45)

In 1930, the British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that we’d all be living in a ‘leisure society’ in the 21st Century.

He thought that because of growing populations, rising incomes and modern technology, we’d all be enjoying a 15-hour working week by 2030.[i]

He was wrong, wasn’t he? Today the standard working week in many countries is 40 hours, but many of us work much longer than that. The social researcher Hugh MacKay says we’ve all become obsessed with the idea of appearing busy, and ‘busy, busy’ has become a kind of mantra in our lives. [ii]  Why?

One answer is that our society thinks it’s important that we ‘have it all’ and that we look successful. So, we work long hours to pay for everything, and working hard has become a sign of success. But some people are now so successful that they don’t even have time for their families.

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There’s another reason why we’re so busy. Geoffrey Plant, in his book Releasing the Captive, says we often keep ourselves busy to avoid listening, for frantic busyness can be a wonderful hiding place. He says that if you stay busy for long enough, you might never have time to listen and you might never have time to look at the things and the people you’d rather not see. You also might never have to face the situations or questions you’d rather avoid. [iii]

In his book Christian Reflections, C.S. Lewis tells us how to dodge these awkward things. All we have to do, he says, is ‘…avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads us off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or snobbish appeal.’ [iv]

So, keeping ourselves distracted is a good way to side-step the truth of our lives. However, the Tibetan teacher Sogyal Rinpoche says this is a form of laziness. In his Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, he contrasts Eastern and Western types of laziness and says they’re quite different.

Western laziness, he says, ‘consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there’s no time at all to confront the real issues.’ [v]

Is that you? Are you constantly filling time and killing time?

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Many people today are so fed up with their frenzied lives that they dream of a sea-change or a tree-change. I expect, however, that what most of us really need is a ‘me-change.’

In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to Galilee after 40 days in the desert, and he tells his followers to ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel’.

Now, repentance doesn’t mean being sad and miserable and feeling guilty for our sins. Repentance means changing the way we think, changing the way we feel, and changing the way we do things.

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, and in Lent we’re all called to follow Jesus into the desert. Not a physical desert, but a spiritual desert, a quiet place where we’re alone with Jesus in our hearts.

But why a desert?

Well, the desert is many things. It’s a holy place. It’s where the Jewish people found their way to God. It’s where they first discovered that God loved them, and it’s where they learnt to become faithful and loving.

The desert is also a place of silence and solitude. It’s a place of blue skies, bold colours and sharp contrasts. It’s where there are few distractions and the truth is plain to see. And importantly, it’s a place where everything slows down.

We don’t need a sea-change or a tree-change to find inner peace. Instead, let’s try a ‘me-change,’ by withdrawing with Jesus into our spiritual hearts.

Jesus wants us to step off our ‘busy, busy’ treadmills, and start spending quiet time with Him, listening to Him and learning from Him.

We don’t have to fear what we might find. Jesus was tempted in the desert, but He was also comforted by God’s angels. And when He left the desert, He was crystal clear about what he had to do.

Let’s do the same this Lent.

Let’s spend some quiet time with Jesus in the desert.

[i] John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. 1930.   


[iii] Geoffrey Plant. Releasing the Captive. Garratt Publishing, Melbourne, 2011.

[iv] C.S. Lewis, The Seeing Eye, from Christian Reflections, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI. 1995:167-169, 171. 

[v] Sogyal Rinpoche. Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Ebury Publishing, London. 1992:19 

Year B – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus’ Hands

(Lev.13:1-2, 44-46; 1Cor.10:31-11:1; Mk.1:40-45)

Leprosy was a big issue in ancient times; that’s why the Bible mentions it 68 times.

In those days, leprosy meant more than what we now call ‘Hansen’s Disease.’ It included many infectious skin disorders, and even mould and mildew on clothes. [i]

It was devastating to be caught with this condition, because under Jewish law all lepers were banished from their family and community – for life.

In today’s Gospel, a leper sees Jesus and says, ‘If you want to, you can cure me.’ His faith must have been strong because he risks being stoned for breaking the law.

‘Of course I want to!’ Jesus replies, and then He breaks the law Himself by reaching out to touch him. ‘Be cured’ Jesus says, and he is.

This simple act of touching and healing totally transforms this man’s life. He’s so excited that he tells everyone.  

But why does Jesus actually touch him? It’s because he needs more than a physical cure. He needs spiritual healing, too.

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Our hands, and our sense of touch, play a critical role in our lives. Scientists tell us that touch is the first sense we develop in the womb, and that social touching is critical to every child’s development. They also say that our fingers are more sensitive than our eyes, and that touching often communicates emotions more effectively than voice or facial expressions. [ii]

In his book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind, David Linden says that the experience of touch is intrinsically emotional, and this is reflected in such expressions as, ‘I’m touched by your concern’ and ‘I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.’ We also call emotionally clumsy people ‘tactless,’ because they lack touch. [iii]

Touching, therefore, is powerful. It can say far more than mere words, and that’s why Jesus chooses to touch this man.

Now, Jesus has remarkable hands. As an artisan, His hands are strong and precise, but they’re also calloused and weather-beaten. They are powerful, because they give life to the dead (Lk.7:11-15). They are gentle, for they wash His disciples’ feet (Jn.13:1-17). And they are cruelly tortured, when He is nailed to the Cross.

Jesus often uses His hands to heal people, including Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk.1:30-31), a 12-year-old girl (Mt.9:25), a blind man (Mk.8:22-26) and a deaf person (Mk.7:31-37), among others.

And some people find themselves healed when they touch Jesus (Lk.6:18-19), like the woman who touches His prayer shawl. ‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asks, as He feels the energy drain from Him (Lk.8:43-48). He clearly understands what hands can do.

There’s a powerful touch in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son, too. When the wayward son returns home, the father is so filled with compassion that he runs to his son, hugs him closely and kisses him (Lk.15:20).

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Pope Francis did something similar in Italy, in 2013, when he embraced and kissed a severely disfigured man. That man was Vinicio Riva, who suffered from a genetic disease called neurofibromatosis. Many were shocked, but Vinicio was so moved by being touched by the Pope that he described it as ‘paradise.’ He said it felt like his heart was leaving his body.

Vinicio wasn’t cured, but he was healed, for his life was utterly transformed. [iv]

St Teresa of Calcutta also used her gentle touch to transform the lives of others. Every day she channelled Jesus’ love through her hands when she cared for the poor and sick in the streets of Calcutta.

St Catherine of Siena did the same in the 14th Century. One of her patients was an unhappy woman with leprosy who abused her constantly. But by gently caring for her with her hands, St Catherine won her over and the woman died in her arms. [v]

Today, Jesus has no hands but ours, and He wants us to use them to transform the lives of others.

Many people today are reluctant to touch others because of risks associated with the pandemic and the abuse crisis. However, let’s not forget that the Gospels refer to ‘hands,’ ‘touch’ and ‘fingers’ almost 200 times, and healthy touching is important for our personal wellbeing.

It also remains a powerful way to express love and demonstrate our wholesome connection with others.

There are many healthy ways we can use our hands: like offering someone a warm handshake, giving them a hug or a pat on the back, writing them a letter, giving them a gift, or offering a helping hand.

What can you do to touch someone’s life in a meaningful way?

[i] Gillen, Alan L. The Genesis of Germs. Master Books, Forest Green, AR. 2007:143 


[iii] Linden, David J. Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind. Penguin Books, New York. 2016:3. 



Year B – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Power of Healing

(Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1Cor.9:16-19, 22-23; Mk.1:29-39)

Today’s first reading is about Job, a good man with a big family who has it all. But he loses everything: his family, his wealth, his health.  He becomes so miserable he thinks he’ll never be happy again.

Job’s story reminds us that suffering is universal. Everyone suffers in some way. Everyone. It’s just the nature, timing and depth of the suffering that varies.

What can we do about it?

In Mark’s Gospel today, Peter’s mother-in-law is in Capernaum and she has a fever. There were swamps nearby, so she might have had malaria. But Jesus is in town and Peter asks Him to heal her. He does, but after she’s healed, she doesn’t sit around. She gets up and looks after Jesus and the other guests. 

Word then spreads, and most of the town arrives at Peter’s door. They all want help and healing, too. Early the next day, Jesus goes somewhere quiet to pray. But his disciples soon track him down because even more people want His help.

Instead of rushing back, though, Jesus says, ‘Let’s go elsewhere, to the neighbouring towns, so that I can preach there too, for that’s why I came.’

Now, this surprises some people. Why didn’t Jesus go back? Isn’t His mission to help people?

Yes, Jesus’ mission is to help people. But Jesus does more than cure people. He heals them, too. There’s a difference.

In 1997, the American writer Ram Dass had a massive stroke, and it taught him the difference between a cure and healing. He once wrote, ‘While cures aim at returning our bodies to what they were in the past, healing uses what is present to move us more deeply into soul awareness, and in some cases physical improvement. Although I’ve not been cured of the physical effects of my stroke, I’ve certainly undergone profound healings of body and mind.’

‘In other words,’ he says, ‘healing, which refers to the soul, can happen without cure, which refers to the body. In fact, it’s often in the uncured sickness that the healing begins.’ [i]

What he’s saying is that cures seek to fix a specific problem, like a headache. Cures work from outside in, trying to eliminate the physical presence of that problem. But that’s all they do. They don’t address the causes. 

Your headache might be gone, but the cause is still there. Other issues may also be present.

That’s where healing comes in.

Healing works from the inside out, and it begins with the soul. It works with everything inside us: our hearts, our minds, our bodies; transforming us, making us whole and helping us to function more effectively.

As human beings, even when we’re baptised, we all live in flawed ‘earthen vessels’ (2Cor.4:7). We’re all subject to sin, suffering, disease and death. The only way to overcome these burdens is through the mercy of God.

Jesus is always with us, and most especially when we’re sick and suffering. He stands with us, offering us His peace and love, His strength and healing. But before we can receive these blessings, we need to open up our hearts to accept them.

There in Capernaum, Peter’s mother-in-law did open up her heart to Jesus, and she’s not only cured – she’s healed. We know this from the way she jumps up and starts caring for her guests. Now she’s living life to the full.

That’s what Jesus wants for us. Lives focussed not so much on ourselves, but on those around us. That’s true healing. It’s personal transformation, and sometimes it comes without a cure.

That’s why Jesus doesn’t rush back to that town. He goes to spread the good news to others, so that they too might be healed and then live lives of loving service to others.

Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights campaigner, understood this. Rather like Job in our first reading, he suffered greatly through his life.

He once said, ‘As my sufferings mounted, I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation – either to react with bitterness or to seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.’ [ii] In other words, he decided to allow himself to heal from the inside out.

That’s what Jesus wants us to do.

We don’t have to be bitter about our illness or suffering. We don’t have to be miserable like Job. We all have the choice to accept Christ’s healing touch, to allow ourselves to be creatively transformed, from the inside out. 

And like Peter’s mother, when we are transformed we must share that healing with others.

[i] Ram Dass, quoted in Bausch, W.J. Touching the Heart: Tales for the Human Journey. Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT. 2007:255.

[ii] Martin Luther King.

Year B – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When Nasty Things Seem Very Attractive

(Deut.18:15-20; 1Cor.7:32-35; Mk.1:21-28)

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus begins His public life by preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 

While He’s preaching, a man possessed by a demon calls out, ‘What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come here to destroy us?’ Jesus then reveals His power and authority by commanding the demon to leave that poor man. The demon obeys and that distressed man gets his life back.

It’s significant that before starting His public ministry, Jesus is baptised and then spends 40 days in the desert, praying, fasting and fighting off the devil. He knows that Satan will be tempting and taunting Him and His followers, so He prepares Himself.

Indeed, the Gospels tell us that Jesus goes on to cast out demons at least 12 times (e.g. Mt.9:32-33; Lk.8:2; Mk1:39), and He gives His disciples ‘power over unclean spirits’ (Mk.3:15; Lk.10:1,17-20).

Today, the devil is still wreaking havoc. We can see this in all the conflict, violence and confusion currently spreading around the world, in the disintegration of marriage and the family, and in the constant attacks on the Church. [i]

We can also see it in the number of people being lured into occult beliefs and practices, like crystal gazing, tarot reading, ghost hunting, seances, witchcraft and magic.


Many people think these activities are simply harmless fun, but dabbling in the occult is dangerous, because it exposes people to dark, malign forces, for which they are not prepared. Pope Francis calls them ‘bad spirits.’ [ii]

The word ‘occult’ means hidden or secret, and the basic purpose of these paranormal practices is to explore the spiritual realm without God. But when you bypass God, you risk falling into the ‘dominion of darkness’ (Col.1:13), which is hell itself.

The Apostles knew this. That’s why St Peter says, ‘Discipline yourselves; stay alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour’ (1Pet.5:8-9). And St. Paul warns that those involved in sorcery ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (Gal.5:19-21).

The Church has always condemned occult practices, because Satan is not a mythical creature. He is real, and he is very good at making nasty things seem very attractive. But what is essentially evil can never produce good; it can only end in a dark, tormented despair. Why? It’s because Satan’s goal is to undermine God’s plan by destroying our souls. [iii]


In 1973, William Peter Blatty wrote ‘The Exorcist’, which has been described as the ‘scariest movie ever made.’ It’s the story of a 12-year-old girl, Regan, who is possessed by the devil. Her mother desperately searches for help and Catholic priests ultimately come to her rescue.

Regan’s possession began when she started playing on a Ouija board, and she found herself talking to a mysterious spirit who turned out to be a demon. 

When asked about this book, Blatty said that his research and experiences while writing it convinced him that demonic possession is real. He once spent 10 days absorbed by a Ouija game, and became convinced that he was communicating with some kind of spirit. After that, strange poltergeist-type things started to happen, like his phone receiver jumping off its hook and his typewriter producing gibberish.

Blatty said that while 97-98% of reported cases of possession can be explained by fraud or mental disturbance, there remains 2-3% that can’t. ‘Concerning these,’ he said, ‘I have made a prudent judgment that a bodyless, intelligent, non-human entity has somehow managed to take possession of a human being.’ Blatty became a devout practising Catholic. [iv]

Demonic power is always about luring, scattering and destroying, while God always seeks to unite, heal and strengthen.

So, how do we protect ourselves? By staying very close to Jesus and avoiding any temptations that will only lead to trouble.

Let’s close with a story. There’s an ancient legend which says that the devil, Master of Disguise, tried to get into heaven by pretending to be the Risen Christ. He took with him his demons disguised as angels of light, and had them cry out the traditional first part of the welcome psalm (Ps.24): ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates of heaven, and lift up your doors, and the King of Glory shall enter!’

The real angels looked down on what they thought was their King returning in triumph from the dead. So, they in turn shouted back with joy the refrain: ‘Who is this King of Glory?’ The devil then made a fatal mistake. He opened his arms and spread his palms and declared, ‘I am!’

The angels immediately slammed the gate of heaven and refused to let the imposter in. They saw right away that there were no nail marks in his palms.

The imposter had no wounds of love, and had not paid the price. [v]





[v] William J Bausch, A World of Stories, Twenty Third Publications, New London CT, 2010:275.

Year B – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Tipping Point

(Jon.3:1-5, 10; 1Cor.7:29-31; Mk.1:14-20)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to do what His first disciples did: to drop what we’re doing and follow Him. Jesus wants us to help Him spread His message about God’s love.

Now, in our distracted and hard-hearted world some might wonder, what’s the point? How can we possibly make any difference? The early Church did manage to convert the Roman Empire, but can we do it again? Modern society is a tough place.

In his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell compares the spread of ideas, products and behaviours with viruses. Initially only a few people are affected, but then at some point the idea or disease can spread like wildfire.

He gives the example of Hush Puppies. These shoes were launched in 1958, but only became popular in the mid-1990s. That’s when sales jumped from 30,000 to 430,000 pairs in one year. The next year, 2 million pairs were sold. 

Gladwell says the company didn’t cause the epidemic. Rather, it was caused by two very influential ‘hipsters’ in Manhattan who bought these shoes and started a trend.

Gladwell says that when social trends and viruses reach their threshold of critical mass, their ‘tipping point,’ they explode upon a society and their spread cannot be stopped. [i] 

The American author Fr William Bausch gives us an example of this, and makes the point that just one extra person can make a big difference.

The Japanese Snow Monkey has been studied in the wild for decades. In 1952, on the Japanese island of Koshima, scientists started giving these monkeys sweet potatoes to eat. The monkeys loved the sweet potatoes, but they didn’t like the taste of the dirt into which they were dropped.

One day a young monkey named Imo learned to wash her sweet potatoes in a stream. She taught her mother to do this, and her friends as well. Her friends then taught their mothers. Between 1952 and 1958 all the young monkeys learned to wash the dirt off their sweet potatoes. But only the adults who copied their children learned how to do this. All the other adults just kept eating dirty sweet potatoes.

By the autumn of 1958, 99 monkeys on Koshima Island had learned to wash their food. Then, one morning, something remarkable happened. The 100th monkey learned to wash its sweet potatoes, and by that evening almost every monkey in the tribe started to do the very same thing. 

Somehow, the extra energy of the 100th monkey created a breakthrough. 

But the most amazing thing is that this new behaviour wasn’t confined to that one tribe on Koshima. The scientists found that monkeys on other Japanese islands then started to wash their sweet potatoes as well. The practice had suddenly jumped over the sea.

William Bausch’s message is that when you reach the tipping point of a certain critical number of participants, a new awareness, a new behaviour can spread like wildfire. We don’t always understand how these things work, but the dynamic is real. [ii]

That’s what we saw with Covid. It only became a pandemic when the tipping point threshold was crossed, and it only took a few people to get there. 

So, what things help ideas or behaviours spread like wildfire? Malcolm Gladwell says that the initial group should be small, with less than 150 people.  And three types of people are important. Firstly, the ‘connectors,’ who are people with a wide social network. Secondly, the ‘salesmen,’ who have a gift for persuasion and a knack for ‘selling’ ideas. And finally, the ‘mavens,’ who are great information collectors and who like passing it on to others.

The American social marketing expert Seth Godin was once asked how to make something ‘go viral.’ He said that the best thing is not to try to make that happen. The best thing, he said, is to focus on just one person. To make an impact on just one person. ‘Even better,’ he said, ‘make it so they can’t sleep at night unless they choose to make a difference for one other person. The rest will take care of itself.’ [iii]

The lesson for us here today is that spreading Jesus Christ’s message isn’t as hard as we might think. All we have to do is play our part, and God will do the rest.

Too often we only think in terms of the physical world in which we live. But each of us also inhabits a spiritual world, and that’s the place where mysteries and miracles occur.

Sometimes it takes just one more person to make all the difference.

[i] Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point. Little, Brown Books, London: 2000.

[ii] Bausch, W. A World of Stories. 23rd Publications, New London CT. 2010:246-247


Year B – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Still, Small Voice of God

[Sam.3:3-10, 19; 1Cor.6:13-15, 17-20; Jn.1:35-42]

Do you have interior conversations with God?

St Teresa of Calcutta did. After she died in 1997, it was revealed that she had several private interactions with Jesus, particularly in 1946-47, while she was still teaching with the Sisters of Loreto in Calcutta.

On one occasion at Holy Communion, she heard Jesus say, ‘I want Indian nuns, victims of my love, who would be Mary and Martha, who would be so united to me as to radiate my love on souls.’

On another occasion in 1947, Jesus asked, ‘Would you refuse to do this for me? I cannot go alone to the poor people; you carry me with you into them.’

Mother Teresa responded to Jesus’ pleas by establishing a new congregation, the Missionaries of Charity, and doing extraordinary work in the slums of India.

Over the years, many saints and laypeople have had such locutions, including St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. My dear father was another. Such experiences can serve to transform a person’s life in the most remarkable ways.

Now, consider the faith experience of the popular British musician and actor, Sting. He could well have been speaking for many Catholics today when he once said, ‘I was brought up as a Catholic and went to church every week and took the sacraments. (But) it never really touched the core of my being.’ [i]

That’s so disappointing, because God is always speaking to us, and not just in the Bible. He speaks to us through His creation (Ps.19:1) and through art and music. He speaks to us through the events of our lives and through the wisdom of our family and friends (1 Cor. 12:8-10). He speaks to us through the Mass and other Sacraments, and whenever we pray or meditate (Prov.8:34). And sometimes he speaks to us through our dreams (Mt.1:20; Acts 2:17).

Many people hear God’s voice not with their ear, but with their heart. It comes to them from deep within. Like an echo, it calls them, urging and encouraging them. But like a whisper, God’s ‘still, small voice’ (1Kgs.19:12) can be hard to recognise, so we need to train ourselves to listen carefully.

Today, Samuel (in our first reading) and Andrew (in the Gospel) are doing ordinary, everyday things when God speaks to them. Samuel is sleeping, while Andrew is just standing around. We should remember that, for God can approach us anytime. 

God also approaches Samuel and Andrew quietly, but he isn’t always quiet.  Sometimes there’s great drama. Sometimes there’s illness, tragedy or pain that draws us to Him. 

The ways each of us connects with God may be different, but it’s important to note that the initiative always comes from God. Jesus made this clear when He said to his disciples, ‘You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…’ (Jn.15:16).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Andrew, ‘What are you looking for?’ Henri Nouwen once wrote that too many people miss this important question. They miss it because they’re listening to all the competing voices in our world that are working hard to distract us.

‘Many voices ask for our attention,’ he says. ‘There’s a voice that says, “Prove you’re a good person.” Another voice says, “You’d better be ashamed of yourself.”  There’s also a voice that says, “Nobody really cares about you,” and one that says, “Be sure to become successful, popular and powerful”.’

But underneath all these noisy voices, Nouwen says, there’s a still, small voice that says, ‘You are my beloved, my favour rests on you.’ That’s the voice we most need to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence and a strong determination to listen.

‘That’s what prayer is,’ Henri Nouwen says. ‘It’s listening to the voice that calls us my Beloved.’ [ii] 

Prayer is the main way God communicates with us, for prayer is essentially a conversation. But as in any good relationship, such conversation should never be a monologue. Rather, it’s meant to be a two-way flow of heart-felt thoughts, words and love, and it begins with God’s invitation to us, to ‘be still and know that I am God’ (Ps.46:10).

As St Catherine Labouré, of Miraculous Medal fame, once said, ‘If you listen to (God), he will speak to you also, because with the good Lord, it is necessary to speak and to listen.

He will always speak to you if you go to him simply and sincerely.’ [iii]


[ii] Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey. Darton, Longman and Todd, London. 1996:21.


Year B – The Epiphany

The Light of the Stars

[Is.60:1-6; Eph.3:2-3, 5-6; Mt.2:1-12]

‘I am the light of the world,’ Jesus says (Jn.8:12).

Perhaps this explains why so many people in every age have been drawn to the light of the stars.

Ancient civilisations like the Egyptians, Babylonians and Aztecs, for example, were convinced that the sun, moon and stars had much to teach us about life. Their astronomers studied the skies, searched for patterns and signs, and told stories that shaped the lives of entire cultures. [i]

The Wise Men of the East were among these people. They searched the stars for the secrets they held, and even travelled long distances to find the answers.

That’s what we see in Matthew’s Gospel today. The Magi discover a bright new star and follow it all the way to Jerusalem, where they are directed to Bethlehem. And there they find the infant Jesus. They worship Him and give Him their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and then they return home with the finest gift of all: eternal life as faithful children of God.

Today, many people continue to look for signs of God’s presence in the cosmos, and one place they find such stars is in the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The story is well known. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an Aztec peasant, on Tepeyac hill near present-day Mexico City in the winter of 1531. She asked him to get his bishop to build a church there. The bishop asked for a sign, so Juan Diego returned to that hilltop and found roses blooming in winter. Collecting them in his tilma (a loose cloak), he took them to the bishop. On arrival, his tilma miraculously bore a striking portrait of Our Lady.

Today, almost 500 years later, that cactus-fibre tilma is on display in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on that same hill. It depicts Mary as a mestizo woman in traditional clothing, surrounded by the rays of the sun, standing on a crescent moon, and pregnant, just as she is described in Revelation 12:1-2.

In the 1990s, Juan Hernandez Illescas, a Mexican astronomer, used computer technology to closely study the stars on Our Lady’s mantle. What he found attests to the miraculous origin of this image.

Illescas identified that the configuration of 46 stars on Mary’s blue-green mantle is neither random nor simply decorative, for they exactly mirror the 15 constellations that were visible over Mexico that night in December 1531.

Significantly, the stars on this image are inverted (north should be south and vice versa), indicating that we see them not as someone standing on earth, but from the perspective of someone above, as though God Himself were hovering over his own creation.

Because Mary’s mantle is wrapped around her, ten of these constellations are visible, while five others are at her back and obscured. Illescas identified that if her garment were to be opened out to its fullness, we would see all 15 constellations at once. These are the five unseen constellations (underlined in yellow in the figure below):

Corona Borealis (‘Northern Crown’), which appears at Mary’s head, forming a crown of stars (Rev.12:1).

Virgo (‘Virgin’), near her heart, indicating her purity (Lk.1:28).

Leo (‘Lion’), at her pregnant belly, reminding us that she is carrying the Lion of Judah, Jesus Himself (Gen.49:9-12; Rev.5:3-7).

Gemini (‘The Twins’) over Mary’s lap, which has often been called the ‘Seat of Wisdom’ since the 11th Century.

And Orion (‘Warrior/Hunter’), over the angel below. Some say this represents the great warrior, St Michael the Archangel.

Mary appeared to Juan Diego before dawn on 22 December, the winter solstice and longest night of the year in that part of the world. [ii] Thereafter, the days grew longer. In other words, Mary brought with her ‘the dawn from on high,’ Jesus Christ, to the local people, signalling an end to the darkness of paganism. Within 10 years, almost the entire population of Mexico converted to Christianity. [iii]

The name Guadalupe is of Arabic origin, and means ‘river channel’ or ‘that which leads the water.’ Like the bright Star of Bethlehem, Mary is the channel that always leads us to her beloved Son, ‘the Living Water’ (Jn.4:14). [iv]

It’s not surprising that so many people are fascinated by the stars.

In 2014, Pope Francis said that the journey of the Magi symbolises the destiny of every person. Our life is a journey, he said, illuminated by the lights which brighten our way, to find the fullness of truth and love which we recognize in Jesus, the Light of the World.

[i] Maryboy, NC & Begay, D., Sharing the Skies, Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson AZ, 2010.

[ii] The date 22 December is according to our modern calendar. According to the Julian Calendar of the time, it was 12 December.