Friday 22 December 2023


Gum tree shedding[i]

Over the past few weeks, I have watched one of my favourite gum trees in the nearby park shed its bark.

It is time for the bark that has protected it over the past year to drop to the ground.  It’s work protecting the tree has finished.

The bark must leave for the tree to continue to grow, expand, continue its work of home for birds, small animals and insects; for its roots to hold the earth firm and its leaves to clean the air all creatures breathe.   To say nothing of its majestic beauty in the evening sunlight.

Now it stands white against the embankment (railway line included) and the sky showing a new skin which bears the scars of its life – fallen branches, claw marks and insect tracks.  In the sunlight it glows with the reflected light.

But the discarded bark is not wasted or lost.  It lays around the base of the tree as protective mulch cooling the earth and tree roots in the summer heat and warming them in the winter.  Small creatures of the earth thrive in it finding shelter and food.  Over time it will become good earth to nourish the tree and the land.

Nothing is lost.  A community of life.

This gum tree has accompanied me during my years of living here particularly during COVID.  This Advent and Christmas the tree has accompanied me through a time of personal shedding which has enriched my sense of the Antipodean liturgical celebration of something new afoot in the universe with the birth of this Child.

To be human is to allow ourselves to shed at each stage of our lives in order to grow into the next moment of being human.  Often it means shedding the good as well as the not-so-good – from childhood to early adulthood then the time of inexorable changes that come with age, and perhaps some maturity. 

So often, I have found that the choice to allow someone or something good and precious to leave my life is the hardest choice.  Even enforced leavings have to be chosen, embraced if wisdom and maturity are to come.

Today is the anniversary of my father’s death.  He was a good man, an ordinary man, unremarkable in so many ways but a man of duty, family love and care for others.  I remember times when he took difficult stands over needy or unjust situations.  These were costly but he, with the support of Mum, reached out with honour to address the matter.  He was no loud crusader – just an ordinary man seeing a need.  An ordinary man who bore the scars of living justly and lovingly.

Over the years since his death, I have seen something of his legacy in myself.  His death was the shedding I had to choose – a farewell in order to continue life.  Yet in that choice, I see the shed shards of his life and values around me and in me enriching me (compost?) and encouraging growth in love, compassion, justice – until my own final summer shedding.  His shedding is now finished in the mystery of God-with-us.  He is what he was meant to be. 

This is the life the One who is the Word and Wisdom of God embraced.  Flesh of our flesh.  Our summer Advent and Christmas speaks of the sun’s brilliance, the necessity to shed like the gum tree to let Christ be born is us – day in and day out; to embrace the seasonal rhythms of our lives. 

In the end, nothing is lost – all is Grace.

[i] About gum trees for those not familiar with them – including Aussies!

Sunday 27 November 2022


On Sauntering


The Creek

Over the past couple of years, I have been able to go for regular walks, something I have not been able to do for many years because of a chronic health condition.  Walking sometimes happens but mostly it is sauntering.  On these excursions I am always accompanied by my miniature poodle, Leo.

Thanks to these saunters, I have discovered many things – the joy when a rhythm of movement takes over and I feel my body is walking me effortlessly; gardens, parks and trees; wildlife and other walkers and the local dogs.  Dogs are the best conversation openers.

One of my favourite walks is along a nearby creek either in the early morning or late afternoon.  I enter the surrounding open parkland from a busy suburban road and built up suburbia, to open space giving me a sense of large sky and horizon and then the path leads to the tree lined creek walk which enfolds the path in shade.  Here the wildlife flourishes – fish, water dragons, birds of many sorts.

We owe the flourishing of this creek to the persistence of one local man who, over many years has taken it upon himself to regenerate the creek environment.  Over time the city council and a nearby school have contributed to the regeneration process which is still underway.

This lone man has energised both local government and local people to care for this waterway which, before the regeneration was a polluted tip for rubbish from plastic bags to shopping trolleys. 

Along the way, people, children and dogs more often than not exchange greetings – a smile, a ‘morning! greeting, dog pat or short conversation.  I am not sure we know each other’s names but we do know the names of the dogs and the children.

I return from these walks refreshed in spirit and understand why Hilaire Belloc claimed that the word ‘saunter’ comes from the Old French terre sainte.  Others claim the word comes from Middle English meaning to wonder, to muse.  The latter emphasised it as a thought process.  Belloc emphasised a way of walking on holy ground. 

These meanings coincide for me. 

These saunters enable my encounters with my ability to be enjoyably active, the beauty to be found in the familiar and the graciousness of people open me to the Mystery.  I return to my home with hope, gratitude and joy renewed.

There is much suffering in the world – the land and sea, the creatures and humankind – and humankind appears to be in denial.  However, in these moments of graciousness I am reminded that goodness abounds – one man’s perseverance brings life to a creek and starts a movement, people adopt rejected and cruelly treated greyhounds, others accompany elderly or disabled people on walks, families take time to play together and dogs, well, dogs just want to talk to everyone.  A smile, an encounter says, ‘I acknowledge you.  You exist.’

I am reminded again and again that the Holy took flesh and became one with all creation, not because creation was bad, but because we are more beautiful and treasured than we can imagine.  Christ is not only ‘through whom all things were created’ but Risen, he is the crown of creation.  All images fall short of the committed love of God for us.

We see tokens of this love in the abiding love of family and friends and those who hunger and thirst for justice. 

These momentary glimpses of fidelity to goodness I have in my sauntering are tangible glimpses of the Holy always present, always nudging us to see and respond and enlarge our hearts and minds.  They reaffirm goodness already present and too often unnoticed. Goodness is contagious.

My sauntering creates a silence within me that allows me to see the familiar (even myself) with newness, wonder and gratitude.  I, like everyone else, learn well when I take time to attend.  So, I return home with renewed hope, trust and joy in the God of Jesus who dwells among us in surprising ways.

In Advent we have two great invocations: ‘Come Lord Jesus’ – the great cry Maranatha and ‘Awake!’  God in Christ, the Risen One is both always present, always coming and always seeking us. 

May we be awake to the Holy One in the surprising goodness with which we are surrounded and bask in the moments.

Sunday 27 March 2022

The prodigal son

In the liturgy for 4th Sunday of Lent Lk 15:1-3; 11-32

In SS 15:1-32


Luke sets this parable in the context of tax collectors and sinners coming to Jesus and the Pharisees grumbling that ‘this man welcomes sinners and eats with them’. Which may well indicate that ‘sinners and tax collectors’ were unrepentantly still plying their trades.

The stories of the Gospels would have been shared by travelling evangelists at the meal of the Lord’s supper which was shared by the receiving community.

So, the primary context for the story is one of meal sharing which indicates it is telling us something about who Luke’s hearers accept into the sharing of the communal meal and how they welcome them.

The lectionary leaves out two parables in order to highlight this meal context.  However, in the Gospel, the two parables preceding are important.  They tell the stories of the lost coin and the lost sheep.  Now, neither coins nor sheep can repent despite vs. 10.  These parables are about seeking out the lost and the joy of finding.

So, context is important.  It directs us towards the way Luke wants us to understand the stories. Luke is inviting his listeners/readers to keep this in mind.

Parable and Allegory

Allegory is a story form of the Greco-Roman world and one western though has inherited.  Parable is a Jewish form of storytelling.  This is not an exclusive distinction as there are times when the two overlap.  However, Jesus’ first century Jewish listeners would have heard this story as a parable not an allegory. 

The Gospels show a tendency to allegorise the parables e.g., Mark 4 where the original parable to the Sower is given an allegorical interpretation by Mark.  According to scholars, this indicates a shift in the spread of the movement from Jewish communities to the gentiles.

Allegories tend to be for initiates.  They hide meaning which can only be understood by those initiated into the group.  Each character is assigned a particular meaning.  There tends to be one main message.

Parables are stories which are open ended.  There is not one resolution. They must be thought about, played with, looked at from many different angles.  They invite us to think about what is happening in the story, apply it to what is happening in our lives and our world, shake us out of our own perceptions.  They call for conversion. 

In parables, often the characters and events are exaggerated in order to make a point.

For the Jews, the hallmark of a good Rabbi’s preaching was could he tell a good parable that would hold the listeners enthralled, get conversation going and open their minds.

First century listeners

Christian hearers/listeners understand this story allegorically i.e. the father is God, the younger son the forgiven penitent.  Jesus’ Jewish first century audience would have heard this story as a parable with roots in their tradition.  So, let’s look at the protagonists.

The younger son: ‘There was a man who had two sons.’ Think of all the great stories of the Hebrew Scriptures beginning with Cain and Abel, Isaac, Jacob and Ephraim.  The younger son in all these stories is either the hero (even if a bit devious) or to be sympathised with.

Suddenly the audience is horrified, because this younger son does a terrible thing – he wants his inheritance.  He is asking his father to dissipate the family’s (and possibly, clan’s) wealth and security so he can leave the family. 

Which he does, replete with his share of the family’s fortune.  He promptly spends it all on debauchery and ends up looking after pigs.  Pigs!  Unclean animals of the gentiles.  He has compounded the offence.

Now the audience has to readjust their sympathies which in their traditional stories would be with the younger son.  However, this younger son is not a hero.  In fact, he irresponsibly ignores his role in the family.

The listeners may just have to sympathise with the elder son.

When he ‘came to his senses’ and saw that the bright lights of dissolute living and pig herding weren’t doing him much good, his reasons for his return are far from altruistic – the servants (slaves) in his father’s house live better than he does.  He formulates a return plan.

The father:  To give away half of the family’s inheritance would be considered foolhardy.  The role of the father in any large extended family of the time was to ensure the security, both financial and physical of the members of the family.  No one listening of Jesus tell this parable would have been impressed by this generosity.  They would have been shocked.

The Jewish father loved his children, cared for them and mourned their loss.   Children, especially sons were God’s gift to them. There is no question about that.  There is much in the tradition that sets rules/guidelines for the care of children. 

The listener would have seen the father’s acquiescence to the son’s request as weakness and indulgence, not love.

On the younger son’s return, his father is ‘filled with compassion’.  He calls to his servants to bring the robe, the ring and the sandals.  In this way this younger son is welcomed back and fully reinstated into the family. 

The slaughter of the fatted calf is no small thing.  Meat was not generally part of the diet as animals were part of the family’s capital.  This family were obviously wealthy. 

Did all this mean that the younger son would have another share of inheritance?

Would the listeners have perceived this as weakness on the father’s part? 

Will this younger son change his ways?

The elder son:  The elder son is ‘in the field’ i.e., attending to the family duties. It is interesting in this parable that the son’s return is celebrated by his father and servants.  The mother, the elder son and other siblings and family members are not informed of his return.

The elder son has to ask the servants what is going on.  He is angry.  He refuses to go inside and join the celebration meal.  His lifelong fidelity has not been appreciated.  Hurt and anger boil over. This son has been the faithful child and has never been acknowledged or celebrated as that by his father.

The parable ends with the father’s explanation – ‘everything I have is yours’ and this son ‘was lost and been found’.   

We leave the father and elder son standing outside the festival looking at each other. We are invited to consider what might be happening between them.

Has the father learned anything about his elder son?

Can this son trust his father not to jeopardise the family security again?

It is left to us, the listeners, to savour this story.  Parables leave many questions. 

Is this story about family/community relationships?  After all, when we look at the story as being about ordinary people, they are as good and as dysfunctional as any family whether it was first century or today.

Luke sets it directly after the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin, stories about the mission of these small faith communities and their joy when the lost are found.  Is this a parable of how to welcome very different people who have been evangelised by the community?

Given the fact that Luke situates these stories in the context of eating with tax collectors and sinners, is this saying something about the community’s welcome of people who are ‘different’. 

Is the party for the younger son a mirror of the community’s relationships? 

Who should be admitted to the table fellowship?

So, the questions are evoked and the listener/reader is invited to examine their own attitudes, beliefs and actions.

Enjoy playing with this parable.


*I am indebted to Amy Jill Levine for her work on the parables in her book Short Stories by Jesus.  This book and work done on the Christian parables by contemporary Jewish scholars transformed how I understood these literary jewels, the parables.

Sunday 3 January 2021

He became like us…

For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin. (GS24)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Hb. 4:15


The New Testament is clear in its belief that Jesus was sinless.  Jesus sinlessness does not exempt him from normal human development and the ups and downs and interactions of human life.  In fact, I think it allowed him to enter more fully into growing up and growing into his understanding of his deep identity.  He would not have had the neuroses we have that filter reality.

The Liturgy

The Christmas season continues until the feast of the Baptism of Jesus.  From the journey through Advent to Christmas-tide we have listened to the readings that celebrate the great titles of the One to come and woven into the birth narratives of Matthew, Luke and John.

These stories were written to be read aloud at the gatherings of the early communities.  The listeners would have understood the rich tapestry of allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures and understood the deep meaning of the stories.

This is rich fare, and the liturgy has spread it over many weeks so we are able to reflect on the meaning of these stories that seek to understand the deep significance of Jesus.

Sometimes I think that with such splendour, let alone the legends that elaborate the stories, the reality of a new born child at a particular time and culture may become obscured.

What sort of world was Jesus born into?  What was life like for free-born Jewish children in this time?  Sadly, very little evidence is available however archaeology, anthropology and surviving writings give us some insight. 

The documents that survive are written by elite, educated men, so these don’t give us much insight into the daily practicalities of children’s lives.  The Rabbis who compiled the Talmud (a later document which may reflect earlier practices) laid down precepts for both the mother and child around birth and nurture.

What follows applies to free-born children and families not slaves belonging to those families.  In society slavery was common and generally practiced.

The parents: 

Under ancient Jewish law a girl could marry at 12 years of age.  However, at this time the Rabbis preferred girls to marry between 14 and 20.  Usually marriages were arranged by fathers or close male relatives. 

Men usually married at around 18.  However, a man may enter into several serial marriages given the mortality rate of women in childbirth.  Therefore, a husband may be older than his wife and have had children by a previous marriage/s.

Weddings were whole village affairs.  Everyone participated and the celebration would last for days.  Appropriate bridal clothing was important. If the bride or guests could not afford a wedding garment, the village would supply it. 

Conception and Birth: 

The Jews believed that there were three entitles in every conception – the mother, the father and God.  It was God alone who gave life.  For this reason, pregnancy was welcomed as a blessing, part of the Jewish inheritance from God and hope for the future.  Children also ensured economic and social survival.

There is no evidence that Jews exposed, abandoned or aborted babies.

Birth was women’s business.  A midwife and helpers were present to ensure a safe birth.  The newborn was rubbed with salt or oil and then swaddled.  Salt or oil was believed to strengthen the skin and swaddling was to straighten the baby’s limbs.  It was also comforting.

By Jewish law, both mother and child had days of quiet after the birth and the mother was released from religious obligations.  She was considered ritually unclean and would be purified by water immersion a week after the birth of a boy and two weeks after the birth of a girl. 

On the eighth day a boy child was circumcised as a sign of the covenant between God and Israel.

Birth was a dangerous time for the mother and the child.  Of eight pregnancies two or three children would survive.

Writings of the time pass over who had the authority to name the baby.  However, from evidence in the Scriptures, the mother usually named him or her.

Home and Family life:

Excavation of 1st Century house under Sion Convent, Nazareth

Recent excavations in Nazareth show that the village was larger than previously thought.  It was a relatively prosperous large village/town.  Archaeologists in Nazareth have found several ‘courtyard houses’ which were large enough to accommodate several families.  Often their livelihoods were carried out in the precinct.

Whatever the social or economic status of the family, the new baby was born into an extended and multi-generational family of grandparents, uncles and their wives, their children as well as the child’s siblings from the current or a previous marriage.  Other relatives and their children may well be residents also.

Women went to live with the family of their husbands whose houses were likely to be in proximity to the house of their birth.  So, in one way or another, residents of a village tended to form the larger extended family.

From both archaeology and linguistics, it appears that the Nazareth house was that of economically comfortable people.  It is thought that the Greek word translated as ‘carpenter’ means a highly skilled tradesman, probably a contractor.

Living in Nazareth meant that Sephoris was only a few kilometres away – and Sephoris, a Greek influenced city, was undergoing a building boom.

Excavations in Nazareth of the house thought to be that of Joseph and Mary show a substantial first century CE residence partly built into overhanging rock and partly of stone, supplied with its own well.  First century jewellery and children’s toys have been found.

So, Jesus was born into this large, multilayered family.  The Gospels mention four brothers (James, Joses, Jude and Simon) and two sisters who are unnamed.  As a baby and a child, he would be under the authority of his father. Jewish fatherhood was very unlike the Roman paterfamilias.  Tacitus, the Roman historian wrote disparagingly that for the Jews ‘it is even a crime among them to kill a child’.  Jewish law enshrined the obligation of both parents and the community to care for, feed, educate and provide for their marriage.

Jesus would have been breast-fed until he reached three years of age, most of this time would be with the women of the household until he was weaned and old enough to begin to learn the work of his family. This meant he learnt to interact with the wider village community including customers and other tradesmen.

Jesus would have learned the ways of the Jewish life and belief from this close-knit family, the villagers and from the local Synagogue. 

Children were loved and desired but far from pampered.  From birth they were formed in Jewish society and Torah.  They were expected to take on activities suitable for their age so they grew up understanding their part of family life was both important and expected.

Courtyard house first Century

A boy would be prepared for his work and a girl would be prepared for household work and marriage. 

However, this did not mean that life was just work. Village and religious festivals including marriages were celebrations for everyone.  The gentiles of the Roman world thought that the Jewish Sabbath was a terrible waste of trading and work time.  They just couldn’t see the point.

In some excavations, children’s toys have been found and from finger print imagery it is evident that the children learned to make their own.  It was all part of learning about what would be expected in life.

Children were immersed in the relationships of ‘the courtyard’ with all the complexity of different personalities and opinions but also the solidarity of a close-knit family, which gave some economic and political security.

By about twelve years of age a boy was deemed ready to read the Torah in the local Synagogue (Bar Mitzvahs were a later development).  This would indicate that literacy was more widespread than originally thought – at least functional literacy.  The Jews valued learning.

From excavations, it is evident that Nazareth was a very orthodox Jewish town.  In fact, from archaeological digs, most of Galilee was with the exception of a few Romanised towns.

Given this context, Jesus would have absorbed a strongly orthodox observance of the Torah in all its aspects.

The story of the adolescent Jesus in the temple gives a sense that this was an ‘in between’ age.  Was he an adult and therefore stayed with the men, or was he still a child and with the women and other children?  His behaviour is somewhat typical of edgy adolescence.

Roman rule:

Judea was under direct Roman rule.  However, Galilee under Herod Antipas (4 BCE-39 CE), while still under Roman rule its influence was less obvious.  Either way, the Roman empire demanded obedience and Jesus would have grown up with stories of spasmodic Jewish revolts which were brutally quashed.  He, like everyone else would know that their land, given to Israel by the Holy One, was not free.

Grown up:

Jesus did not follow the family trade.  He chose to be a travelling Rabbi.  We have no way of knowing what this meant to the family.  We do know from Gospel passages that Mary and Jesus’ brothers were concerned about him and John writes that his ‘brothers did not believe him’ (Jn 7:5). Yet, in Acts and the Pauline writings, Mary and some of Jesus’ siblings were members of the earliest community.  So perhaps, they gradually came to understand him.

From Jesus’ popularity as a teaching Rabbi, it is obvious that he was a gifted preacher who could hold the listeners enthralled.  The Jews placed high value on good preaching that both entertained and instructed. 

Unlike the Rabbis, Jesus did not choose his disciples from his clan or class.  Discipleship was open irrespective of class, education or gender.

Jesus’ teaching has deep roots in the Torah and Jewish practices.  However, there are aspects that don’t resonate with the Judaism of his time. So, one could ask what was the influence of his early life that gave him these insights.

In his preaching, Jesus calls his disciples to put him before family.  Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me (Mt 10:37).  Jesus calls his disciples to put the Reign of God before every other priority.

In a culture where family and tribe are foundational, how did Jesus’ family hear these words?  What is he asking?  How do we understand this in our culture and time?

 19th century photograph of a Judean village


So, where is all this leading?  The great titles of the Messiah and the theology of the Christmas narratives are attempts to see Jesus ‘from inside’.  To express the meaning of this man.  They are read in the light of Jesus’ death, resurrection and sending of the Spirit.  They knew how the story ended.

When we talk about incarnation, we are talking about the fleshtaking of the Divine – the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us (Jn 1:14). For the Jews, flesh is humanity and creation in its glory, messiness and temporality.  If we believe that in Jesus, we see the Divine we must also say that we see the human.

I think that over the two millennia of Christianity, we can sometimes forget that those great titles belong of a human being   This meant that Jesus was born in a particular family, faith, time, place, culture, economy, political system that shaped him – just as we are.    

By virtue of our Baptism, the great titles found is Isaiah are also about us – who we are in our particularity of time and place.

Just as the Word became flesh in a Jewish village of the Roman empire, the Word becomes flesh in and through us now – in this place and time.  In the ordinary of our particularity and daily life here and now.

Wednesday 16 December 2020

 Advent – God and crooked lines

The 17th December heralds in a new phase of the Advent liturgy.  It is a time of heightened expectations expressed in the drama of the great anticipation. 

This time has its own special antiphons for the Breviary and in particular the great O Antiphons which are also reflected in the liturgy of the Eucharist for these days.  These antiphons have been set to some of the most beautiful music we have.

I wrote about these antiphons here .  They reflect the longing and hope of Israel which were fulfilled in Jesus.

The Gospel reading for the 17th that ushers in this period is the genealogy of Jesus Christ according to Matthew (Mt 1:1-17).  This text is so important it is also read at the Vigil of Christmas.  

So, what is it about a list of names?

In the culture of Israel and the Jews of the first Christian communities, genealogy tells us who that person is.  It is their identity; their credentials.  Matthew’s community would be familiar with this from their Jewish heritage.  They would have known each of these ancestors.

Matthew divides the generations into three parts of fourteen ancestors.  Mostly, men are named but there are four women who are significant.

This list of names of patriarchs and kings who were leaders of Israel, were called by God to serve their people.  Some did well others didn’t.  We have the patriarch Abraham and his dynasty of Isaac and Jacob and their descendants; Boaz, a wealthy landowner becomes the husband of Ruth and ancestor of King David who became the measure against which all kings were gauged.

Yet these men were imperfect.  Abraham was more than willing to slaughter his son at God’s behest; he was devious in passing his wife Sarah off as his sister to save himself; he expelled his concubine Hagar and her child to fend for themselves. 

Isaac, like his father passed his wife Rebekah off as his sister and he is tricked into giving his blessing to Jacob the younger son.

Jacob was devious in tricking his father and certainly no model of parenting as his favouritism towards Joseph led to his brothers hating him and trying to kill him.  Instead, Joseph was sold as a slave.  Fortunately for this dysfunctional family, Joseph rose to power in Egypt and gave them shelter.

This brings us to the women in the genealogy.  Judah is one of Jacob’s sons.  Tamar was his daughter-in-law but both her husbands died.  Judah refused to have her marry the third son and sent her away.  She dressed as a prostitute by the roadside and from her liaison with Judah became pregnant.  When Judah found out he ordered her put to death.  However, Tamar had items which he had given her and produced these, thus saving her life.  Judah admitted his liaison and brought her back into the family.

Tamar is considered a heroine because under the levirate marriage laws, the son she bore would continue the dynasty of her deceased husband.  By refusing to have his third son marry Tamar he broke this significant custom.

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho when Israel was entering the promised land.  She helped Joshua’s spies escape from Jericho.  After Jericho fell, it is said that only Rahab and her family were spared.  In certain texts, Rahab married Joshua.

Ruth, was a Moabite, a race hated by Israelites.  It is a beautiful story (The Book of Ruth) of fidelity to Naomi, her mother-in-law and to her deceased husband.  Ruth eventually marries Boaz and they become the grandparents of David.  Again the levirate marriage customs formed part of the story.

The fourth woman, goes unnamed in the genealogy but we know her as Bathsheba.  She is powerless against the authority of the king. King David sees her bathing and desires her to the point that he arranges for her husband Uriah to be killed in battle.  We have this king who is one ‘after God’s heart’, an adulterer and a murderer.

It is unusual for women to be named in a genealogy but each of these women is considered a heroine in Israel.  They had questionable reputations and put themselves at risk.  Through them, the line of the Messiah is ensured.  Mary is the only other woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy and she too stands in line with these heroines.

These men and women in Jesus’ genealogy stand out as at times devious, foolish, venal, victims, outsiders (think of Ruth the Moabite and Rahab the Jericho prostitute).  At the same time, they are God’s beloved through whom God patiently weaves the threads of salvation history. 

They weren’t perfect individuals. The Scriptures do no shy away from recounting their failures. In the midst of the complexities of human life, they stayed faithful to the Holy One who blessed them, called them to repentance and through them the desires of Israel were fulfilled.  They are the line of the messiah.

I take consolation from this genealogy.  The Holy One is patient, chooses us as we are and invites us to allow ourselves to grow into wholeness.  We are part of the great story of salvation history that Jesus’ ancestors lived. 

If we wait until we are perfect or until circumstances are perfect, we have missed the whole point of Incarnation – that God is with us.

This is the key to understanding this history given by Matthew.  He begins and ends the Gospel with ‘God with us’.  He adds to Isaiah 7:14 – Jesus’ name ‘Emmanuel’ is explained as ‘God with us’.  Matthew ends the Gospel with Jesus in Galilee sending out his disciples to make disciples of all nations with the promise ‘I am with you all days, until the end of the age’ (Mt 28:20)

As my mother used to say, ‘God writes straight on crooked lines’.

All I can say is, ‘Thank goodness’.

Thursday 3 December 2020


Advent is here! 

Advent is my favourite liturgical season with the profound poetry of Isaiah (mainly) which we Christians read as the coming and the Reign of God.  We see Isaiah’s words in the Gospel texts that tell us that these promises are enfleshed in Jesus and will come to fruition when the Parousia, the final day arrives when ‘Christ will be all in all’.

So, the liturgy talks about the coming of Christ in human flesh and the final fulfilment.

However, what happens in between?  What do we, God’s missionary disciples, the Body of Christ here and now make of them?

The promises

Until 16th December, the texts of the first readings, both weekdays and Sundays, make great promises about this time:

Swords will be turned into ploughshares

No more training for war

We will walk in the light of the Lord

The wolf lives with the lamb

There will be no more weeping because God will hear our cry

Every tear will be wiped away

There will be an abundance of food

The deaf will hear and the lowly rejoice

Tyrants will be no more

We will be consoled because sin will be no more (p23)


The Anointed One and the Anointed Ones

When that first community read Isaiah in the light of the Incarnation, they saw the promises fulfilled in Jesus’ life summed up in Isaiah 11

A spirit of wisdom and insight,

A spirit of counsel and power

A spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord….

He does not judge be appearances,

He gives no verdict on hearsay,

But judges the wretched with integrity,

And with equity gives a verdict for the poor in the land.

His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,

His sentences bring death to the wicked.

Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,

Faithfulness the belt about his hips.


However, for us, baptised into the Body of Christ, they are also the qualities of the missionary disciple for we are the living presence of Christ in whom the Reign of God is fulfilled.  This is our mission. This is our great dignity.  These great poems of Advent are also about our identity. 

We have been entrusted with peacemaking, justice doing, relief for the poor, freedom for captives….  Precisely because we are the living face of this Jesus, the Anointed one, Incarnate and Risen.

It may sound too large for us humans who often muddle along.  Too big for ordinary people.  Yet this high calling is grounded in our daily encounters.  Each time we treat someone with respect, recognise in another our sister or brother, forgive, speak for those voiceless, bring relief to those suffering no matter how small our ways, they send ripples out to who knows where.

As we live these gifts daily in the community of faith, we create places of fraternal friendship and welcome.  We transform the world.


The texts of Advent call us to repentance, conversion – ‘If you had been alert to my commandments your happiness would have been like a river….’ (Is 48:17-19).  We are asked to turn to the Holy One and be saved.  From what? 

We cannot enter into the joy of the Holy unless we care for all those God asks us to care.  We shut ourselves out but the Holy One waits for us.

Personally, I think we need to turn from limitations of mind and heart to embrace the extraordinary dignity and mission God has gifted us with. Our prayer and our actions embrace both our neighbour and the world. The great Rabbi, Abraham Heschel wrote that we are the shape of God in human history.

If there is one thing this pandemic has brought home to me is that we survive only when we see our lives as a network of relationships with all humankind and all creation.  To wear a mask is not only to protect ourselves but it is an act of love for others – people we may never know.  We wash hands, keep distance and isolate ourselves, for those we love but also for those we may never know.  This is redeeming friendship.  What Pope Francis in Fratelli tutti calls ‘fraternal friendship’.

The contagion of the virus made me think about how close all our encounters are, whether they be human or with the rest of creation.  We share breath when we speak, we share DNA, we share the air we breathe.  We saw pollution levels drop and wildlife return to the cities. We most truly are related on a deep level of God’s creation. 

The conversion Advent asks of us is to be converted from exclusive individualism to community knowing ourselves to be sisters and brothers.  It asks us to expand our horizons to include the whole world; to expand the circle of love to people who are poor, hungry, alone, lost, despised, the stranger; to act with justice and honesty in all one’s interactions with people and all creation. 

This conversion of Advent is a daily movement to see as God sees, to love as the Holy One loves.  To see as the God of Jesus sees.  Our truth is that we live in a network of relationships with all creation.  The Triune God so loved the world that the Second Person entered into creation to be its glory, crown and redeemer. 

As the Holy One says, ‘with an excess of love I will take you back’ (Is 54:1-10). Daily, momentary conversion God embraces us.

Of course, this is all God’s doing, the Spirit inspiring us.  We have the promise, ‘…my love for you will never leave you and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken says the Lord who takes pity on you. (Is 54:10). 

To answer my question, ‘what happens in between’? Christ comes to us to transform us into his likeness and in turn our faithful acts of love make this visible.

‘We have promised great things to God


God has promised even greater things to us’

St Francis of Assisi

Monday 26 October 2020


The Canticle of the Creatures

Recently I needed to prepare an introduction to St Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures.  The Canticle was to be the prayer opening to a talk on Laudato si given by Peter Arndt, Executive Office, Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Brisbane.

Introduction to the Canticle

The title of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato si is taken from The Canticle of the Creatures by St Francis of Assisi.

It is thought to be the first hymn ever written in ‘Italian’ i.e. in the Umbrian dialect.

First of all, a word on the Umbrian word ‘per’ usually translated ‘through’ or ‘for’.  It is ambiguous as it can mean through, in, for or with.  So, the Canticle is praise of God through, in, for, with all creation.

The Canticle can sometimes be perceived as a sentimental, romantic hymn to creation.  This is to misunderstand it.

The Canticle arose from St Francis’ profound mystical relationship with the Divine incarnate in Jesus - ‘the Lord of Glory who became our brother’.  He is Friar Jesus, our brother.  He is at the same time the Divine Word through whom all things were created, thus Francis’ reverence for the brotherhood and sisterhood of all creation rests in Jesus who became one of us.

Creation is the primary revelation of Divine creative love and in Jesus’ flesh-taking this creative Parenthood of God is made visible.  So, we and all that is created are sisters and brothers through the Parenthood of the Father and the flesh-taking of the Word in the creative power of the Spirit.

Francis wrote the Canticle over a period of time.

The first verses were written in 1224/5 when he was living in a darkened hut in the grounds of St Clare’s monastery, San Damiano where he was being cared for by Clare and her sisters.  Francis was blind and in pain from having his eyes cauterised.  From time to time the hut was infested with mice. 

From this darkness the verses of praise burst forth.

The second part was written to broker peace between the Mayor of Assisi and the Bishop.  Their sworn hatred for each other developed into violent factions in the city.  Francis wrote the verses about forgiveness and sent his friars to sing it asking the Mayor and Bishop to ‘listen carefully’.  Peace was restored.

The verse welcoming Sister Death was written at the Portiuncula around 3 October 1226 as Francis lay dying.  He asked to be placed naked on the ground so he could meet the God he loved in total poverty as did Jesus.  Surrounded by the friars and Lady Jacopa di Settisoli, he dictated these verses and asked his brothers to sing Canticle.

It is written by eyewitnesses that Francis died singing.  It is said that when he died, though it was night, the larks of Umbria flew into the sky and sang.

So, the Canticle celebrates the mystical insight into the Divine and all creation.  It is about faith, gratitude, wonder at the gift of the Holy One who became one of us.  It is sings of the deep relational truth of creation and so how to live.

Often science has to catch up with the mystics.

The Canticle

Most High, all powerful, good Lord, 
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honour, 
and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong, 
and no one is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, 
especially through my lord Brother Sun, 
who brings the day; and you give light through him. 
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour! 
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon 
and the stars, in heaven you formed them 
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, 
and through the air, cloudy and serene, 
and every kind of weather through which 
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, 
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful 
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, 
who sustains us and governs us and who produces 
varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.