Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Paul uses a very colourful image when he writes, “fan into a flame the gift that God gave you.”

I was reminded immediately of the 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 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 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 may well be an image and a custom worth our reflecting on; sit quietly for a time and consider, “what coals, hidden from immediate sight, might, when laid bare to the breath of God, ‘fan into a flame’!

The prophet Isaiah writes, “See it is I who have created the smith, who blows the fire of the coals, and produces an instrument fit for its purpose”. (Isaiah 54: 16)

The illustration is by the Dutch printmaker Jan Stolker (1724 – 1785) and is titled, “A woman in a niche blowing on coals in an earthenware pot.”

Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

The story of the rich man and the poor man named Lazarus (Lk. 16:19_31) is sometimes referred to as Dives and Lazarus.

In St Luke’s account, the rich man is nameless.

The name given to him, “Dives,” is a translation of the Latin word for rich.

The rich man in the Gospel is not known by his proper name but rather by his wealth.

A wandering monk went to visit another monk in a neighbouring village.

He set out on foot. However, the journey took the monk longer than he anticipated, so at the end of the day, as night fell, he settled down to sleep under a tree for the night.

The monk had just spread out his bed when a villager came running to him and said, ‘Give me the precious stone.’

‘What stone are you talking about?’ asked the monk.

‘Last night, I had a dream, said the villager, ‘that if I went to the outskirts of the village at dusk, I would find a monk who would give me a precious stone that would make me rich forever.’

The monk rummaged in his sack, found a stone and took it out.

‘This is probably the stone you are talking about,’ he said, as he handed it to the villager.

‘I found it on the forest floor a few days ago. You are welcome to it.’

The villager took the stone and gazed at it in wonder.

It was a diamond, the largest the villager had ever seen.

He took it home with him.

But all night, he tossed about in his bed, unable to sleep.

Early the next day, he went back to the outskirts of the village and found the monk.

He said to him, ‘During the night, I was unable to sleep, and I have done a lot of thinking. You can have back the diamond and instead, give me the kind of wealth that makes it possible for you to give this diamond away so easily.’

The richer a person’s inner life, the simpler becomes their outer life; the less they need or want.

Twenty Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

There is a tendency among some religious people to think that God owes them something. They imagine God as being like a typical employer. If we do the work, then in justice our employer owes us our wages. God owes us a reward in heaven provided we serve faithfully on earth. This is a very understandable attitude. However, it introduces a mercenary attitude into what is supposed to be a love affair between God and us.

The fundamental truth about Christianity is that it is a religion of grace and not of merit. Salvation cannot be earned. We can never put God in our debt. But we don’t have to. God is our Original Parent. We are the Original Parent’s children. Children do not do the will of their parents for the sake of rewards. They do it because they want to try to return their love for them.

It comes as a great relief to discover that we don’t need to prove ourselves to God. We don’t have to earn God’s love. God loved us long before we could have done anything to deserve it. And God loves us even when we are sinners! Our responsibility is to love in return.

We don’t keep the commandments so that God will love us; we keep the commandments because God loves us.

The Good News might be summed up like this: a generous God wants disciples to serve out of love, not out of duty. Hence faith is not enough; we need love too. While faith makes all things possible, love makes all things easy. Salvation is a gift, not a wage.

Nikos Kazantzakis, the great Greek writer, tells a story of an elderly monk he once met on Mount Athos. (Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in north-eastern Greece and an important centre of Eastern Orthodox monasticism).  Kazantzakis, still young and full of curiosity, was questioning this monk and asked him: “Do you still wrestle with the devil?” “No,” replied the old monk, “I used to, when I was younger, but now I’ve grown old and tired and the devil has grown old and tired with me.” “So,” Kazantzakis said, “your life is easy then? No more big struggles.” “Oh, no!” replied the old man, “now it’s worse. Now I wrestle with God!” “You wrestle with God,” replied Kazantzakis, rather surprised, “and you hope to win?” “No,” said the old monk, “I wrestle with God and I hope to lose!”


The illustration is by the artist Umberto Verdirosi, born in the Italian region of Piedmont.  He is self-taught, a free spirit. He defines himself as modern, not modernist. The title of this painting is “The Intruder”.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary time

The gospel reading for this Sunday is the entire 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel.

It appears to be all about ‘lost property’: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.

This is bound to strike a chord with all of us, because who hasn’t lost something at some stage, an item of clothing, glasses, the TV remote! There are some of us who, when travelling in an unknown land has not driven around the same traffic island while looking for the exit or the appropriate road sign!

Jesus told these three stories in response to the Pharisees who accused him of consorting with sinners – people who had lost their way.

But to be more exact, these parables are not about being “lost”, but about being “found.” Each of them underlines the joy of the finder: God’s joy in seeking and finding what is lost. ‘Rejoice’ is the key word at the end of each story. These stories are Jesus’ revelation of what God is like. He had a vivid imagination and could have invented any kind of story, but he invented these.

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1663 – 1669, The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

The Dutch artist Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606 – 1669), commonly referred to simply as Rembrandt, painted the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son. Titled “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, it is one of his last paintings, completed some two years before his death. The artwork now hangs in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Frequently, reproductions of this artwork hang in Reconciliation rooms in churches. However, many such reproductions are of poor quality and hide what I consider an essential element of the painting and an element which says much to me about the nature of forgiveness.

The top left of the picture, from a viewer’s looking stance, is very dark and reproductions lose a figure Rembrandt has painted – in the top left corner there is a woman! Is this figure incidental to the painting (after all she is not mentioned in the Gospel story), or rather is Rembrandt inviting the viewer to take a second look, to pause and consider that there is a very important feminine element to the nature of forgiveness.

When you cut the picture in half there is a very definite link between the woman figure (at the top), the right hand of the father (left when we look at the painting), a hand which looks feminine, and the receptive shoulder of the returned son.

Do you remember a visit to the confessional when you were young (and maybe still today!), and during your preparation time trying to remember how often you pinched your brother or sister, how many times you disobeyed mum and/or dad, how often you told a lie, how many impure thoughts you had – because the priest was sure to ask you, “how many times?”. How many times is a masculine question, the masculine deals in numbers, in quantities. Of course, if my God is masculine only, then getting the right numbers is important. The feminine is more immediately concerned with warmth and presence and welcome – the number of times does not effect the quality of welcome/forgiveness.