The Sower, Jean-François Millet c.1865, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Today’s Sunday Mass Readings can be seen by clicking here.

[Jesus said] “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up….”   Matthew 13:3-4.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

It is hard to imagine that only 150 years ago, fields were being sowed with seed in the manner shown above. Of course, that is the way it had been done forever, but 1865 is hardly pre-industrial revolution, with agricultural machines among the first to be invented, but there it was, as Millet recorded it. The loss of seed must have been enormous, but it served Jesus’ purposes very well. The seed was God’s Word, and we, the receivers (or not) of the Word must place ourselves in one of the various situations Jesus describes: easy prey for those who snatch it away before anything can germinate within us, or where it does germinate but in such shallow minds and hearts that it stands little chance of bearing fruit, and so on. But, unlike the scene in the parable, we can do something about it if we realize our own failings. Take, for example, the life of St. Francis. He grew up in a Catholic household, but in his youth he was given over to having a good time, to charging off to battle, and generally not being a good soul. Or St. Augustine of Hippo who famously prayed to God to “Make me chaste, but not yet…”   or again St. Ignatius of Loyola, he who founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, whose youth was consumed by the quest for fame and glory. Well, somehow they each overcame that, and God’s Word took root in them with a vengeance! So, in some way, the seed which landed in shallow ground for each of them somehow found rich soil in which they became God’s great champions. It almost seems like God’s Word is more than a seed, and can find its way, if necessary,  to deeper, richer ground in which to take root. So what is Jesus’ point in his parable if all that can happen?

Let’s look at the basic structure of this parable, which is found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the “synoptic” gospels, called such because they have many parallels concerning the teachings of Jesus. First, the Sower. That is God, freely giving His Word, represented by the seeds, to all the earth in hope of they will take root. The hard pathway, with birds gobbling up the seeds, are people fully preoccupied with the demands of this world with no room for God, as if Satan grabs the seed even before there is any chance of growth. The rocky ground stands for those people who seem to receive God’s word willingly, but as soon as the first challenge comes along, they’re gone. The thorn bushes describe those people who are fully preoccupied with getting rich or famous or powerful, no matter what, interested only in themselves and what they must do for self-preferment. Then the good soil is the person who willingly receives God’s word, understands it and what its challenges and promises are, and gladly try to fulfill God’s will as a consequence.

So, the question occurs to me is, is that all? If I represent rocky ground, am I doomed? If I am interested only in getting as much for myself in this life, then is all, in fact, lost? To agree with that is to deny that we have free will; we are in charge of our own destiny, perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts to each and every human being, even those who have never heard of Jesus. In other words, to use a phrase from the Prodigal Son parable, can we “come to our senses” and recognize the pure, priceless value of accepting God’s word and changing our lives for the better? Clearly, if we believe in free will, the answer must be “yes”. The parable seems to demonstrate several life-situations which are ruinous to our health and happiness. If we believe we are children of God, which we became at our baptism, then we all have an obligation to behave as such. We all have talents, skills, gifts of God, which are the engine driving us through life. Putting them to full use, for the benefit of others as well as ourselves and hence obeying God’s will for us, would seem to be the road to genuine success and fulfillment. Take a look at this: Wanderlust WorkerThat might be a positive first step if you feel that you fit into one of the negative situations in Jesus’ parable story today. This corona virus scourge might well be the catalyst for such self-reflection. What a remarkable thing it would be to emerge from our collective self-isolation, getting on for more than three months, as a newly-minted person, aware of what is needed to become an even better person, and hence an even more loyal child of God. What benefits would accrue, to ourselves, to those around us, to those we serve, and the delight it would cause in heaven itself!


Which Parable of the Sower category are you? Perhaps the Lefkoe Institute can help.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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The Salve Regina (“Hail Holy Queen”) prayer to Our Lady, possibly 10th century.

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[Jesus said] Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.      Matthew 11:28.

There is a tiny cemetery in Paris near the Place de la Nation in north-east of the city called the Cimetière de Picpus (taken from the name of a local street). It is difficult to find, which is odd as it contains the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution. But that is not the reason this place has been mentioned here. Earlier, this land had been owned by an order of nuns, but was confiscated during the French Revolution. The nearby Place de la Nation had another name at that time, Place du Trône-Renversé or “Overturned Throne Place” mocking its original Place du Trône royal title; there were more changes later. In about 1794, revolutionary extremists, led by Maximilien Robespierre, instituted what became known as the Reign of Terror. This meant that anyone considered to be an enemy of the state was summarily condemned to the guillotine with no appeal. One such was erected in the Place du Trône-Renversé, and 1,306 of its victims were buried in the Picpus. In that now quiet place you will find this:


16 Carmelite sisters, whose convent had been in Compiègne, a city to the north of Paris, had been arrested by revolutionaries, ordered to dress as peasant girls rather than in their habits, and sent to Paris. As happened to many priests and sisters at that time, they were condemned to death as enemies of the state and sent to the guillotine. Their headless bodies were then dumped in the cemetery. In 1906, Pope Pius X beatified the 16 martyrs. In 1957, the Catholic French composer Francis Poulenc wrote an opera, The Dialogues of the Carmelites, based on this history, and it is performed throughout the operatic world to this day. The conclusion of this opera is one of the most profound, agonizing, shattering scenes you could ever imagine, but is based on what actually happened as the sisters sang the Salve Regina in their last moments. Rather than showing the squalor of death, it reveals the overwhelming strength of faith even in the face of terror. With these thoughts, today’s gospel shows us the root of this strength, sufficient to empower them and us through whatever might confront us.

Almost certainly no-one is spared at some point, desperately difficult moments in life, calling for choices which are all terrible in one way or another. Although probably not as bad as for the Carmelites in the Revolution, but in their own way awful for each of us, the situation can seem overwhelming. What does one do in such a situation? The answer? Today’s gospel: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Jesus was a man who went through the same excruciating situation where, to be true to himself, to his mission and to God, he had no choice, exactly the same situation as the Carmelites faced. Confronted by the impossible, we must move away from the hurly-burly, settle down and talk with God as the first step. To arrange priorities together is another. To decide where your heart lies, where the truth is found, where strength is present, that’s where the yoke and burden become understandable and tolerable, even if desperate. And that’s where God’s will and presence become your driving force, for you are not alone. Jesus was not alone, though appearances seemed that way; for him there was no apparent sign of a loving and supporting Father as he endured his Passion. But at the deepest level there was certainty: his last words were “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46); he was certain that he was returning to the place he had come from, a place of light, love and home, the opposite where he was at that moment.

So now, with shards of light beginning to show through the dark mists of corona virus night, Jesus beckons us back to the communal strength of the Eucharist and the Word which give us light and life. That heralds the return of spiritual strength, food and company. Let us cry Alleluia for such great gifts!


Eucharist, St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish, Riviera Beach, Maryland, USA.

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“When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands….” Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt, Columbia Pictures 1966.

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“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me….”     Matthew 10:37.

The picture above, taken from the movie Man for All Seasons, shows Thomas More and his family in 1535 in the Tower of London where he was being held prisoner. His wife, daughter and son-in-law have been allowed to visit him on condition they try to get him to sign the Act of Supremacy which declared King Henry VIII to be head of the Church in England, thus deposing the Pope. More could not agree with that, and refused to sign, for which he had been imprisoned. They failed. More was eventually tried, perjured evidence was given against him, he was convicted and sentenced to death and was beheaded in that same year. He was declared a saint in 1935. His statement to his daughter Margaret, quoted under the picture above, is another way of saying that taking an oath before God is a declaration of who I am. It is a direct statement to God as witness. Should you say something under oath you do not accept, know is wrong or sinful, then you have denied who you are before God. In that case, who are you? As he says to his daughter, “Some men aren’t capable of this [stating the truth], but I’d be loath to think your father one of them”. In other words, he would not be that man his daughter thinks is her father, or Lady Alice thinks of as her husband. He would be a pathetic shadow of a once-honorable Christian man. That’s what the Lord is saying today in the gospel. Loyalty to him must be  absolute and unquestioning. In that way you can be the best you can possibly be to all those around you. So it is not to deny those closest to you, but to become even closer, loyal, loving and true to them, and set an example of how totally good you can be as a true disciple of Jesus. Remember that Jesus’ whole life was dedicated to the well-being of others at every stage and in every situation. He was so completely true to himself that he, as with More, refused to deny who he was in the eyes of God and suffered accordingly.

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More before the Special Commission in Westminster Hall to be tried for high treason. Columbia Pictures 1966.

More was a lawyer by trade. In that capacity he had become Lord Chancellor of England, the most powerful man in the kingdom after the king himself. When he was asked to do something against his conscience, he resigned his office to retire to what he hoped would be a peaceful existence, but is was not to be. He had a a reputation for excellence across the continent. He book Utopia was renowned. It was he who established the immunity from prosecution for members of the House of Commons so that they could say whatever they wished in Parliament, a tradition which has lasted down to today on both sides of the Atlantic. The man was brilliant. He refused to sign on to an Act of Parliament making the king supreme head of the Church in England, and thereby deposing the Pope in Rome. More thought that wrong (though he did not say that; he remained silent on the matter), and resigned his office. His silence resounded throughout Europe as all waited to see what would happen next. Refusal to subscribe to the Act was punished by imprisonment; More was sent to the Tower of London – his cell is still there today. That was when his family was allowed to visit him on condition they would persuade him to agree to the Act. They failed, not understanding his determination not to yield even to them. They were asking, of course, for him to betray who he was. The situation was very similar to Jesus before the high priest who demanded to know if he believed he was the Christ, the Son of the living God, to which Jesus, fully believing he was, said “I am” (Mark 14:62) for which he was crucified. Had he denied it, it would have meant his whole life was meaningless and a total failure. Had More agreed with his family, he would have considered himself a traitor to God, his life a fraud and his life meaningless. He knew to his bones he could not live like that.

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“Friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God” Columbia Pictures 1966.

So what is the lesson from Jesus’ uncompromising words today? Well the one writing this  webpage and those reading it would probably say they are followers of the Lord Jesus. That means that what he said, what he did and what he believed to be the truth have been accepted, incorporated, and have become the foundation of our lives. We strive to be his authentic followers; in fact, as best we can, to be Christ to the world. In that way we try to embody Shakespeare’s timeless exhortation, “To Thine Own Self Be True” (spoken by Polonius, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3. Sadly, Polonius was not the shining example of the advice he gives to his son Laertes in that scene, but the meaning is timeless and true). That might go for us too when we fail to live up to Jesus’ command in today’s gospel, but we also believe in a God of forgiveness and love. And so we must be forgiving and loving also, both to ourselves and to others. So if on face value Jesus seems to be demanding something wild, extraordinary and impossibly cruel, he is, in fact, demanding that we be perfect, be true Christ to the world so that we can model his universal love and openness to all, to family, friends, everyone and above all to him. In that way we can be true to ourselves no matter what, with Jesus himself beside us fulfilling his promise to be with us always. Hence More believed utterly in his last words: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first”. 


Thomas More as Lord Chancellor of England, Holbein the Younger 1527, The Frick Collection, New York City, USA.

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Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter, Perugino, 1481, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City State.

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[Jesus said] “Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father”.          Matthew 10:32.

In a sense, at our baptism, we too were given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Our baptism claims us for God, makes us God’s children and hence we can expect to be heiresses and heirs to the kingdom. And so we each have a responsibility to behave as God’s children and inheritors of the kingdom which one day we hope to enter. Such an awareness and its logical demands might well come upon us slowly as we grow older. Indeed this thought has only revealed itself to me at age 75! The younger we are, I suppose, the less likely are we to notice the progress, or not, we make towards that day when, hopefully, we will enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet each minute brings us closer, if, of course, we remember the responsibility we have to act as God wants us to. Hence today’s stark message, printed above. But Jesus goes on to say, logically, that “…whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father”. And that surely would mean we have lost any right to enter that kingdom. And I’m sure each of us is familiar with the concept of “wriggle room” in our behavior, that mental space where we can contort thought and history to make something we are ashamed seem better than it really is. So today’s gospel is a bit of a wake-up call: “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known”. Jesus says this loud and clear, but I think he’s referring here in today’s gospel to something good, namely the things he has taught his followers in private, but which they are to proclaim to the world. However, the same dynamic can be applied to secret actions which are contrary to God’s wishes, that they are known to God, from whom nothing is hidden. Hence the choice which confronts us daily, which pathway do we take, towards the kingdom, or not?

Now in our particular day and age, where “social distancing” is a new norm, face masks a must, solitude an inevitability, there must be plenty of thoughts of all colors crowding upon us. How are we responding to this crisis? Do we brood on the bad or hope for the good? Do we look out for opportunities to help those in greater need, or fret all the time over our own distress? Remember Jesus from the very cross voiced concern for his mother and asked John to take her into his care. Today’s gospel teaches us to consider carefully the needs of God’s church today and the calamity this pandemic has brought upon it, upon us, where it has a much greater challenge to do the works of charity that God calls it – us – to do. And remember that strange, wonderful paradox, that in helping others, you help yourself. Trust God to put padding on the pathway towards helping others! So our covid-19 bunker existence could produce good in all of us if we but trust in the Lord and fulfill his wishes rather than our own. As Paul says in his letter to the Christians in Rome in today’s second reading, the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow[s] for the many….. and we are the many.

This Friday we celebrate the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the burning center of God’s love for us.


Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. George Educational Trust.

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Corpus Christi Procession, F.M.S., Provenance Unknown.

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Jesus said to them,”Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”    John 6:53.

At the consecration of every Mass, the priest says over the chalice of wine that it is the blood of “the new and eternal covenant”. One might wonder, therefore, what was the old and transient covenant? And also, what makes this new covenant any way better than the old? First, what is a covenant? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “A compact, bargain, contract under seal, compact between God and the Israelites, as Ark of the Covenant…” So it is more important than a regular agreement or shaking hands in a deal. It is more solemn; in fact, in the Book of Exodus, it is accompanied with “thunder and lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast…” (Exodus 19:16), and then the 10 Commandments, sealing the link, the covenant, between humanity and God was sealed in the blood of sacrificed animals (Exodus 24:3-8). And this is the covenant Jesus refers to at the Last Supper. The old covenant linked God and humanity in the life-blood of sacrificed  animals. What makes the new and eternal covenant so different is that humanity and God are linked through the blood of God’s Only Son. Not only that; in the old covenant, that link was symbolized when the sacrificed animals’ blood was sprinkled over the altar, symbolizing God, and then over the people. In the new covenant God the Son’s blood is actually consumed by the people, who now become most intimately linked to God. And today’s feast remembers and celebrates that greatest mystery. Jesus actually states in today’s gospel that by doing so he remains in us and we remain in him. I cannot imagine a closer link than that. No wonder it is the new and eternal covenant! And this is not to ignore the consecrated bread, becoming God the Son’s flesh, Jesus taking perhaps the most basic foodstuff, at least in ancient Palestine, and identifying it with his body. Truly food for the soul.

In the old days, as I recall in London, there was always a large public procession in the neighboring streets on this day, with the consecrated host, unleavened bread, carried in the elaborate gilded monstrance, underneath a canopy, with banners flapping, incense pouring out all round. Hymns would be sung as non-Catholics would look on wondering what it all meant, but perhaps being somewhat overawed by the whole thing and who knows? I guess the idea was to bring the Lord to the masses and invite everyone to the feast!


Corpus Christi Procession, Gniezno, Poland, June 2019.

And I’ve read that this old tradition is becoming popular in more diverse religious countries once more, though not perhaps in this unhappy year. So the Corpus Christi Mass and perhaps procession is an expansion of the Last Supper. That was in a small upper room, and regular Mass today is in larger space, but still indoors. Then in the 13th century St. Juliana of Liège, which is now in Belgium, had a dream of the church under a full moon with a black spot on its face. In the Augustinian nun’s dream, Christ explained that the spot was to indicate a lack of any festival to celebrate the most holy mystery in Christian belief, the Eucharist. She reported this to her local bishop, and the result in 1246 was the creation of just such a celebration. It was the first festival in the church to acclaim publicly the greatest of Christianity’s truths. By 1264 the pope, Urban IV, had instituted it throughout the church. In the Reformation, the doctrine of the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist was one of the most bitter points of contention (after all, he did say “This is my body….” and that we were to do that in memory of him). So in 1551 the Council of Trent confirmed this doctrine and its tradition of a grand procession, to display this belief to everyone in the most public way, and described it as a triumph over those who doubt it. I rather think St. Juliana smiles as she looks down on what happens today in her home town of Liège, so many years after her struggle to institute exactly what is celebrated now.

So a contemplation of the meaning of the Eucharist is in order today. When you think about it, it is so strange that strict fundamentalist Christians more often than not reject the claim that after consecration, the bread is the true body, and the wine the true blood, the Real Presence, of the Lord. Why strange? Well, on this particular occasion we Catholics become fundamentalist, accepting Jesus’ words literally, “This is my body, this is my blood” for what they are, when many fundamentalists do not! And here at Mass, we actually consume those sacred elements, and they become part of our make-up, part of us! No wonder at the end of Mass the priest exhorts us to “Go in peace glorifying the Lord by your life!”

This Friday we celebrate the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the burning center of God’s love for us.


Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. George Educational Trust.


We have heard quite a lot about the “Upper Room” recently. It was, by tradition, where the Last Supper was held, where the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, and where those cowering disciples hid in terror until Pentecost when everything changed. There is a room in present-day Jerusalem claiming to be that Upper Room, also known as the Cenacle. Regard:


The Upper Room, Summer 2018.

Although no-one can be really certain that this is the actual room where those crucially important  events took place, it is nice to think it could be so.


Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the Upper Room, 26 May 2014, Catholic Online.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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The Holy Trinity, Clipartmax

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God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…..   John 3:16.

Today we ponder the deepest, most secret, mysterious Christian truth of all, the Holy Trinity: Three Persons in One God. Whole libraries of books, papers, treatises, tomes, theses, sermons, manuscripts, scrolls, incunabula, you-name-it, have been written to attempt to get to the heart of this most mysterious of all our Christian Sacred Mysteries. The single quotation above from today’s gospel sums it up: God, Love, Son. Beyond that, what is there to say? Well, we have an interesting distinction here in theological thinking which contrasts the Eastern Christians to us in the West, Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians. Orthodox contemplation of the Trinity is quite unlike ours. For them, the truth lies beyond words, concepts and human powers of analysis (Karen Armstrong, A History of God, p.118). In the West, the impossibility of explaining the Trinity led to all sorts of difficulties, even to the “death of God” thinking in the 19th century, the result of embarrassment and confusion amid the “clarity” of the Enlightenment and the “Age of Reason”. In its terms, the Trinity simply makes no sense at all, so….. Armstrong examines the “theory” of the Trinity; for the Orthodox, the word theory means contemplation. In the West it means a rational hypothesis which must be logically demonstrated. In those terms, God simply cannot be neatly wrapped up in a human system of thought, hence Western thinking many times has dismissed the whole concept of the Trinity. So what can one say?

Well, we must leave all our great analytical tools at the church door. This greatest mystery can never be unravelled in neat, mathematical logic, so accept that. What do we have left then? We have that opening sentence above, “God so loved the world…..” Have you ever met a couple deeply in love, yet each so utterly different from each other? A mystery! Each is tolerant and accepting of the other. Each recognizes the uniqueness of the other, yet completely knows the other. Sometimes they even know what the other is about to say before it is said! And we on the outside are always totally welcomed into their world, made to feel at home, made to feel part of their world. And as with any couple so deeply committed to each other, if they have children, they are the pride and joy of their lives, the apple of their eyes. That is the contemplation of the Trinity of Love, our Christian God. John says simply “God is love” (1 John 4:8) which should be the template, the touchstone of our understanding of the divine. In our experience, love requires at least one other. Two modern songs sum it up: “A bell is no bell till you ring it,/ A song is no song till you sing it,/ And love in your heart/ Wasn’t put there to stay/ – Love isn’t love ‘Till you give it away.” (Sound of Music, Oscar Hammerstein, stage version).  And “To love another person is to see the face of God” (Les Misérables, Victor Hugo). In other words, at least two people are needed for love to be present, and true love is hallmarked by an openness to the world and all therein. We believe in a single, unitary God, yet a God of love….. So here is the thought I offer you today:

Love is such a mysterious reality. When it is present, the world becomes something wonderful, even perhaps in the face of terrible trials and challenges. With love, anything and everything seem possible. It is not confined, it has to be given away. When returned, it is fulfilled, and the world seems perfect. We are stronger, happier, more willing and even better at facing whatever challenges come our way. And God is the heart and soul of it. God so loved the world…. And in God we have three “persons” as the heart of love. The Father uniting with Love, and emanating from that, the beloved Son “in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). To make that somewhat more intelligible, I recently made a case for us English-speakers with our strongly-based gender-sensitive language, to think of the Holy Spirit as female (see 6th Sunday of Easter, 17 May 2020), something which, I believe, Jesus himself would have understood and accepted completely, as God’s Spirit in his Aramaic language was female….. So, at the centre of the universe, the opposite of a black hole exists, not sucking everything into itself, but our numinous God of Love, unleashing the power of love upon us all, wanting nothing more than for it to be returned purely and rightly in what we say, do and think both with God and with all around us, incredibly inviting all of us to unite together both now and for all eternity. God so loves the world that we are invited into the Godhead of love eternal.


Pope Francis Opens Pre-Synod of Young People, March 2018, Young Christian Workers.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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The Procession, Swanson 1982.

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Then there appeared to them tongues as of  fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit….    Acts of the Apostles 2:3-4.

This day marks the event which changed everything. It took place originally on the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot, 50 days after Passover, one of the three Jewish feasts of pilgrimage (the others being Passover, and Sukkot, the Feast of Booths later in the year). The Jews in Jesus’ days called it Pentecost, meaning in Greek “fiftieth”, 50 days after Passover. That being so, pilgrims to the temple in Jerusalem may have stayed on after Passover to celebrate Pentecost also. Hence the crowds referred to in today’s reading (“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem”). Subsequently, Christians took over the Jewish-Greek name, so that today Pentecost is considered completely Christian. Christians also call it the feast of The Descent of the Holy Spirit, and the Birthday of the Church. The Christian term Whitsun is also employed for today, coming from the old English, or even the Anglo-Saxon, word “wit” meaning understanding or wisdom, given to Christ’s followers by the Holy Spirit on this day 2000 years ago. Our Jewish brothers and sisters today call it Shevuot, the Feast of Weeks, seven weeks after Passover, but it is also the thanksgiving Feast of the First Fruits of the Harvest, when the first buds had appeared in the fields. Also, by tradition, it was 50 days after  escaping from Egypt under Moses that the Hebrew refugees arrived at Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God, so it is also known as the Feast of the Law.  That makes a total of seven names for this combined feast! It also marks one of the greatest events in Christian history, the sine qua non of our church.

Consider it. The entire Christian community in the world was crowded into a small upper room somewhere in Jerusalem. They were praying, we are told, behind locked doors. Jesus had basically ordered them not to leave Jerusalem until the “gift” arrived, whatever that was (Acts 1:4). They were terrified that what had overtaken Jesus would happen to them too, as his followers. So they were in what would be called a “safehouse” today, fearing the worst, but hoping for… something. The crowds outside would be going to and coming from the temple giving thanks for the beginning of the year’s agricultural yield, and thanking God for their identity as God’s Chosen People, remembering the time when God chose them out of all the peoples of the world to receive the sacred Law.

Then it happened, as described in today’s first reading.

If I might venture an opinion, I believe this to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, “proofs” of God’s existence. What else could possibly explain how this terrified bunch of individuals suddenly opened those locked doors, never to be locked again, and rushed out into the Shevuot crowds to proclaim the news that the world’s savior, their Messiah, none other than the Son of God, had been in their very midst? The exact claim that had led to Jesus’ execution they were now shouting out loud to anyone who would listen to them. It was a complete and utter reversal which, I believe, can only be explained by the direct intervention of the finger of God, this time under the guise of tongues of fire. The arrival of the Holy Spirit of God inaugurated humanity’s third and final age, following that of God the Father in the time of the Old Testament, the time of God the Son with the life of Jesus among us, and now the time of the Holy Spirit, the age in which all of us are privileged to live. And, picking up on last week’s consideration of the Holy Spirit, note that the original Greek word “wind” in today’s first reading is πνοης, pnoēs, which can also be translated as “breath”. Hence you could say their safehouse was filled with God’s very breath, from which emerged tongues of apparent fire. Jewish identity had sprung from the Law; Christian identity springs from the very breath of God, breathing life, as it were, into that terrified Christian community, just as God’s breath had breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7). Nothing could, can or will contain that, hence the doors were burst open, the locks smashed and forgotten, and Jesus’ message has been proclaimed ever since.

And here we are, 2000 years later, but again cowering inside away from the covid-19 evil without. But there is a significant difference. We know that we will emerge at some time in the near future. In the meantime, this is an opportunity to consider the state of God’s church community today and our place in it. Where does each of us fit in? Each of us is the work of God as is the church community itself, and we all have a role to play. Am I playing it? Once we return to what is being called the “new normal”, what contribution will we all be able to make in helping the church recover its mission in and to the world? At the moment our opportunity is limited, but that means we have the time to pray, reflect and consider carefully what each of us can contribute. In that way, once the “self isolation” has vanished, then we can act on what this time of reflection suggests. Then we, each of us, can be God’s Holy Spirit breathing more life and strength into the institution we love and its mission. Hence this present lock-down can be considered God’s time if we are generous enough to make it so.


Pentecost, Pixabay.

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Saints of the Americas, Monastery Icons.

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For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.     1 Peter 3:17.

What struck me first in that icon above of the Saints of the Americas was the presence only of three secular people (that is to say, not priests or nuns) St. Kateri, and indigenous American native of the Algonquin tribe from New York State and Canada,  St. Juan Diego, another indigenous native of what is now Mexico, and St. Rose of Lima, Peru, (though she belonged to the secular Third Order of Saint Dominic) a child from a mixed marriage, indigenous and Spanish. The others were all members of religious orders, but Elizabeth Seton was a laywoman for much of her life before establishing a sisterhood and taking vows a few years before her death. All of them died natural deaths, some young, some old, but they all met enormous challenges to a holy life which they all confronted and conquered. Interestingly, there was an almost total contrast in backgrounds here, from the millionaire background of St. Katherine Drexel to the almost-certain illiteracy of St. Juan Diego. Yet in the eyes of God, they were all saints. Today’s readings support our efforts to emulate them as we strive to live up to our vocation to be Christ to the world, just as those saints emulated our Savior themselves (not forgetting the other North American martyrs, such as St. Isaac Jogues and his companions).

In a way, the three readings today suggest a pattern of growth in the faith. The first reading talks of the original followers of Jesus going to the upper room and staying there. There is no talk of preaching or in any way spreading the word. They simply prayed. In fact, they were almost certainly terrified that the fate Jesus had met might well be theirs too. Even the risen Lord had vanished from their sight at his Ascension. Although he had promised something would happen, they had no idea what it could be, or how they would ever emerge from the mess they were in. All they knew for sure was that they seemed to be alone. Their situation was just like a winter scene, a field, plowed, seeded and still, apparently devoid of life. The gospel has Jesus praying for them: “Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.” That seems to be a powerful validation of the sacred knowledge they now have, all locked into that upper room in Jerusalem. Trouble is, they were the only ones who had that knowledge, and no-one else had any idea about it. Jesus even said, “And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.” The second reading seems to offer a rather threatening future for them should they ever emerge from their room, “But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name.” Unfortunately  they didn’t have the courage to risk that suffering. They preferred whatever protection their locked doors offered them, keeping the world out. It was the perfect setting for the arrival of God’s Holy Spirit to change everything.

I wonder if that situation described the situation of any of us. We have that exact same knowledge Jesus talks of in his prayer. We have the faith that leads to eternal life and happiness. We know how to overcome those same challenges and hurdles our eight saints above confronted and defeated. In other words, we too are called to be Christ’s disciples at all times and in all places. But do we? There have been several moments in my life when I was clearly called by God to give witness to forgiveness, courage, protection, simple Christian virtue, and I failed. Remorse is the result, a bleak, almost hopeless aftershock. Nothing can be done about it, and even forgiveness of self is a challenge. But God’s Holy Spirit remains with us, with me. Courage is what I lacked, as it was with those locked up in the upper room. Praying to God’s Holy Spirit and asking for her (see last week’s reflection) guidance and strength is clearly the answer, and demands a suitable response. We all need a Pentecost moment.


Pentecost Moments, The Marfam Programme.

Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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The Holy Spirit, Colleen Shay, 2009, Fine Art America.

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Jesus said: [The Father] will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth.       John 14:16-17.

God’s Holy Spirit figures strongly in all three of today’s readings. This is not surprising as the event which changed everything, Pentecost, gets nearer. So perhaps a look at the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is appropriate at this time. Clearly, this Person is the most enigmatic of the three. It is easy to understand God as Father and Son, but the Spirit, appearing in the gospels as like a dove at the baptism of Jesus, and in the Acts of the Apostles as like flames of fire at Pentecost, is more challenging. As one Japanese gentleman contemplating Christian conversion supposedly said, “I understand the idea of honorable Father and honorable Son, but not the idea of the honorable Bird”. Quite understandable. The first letter of St. John states bluntly, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This gives love a very special quality then, so powerful that it is divine, part of the Godhead. Indeed, so strong that it has its own identity. As Jesus said at the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19 – see below). Now note I am describing the Holy Spirit as “it”, which makes God’s Spirit inanimate, the opposite of the truth. The English language comes into full force here as a consequence. To “animate” the Spirit, we have to use a personal pronoun, either “he” or “she”, and I’m stepping into deep water here…

As you know, all the original Christian texts, our New Testament, were written in Greek, which was the universal language at the time of Jesus (as English is today’s universal language). The quotation above, from the last verses of Mattrew’s gospel, is this in the original: πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος…” Now the last two words, ἁγίου πνεύματος, hagiou pneumatos, mean Holy Spirit. We get the English words hagiography and pneumatic from those Greek words, one referring to holiness, and the other to air. In Greek, pneuma (and in Greek, as in French, the p is pronounced: p-neuma),  means air or wind, and that is the word the original writers of the New Testament used for the Holy Spirit. Fine, except that in Greek, that word is neuter. It did not seem to matter back then. When the Greek text was translated into Latin, which had a huge influence on the eventual English translations, the Greek word was translated as Spiritus, from which we get our word Spirit, and in Latin it is masculine. Most Latin words ending in -us are masculine (words ending in -a are usually feminine). Hence Spiritus was “he”. All well and good, until you dig a little deeper, to the language Jesus actually spoke, which was Aramaic, closely related to Hebrew. The Hebrew word for Spirit is רוּחַ “ruach” pronounced Ruahh (as in the Scottish word loch). Now here’s the point. In Hebrew and Aramaic, that word is feminine. In the first verses of the Book of Genesis, God’s ruach hovers over the waters of chaos prior to order arriving, firstly in the creation of light. Then, later, God’s ruach entered the man formed of clay, and God’s ruach gave him life (Genesis 2:7). So there are two meanings here, both wind and breath, but the word is feminine. Clearly, I am taking the Spirit, the ruach  of God in the Old Testament as a prefiguration of the revelation by Jesus that God’s Holy Spirit is a person, one of the community of three in the one Godhead. Hence, for Jesus, God’s Spirit would always be thought of as “she”, described as such in Scripture. Now read today’s first reading and substitute “she” for “it” when referring to the Holy Spirit near the end of the passage, and see what that one small difference makes to our English-language minds and hearts. Remember that in other European languages, the gender of nouns is almost meaningless, so there is no controversy. But for us, gender applies directly and clearly to things masculine, feminine and neuter. It actually means something! One more note; the Hebrew word for wisdom, חוכמה or Chokmâh, used when talking of God’s wisdom, is also feminine.

Why have I done all this? Well, firstly, God transcends all our thinking of gender, but we do not think as God thinks, so thinking of God’s Holy Spirit as “she” makes the Trinity truly universal. The Father and the Spirit of Love emanate out as the Son who was given to us out of love, an act of love so inconceivable as to be overwhelming. And the Passion of the Son is the absolute proof of that love of us sinful people that in spite of what happened, we are still loved beyond all telling. Yet those first disciples, perhaps already knowing all that, were still terrified of the authorities who might arrest and kill them all. They were still in hiding, waiting for the worst to happen. It was only when She, God’s Holy Spirit, came upon them that things changed forever. So meditate on this line in today’s gospel: [The Father] will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him.” and substitute “her” for that last word and examine the reaction within yourself…


God’s Holy Spirit, Catholic Answers.

Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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