4th Sunday Lent

The Prodigal Son

Our Gospel this week is one of the most recognized of all Gospel stories; The Prodigal Son ( Luke 15: 11 – 32).

In most print editions of the Gospels, the story is headed that way, some add ‘his older brother’ to the mix.

None, I have read and/or made use of has mentioned the father.

New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright in his commentary on this story has the title ‘The Running Father’.

Wright explains that what instantly caught the attention of the hearers of the story were the words, “but while he was still far off his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him . . .” (Lk. 15:20).

“He ran;” a seemingly incidental phrase in the helter-skelter lifestyle of today.

We run for the bus, to the train, out of the rain, and on occasions to the clothesline as the heavens open on our almost dried washing!

In the culture of Jesus, grown men did not run!

Another point we may well overlook when we spend too much time on the younger son is found in the line, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again!”

While the phrase is about the younger son being dead, it is equally true of the father himself.

Again within the culture of the time, the younger son asking for his share, ‘give me the share of the property that will belong to me’ (v.12) is wishing that his father is dead!

The personal and social shame for the father is extreme.

With the return of the younger son to the family home, indeed the father can exclaim with equal veracity for himself, “I was dead and am alive again.”

Maybe, that is at the heart of our Sacrament of Reconciliation, not my/our returning, rather my God exclaiming, “I was dead and am alive again!”

The painting is The Prodigal Son by Gely Korzhev (1925 – 2012).

Third Sunday of Lent

“God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ and he said, ‘Here I am.’’

Then the Lord said, ‘come no closer!

Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Ex. 3: 5)

Remember those summer days of childhood when shoes were an accessory?

Whether it was grass filled with prickles, the road with its tar melting, the sand at the beach too hot to run on (unless you ran really, really fast, heading for the sea and yelped at the top of your voice!).

On those days we felt the ground, the ground was holy!

Then there were those wet, muddy days when it was hilarious to stand among the mud and feel the sensation as it squeezed between your toes.

On those days we felt the ground, and the ground was holy!

Today, the grass still has prickles!

The tar carry’s on to melt under the summer sun! the sand continues to bake red hot under the summer furnace! The mud still squelches when it is wet! “Nor can foot feel being shod” (Gerard Manley Hopkins, from God’s Grandeur)

The Irish author and poet, John O’Donohue speaking  in a radio interview shortly before his death commented, “I think it makes a huge difference, when you wake in the morning and come out of your house, whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you, but in a totally different form, and if you go towards it with an open heart and a real, watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you.”

A part of the Celtic imagination that John O’Donohue had come to intuit was that landscape wasn’t just matter, but that it was actually alive.

The Jesuit poet puts Gerard Manley Hopkins had a similar intuition and he captures this in his poem “God’s Grandeur “

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

“Nor can foot feel, being shod” writes Hopkins.

O’Donohue asks the question, “What gives the person the right to intrude on this place?”

If I take ‘remove your sandals’ as a metaphor, the obvious question is (and so obvious we dare not ask it, because then it will persist until we, stumbling, attempt an answer!) – the question is ‘what do I need take off to meet my God?’

Do I dare take off that protective shield that ‘foot can feel again’? And feeling, experience my God?


2nd Sunday of Lent

Fr Michael Mahoney sm is a Marist priest of the New Zealand Province of the Society of Mary (Marist Fathers and Brothers). Michael has taught in secondary schools, has spent 28 years as part of the Marist mission in Brazil. Michael is also a highly recognised mountain guide in New Zealand, and was a member of a New Zealand expedition to Mount Everest! Yes, you read that correctly.  In 1977 there were eight members of a New Zealand Everest Expedition, and what was peculiar to this attempt to climb the mountain was that the group used no local porters, nor was extra oxygen taken. Each of these decisions brought extra effort on the climbing group. Michael, and another member of the group ascended as far as the  South Col (26,200 feet).Strong winds, bad weather and exhaustion made them abandon the expedition. So close and yet so far!

Listening to Fr Michael speak to a group of schoolboys about the expedition and the climb two of his comments have a clarity about them that have made them unforgettable for me. When asked by an adventurous boy of about 16, “Why didn’t you keep going?” (The South Coll is at 26, 200ft, the apex of Everest is 29,032ft – but what is 3,000ft among friends?), Fr. Michael’s response was simple, “If we had kept going I would not be standing here today. An essential lesson of mountaineering is knowing when to stop climbing.” To a question from another, “What was the biggest thing learned?”, again Fr. Michael’s response was direct, “the human person was not built to live on a mountain top!”

This Sunday’s Gospel is familiar to us; we have Luke’s account of the story of the Transfiguration. (Luke 9: 28 -36). Jesus, along with Peter, James and John “ went up on the mountain to pray” (v.28), and as we know from the story there is the marvellous encounter, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazingly white.” Then there is the moment of revelation, “This is my Son the Beloved; listen to him.” (v. 35) The response of St Peter may well be our response, “let us build three tents”, in other words, ‘let’ stay here!’. The words of Fr. Michael resonate in my ears as I write this, know when to stop climbing and we are not built to live on a mountain top! In Christian spirituality I suggest mountains are worthy of a visit, however not to take up residence (where the rarefied air will soon kill us!), rather we are to live and minister at ground level where we can breathe and live and hence be of value.

Keep the flame of faith alive in our heart(h)

There is an old Irish custom which is called grieshog.

Grieshog, is the process of burying warm coals in ashes at night to preserve the fire for the following day. Instead of cleaning out the hearth, people preserved the day’s glowing coals under beds of ash overnight in order to have a fast-starting new fire the next day. In the morning, the householder brushed aside the ashes and added new fuel to the still-hot coals to stoke the fire up for the new day’s warmth and cooking.

The process is an extremely important one. Otherwise, if the coals go out, a whole new fire must be built and lit when morning comes, an exercise that takes precious time, uses wood already chopped and stored,  and slows the more important work of the new day.

The primary concern, then, was that the fire from yesterday not be permitted to burn out completely at the end of the day.

On the contrary, the coals hidden from sight under heaps of ash through the long, dark night were tended carefully so that the fire could leap to life again at first light.

The old fire did not die, it kept its heat, in order to be prepared to light the new one.

It is a holy process, this preservation of purpose, of energy, of warmth and light in darkness.

What we call death and end and loss in our lives, as one thing turns to another, may in these terms, be better understood as greishog, as the preservation of the coals, as refusing to go cold, and being the warmth of tomorrow.

The Irish have another tradition associated with grieshog.

Besides burying the last hot embers of the day in ash overnight in order to start the next day’s fire quickly, they would also carry the hot coal of the fire from house to house as well.

When a young person marries and moves or when a family moves house, they take a hot coal from the first hearth to start the first fire in the new hearth.

As we begin a new Lenten season and move to our being engaged in the process of Synodality perhaps a moment’s reflection is in order for each of you as individuals and as a faith community to reflect on the question “what hot coal from the first hearth do I/we carry to light the fire in our new hearth?