Michæl McFarland Campbell

Always telling the story

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Christ is interested in our hearts every day of our life

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A reflection on the readings for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), Isaiah 66:18–21; Psalm 117: 1, 2; Hebrews 12:5–7, 11–13; and St Luke 13:22–30

young man with a hat reading a book
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Many Jews at the time of Jesus thought that salvation was based on external factors, like race and ritual. Many Jews, in fact, believed that only Jews could actually live in communion with God. The non-Jewish peoples, so they thought, were destined to be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Others believed that you not only needed to be of the Jewish race to win God’s favour, but you also had to follow even the most minute details of the Law of Moses, as well as the many ritual practices that had grown up around that Law.

Jesus takes the opportunity of the question about whether or not many people will be saved, to correct those wrong ideas. He explains that in God’s Kingdom there will be people from all four corners of the earth—just as Isaiah had prophesied, and as we read in the First Reading. So race had nothing to do with it. He also explains that many who `ate and drank’ with the Lord—in other words, many who followed all the many external rituals that governed Jewish eating and drinking at the time—will be excluded from God’s Kingdom. So exterior rituals aren’t the ticket either.

But if race and ritual are not the keys to salvation, what is?

It’s the heart.

Salvation does not depend primarily on external appearances, but on friendship with Christ, and that is rooted in our hearts. The people in His parable who were excluded from the heavenly banquet complained that the Lord had actually taught in their streets. But the Lord answers them, `I do not know where you are from.’ In other words, they are strangers to Him. Maybe they did let Him into their streets, but they never let Him into their hearts.

Heart to heart

a statue of the sacred heart of jesus
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St Margaret Mary Alacoque was a French nun who lived in the 1600s. She was privileged by God with a series of visions in which Jesus appeared to her and revealed His Sacred Heart. He explained to her that his love for sinners was so great that whenever they ignored it or didn’t accept it, he felt as much pain as if someone were driving a thorn into his physical heart.

The Sacred Heart devotion that we see around us, and have heard about, traces its beginnings to those apparitions.

During one of them, St Mary asked our Lord a curious question. She asked Him to tell her who among his followers in the world at that moment was giving His heart the greatest joy. His answer was even more curious than the question. He did not mention any of the famous preachers, or bishops, or even the pope. He did not mention any of the great intellectuals, or aristocrats, or missionaries. He did not even mention someone who was later canonised. No, He told her that the person giving His heart the most joy was a little-known novice instructor in a small convent in the European countryside—someone who was instructing novices how to become good followers of Christ.

What matters to Christ is not drama and fireworks and great achievements; what matters to Christ is the humility and love that are in our hearts.

St Teresa of Calcutta once said, `If you try, you will find it impossible to do one great thing. You can only do many small things with great love.’

Following Christ is a matter of the heart: His heart reaching out to ours and hoping for a warm welcome.

Judging right

judge signing on the papers
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Understanding that Christ looks first of all at our hearts can help us follow one of the most difficult commands that Jesus gave us.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded His disciples: `Do not judge, and you will not be judged.’

It is not for us to pass judgment on our neighbours, because we cannot see into their hearts.

Only God can see the human heart through and through. Only God knows all of the experiences that have gone into the formation of someone’s personality. Only God knows all the hidden motives, the real reasons, and the mixed intentions behind human behaviour. Psychologists and sociologists have been trying to catalogue those things for the last hundred years, and they have only drawn one firm conclusion: the human heart is an unfathomable mystery.

Every one of us wants to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. He wants the same thing—that is why he created us. To follow Christ faithfully means to walk in his footsteps. And even to the very end of His life, Jesus refused to pass judgment on sinners. He warned, he instructed, he encouraged, and he exhorted, but even when His hypocritical, self-centred, arrogant enemies nailed Him to a Cross—even then, He prayed. `Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’ How much more should we, who cannot see those depths, do the same!

This week, when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we will promise to forgive our neighbours just as we want God to forgive us. When we do that, let us really mean it.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 21st, 2022 at 8:30 am

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Freely give what you have been given: the gift of Divine Mercy

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Reflection on the readings at the Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Easter Year C (Divine Mercy Sunday): Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-14, 22-24; Revelation 1:9–11, 12-13, 17-19; St John 20:19-31

The gift of Divine Mercy

Today, as we conclude the Octave of Easter and then continue on into the rest of the fifty days of Easter, we celebrate the gift of divine mercy. We find that it is easey to forget that we do not have a right to mercy. Mercy has been freely given to us by the Lord.

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we read of the power of healing flowing from St Peter and the faith of the people who sought him out. St Peter over the readings during the Octave has been the first to tell us that the power comes from Our Lord Jesus Christ, not from him. Today, we read that people are trying to fall under St Peter’s shadow to be healed. It is likely that St Peter would admit that he is but a shadow of the Lord. However, our blessed Lord uses him to heal those who seek him, just as those who seek forgiveness and healing through the sacraments draw close to our bishops and priests, knowing that it is the Lord who heals and forgives through them.

In today’s second reading from the Revelation of St John the Divine, St John has a vision of Our Lord holding

the keys of Death and of Hades

Revelation 1:18 NRSVACE

The Lord is not revealed by name, but reveals himself as “the first and the last” (Revelation 1:17) to St John who is imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos for giving witness to Jesus. His keys represent His authority: specifically, to bind and to loose. If we ask Him to liberate us, He will, but we do have to ask Him. Our Lord’s mercy is the key to liberation from our sins.

Our Blessed Lord did not have to forgive St Thomas for his lack of faith in the Gospel, just as Adam and Eve did not have to receive mercy after the fall. That fall condemned all their posterity (all of us) to separation from God for ever. We did not commit the Original Sin, nor was the Lord obliged to forgive it or to redeem all of us from its effects. However, in appearing to the Apostles, the Lord’s message is one of peace and reconciliation, not one of condemnation. In today’s Gospel, He empowers His Apostles to be instruments of His mercy. When a bishop or priest absolves a penitent from their sins, that mercy and power come from Jesus. Instead of remaining in doubt and regret about whether we have truly been forgiven, the Lord has given us sacraments that in faith we know bring us His forgiveness. When we were baptized, we also had our sins wiped away.

All these means of healing and mercy are gifts freely given by the Lord. We do not have to receive them, but surely we would be fools indeed if we did not seek them out.

Jacob Marley’s Chains

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the ghost of Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley, appears to him to encourage him to change his greedy ways. The chains that now bind Marley forever are weighed down with

cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.

A Christmas Carol

When Scrooge asks the ghost why he is fettered, Marley replies,

I wear the chain I forged in life… I made it link by link and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it…

A Christmas Carol

Marley goes on to say that Scrooge’s chain has been much heavier than Marley’s for years.

Our sins reflect the things to which we are attached, just like the chains of Marley’s. What do we think ours look like? There is but one person who can free us all from those chains: Our Lord.

Freely give what you’ve been given

When the Lord sends out the disciples at the start of His public ministry, He tells them

You received without payment; give without payment.

St Matthew 10:8, NRSVACE

Today, we remember the peace and reconciliation He gave them without paying, and the ministry of peace and reconciliation for others that He asked them to carry out without pay as well.

We were freely given the gift of mercy. Let us give it freely as well, whether it is asked of us or not.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

April 24th, 2022 at 9:30 am

Good news travels fast: let’s spread the news of joy

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Some thoughts for the First Sunday of Easter. Readings: Acts 10:34, 37–43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22–23 ℟ v.24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9

℣ Christ is risen, alleluia!
℟ The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

Joy is the best response

We were created for joy. We never hear someone say,

You know, this whole joy thing is not for me. I wish I had a little more misery in my life.

We are created for joy, but we come to realize that it’s not something we can just buy at the local supermarket. Thinking about the most joyful moments of our lives, is it not true that they were a surprise?

Today’s Gospel gives us an idea of the surprise of discovering the empty tomb. St Mary Magdalene had been there at the foot of the Cross. She had see Jesus die. Crucifixion was not a joke. Being such a horrible way to die, even the Romans eventually outlawed it. So it was, that St Mary Magdalene was not expecting an empty tomb. She knew that Jesus had really died.

So, when she sees the empty tomb, she does not know what to make of it. So she runs and tells St Peter and St John. Both of them run to the tomb. St John beats St Peter to the tomb, he looks in, and then waits for St Peter, the first among the Apostles. St Peter enters the tomb, and then St John follows him in.

What they saw surprised them. We should really say that what they did not see surprised them. The body of Jesus was gone. The burial cloth was there, but the body was gone. The Greek actually says that the burial clothing was lying there in its folds. It was as if the body of Jesus had just evaporated and left the clothes lying there as though there were a body. But a body there was not.

Imagine the surprise. What has happened here? We are told in the Gospel that St John saw and believed. He believed that Jesus had risen from the dead! The surprise must have overwhelmed him. But as he began to believe, he was filled with joy.

Joy is the best response to Easter. Who could have ever imagined that death could be conquered? That is the meaning of Easter. Our deaths are not the end. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, we will rise from the dead. Body and soul, we will live forever.

Suffering does not have the last word. Death does not have the last word. No. The Love of God, given to us in Jesus Christ, the Love of God has the last word. This is why the response to today’s Psalm is

This day was made by the Lord, we rejoice and are glad.

On Easter Day, we also are surprised by the presence of the Risen Jesus. We, too, are filled with joy.

When we realize the gift of Easter, joy is the best response.

The Saint of joy

The St Philip Neri, the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, was known as the Saint of Joy. His antics were legendary. On one occasion four Polish nobles came to visit him. He welcomed them and started to read a book of jokes to them. Every so often he would stop laughing to remark,

You see what wonderful books I have, and what important matters I have read to me!

They went away grumbling about this charlatan who pretended to be a saint. He would also go around Rome with large white shoes on his feet, or dressed in a marten skin cloak, or have his beard shaved off only on one side, or get a haircut in church while Mass was being sung. When he was being criticized by others for his supposed ignorance, he made sure to mispronounce some Latin words during the Mass while they were present. He once said that

a cheerful and glad spirit reaches holiness much more quickly than a melancholy spirit.

St Philip Neri, was a man who had been surprised by the incredible Love of Christ. He realized that joy was the best response.

This day was made by the Lord, we rejoice and are glad.

Tell your story

The Easter story is the most wonderful story ever told. But it is not simply a story told for fun, it is a story that also happens to be true.

Think about how fast good news spreads.

If I really believe that Jesus died for me and for each person, do I not want to tell others?

If I really believe that Jesus rose from the dead at Easter, do I not want to tell others?

If I really believe that Jesus is alive, and wants to fill our lives with healing, freedom, and joy, do I not want to tell others?

Our faith, Christianity, spread because Christians told their story. In our own time, people will come to find joy in Christ if we tell our own story about finding that same joy.

Today, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we know that He wants to be both our strength and our joy. After we receive communion, in church or at home, let us take a minute and ask Him, “What is my story?”

Surely every one of us will remember one moment when we realized that our life was different because I know Jesus Christ. Can we share that moment with someone else?

Someone else in this world is waiting to hear that story. Someone else is waiting to experience the joy of Easter.

Regina cæli, ora pro nobis.

As it is Easter, let us join in praise by singing the Regina Cæli:

Joy to thee, O Queen of heaven, alleluia;
He whom thou wast meet to bear, alleluia;
As he promised hath arisen, alleluia!
Pour for us to God thy prayer, alleluia!

℣ Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia!
℟ For the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

O God, who, by the Resurrection of thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, hast brought joy to the world: grant we beseech thee, that, through his Mother the Virgin Mary, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

April 16th, 2022 at 8:12 pm

Duc in altum: Put out into the deep

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A reflection on the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year C. Gospel: St Luke 5:1–11.

The Command of Christ has the power to revolutionize our lives

In the Gospel reading for today, we hear about the first day of the rest of the life of the humble Galilean fisherman, Simon Peter, whom today we know as St Peter the Apostle. From that first day, his life became meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling. On that day there was a revolution in his life. That revolution is the revolution for which we are all thirsting. If we follow the example of St Peter, we can have it, too.

This revolution has two ingredients: firstly, like St Peter we have to be knocked out of our comfort zone; and secondly, we have to step into Christ’s comfort zone.

Our Lord Jesus Christ plays his part in the Gospel masterfully. He tells Peter to, “Duc in altum et laxate retia vestra in capturam” (“Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.”[1]) Peter was the expert at fishing, not Our Lord. The boat belonged to Peter, we could say that he was the CEO of a fishing company. Peter knew that you don’t catch fish in broad daylight, particularly not after a night without any catch at all. But Our Lord looks right at him, inviting him, challenging him; He is pushing Peter out of his comfort zone, into the deep water of the lake, and into the deep spiritual water of faith. That’s the first ingredient of the revolution, Jesus knocks Peter out of his comfort zone. Now comes the second ingredient. 

Peter actually obeys: not because he understands, not because he can figure it out. No, he obeys for only one reason, because it is the Lord who tells him, “Praeceptor  in verbo autem tuo laxabo rete.” (“Master… at your word I will let down the nets.”[2]) Peter lets Our Lord push him out of his own comfort zone; he takes the risk of stepping into the Lord’s comfort zone. Isn’t this the formula for the Christian revolution, the revolution that brings meaning to life?

As St John Paul II said to the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in 2005,

‘Duc in altum’ [Put out into the deep]. The command of Christ is particularly relevant in our time, when there is a widespread mentality which, in the face of difficulties, favours personal non-commitment… Whoever opens his heart to Christ will not only understand the mystery of his own existence, but also that of his own vocation; he will bear the abundant fruit of grace… Trust Christ; listen attentively to His teachings, fix your eyes on His face, persevere in listening to His Word. Allow Him to focus your search and your aspirations, all your ideals and the desires of your heart. [3]

Blondin’s high wire act

Photo by Ivan Torres from Pexels

The story is told of a great circus performer by the name of Blondin who stretched a long steel cable across Niagara Falls. During high winds and without a safety net, he walked, ran, and even danced across the tightrope to the amazement and delight of the large crowd of people who watched. He even took a wheelbarrow full of bricks and pushed it effortlessly across the cable, from one side of the falls to the other. 

Blondin then turned to the crowd and asked, “How many of you believe I could push a man across the wire in the wheelbarrow?”

Everyone held their hands high and cheered. Everyone believed he could do it!

“Then,” asked Blondin, “would one of you please volunteer to be that man?”

As quickly as the hands went up, they went back down. Not a single person would volunteer to ride in that wheelbarrow, to trust his life to Blondin. 

Many of us read or hear the Gospel because we believe in Jesus Christ. That’s why we go to Mass, but how much do we put that faith into practice? 

We are often content to have Our Blessed Lord sit in our boat, to hear His teaching, and to feel the comfort of His Presence. But when He asks something of us, when He pushes us out of our comfort zone, we resist. That is why we get stuck in our Christian lives; stuck on this side of holiness, stuck with mediocre happiness, stuck with empty nets. 

Our Lord has so much more to give us. He wants to fill our nets, just as he filled Peter’s. He just needs us to trust Him a little more, He needs us to climb into his wheelbarrow, He needs us to put out into deep water.[4]

Inviting others to follow Christ more closely

Photo by David Eucaristía from Pexels

Duc in altum” – one way that God asks us to do this, is bearing witness to Him, inviting others to believe in Him, to follow Him, and to enter into a friendship with Him. All baptized Christians share in this mission that our Lord Jesus Christ gave to Peter that morning when He said, “noli timere ex hoc iam homines eris capiens” (“Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.”)[5]

If we truly love our neighbours, we will want them to come closer to Christ, to only source of eternal life. Helping people come closer to Christ can make us feel uncomfortable; it pushes us out of our comfort zone. Yet, if loving others is the source of true joy, then bringing others to Christ—the best way of loving them—will be the source of greatest joy. 

I often wonder why so many more people go to Mass at Christmas and at Easter than during the rest of the year. Where do these people go on all the other Sundays and feastdays? There must be at least some faith; if there were not, they would not come when they do. Does their faith disappear for the other 363 days of the year? I suspect that this is not the case at all. Is it that we have not helped them to discover the satisfaction of a dynamic friendship with Christ? Are they just waiting for someone to invite them to follow Jesus more closely. 

St Peter was made to feel uncomfortable to row back out into the deep water in broad daylight. But he did it: because our Lord asked him to, and his nets were filled to overflowing. 

In the same way, Our Blessed Lord asks us to row out there too, to be fishers of men. It certainly can be an uncomfortable feeling, but it is worth it. But don’t take my word for it. Ask Him yourself, when He comes into your boat again when you receive Him in Holy Communion. 

[1] St Luke 5:4

[2] St Luke 5:5

[3] St John Paul II, Message for the 42nd World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 17 April 2005, Fourth Sunday of Easter. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/messages/vocations/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_20040811_xlii-voc-2005.html [accessed 2022-02-01] 

[4] Adapted from “Hot Illustrations” © 2001 Youth Specialties, Inc. 

[5] St Luke 5:10

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

February 6th, 2022 at 8:45 pm

Christ the King

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Some thoughts on the readings at the Eucharist for the Solemnity of Christ the Universal King: Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5; Revelation 1:5-8; and St John 18:33-37

In the readings at Mass today, we hear one of best known phrases of the Bible. Our Lord Jesus Christ affirms that He is a king, but He also affirms that His kingdom does not “belong to this world”. This was important for Him to mention, because Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who was interrogating, was worried that Our Lord was trying to organise some king of political rebellion against the Roman Empire. Our Lord explains that he was not.

But, if Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a political king, what kind of king is He? If His kingdom is “not of this world”, what king of kingdom is it?

Pope Benedict XVI explained the answers to these questions in 2006:

[Jesus] did not come to rule over peoples and territories… but to set people free from the slavery of sin and to reconcile them with God.

Pope Benedict XVI. Angelus, 26 November 2006 https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20061126.html [accessed 2021-11-20]

Ever since original sin, our fallen world has been enslaved to selfishness and separated from God. Tempted by the Devil, our first parents believed the lie that they could achieve the fulfilment, meaning, and happiness they longed for apart from God. That lie led them to disobey God’s commands, to act as if they themselves were gods. That self-centred rebellion, instead of liberating the human race, poisoned it with suffering, death, and evil. By throwing off God’s rule, we made ourselves into followers of the very first rebel against God: the Devil.

Our Lord Jesus Christ came to save us, by bringing the Light of Truth back into our darkened, confused world. What is that truth, the truth that will set us free from sin? That God is love.

By accepting God’s love in our life, we accept the antidote to the poison and are reinstated as citizens of the Kingdom fo God, where Christ is the everlasting King.

As Pope Benedict said,

The way to reach this goal is long and admits of no short cuts: indeed, every person must freely accept the truth of God’s love. He is Love and Truth, and neither Love nor Truth are ever imposed: they come knocking at the door of the heart and the mind and where they can enter they bring peace and joy. This is how God reigns; this is his project of salvation, a “mystery” in the biblical sense of the word: a plan that is gradually revealed in history.

Angelus, 26 November 2006

Three steps to accepting the Truth

Accepting Christ’s kingdom is an interior freedom, a peace and strength of soul that only His grace can give us. If up to today, we have not experienced it as deeply as we should like, maybe that is because we have not fully accepted the truth that God is love. Fully accepting that truth, which Pontius Pilate refused to do, involves at least three things.

First, it means accepting it freshly every single day. Each day we remain free to decide how we will live. Therefore, each day we have to reaffirm our citizenship in God’s Kingdom, or else we will slowly drift away from Him.

Secondly, accepting the truth that God is Love means admitting that we need God. Trying to achieve perfect happiness by our own efforts, without God, will shut ourselves off from God’s love. The most direct way to admit that we need God, to allow His Love to be part of our lives, is to come regularly to the sacrament of reconciliation. There is simply no better way to acknowledge His Kingship over our lives, to acknowledge that the law of His Kingdom is mercy.

Thirdly, accepting the truth that God is Love means striving in our daily lives to love as God loves. St Paul summarised all the laws of Christ’s Kingdom as one: love your neighbour as yourself (Romans 13:9). When we refuse to forgive, to serve, to treat others as we would have them treat us, we distance ourselves from the God Who is Love, refusing to accept His friendship.

Today, as we celebrate Christ the Universal King, let us thank Him for binging us the Truth that will set us free. And, let us ask humbly for the grace to accept that Truth—that God is Love— every single day of our lives.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

November 21st, 2021 at 8:30 am

“I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living”

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Some thoughts on the Readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B: Isaiah 50:4–9; Psalm 116:1–6, 8–9; St James 2:14–18; St Mark 8:27–35.

Faith without works is dead

Is your faith dead or alive? This is an uncomfortable question, but today in the Epistle reading we are confronted with it anyway. St James explains that if someone truly believes in Jesus Christ, then that person will follow Him, loving God, loving our neighbour, just as Jesus commanded. We are all here today because we believe in Jesus Christ, His Church, and His teachings. So we can all say that our faith is alive, not dead, right? Not so fast. St James was writing to Christians who went to Church every Sunday. And yet, he warns them still against having a dead faith.

That ought to make us think. And the curious exchange in the Gospel today ought to make us thing as well.

On the one hand, St Peter professes his faith in Jesus Christ, calling Him the Christ. Our Lord is satisfied with that answers, acknowledging that he is right. It appears that St Peter’s faith is alive.

But, then, our Lord explains that in order to fulfil His mission as Saviour, He will have to be rejected, suffer, and die. St Peter objects. And Our Lord comes down hard on him for his lack of faith!

St Peter had faith, but it was not as alive as he thought. He was willing to follow Jesus throug the miracles, through the successful preaching engagements, but he was not willing to follow Jesus to the Cross. His faith was not completely dead, but neither was it as vital as it ought to have been.

We too, should not be so quick to assume that our fatih is alive as we think.

A strong, vibrant, mature faith, the kind that fill us wit true Christian joy and wisdom, can only be acquired through fidelity under fire: faith that doesnt’ produce works of fidelity is dead.

Mother Teresa wins a fight

St Teresa of Calcutta, from https://www.motherteresa.org/

St Teresa of Calcutta was an eloquent example of someone who expressed her faith through how she lived and what she did, not simply through what she said.

Her critics often accused of her of proselytizing, of forcing poor and dying Hindu people to become Catholics. It is certain that conversion did happen (and still do) among the people that she and her sister cared for, but they don’t happen because they were forced or tricked. Rather, they were (and are) won over to Christ by the sincerity and gentleness of the sisters’ care. The sisters claim to believe exactly what we believe: that every human, no matter how small or weak, is created in the image of God and beloved by Him. They demonstrate this faith by their actions.

St Teresa’s first clinic was a former Hindu pilgrimage residence, which she turned into a hospital for the poor and dying. The local Hindu leaders were not too happy about a former Hindu pilgirmate hostel being used as a place of Catholic proselytism. They suspected that the sisters engaged in secret baptisms of Hindus and Muslims inside its facilities.

Gangs of hostile locals harried the sisters as they roamed Calcutta’s slums, scooping up destitute people lying in the gutters. Neighbours threw sticks, stones, and dirt at the sisters as they carried in their patients.

Finally, a police commissioner arrived to close down the clinic. St Teresa invited him in. He entered and sasw the floor full of sick and dying poor people. He watched as the sisters knelt down beside these maimed, helpless, and abandoned people, not preaching at them, but bathing their wounds, cleaning them, and feeding them. The sisters were communicating their faith, not through trickery or force, but by the sheer power of self-forgetful love.

The stunned commissioner walked out the front door and dispersed the angry crowd, telling them that he would stop St Teresa only when the neighbours persuaded their wives and sisters to take over the work the sisters had started.

The daily examination of conscience

If we have a lively faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that impacts the way we live, then we will experience more fully the deep meaning in life that God wants us to experience. We will grow in wisdom. We will grow in interior peace. We will grow in patience. We will grow in courage, and we will grow in Christian joy. These are some of the fruits of a lively, healthy, growing fatih. All of us desire these things, because of all of us were created by God to desire them. So then, what can we do to keep our faith alive and growing?

One simple and practical exercise is what spiritual writers call the daily examination of conscience. It consists of five or ten minutes of prayerful reflection at the end of the day, in quiet and silence.

During this brief time of prayer, you look back at the day that is past, and speak to the Lord about how you lived it. You can go through the commandments and see if you have been faithful to them. You can examine your key relationships and responsibilities and see if they were lived with maturity and true Christian purpose. You can simply replay the major activities of the day in your mind’s eye, and see if your faith was alive or dead during those activities.

Whichever method you choose, the Holy Spirit will guide your thoughts and give you insights. At the end of the examination of conscience, you can thank God for the day’s blessings, ask pardon for your sins and failings, and make a personal resolution to live your faith more dynamincally the next day.

This kind of daily attention to our spiritual progress is something we can do to keep our faith alive. If we make an effort to do our part, we are assured that God will have more room to do His part.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

September 12th, 2021 at 1:25 pm

God wants friends not robots: He gives us the choice to stay or leave

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Some thoughts on the readings Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).

God wants friends, not robots

Why do so “many disciples,” as St John puts it, decide to stop following our Lord after His explanation of the Eucharist as the “living bread,” while at the same time the Twelve stay with Him?

This question touches one of the great mysteries of our existence: human freedom.

Somehow, in the depths of the human heart, God leaves us free to accept or to reject the gift of faith. No one can manufacture faith in God, it is a gift that always begins with God, comes from God: “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” But the choice to accept or to reject that gift, to follow Jesus or turn one’s back on Him, remains with each individual. “Do you also want to leave?” Jesus Christ is the Lord of life and history, but He refuses to impose His rule on hearts that want to stop accompanying Him, and return to their former way of life. God gives us the gift of life, but He leaves us free to adminster it as we wish, either in communion with Him, or not.

Try to imagine how Jesus spoke the words,

Do you also want to leave?

St John 6:67

Try to picture His expression as He looked into the faces of His chosen Twelve. He cared deeply about them. He had handpicked them to be His closest companions. He had opened up His heart to them, and now, as other followers said “no thanks,” giving up on Him, He looked to the Twelve with a tinge of sadness, perhaps apprehension. Would they abandon Him too?

How near God draws to us in Jesus Christ! He humbles himself, makes Himself weak, almost powerless in the face of our freedom. He does not want mindless robots or heartless slaves: he wants friends, for ever.

Wisdom from the artists

Our Lady of Walsingham

Through the ages, this basic and fundamental fact of Christianity has come across exceptionally well in art. In every period of Church history, Jesus is most frequently protrayed in one of two ways.

First, as a little baby in the arms of His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. This isn’t just an artistic symbol: this really is how God came into the world, as a helpless little baby. But what a strange way to depict the all-powerful Creator of the universe! And yet, from the perspective of our Christian faith, it makes perfect sense. God does not want to intimidate us into following Him. He wants to win over our friendship. So He doesn’t show up amid fire and thunder. No, He smiles at us with the irresistable charm of a child.

In pre-Christian times, pagan temples were designed to give exactly the opposite impression. To get to the central place of worship, you had to make your way through a series of antechambers, each one darker and more foreboding than the one before. By the time you reach the actual altar, where a huge statue looked down at you out of the flickering shadows, you were breathless, tense, fearful, and thoroughly intimidated. Paganism had no concept of the true God, the God who wants friends, not robots.

The second way that Christian artists have most often depicted Christ is on the Cross. There, as He suffers and dies, we see not the weakness of a wimpy divinity (after all, we know He rises from the dead), but the unconquerable mercy of the God who wanted to prove beyond any doubt that His love for us truly is personal, determined, and forgiving. This is a God who really cares about us, and cares about how we respond to His invitations.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in a Christmas homily:

Every man and every woman needs to find a deep meaning for their existence. And for this, books are not enough, not even Sacred Scripture. The Child of Bethlehem reveals and communicates to us the true ‘face’ of the good and faithful God, who loves us and who does not abandon us even in death.

Respecting others as God respects us

A mature faith is, among other things, a conscious faith. Jesus does not want us to remain spiritaul infants for our whole life. Rather, He wants us to follow Him in freedom and in love, fully aware of what we are doing. When He allows trials and tests to come away, it gives us a chance to deepen that awareness, to exercise our freedom and our love. And when we exercise them, we strengthen them. God wants mature followers, not robots, zombies, or fanatics.

If God treats us with so much respect, we ought to treat others in a like manner.

During the Last Supper, Jesus commanded His Apostles to

love one another as I have loved you.

St John 15:12

Imitating Christ’s love involves being ready to sacrifice our own likes and comforts for the sake of others, as Jesus sacrificed His on the Cross for our sake.

But, it also means treating others with this deep sense of respect. When we lose our patience with the people we work with or live with, we end up failing to respect them as God has respected us. After all, when has the Lord lost his patience with us? When we try to manipulate people, tricking them, flattering them, or forcing them into giving us what we want, we end up violating their dignity as human beings. When has God forced us to do the right thing?

God knows that, in the end, only if our faith matures and deepens, if it becomes truly conscious, will we be able to weather the storms of life, and triumph over the temptations of life.

Today, as Christ comes to us once again in the Eucharist, proving His desire for our friendship and happiness, let us take His hand and promise to follow wherever He leads, knowing with absolute certaintly that He can never lead us astray.


1 Kings 8: 22–30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6: 10-20; St John 6: 56-69.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 22nd, 2021 at 11:06 am

Learn like Scrooge and St Thomas Becket

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Some thoughts based on the Readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15; Psalm 78:3–4, 23–25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20–24; St John 6:24–35.

Christians work for a life, not just for a living.

Last Sunday we read that Jesus peformed the multiplication of the loaves, and heard that all the people who witnessed the amazing miracled wanted to make Jesus king.

Making Jesus king was the same thing as asking Him to lead them in a revolution against the Roman Empire. The Israelites at that period did not have their own kingdom. They were an occupied territory, ruled by a Roman delegate, who gave them only very limited powers of self-determination. The massive crowd of would-be revolutionaries was so convinced that Jesus was the perfect revolutionary leader that they followed Him across the Sea of Galilee, after He snuck away in the middle of the night. They finally caught up with Him, gathered around Him, and acclaimed hime once more. He is surrounded by this huge, adoring crowd of people willing to follow Him if only He will agree to be their king, to bring them political freedom and prosperity.

But, Jesus did not come to earth in order to spark a political revolution. No. He had a much bigger agenda, and so do His followers. He tries to explain this to them. He says:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,

St John 6:27

True Christians, in other words, understand that real fulfilment comes from more than just making a living; it comes from making a life.

Many of Our Lord’s most famous sayings taught the same lesson:

Blessed are the poor in spirit

St Matthew 5:4

seek first the Kingdom of God

St Matthew 6:33

What does a man gain if he wins the whole world but loses his soul?

St Matthew 16:26

Our life on earth is preparation for something greater: our citizenship is in heaven, and here on earth, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “We have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14).

Scrooge and St Thomas Becket

Scrooge learned this lesson in the nick of time. We all remember Ebenezer Scrooge, the famous protagonist of Charles Dickens’s masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge had a very clear goal in life: making money. As the richest man in the city, he achieved that goal. He made a very good living, but he had a miserable life. The human heart is made for greater things than wealth, prosperity, and pleasure. It is made to love God and love one’s neighbour, and that is where true, everlasting happiness comes from. As soon as Scrooge started to put his wealth at the service of Christian love, he remembered how to smile.

Scrooge is a fictional character, but the history of the Church boasts of a few saints who truly made that same discovery.

One of them is St Thomas Becket. He lived in England in the twelfth century. He was best friends with Henry II of England. Both of them were selfish, self-indulgent, and power hungry. They drank together, they debauched together, and they plotted together. Then King Henry got the ida of appointing his friend Thomas Becket to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry thought that haaving his best friend occupy the highest Church posititon in the land would give him a chance to control the Church and squeeze money out of it.

But, when Thomas Becket was ordained, God’s grace touched his heart, and he began to see the folly of living just for earthly goals. He sold his considerable property and gave the money to the poor, he stopped his loose living, and he dedicated himself to serving Christ and the Church with all his energy and talent. The King was not pleased, and ended up having his former best friend murdered during Mass in the Cathedral.

Thomas Becket traded in temporary earthly glory for a martyr’s eternal crown — you can be sure that he has no regrets.

Getting a handle on entertainment

It is certainly no sin to desire and to work for happiness here on earth, as long as we have the right expectations.

Jesus is very clear in telling us that the complete fulfilment and permanent satisfaction that our hearts long for will never be found here on earth.

All the pains and pleasures of this world, all the accomplishments and achievements that look good on a university application, or on a CV — these are passing things.

We were made for greater things, for eternal life with God in heaven.

All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer or shorter, all these thing disappear. The only thing that lasts for ever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity.

Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, shortly before his election as Pope Benedict XVI

It is a healthy thing for us to ask ourselves where we are looking for our true happiness: from the satisfactions of this world, or from our everlasting friendship with Jesus Christ?

One thermometer for this aspect of our spiritual lives is our use of entertainment.

People banking on perfect happiness in this passwing world often give top priority to entertainment. They tend to live from the weekend, to live for the holidays. They tend to spend all their free time indulging in their favourite hobby. They tend to become easily upset if something prevents them from watching the game, or seeing their favourite television programme.

But, people who are truly working for “food that endures” are more balanced in their use of entertainment. They more easily recognise that the purpose of entertainment is to help us to relax, and re-create, restoring our energies so that we can keep on striving to fulfil our life mission. They do not live for the weekends, they use the weekends to help them live life more fully.

As Jesus renews His commitment to us in the Eucharist, let us ask Him to help us to renew our commitment to Him, so that while we continue working for a living this coming week, we do not lose sight of what it is really all about.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 1st, 2021 at 4:16 pm

Jesus Christ is faithful, let us pledge our allegiance to him

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Christ is faithful

During these Sundays of Eastertide, the Church takes us back to the Last Supper, giving us a chance to dig deeper into its meaning. We can use our imaginations to picture the scene. Our blessed Lord and the Twelve are in the Upper Room, gathered for the Passover. Our blessed Lord begins to tell them about His coming sufferings. He tells them that He will be leaving them to go back to the Father. We can picture the Apostles frowning in confusion, maybe beginning to feel a creeping sadness. They have staked their lives on Jesus! They have given up everything to follow him. And now, now he says that He must go way from them, and that they cannot follow where He is going.

Our Lord Jesus Christ knows their hearts. He knows their fears. Twice during the discourse He tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He only repeats it because He knows that their hearts are truly troubled. He then makes them a promise. He says, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” He promises never to abandon his chosen followers. The crucifixion will come, the darkness, the suffering, the persecution, the apparent failure and defeat. But through all of it, the Apostles can cling with faith to this promise: I will not leave you orphans, I will never abandon you. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ knows that our hearts too are troubled. He knows that we are filled with fear and confusion, with regret and sorrow in the midst of our own Good Fridays. He makes the same promise to us: I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. I will be with you. His Resurrection is the first and definitive step in his fulfilment of this promise. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ is faithful. We can count on that. 

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St Zita perseveres

The life of St Zita illustrates the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ. St Zita grew up near a beautiful town called Lucca, in north-central Italy, during the Middle Ages. Her family was poor but devout. When only twelve-years-old, she had to go to work as a live-in servant to one of the local noble families. She spent the rest of her sixty years serving that same family, living in that same house. 

She always got up early enough to pray and go to Mass before beginning her day’s work. For this piety, her fellow servants continually made fun of her. And her efforts to be Christ-like through hard work and gentle manners made them laugh at her and ridicule her even more. And when she simply continued her humble and hard-working ways, they accused her of arrogance and stupidity. 

But it got worse. For some mysterious reason, the master of the house despised her. He would fly into violent rages merely upon seeing her. The lady of the house felt the same. She would run St Zita ragged without even a touch of kindness. 

For years, St Zita lived a prayerful and virtuous life. Yet God seemed to reward her with misery and maltreatment. But instead of becoming discouraged or angry with God, she remembered that our blessed Lord had also been mistreated, so she simply kept praying, working, and suffering with faith. Eventually, her quiet display of virtue won over the hearts of her persecutors, as did her tireless generosity to the poor—which more than once left the pantry bare at night, only to be miraculously replenished by the morning. 

Hundreds more miracles were worked through her intercession after she died. Three hundred years later her body was exhumed and moved to a chapel in the little church where she used to go to Mass. The body was completely incorrupt. You can still visit it today in her chapel at Lucca. It’s as if our blessed Lord preserved it just to prove once again to all the world that He is faithful, even when no one else seems to be. 

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Pledging allegiance to Christ

In today’s Mass, our Lord Jesus Christ is renewing His promise never to abandon us. We ought to thank him for that. Our Lord Jesus Christ is always with us. He is with us in our hearts, through the gift of the Holy Spirit that he poured into us at our confirmation. He is with us in the Eucharist, 24/7, whenever we need Him. He is with us in the Bible, the revealed Word of God that will always nourish our souls if we read it with faith. He is with us in the Church, the bark of Peter guaranteed to reach the heavenly shores.  

Yes, our Lord Jesus Christ is truly with us. He has not left us as orphans. There is, however, a chance that we have made ourselves into orphans. Maybe we look like Christians on the outside, but still haven’t really become Christians on the inside. Maybe that is why we feel gnawing frustration or loneliness deep in our souls. 

Today, our blessed Lord is giving us another chance, a new invitation to let him take up residence on the throne of our hearts, as St Peter puts it in the Second Reading, to “sanctify Christ as the Lord of our hearts.” There can only be one King in our hearts. Either ourselves, with our ignorance, our weakness, and our limitations, or Christ, with His infinite wisdom, His power, and His goodness. 

Today, let us pledge our allegiance once again to Christ, the everlasting Lord. 

Today, let us put our trust in His promise by promising to accept His will, even when it hurts; to follow His teaching, even when it is inconvenient and unpopular; and to take up our crosses with Christ, following Him all the way through the Crucifixion to the Resurrection. That is what the Apostles did: they had no regrets. 

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Grant, almighty God, that we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion these days of joy, which we keep in honour of the risen Lord, and that what we relive in remembrance we may always hold to in what we do. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings at Mass

Acts 8:5–8, 14–17; Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20; 1 Peter 3:15–18; John 14:15–21

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

May 17th, 2020 at 10:58 am

Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper: some thoughts

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Being a Christian means more than being nice

Being a Christian means more than just being nice. It means centering our whole lives, every last detail, on a person: our Lord Jesus Christ. Other great religious leaders of history pointed to their teaching. They said, “follow my teaching’. Our Lord Jesus Christ points to himself. He said, “Follow me.”

When Jesus stood up from the supper table, wrapped that towel around his waist, and started washing the feet of the disciples, it was shocking for two reasons. 

First of all, because of the nature of the task. In ancient Palestine, washing other people’s feet was a job reserved for slaves. By lowering himself to the level of a slave, our Lord is making it really clear to his Apostles, the first leaders of the Church, that the way of Christ is a way of self-giving, not self-indulgence. Our Lord never sought to get, but only to give. His followers are to do the same. That in itself goes far beyond simply being nice. 

Secondly, he was disrupting the sacred ritual of the most hallowed ceremony in Jewish tradition: the Passover Seder, the ceremony that God had commanded Moses to institute to commemorate the miraculous escape of the Israelites from Egypt. God himself had established the rules of that ceremony, Jesus deviated from them, added to them, just as he did when he instituted the Eucharist. Clearly, our Lord sees himself as more than just another teacher or prophet, on the same level as Moses. Only God himself can alter God’s commands. 

And so, when the foot-washing is over and he says to the Apostles, “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’” his claim is clear. Yes, he is a great teacher, but he is also the Lord. 

We are Christians not just because we accept a creed, not just because we accept the catechism, not just because we accept the prayer book, not just because we are nice: no, we are Christian because we have accepted a person. We have made our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ the most important thing in our lives. 

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St Clare of Assisi and the Eucharist

Today, by reminding us that being a Christian means much more than just being nice, we are invited to renew our personal commitment to Jesus Christ. We have to renew that commitment continually because our friendship with him is always under attack. Our own selfish tendencies and the self-indulgent culture around us are trying constantly to undermine our relationship with him. 

God knew this would be the case. That’s one of the reasons that at the same time he commanded us to follow him, he also gave us the strength to do so, in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ himself wants to be our firm defence against all attacks. 

St Clare of Assisi had a powerful experience of this reality. St Clare was a disciple of St Francis of Assisi. She founded the first convent of Poor Clare nuns at the church of San Damiano, just outside the city walls of Assisi. Very soon she became recognised and revered as a saint. 

About that time, the whole region was being terrorised by mercenary armies heard by the Emperor to conquer Italy. As one of these armies approached Assisi, the town panicked as they had no army of their own, no protection at all. 

As the soldiers climbed the small hill towards the city gates, they had to pass by St Clare’s convent. Before they arrived, St Clare, sick and confined to bed as she was, had herself and her mattress carried outside and placed on the top of the convent wall, overlooking the road that the soldiers would have to use. She also had the Blessed Sacrament brought out and place there inside a small, golden container called a pyx. As the soldiers came into view, she prostrated herself before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and prayed for deliverance. The other sisters did the same inside the convent chapel. 

The soldiers continued to advance. And then, as they did so, mysteriously cries broke out among them. Some of them drew their swords and attacked their fellow soldiers. Others fled in terror. Soon the entire army was retreating in chaos, even though no one could be seen pursuing them. 

Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament had protected them. Our Lord today wants to do the same for us. He does not want us to try and fight all alone as if we were trying to follow some great philosopher. In our day-to-day battle to be faithful to him and to spread his Kingdom, he wants to be our Strength, our Shield, and our Sustenance. 

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Doing a spiritual check-up 

Each one of us is watching Mass today because Christ has somehow stirred our hearts. We have heard his call, we have heard his invitation. We want to follow him, perhaps imperfectly, but still, we want to follow him. We believe in him. We know that following our Lord Jesus Christ we will discover the meaning, joy, and fruitfulness that no one else can give. 

At the same time, when we look into our hearts, we know that we are not following him as fully as we should. How can we follow him better? How can we make the real centre of our lives. We can start with something simple. We can do a spiritual check-up. 

Today we start the Holy Triduum, the three days when we particularly celebrate our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection. These are special days for the whole of the Church, and they have been since the very beginning. Let us take advantage of these days, particularly in this strangest of Holy Weeks, let us carve out some time from our busy schedules. Let us spend some quality time with our Lord in prayer, reflecting on what kind of a friend he has been to us this past year, and reflecting on what kind of a friend we have been to him. 

This year, we are all separated from physically being at Mass, being at the watch with our Lord this evening, but there are plenty of online resources, as well as our own prayer books at home. 

If we take some time in these days to do that spiritual check-up, if we ask him to help us, he will surely show us one or two things that we can do to be more authentic Christians. And then, on Easter Day, when the bright light of the Resurrection shines in our souls, we will find ourselves more centered on Christ, closer to him, and closer to the happiness he has in mind for us.      

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Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

April 9th, 2020 at 10:40 am