Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

My name is James, the son of Anna and Barnabas.

Being completely deaf, I was deprived of so much that others take for granted. I had never heard the shouts of children at play, the song of a bird, of the wind in trees, a word of comfort or encouragement.

The fact that I was practically dumb as well added to my sense of deprivation and isolation. And when you are different, people, often, are afraid of you. I was full of self-pity.

One day a man came to my village, I couldn’t hear his name, but I could tell from his dress he was a Jew. What on earth was he doing in a Gentile village in the Decapolis?

Many of those from the village gathered around him.

I followed them.

Many of the villagers looked at me with scorn, “What are you doing here?” their eyes said, ‘you should have stayed at home” the grimace on their face declared.

This man took me aside from the crowd and gave me all his attention. Now, I felt important.

He did not speak to me as it would have been a waste of words. Instead, he touched me; a tender, patient, loving touch.

He made me feel what I couldn’t hear.

Then he put his finger into his mouth, and said, “Be opened!”

And I was!

I heard children laughing, birds singing, the wind in the trees. And I laughed with the children and sang with the birds.

Why am I telling you this?

I discovered many new things in the months that followed.

My first discovery was that a touch offered in love heals!

Also, I learned that many people listen without hearing; many have loose tongues that would be better tied; many have ears to hear, and tongues to proclaim.

But why proclaim if no one is listening?

And at times all are proclaiming so loudly that no one can hear.

Hearing and speech are great gifts. They are heart gifts. It is only with the heart that we can listen rightly, and only with the heart that we can speak rightly.

You know the very best thing about receiving my hearing?

I heard my Mother and Father call my name! And the very best thing about receiving my speech? I could proclaim, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!”


Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

“Make sure you wash your hands before coming to the table. Quick tea is ready!”

I wonder how many times I heard that said to me (and my brothers and sisters).

And, having spent most of the day outside touching everything from cricket balls to tennis racquets; from rugby balls to worms in a puddle; from bike chains to the bark and branches of trees; it was a reasonable and sensible request.

Now that same request is being urged on myself and indeed on us all.

With the presence of the coronavirus, Covid-19, in our communities and nations world-wide there is a strong request that we wash our hands.

It seems so simple: Washing our hands is one of the easiest ways to keep ourselves safe.

Wash often with soap for 20 seconds. Then dry.; this kills the virus by bursting its protective bubble.

When you pause and consider your daily activities prior to the virus pandemic, handwashing was a regular occurrence during our daytime activities.

The Cambridge English dictionary gives the meaning of “ritual” as ‘a set of fixed actions and sometimes words performed regularly, especially as part of a ceremony’.

Is it pushing things too far to suggest that the simple act of hand washing is a ritual?

When you stop and reflect for a moment we have many daily rituals, fixed actions which we perform with such regularity, that their very regularity demotes them to habits.

When I retire for the night, when I wake in the morning, how I wash and prepare myself for the day, what I have for breakfast, what is my morning drink . . . . and on and on.

Our day is filled with habitual behaviours.

If we dared slow down and took time over these actions honouring them as wholesome and life-giving then I am convinced the ritual nature of them would become evident.

At the beginning of our Eucharist, after the opening song there is what is known as the Penitential Rite.

Frequently it is over before persons have put their hymnal away, and before you know we are sitting down to attend to the readings which form the Liturgy of the Word.

The Penitential Rite begins with an invitation from the Presider to ‘call to mind our sins’, or words with a similar invitation, and then, before we have time to recall even one little word or act we move on.

However, there is a part of that ritual I consider vitally important.

In the text the presider uses there is a small line written in red which is known as a rubric. This ‘rubric’ reads, “the absolution by the priest follows” (Roman Missal p. 507).

Stop a moment and read that again, “the absolution by the priest follows”.

The Oxford dictionary defines absolution as “a formal statement that a person is forgiven for what he or she has done wrong.”

Now, logic was not one of my better subjects, however I would take it that any indiscretion/sin that I have called to mind during the Penitential Rite is forgiven!


The questions I hold are twofold,

  • is such a dramatic ritual in the right place in our liturgy?, and
  • do we do it so often that it has become a habit rather than a ritual?


21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

I have had the good fortune to visit many places of exceptional natural beauty.

Two stand out in my memory always; the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Niagara Falls which border New York State in the USA and Ontario Canada.

Like many natural beauties, they can be experienced, however words fail to describe the experience with any accuracy.

“You will just have to see for yourself!” the person trying to describe will end up saying.

The same is true for great works of art, opera, musical composition. How does one put into words the different hues of blue in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, or the exquisite beauty in the harmony from Mozart’s duet ‘La ci darem la mano’ from the opera Don Giovanni, or Puccini’s B4, required of the tenor in the aria ‘Nesun Dorma’ from the opera Turandot?

I remember well while on a formation programme for Spiritual Directors one of the facilitators of the course saying quite definitely, “whenever you are sitting with another, and they preface their remarks by saying, ‘you are not going to believe this, but . . .’ or in a similar way saying, ‘this may sound silly to you, but . . . ‘ prick up your ears and pay close attention, they are about to attempt to put into words an experience of God!”

God’s ways are not our ways!

There is more truth to that than we normally think.

God is ineffable.

What that means is that God cannot be captured in our thoughts or pictured inside our imaginations.

This truth is one of the first things that the church affirms in its understanding of God, defining as a dogma at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 that God is so metaphysically different from anything we can know or imagine that all of our concepts and language about God are always more inadequate than adequate.

God can be known, but never imagined or captured in a thought.

Why not?

Why can we never form a picture of God or speak about God in adequate ways?

Because God is infinite and our minds are finite. Infinity, by definition, can never be circumscribed.

That might sound abstract, but it is not.

For example: Try to imagine the highest number to which it is possible to count?

Instantly you realize that this is an impossible task because numbers are infinite and there is always one more. It is impossible to conceive of the highest number.

This is even truer in terms of any imaginative picture we try to form of God and of how we try to imagine God’s existence. God is infinite and infinity cannot be captured or imagined inside of any finite thought.

This is important to understand, not to safeguard some theoretical point, but for our understanding of faith.

We tend to identify a weak faith with a weak imagination, just as we tend to identify atheism with the incapacity to imagine the existence of God

Faith in God is not to be confused with the capacity or incapacity to imagine God’s existence.

Infinity cannot be circumscribed by the imagination.  All we say of God is true, but . . . there is always more.

With God it is always ‘not only but also’.

Many will have heard part or all of the duet titled ‘Au fond du temple saint’ from Bizet’s opera The Pearl Fishers (NZ Rail do the duet are huge disservice by using only a part of the duet as music to their TV commercial!).

My guess is that few would understand a word of it as it is sung in French!

Few would know that it is a song of reconciliation between friends who had fallen out!

However, if you close your eyes and listen with the ears of the heart, words and meaning have no purpose as you are caught up in the beauty of the sound.

My suggestion is, faith may be less about knowing, and more about enjoying.

If you wish to experience God, close off the eyes of your mind, open wide the ears of your soul and listen to the music your God is singing.

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary

In Aotearoa Maori culture, meeting houses (whare nui or whare puni) are symbols of tribal prestige and are often named after, and seen as the embodiment of, a tribal ancestor.

The structure itself is seen as an outstretched body, with the roof’s apex at the front of the house representing the ancestor’s head.

The main ridge beam represents the backbone, the diagonal bargeboards which lead out from the roof are the arms and the lower ends of the bargeboards divide to represent fingers.

Inside, the centre pole (poutokomanawa) is seen as the heart, the rafters reflect the ancestor’s ribs, and the interior is the ancestor’s chest and stomach.

Whare are richly carved, and these carvings will be particular to the local tribe (iwi), and will declare “this is our house”.

At Pukekaraka  in the township of Otaki, an hour north of Wellington city, there lies a meeting house which shares its whenua (land) with the Catholic Church.

Things are different at Pukekaraka.

There is a meeting house (wharepuni) which has been there since 1905, and there is not a carving in sight!

The meeting house follows the same design as wharepuni throughout the country, however the whare is bereft of carvings.

The name of the meeting house is “Hine nui o tea o katoa”, and in the name is the reason for no carvings.

Translated the name means ‘Mother of all the world’.

In other words, no one iwi (tribe) or whanau (family) can lay claim to Mary as “our” ancestor.

She (Mary) does not belong to us, we belong to her.

What I find of great interest here is that the Marist Maori Mission was established at Otaki in 1841.

In 1894 the Sisters of St Joseph had established a school there to teach (and board), local children. The whare was built in 1905. Within 60 years the local people had a sense of Mary belonging to everyone, “ o tea ao katoa”.

This Sunday, on the initiative of the New Zealand Bishops Conference, the country of Aotearoa/New Zealand is being rededicated to Our Lady Assumed into Heaven.

The country was originally dedicated by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier when he celebrated the first Mass on the whenua known as Aotearoa on 13th January 1838.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was never a Roman Catholic, we have however laid claim to her and made her ours.

This rededication is not a rededication of Catholic New Zealand; that was not Bishop Pompallier’s intention, nor is it the intention of our present Bishops.

This is a rededicating of our land and its people to the care of Mary, the Mother of God.