See also:

On this page, you will find homilies preached by the priests who celebrate the English Mass in our church. Homilies will usually be posted a few hours after Sunday Mass. For the Homily Archive in other years, open a tab above.

Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year B

Reading I: Deuteronomy 7:13-14
Responsorial: Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5
Reading II: Revelation 1:5-8
Gospel: John 18:33b-37

Recently I was reading about information overload. In the information age, people often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to process every day. On the other hand, there are people who are addicted to consuming information. If they can’t check the latest news, they feel anxious. This obsession with information reveals something about our desire for control. Some people feel that life is out of control when they have too much information. Others feel that without a constant stream of information, they can’t be in control of their lives.

We need to step back and ask ourselves if having control is really possible. And as Christians, do we really need to feel like we are in control?

Today’s Gospel reading takes us to the Passion of Christ. We witness the encounter between Pilate and Jesus. Hours after his arrest and detention in prison, Jesus looked like nothing more than a typical criminal. No one could have discerned his majesty or glory. And so Pilate wants to know: Who are you? Are you a king? How could a man in custody have authority over any place or people?

We often have the same doubt about God’s power in this world and in our lives. Is he really the king of a world that seems to want everything except God? Can he really be the king of this world that is full of injustice and violence? And is he really a king in my life, which is full of unexpected twists that make it so difficult, sometimes, to get on in the world? We may have the same doubt that Pilate did: Shouldn’t a king have a bit more power and control over the world?

But, wait the moment… God’s kingdom does not belong to this world. His kingdom is greater than this world. His power does not lie in control. His power lies in how he serves, the perfect self-possession that makes him fully free to lay down his life for his subjects. That is how he rules.

Pilate could not discern any of this. He saw only a weak man, betrayed by his own people, and totally under Pilate’s control. So he sent Jesus to his death.

He didn’t understand that Jesus was freely laying down his life, and that by not defending himself, not trying to save himself, not revealing his true power and glory, Jesus would overcome sin and death and rise triumphant. Only then would he come into his glory.

As Christians, we submit our lives to Christ the King, even as we wait for his full glory to be revealed. We imitate our King when we are fully free: when we understand that freedom means not being controlled by the media, the marketplace, and all the misadventures that can happen in our lives. There is no ‘information overload’ for the person who possesses the only piece of information he needs to be fully free: Christ is King, and by his power he has set us free from sin and death. By his example, he shows us perfect self-control when everything in the world seems to be out of control.

True freedom lies in knowing who you really are: a creature who is dependent on God, his Creator. To live as though we are gods is the greatest illusion and slavery. In choosing Christ as our King, we find true freedom. In choosing the Prince of Peace, we find our peace: I don’t have to be a god, trying to be in control of everything.

When the world looks at Jesus, it sees what Pilate saw: a man betrayed and left alone, at the mercy of raw political power. But the first and second readings give us a vision of Christ’s triumph. We see Jesus who received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. This is the triumph of one whose kingship and power is not over worldly things, but above worldly things. The world had no power over Christ, even when it seemed to have the power of life and death over him. He could preserve his own life or lay it down. When we live in that kind of freedom, the glory of God’s kingdom awaits us.

At our Baptism, Christians are anointed as priests, prophets and kings. Our kingship is the kingship of Christ: one who is not controlled by this world, but who controls himself so well that he lives in perfect freedom in this world, while awaiting the glory of Christ in the next.

What kind of king are you? Are you a king who is constantly seeking control over a world you did not make? Or are you a king over yourself – your passions and powers – in perfect submission to Christ, the King of the Universe?

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Daniel 12:1-3
Responsorial: Psalm 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11
Reading II: Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Gospel: Mark 13:24-32

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of a fig tree, a common tree in the Holy Land. Everyone knew what they looked like, so everyone knew that when the branches turned green and sprouted leaves, summer was near.

Living in the city, we are not as close to nature as people were in Jesus’s time. But I’m sure that all of us can read the signs of nature that tell us that winter is getting closer and closer.

Jesus used the image of the fig tree as an analogy for the time of his return, when he will come in glory with his angels. Since we are living in the era of the Church, we know that the next ‘big event’ in salvation history is the Second Coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are to be prepared for Christ’s return, just as we prepare ourselves for the return of cold weather.

We tend to think of the Second Coming as something that probably won’t happen soon; probably not in our life-time. But we can take a lesson from the trees. Look closely at the trees now, as we head into winter. You will see that many trees already have green buds on them; inside the green buds are the leaves that will come out next spring. The green buds on the trees are a sign that even at the beginning of winter, when the leaves are falling off the trees, spring is not as far away as we may think.

And so the image of the fig tree reminds us that the coming of the Lord is not some far-off event that will happen to other people who are living on earth on the last day. The coming of the Lord is a personal event for each one of us: we will encounter him at the moment of our death. We need to look at our own spiritual state, for signs of spiritual life and growth, as well as for signs of spiritual death and decay.

Like careful gardeners, tending their trees, we need to ask ourselves what we need to cut out of our lives, so we can be spiritually healthy and bear good fruit. Where do we need to see new growth – in prayer, in fasting, in alms-giving?

A friend of mine died suddenly at the age of thirty-three. When I preached at her funeral service, I was aware that I was not prepared for death. I was not prepared for Christ’s coming, when I would be face-to-face with him, and he would reveal to me what my life amounted to I was not ready for the ‘day or hour’ of my own judgement.

But today’s Gospel does not inspire fear in me; it gives me hope, because God will come in power and glory. Everything that was hidden will be commonly known when we meet the Holy One. Our sins will be revealed— yes. But we will also see the good fruits of our labors here on earth. Our patient suffering will be revealed. Our generous sacrifices will be revealed. Our acts of loving kindness and charity will be revealed. So we live today not just in fear of judgement, but in hope that when Jesus returns in his glory, we will be glorified in him.

But there is one condition: we need to be ready to meet Jesus, face-to-face. We need to be ready through daily examinations of our conscience. We need to be ready through regular confession. We need to be ready through prayer, fasting and alms-giving.

In early winter, many gardeners prune their trees. They cut away old, dead and damaged branches, and they look for branches with green buds that will bring new leaves and bear fruit in summer.

Winter is coming on fast. Let’s take a lesson from the fig tree and the signs of nature all around us. One day we will stand before God and he will reveal everything that is good and everything that is bad. Let’s prepare ourselves for that day now and not leave it for later, when we are old, because no one knows the day or the hour when he will face God.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: 1 Kings 17:10-16
Responsorial: Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Reading II: Hebrews 9:24-28
Gospel: Mark 12:38-44

In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of a woman who contributed from her poverty, all she had, her whole livelihood. It’s important that we notice who this woman was. This was a lowly woman: a poor woman; a widow. A nobody. And yet she did something that the scribes — who were well-respected as holy men — could not, and would not, do.

What do you think was in that woman’s mind — in her heart — as she dropped her last two coins into the collection box. Two small copper coins, worth less than a penny — all that she had in the world.

She is like the widow in today’s first reading, who gave her last mouthful of food to the prophet, instead of feeding herself and her son. By trusting the prophet, she was facing starvation, just like the poor widow in the Gospel, who gave all she had to live on. In giving their livelihood, these two poor women were giving their lives for someone else.

How did they do it? How could they be that trusting, that generous?

This is something we need to ask ourselves, because if we are honest, we know that we are not able to give everything to God. We may not want to give him even part of what we have. Two small coins; a bit of bread and water – those things are nothing to us.

But the examples of the two widows teach us that we have to be willing to give everything we’re holding on to to receive everything God wants to give us.

Today we celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of Polish independence. It makes me think of all those generations of my Polish compatriots who gave all they had – including their lives – for the sake of their homeland. Many of them knew that the cause was hopeless; they probably would not live to see independence in their day. But their love was so great that the gave their all, laid down their lives, so that we can live in a free, independent Poland today.

We need the same radical generosity in our faith. The widow in the gospel had two coins; she could have kept back one coin for herself. But in giving everything back to God, she put her whole life in his hands.

Everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God. We can hold onto it, tightly, with both hands, fearful of what we may lose. Or we can make a free act of radical trust in the One who gave us everything, and give all that we have and all that we are back to God.

Jesus points out in the Gospel that the poor widow did not make her donation from surplus wealth. She gave from her poverty, her weakness. The widow in the first reading freely acknowledged that she was desperately poor.

For many of us, giving some money or food to charity is no big deal. We have enough, and it makes us feel good to do it. But offering God our weakness, our spiritual poverty, can be difficult. We would rather think of ourselves as giving God something, than admit that we need his help — that we have sins and weaknesses that we cannot overcome on our own.

God is not interested in taking from us our last coin or our last mouthful of food.

What he does want to take from us is our spiritual poverty. He wants us to give him the pride that will not let us admit our weakness. He wants us to give him the shame and guilt we feel over our sin.

When we admit our spiritual poverty and hand over our weakness to God, then he can give us in return the infinite wealth of his grace.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Deuteronomy 6:2-6
Responsorial: Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
Reading II: Hebrews 7:23-28
Gospel: Mark 12:28b-34

“Which is the first of all the commandments?”

The scribe was probably expecting one particular commandment from the many hundreds of commandments in the Mosaic law. But Jesus answers with two commandments that contain more than all the other commandments combined, because they offer us the perfect key to living a good life:

Love God.
Love your neighbor.
And don’t be half-hearted about it.

Recently I passed my driving test. As far as the government is concerned, I know everything about driving a car — all about the rules of the road —and I am ready to drive safely in any situation.

But of course, the reality of getting behind the wheel and driving on my own is another matter. There’s no one rule of driving that sums up everything you need to do to be a safe driver. There are so many things to pay attention to while driving, and so many things that can happen on the road, that all the rules and regulations I learned are not enough to get me safely to my destination. I’ve quickly realized where my skills are lacking and need improvement. I’ve just got to keep driving, keep practicing, and keep learning by experience.

But driving a car is one thing; loving God and loving our neighbor is on a completely different level. We have been given a simple rule for a living a good life and safely reaching our heavenly destination.

How well are we doing?

Let’s take a little test:

• Is there anything that you love more than God? That is, is there anything in your life – apart from God – that makes you think, ‘If I lost that, I would lose my happiness’ ?

• Would you rather abandon God than give up some person or relationship in your life?

• Would you rather deny God than lose the respect of your friends?

• If you lost your health, would you blame God and reject him?

• Is pursuing your career, earning money, more important than spending an hour with God at Mass on Sunday or speaking to him in prayer during the week?

God has given you many gifts – of health, of talents, of sexuality, of family. Are you ready to surrender them all back to him?

Or are there some areas of your life where God is not welcome?

And what about loving our neighbor?

• Is there someone you just do not want to love?

• Someone you are unwilling to reach out to in reconciliation?

• Someone you reject because he or she is just too different from you?

Jesus says to us, “Shema! Hear!” Like the scribe in today’s Gospel, we need to listen to what he says.

The scribe asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” We know the answer:
Love God.
Love your neighbor.
And don’t be half-hearted about it.

So today, let’s ask another question: “Lord, how do I fail to love you and my neighbor?’

And in adoration today at the end of Mass, let’s listen attentively for his answer.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Solemnity of All Saints

Reading I: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
Responsorial: Psalm Ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
Reading II: 1 John 3:1-3
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12a

Today’s solemnity invites us to praise the Lord for the saints we believe are in heaven, who live in full union with God. Today we thank God for the wonderful things he has done and still does through our lowly human nature. When we look at the saints in heaven, we see the holiness of God, who made them saints through his grace. When we look at the earthly life of any saint, we know that God can raise us to the same degree of holiness. Holiness starts here and now: on earth, today. We are all called to be saints.

But what is holiness? What does it mean to be saintly? In the first reading from the Book of Revelation, Saint John has a vision of heaven. He asks a similar question: “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” They are people who have made it to heaven; people who have no more stain of sin on their souls. They are from every nation, race, people and tongue, which shows us that salvation and holiness are possible for everyone.

“They have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” This tells us that salvation is not something that we achieve on our own; salvation always comes from God — from the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. God alone is the source of holiness.

The first chapters of the Book of Genesis offer an image of our original state of holiness. Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God; they walked in his presence. And this is what we are called to. By God’s grace, and with his help, we are making our way back to our original state of holiness. Holiness means being with God. Holiness means being like him. As we read in the book of Leviticus: “You are to be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (19:2).

You may have read a biography of a saint that makes the person sound like he or she was perfect from birth. But such stories do not do justice to the saints. Apart from the Blessed Virgin, the saints were not always morally perfect. They are not saints because they were never tempted to sin, never had any bad feelings, never doubted God. They became saints because by the grace of God and with his help they overcame temptations to sin; they mastered their passions; they opened themselves to God’s love – again and again and again.

So being holy does not mean being frozen in some ideal state of perfection. It means becoming the person God created us to be, instead of pursuing what we would like to be.

The Church teaches us that “the feasts of the saints proclaim the wonderful works of Christ in His servants, and display to the faithful fitting examples for their imitation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 111).

It is the ‘wonderful works of Christ’ that make us holy. All we have to do is cooperate with his grace. As the second reading tells us, “Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.”

So a saint is not someone who put his hope in his own strength and efforts. A saint is someone who was open to God’s grace, God’s help. When we look at the lives of the saints, we see “the wonderful works of Christ in His servants.” We’re seeing what God can do with human nature that has been wounded and warped by sin. Being holy means being dependent on God.

So holiness is for you and me. Today’s Gospel teaches us that the more we feel weak or unworthy — the greater our need of God’s grace — the better our chances of achieving holiness. The Beatitudes – which are the heart of the Gospel message – give us this hope.

God does not want you to be another St Francis or St Faustina. He wants you to become a new, unique saint. If you are poor or meek; if you mourn or are persecuted, holiness is what you were created for. Believe in your heavenly destiny, and ask God what kind of saint he wants you to be.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Responsorial: Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Reading II: Hebrews 5:1-6
Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

Today’s readings show God’s tender compassion for the poor, the weak and the suffering.

In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah announces God’s mercy to Israel: they will be set free from their captivity and return from exile to their native land.

The psalm recalls the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy: “The Lord has done great things for us.”

In the second reading, we see that God is not content merely to help us out of our suffering. He entered into our suffering, becoming one of us, and suffering with us.

And finally, the Gospel tells us about the healing of blind Bartimaeus. He not only receives the gift of sight, his entire life is changed: he enters into a relationship with Jesus and ‘follows him on the way.’ We should be consoled by the compassion God has for Bartimaeus, because he wants the same healing and intimate relationship for us.

God wants our salvation. But he doesn’t just want something good for us in the future, he wants to heal and help us now. He asks us, as he asked Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?”

He asks us this question when we approach him in our private prayer. And he is also asking this every time we approach him in the sacraments:

  • What do we want him to do for us in the Eucharist?
  • What do we want him to do for us in our marriages?
  • What do we want him to do for us when we go to confession?

Jesus wants to do great things for us, but we have to let him act. Notice that Bartimaeus approaches Jesus in faith, and it is his faith that not only heals Bartimaeus, but saves him.

Many of us don’t really have much hope or belief that God will do anything in our lives. This may be because we don’t want to admit our personal weakness or difficulties. And sometimes, we just give up — lose hope. We are used to how things are, and we don’t have faith that our lives can change. We withdraw into our pain, our suffering, our isolation. But an encounter with Jesus can help us throw aside our fears, and eagerly rush forward for healing and new life. A new life begins with faith.

We need to have faith that God is greater than our sorrow and pain. He knows it very well; he suffered with us and for us, laying down his life on the cross, before we were born. He knows what it means to suffer in loneliness.

The prayer of Bartimaeus is one of the simplest and shortest prayers in the Bible. It is also one of the most touching prayers: ‘Jesus, have pity on me.’ Bartimaeus calls Jesus ‘Son of David’, his Master. Bartimaeus is a man who knows his need of a Savior.

‘Jesus, have pity on me.’ This is a prayer we can use whenever we experience darkness and blindness in our live. It is a prayer that Jesus will always answer. He will call you to come closer to him, just as he called Bartimaeus.

The world will try to keep you from calling on Jesus, just as some people rebuked Bartimaeus. But there is also the Church, which shows you the way to Jesus and invites you to the sacraments, just as some people in the crowd encouraged Bartimaeus to approach Jesus.

Whatever you want to ask of God, it all begins with faith. We need to call on God’s mercy, no matter how difficult or hopeless our situation seems. Jesus is always waiting for us, always receptive, always asking, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

The problem is not that we don’t know what we want; the problem is not having enough faith to ask, Jesus, have pity on me.’

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Isaiah 53:10-11
Responsorial: Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Reading II: Hebrews 4:14-16
Gospel: Mark 10:35-45

Last night I was at a concert at the National Forum of Music. There were 1,804 seats in the auditorium. Seated in such a vast crowd, I was aware of how natural it is to wish for a better place to sit, to see more and hear more or perhaps to be one of those well-dressed people who always have the best seats in the house.

When James and John asked Jesus to book them the best seats in his glory, they annoyed the other Apostles – probably because James and John had the nerve to ask for what all of them secretly wanted.

James and John wanted something good – a place in God’s Kingdom – and they wanted to guarantee that they would get it. But they did not yet understand that in God’s Kingdom, glory comes in another way. Jesus would come to his glory through suffering and pain, laying down his life for the people he created. That is not the normal way to achieve greatness in this world.

In the second reading, Jesus is described as a high priest who has been tested in all the ways that we are tested. But despite being the Priest above all priests, he was glorified in a way that can be as surprising for us as it was for James and John. Jesus took the lowest and last place, so that we might gain the high positions that James and John asked for in today’s Gospel.

Service and ministry to others is the key to having power and authority on God’s terms. After all, if you cannot lower yourself to serve others, your position must not be very high to begin with.

It is against our human pride to humble ourselves. But when we look at the example of Jesus, who left his high place in heaven in order to serve us, we see the high place that awaits us if we imitate his humility. In his earthly mission, Jesus wanted to elevate everyone to a place at his side. He even wanted to lift up his enemies, like the ‘Good Thief’ who was crucified next to him, and Paul the Apostle, who persecuted the Church. As Jesus teaches the sons of Zebedee today, the summit of service in the Kingdom of God is to give your life as a ransom for others, to die for those who most need God’s mercy — the people who want to kill you.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Jesus is calling us today to spend our lives in service. We do not have to go and look for a spectacular way of serving. Spouses can serve each other every day, even when they are also a source of suffering to each other. When we patiently bear with someone annoying or unpleasant, we are serving as Christ served. The most beautiful service we can render is the one that offers no earthly reward: serving people who will not be grateful, and who will give you nothing good in return.

Jesus asked if James and John could drink from the chalice he would drink from –
the chalice of suffering. We should remember this any time we suffer at the hands of other people. During Mass, at the elevation of Christ’s Blood in the chalice, we can offer our prayers for those who cause us pain; we can immerse them in the chalice of his Blood, asking that they be washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, and that God will find a place in heaven for everyone who challenges us as we follow in the foot-steps of Christ. In this way, you can love your enemies with a more beautiful love than the love you have for your friends.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Wisdom 7:7-11
Responsorial: Psalm 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Reading II: Hebrews 4:12-13
Gospel: Mark 10:17-30

My favourite sentence in today’s Gospel reading is “Jesus, looking at him, loved him”. It sums up the way that God looks on us. It is a gaze that sees and accepts us as who we are, wherever we have wandered.

I am sure that in our relationship with God, we need to discover this loving gaze. Unless we meet God’s gaze and see his love for us, we won’t have a real relationship with him, and our faith will only be a set of rules or routine practices.

The young people I work with as a religion teacher are very sensitive to this. They want to experience God’s presence in their lives and be sure that he really cares about them.

Currently the Vatican is holding a synod focussed on young people. Pope Francis has asked that during the synod, we pray that young people will find their mission in life, and be able to achieve happiness. This can only happen if they have an intimate relationship with their Creator, who knows our true needs.

The experience of God’s loving gaze can be a turning-point in our lives, as it was for the young man in today’s Gospel. When we are face-to-face and eye-to-eye with God, we are confronted with the complete truth about ourselves and about God. In that gaze, some may experience a call to consecrated life; some may be challenged to a more radical commitment to live out their faith; or we may be healed of deep wounds and fears about whether we are lovable. When Jesus invited the young man to live his life dependent on God, he was was offering the young man the desire of his heart – the way to eternal life.

We are all invited to a close relationship with God which is more precious than any kind of earthly wealth. Like the young man in the Gospel — who was a good young man; a faithful young man — our attachment to material goods or a comfortable way of life may distance us from God.

What does it mean to leave everything behind and follow Jesus? It might mean answering a call to religious life. But more often, it is an invitation to a kind of inner freedom, detachment from your dependence on your possessions, your plans, your idea of a happy or successful life.

That’s scary.

But the loving gaze of Jesus makes it possible. When we see his total acceptance and love, we can surrender our lives to him, knowing that he is able to give us so much more than we have or could ever achieve on our own.

We can meet the loving gaze of Jesus in prayer, adoration, and in the words of Scripture — by spending our time – or rather losing ourselves – with God. We can feel God’s loving gaze just as the young man did – by seeking him, going to him, turning to him and meeting his gaze.

Let us try to see God as we see him in today’s Gospel: He is looking at you and loving you now, personally and unconditionally. If he is asking something of you, some sacrifice, he is asking it for one reason only: so that you can draw closer to him, and live in intimacy with him, feeling his loving gaze constantly upon you.

Walking so close to Christ, following him wherever he leads you, may mean being called to something great or courageous. But with his loving gaze upon us, we can confidently go wherever he calls us, knowing that with every step we take, we are drawing closer to the One who does nothing else but love us.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Genesis 2:18-24
Responsorial: Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Reading II: Hebrews 2:9-11
Gospel: Mark 10:2-16

In today’s Gospel, we see two events in Jesus’s ministry, which might seem to be disconnected. First, a Pharisee tests Jesus about the civil law that Moses gave to the Israelites regarding marriage. Jesus answers by transcending the Mosaic law and reminding his listeners of the nature of marriage as created by God from the beginning. Next we have the disciples trying to prevent parents from bringing their children to Jesus. But Jesus welcomes the children, presenting them as models of faith for all of us. Certainly, today, more than ever, we need a simple and radical reminder of what marriage really is, and how important it is to be open to life, to welcome children.

But by invoking ‘how it was from the beginning of creation,’ Jesus is reminding us of something even more fundamental than the nature of marriage and family. He is reminding us of our creation by a good and loving God, who allows everything for our good and who invites us into relationship with him. That is how it was at the beginning: an intimate relationship with God, in which we were free to approach him with the simplicity and trust of children, and receive from God the blessing of deep fulfilment and happiness. That is the essence of the Kingdom of God that Jesus was preaching: a restored trust in God our Creator. Since original sin, we have lost our child-like trust and simplicity. We are afraid to approach God. Because we have lost our trust and simplicity before God, many people are unwilling to fight for their marriages, or can’t believe that marriage and family life are designed by God for our happiness.

Dear Brothers and Sisters! We are invited today to return to the simple trust of children, to trust that whatever God calls us to, even if he disciplines us, he does it for our happiness, whether in this life or our eternal happiness in heaven. We’re invited to a radical change in our attitudes toward marriage and divorce, as well as our acceptance of cohabitation without the sacrament of marriage. We’re invited to change our attitude toward Sunday, making it a day for rest and spiritual refreshment, instead of for work and shopping.

Do we trust God like small children trust their parents? Do we believe that everything he commands us is really for our good? that he’s not trying to take away our freedom, but setting us free from the illusion that we can play God and have life and the world on our own selfish terms?

When Jesus explained the beautiful nature of life-long marriage, some people complained that such a model of marriage was just too difficult. Many people today feel the same way about marriage, which shows how very far we are from the perfect love of Adam and Eve before the Fall.

Today, examine your own heart: Which of God’s commandments seems too difficult for you to obey? Do you realize that if you live by that commandment, your life will be closer to the life of Adam and Eve in Paradise?

Today, what controversial question would you bring to Jesus about his plan for us? How does God want you to become like a child, to approach him with trust, receive his blessing, and rediscover the happiness he created us for?

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Numbers 11:25-29
Responsorial: Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
Reading II: James 5:1-6
Gospel: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Once I heard the story of a young man whose parents were very wealthy. His father ran a successful importing and trading business, so the son was never in need of anything. He was able to enjoy life – listening to music, having fun with his friends, and dreaming of great adventures. The father planned for his son to take over the business and continue to build up the family’s fortunes.

But one day the son decided to sell off some of the stock from his father’s business and spend the profits on charitable donations. Naturally, his father was furious. But the son was unrepentant. The father brought in an arbitrator to settle the matter, demanding the obedience of his son.

In response, his son renounced any claim on his father’s goodwill or support. He declared that henceforward, he would rely on his heavenly Father – God – to feed him and clothe him.

It was April 12th in the year 1207. The businessman was an Italian named Pietro Bernadone. His son was called Francesco. We know that young man today as Saint Francis of Assisi. This week, on Thursday, October fourth, we will celebrate his feast day.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that if there’s anything in your life that is separating you from God, or puts your eternal life in jeopardy, it’s better to lose it – to throw it away. There’s nothing wrong with our hands or feet or eyes – they are good. And there was nothing wrong with Pietro Bernadone’s business or his son’s enjoyment of music, good friends and noble adventures. Francis didn’t reject those things because they were evil. He rejected them because he had come to love and desire something infinitely higher, better, and more valuable: Heaven, God himself.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, how often does it happen that we can’t make a change in our lives, even when there’s something that brings us nothing but trouble and regret – something that may even separate us from God eternally?

And how much of our time and effort do we spend on things that are completely unnecessary for one whose goal is heaven? Things that are not bad, but which take up so much of our time and attention that we don’t notice how little time and effort we are spending on the things that lead to eternal life: prayer, fasting, penitence; growing in faith, hope and love.

If we put things in their true perspective – if we see them in light of our eternal salvation – then Jesus’s strong words about losing a hand or foot or an eye are not as extreme as they might seem.

Things like our professional goals, our relationships and hobbies may not be intrinsically evil. But if they lead us away from God, or are leading us into hell, then for us, they are evil and need to be cut out of our lives. Alcohol is an example: it’s not an evil in itself, but for some people, it destroys their professional lives, relationships, their freedom to act – and ultimately may lead them to losing God forever.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus also issues a warning that is tragically necessary in our times:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

Any case of abuse in the community of the Church cries out to heaven for vengeance. Any person who has been wounded or wronged has a right to be heard, and for the injury to be redressed.

In these times, we need to pray for a spirit of penance, for justice, and for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church. We need to make sacrifices – foregoing some of our innocent pleasures, perhaps, in atonement for the evil acts of the guilty among us. We need to fast in compassion for those who have been harmed. We are all members of the Body of Christ; we are responsible for each other. It is not up to us to investigate allegations of abuse and the tolerance of abuse. But we can pray, fast and make sacrifices for the good of the Church. And I am asking you to do this. We need to pray for the repentance of anyone who has committed grievous faults, as we would pray for mercy for ourselves if we were guilty.

The Body of Christ in the Church is battered and suffering because of sin that cries out to heaven. By our prayers, fasting and sacrifices, we can console our wounded Lord, and bring about his mercy and his healing.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Responsorial: Psalm: 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8
Reading II: James 3:16-4:3
Gospel: Mark 9:30-37

Who is the greatest? Who is the best? In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that none of the disciples should think he is the greatest or best, or superior to his brothers. No one who spends some time thinking about this question, if he is realistic about himself, can honestly conclude that he is the greatest or the best.

The argument among the disciples shows us that their position or rank among Jesus’s followers was important to them. It’s the same for all of us, from little children on the play-ground to adults in their jobs: we would like to be recognized as the best, to be the greatest at whatever we do. This aspiration to be better than we are, to reach greatness, shows that it’s our nature to desire the fullness and perfection of human life.

But this desire for something higher, something better, for greatness, must be tempered by humility. Without humility, the desire to excel can become a lust for power and control over others.

But what is humility? As Christians, we can say that humility is seeing yourself as God sees you. That can sound at least abstract, if not impossible. The lesson that Jesus gives us today shows us what humility looks like. Jesus placed the child in the midst of his disciples and said “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” It’s a radical thing to say. Most people who are striving after greatness would rather receive a visit from someone powerful and influential, someone who can further their ambitions.

To receive child means to receive someone who has nothing to offer to me. It means to receive every person I meet. Jesus is saying that if you want to be the greatest, you should be able to serve the least and lowest, without expecting anything, because they have nothing to give. After all, the proof that you have reached a great height, is the distance you have to come down to receive those below you.

This is why Jesus can say that when we receive a child in his name, we receive him. In doing so, we become more like God, who humbled himself to live among us, his lowly creatures. The fact that we want to lord it over other people, instead of receiving them as tenderly as we would receive a needy child, is what creates pain and discord in our relationships.

Saint James warned us about this in the second reading: “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice”. The lust in the human heart for power and control over others is what causes all the conflicts among people.

To serve another as though he was a child, means to abandon our expectations and requirements. It means to be motivated entirely by love, as a parent with a beloved child.

That’s easy to say. But what if there’s someone in your life who is difficult to love? Try imagining that person as a small child; try seeing that person as a child in the eyes of God, a child Jesus is placing in your midst, and asking you, ‘Receive this one in my name, as you would receive me.’

This is real Christianity, when we love not just people who are easy to love, but those who — in our opinion — don’t deserve it. This is Christianity that demands greatness of spirit and humility, becoming like Jesus. When you think of anyone who brings out the competitor spirit in you — or someone you want to ‘put in his place,’ someone you’d like to have power and authority over — think of that person as a small child who needs to be received with love and treated with care. Maybe this will help you to love them a little more. Maybe this will help you to imitate Jesus, to be great not through an exercise of power and control, but by laying down your life in service to others.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Isaiah 50:5-9a
Responsorial: Psalm: 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Reading II: James 2:14-18
Gospel: Mark 8:27-35

“Who do people say that I am?”

Today, Jesus’s question can become our question. Do you ask yourself, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ or ‘I wonder what people think of me?’

Do you care what your relatives – spouse, child, or parents – think about you? Do you care what your boss, colleague, or neighbour thinks about you? Do you try to make sure that they have a true impression of who you really are?

When Jesus asked, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ he probably wasn’t really worried about whether people accepted or liked him. He asked the question in order to test and deepen the faith of his disciples.

But when we ask this question, we’re usually concerned about whether people accept us and approve of us. So today’s Gospel is a bit of a challenge for those of us who depend too much on the opinions, praise, and approval of other people.

Jesus was not hurt or offended or sad when he heard incorrect answers to the question, ‘Who do people say that I am.’ Jesus knew full well who he was. He was completely secure in his relationship to the Father. He knew that he was the Father’s beloved Son. We can even say that only Jesus has a fully developed identity because his identity was perfectly grounded in how God sees a person.

And this is our key to achieving the same self-assurance — which has nothing to do with false pride or false humility, puffing ourselves up or putting ourselves down. The key is to change the question from ‘Who do people say that I am?’ To ‘Who does GOD say that I am?’

St Francis of Assisi, our founder and spiritual father, used to say that we are who we are in God’s eyes – no one else’s. realizing who we are in the eyes of God may be a disappointment to some. But to a healthy personality, it is a great relief to know that we are just children – beloved children – children who are wanted, cherished and forgiven.

In this respect, Jesus’s rebuke to Peter –you are thinking NOT as God does, but as human beings do – applies very much to us. Do we think about ourselves the way God sees us? Or are we too concerned with the standards of the world?

Whenever we are rejected, misunderstood, oppressed or treated with contempt, let us not focus on what that other person is thinking of us. Let us ask ourselves instead, ‘Who does God say that I am?’ ‘What is my value in the eyes of God?’

Knowing yourself to be loved by God — who sent his only Son to lay down his life for your salvation — will help you bear your crosses in this life, even to the point of martyrdom.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Isaiah 35:4-7A
Responsorial: Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
Reading II: James 2:1-5
Gospel: Mark 7:31-37

God is passionate about human life. He created it and will not allow it to be under the power of sin and death. So he sent his beloved Son to redeem us. Even when we suffer, we know that suffering is not God’s plan for us. We know that he wants the fullness of life for us, and that at our resurrection, we will enjoy the fullness of life, when every tear will be wiped away, and there will be no more death or mourning, crying or pain (Rv 21:4).

The miracle that Jesus works in today’s Gospel focuses on the ability to hear and speak: Jesus cures a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment.

Many of you will recognize the act of touching the ears and mouth and saying Ephphatha!” — ‘be opened’. It is a common part of the rite of Baptism in most places in the world. It’s not just the means of opening the man’s ears so he can hear, and freeing his tongue so he can speak. It is a sign of bringing a person into the fullness of life.

On another level, Jesus’s act signifies healing the sins that are a barrier between ourselves and God and our neighbor. St Augustine, whose feast day we celebrated last month, wrote the story of his own conversion in similar terms. Addressing God, Augustine says, “You called and shouted and burst my deafness. You flashed, shone, and scattered my blindness.”

The man who was deaf and unable to speak can also be a sign for us of how we feel when we have been wounded by someone close to us. If we have experienced betrayal; if we have been used and manipulated, if we’ve been humiliated or deprived of our dignity, we can close ourselves off from other people. Fear, guilt, a sense of diminished value, isolation, retreating into ourselves – all of these responses may be hidden under an inability to communicate with others or really hear what others are trying to say to us.

It is significant that Jesus drew the man away from the crowd in order to heal him and restore him to full communion with his family and neighbors. Perhaps Jesus wanted the man to experience only love, acceptance and healing that comes from God, instead of the rejection, blame, shame and derision that he might experience from the people around him.

If you are isolated from other people because of wounds you have received from them, it may not be easy to expose your pain to Jesus and allow him to touch it and heal it. Your Ephphatha!” may happen in a moment of forgiveness, offered in the name of Christ.

You may say that it’s hard to forgive: you want to, but your feelings are against it. But forgiveness is an act of the will, and not a matter of feelings. Decide that you will forgive, and persevere in the will to forgive. This act of the will opens up for us the way to fullness of life.

God respects our experiences; he knows human psychology better than we do.
He knows that healing comes with time. But it begins with letting ourselves be alone with Jesus and his love, letting ourselves receive his healing touch, setting us free from other people’s opinions, judgements, suspicions or anger.

Today, think about your own isolation from certain people in your life. Are you closed off from them because of lies and broken trust? Today Jesus invites you to step aside with him and leave behind all the unforgiveness that weighs heavily on your hearts and burdens your relationships. Now, in the silence of our hearts, let us ask him for his healing touch.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Responsorial: Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
Reading II: James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Today I came back from visiting my sister and her husband and their children. Based on the behaviour of my little niece, I can see how difficult it is to teach a child to keep her hands clean. And based on the behaviour of my little nephew, I can see that once a child knows that his hands have to be clean, he will check everyone in the house to make sure they have washed their hands, too.

So much for the training of children. It is not the same with our faith. Our faith is not about good hygiene or good manners or social customs. Our faith is a matter of the heart. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches this truth to the people of his time, and he teaches us, too, in our time. Because at all times and in all places, people like to cling to their own fixed ideas about what is most important when it comes to our faith.

Jesus’s teaching, that evil is what comes from our hearts, may be something we do not really want to hear, but our resistance to this truth shows us how powerful is our will, which the language of the Bible calls ‘the heart.’

Our heart – our will – has great power for good and evil. Today we should examine our motives for how we think, how we behave, how we treat other people. We need to rid our hearts of all excuses that what we do is only what everyone else does,
or not as bad as what some do.

Today, at the end of Mass, during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, spend some time in silence thinking about what really drives your heart: is there fear, envy, greed, malice in your heart? Is your heart always motivated by love, kindness, charity? Ask God to purify your mind, your heart and your will. Ask God to reveal you to yourself as you truly are, make you honest with yourself and with him, instead of just going along with the current standards of the world.

Ask God to give you a new heart – a heart that is able to choose what is good, not because other people say it is good, but because God says it is good.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Our Lady of Częstochowa, Queen of Poland

Reading I: Isaiah 2:2-5
Responsorial: Psalm 45:10, 11, 12, 1
Reading II: Galatians 4:4-7
Gospel: John 2:1-11

Do you like walking in the mountains? I do! For me, it is awesome. It captivates me and leads me to God – and not just because I’m at a higher elevation than when I’m in the city.

Today’s first reading invites us to go up to the top of a high hill, to the Lord’s mountain. But what is the purpose of that ascent? To enter the house of God, the Temple, the place where God dwells. The Prophet invites the Chosen People to follow him to the place where the Israelites believed God was present on earth. So we can say that Isaiah wants to lead us into the Temple of the God of Jacob.

But let’s set aside that Temple, and turn back to the topic of the mountains. If you’re walking through the mountains, it’s better to take a companion along, rather than going alone. With a companion, you can quickly get help if you are injured. You’re less afraid of the dark or the howling of wolves when you have someone to rely on if you have to defend yourself.

My parents gave me my love of the hills and mountains. They were my first guides. In the Sudety mountains, there is a hill called Śnieżka, which means something connected with snow. It is the first big hill that I climbed, and the closest to Wroclaw, which is where I was born. From that first experience, I spent lots of time in the mountains, but always with companions: my brothers, friends, or young people from this parish.

Oh yes, it’s good to go to the mountains with someone you know well, because hiking mountain trails isn’t easy. And it’s the same way in our lives. It’s a good idea to invite into your life the One who is more than your close friend, more than a brother; the One who knows your path better than you do – the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

We heard about Him in the second reading. He leads us up high, like the people of Israel were led up the mountain by the words of Isaiah. The Spirit leads us to the Father. He is still crying out in our hearts Abba, Father!

Wow! Amazing. For me that’s amazing. He is crying out because of his longing for the Father. He is inspiring us with his own longing for the Father, for His heart, for His presence, for His Temple – the most holy place in the universe. And I think that it is because of that inspired longing, that we are here today, in front of the altar.

The Holy Spirit has the power to guide us along many paths. And today he wants to show us Mary as one of the ways that can lead us through Christ to the Father. He also leads us to the Father through the example of the disciples, who followed Mary’s instructions at Cana. She directed the servants to Jesus. And similarly, she brings us to Jesus, who leads us to heaven, where the Father is waiting for us.

As you know, today we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lady of Częstochowa, the Queen of Poland. Her shrine is in a monastery at the top of a hill called Jasna Góra – Bright Mountain. She is a Queen and she is a beacon for the faithful, shining brightly not only in one shrine, and not only in Poland. But at Jasna Góra she shines with special brilliance, because at that place, for centuries, her light has drawn millions of the faithful to her side. On that Bright Mountain, she continues her work at Cana, interceding for those in need, and pointing them to Christ.

Mary wants to climb the mountains of your life with you, and to share all your difficulties and burdens – if only you will invite her to be your companion. Centuries ago, my compatriots invited her into their lives, and she still eagerly accepts that invitation now. This is why we celebrate this great solemnity today: to give thanks and to glorify our God for the support that is given to every believer in the person of Mary, Ever-Virgin.

Fr Piotr Kantorski, OFMConv

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Proverbs 9:1-6
Responsorial: Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Reading II: Ephesians 5:15-20
Gospel: John 6:51-58

Jesus’s teaching in today’s Gospel can be as difficult for us to accept as it was for the people who heard the speech for the first time two thousand years ago.

In the Gospel of John, there is no account of the Last Supper. Instead, John gives us this strong and controversial speech of Jesus as a formal establishment of the Eucharist, when by His words, the Word-Made-Flesh gives us his flesh to eat. Jesus makes it very clear that eternal life for those who meet him demands remaining in communion with him.

In every culture, in all times, sharing a meal with other people is a sign of shared relationship. Sharing the same food strengthens and nurtures the bond between people. But sharing in Eucharistic communion with Jesus Christ does more. When we eat his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus transforms us into himself.

There is no natural food in this world that can make us live forever. As we grow older, our health, beauty and strength diminish. We need only to look around us – or look in the mirror – to see that this is so. Being aware that our human life is limited, we naturally seek something or someone that will see us through this life, to the life that is to come after our physical death.

Jesus knows our fallen and frail condition due to original sin. He knows that we need someone greater than ourselves to rely on and give us strength. So he stays with us, in the Sacrament, to be food for our journey on our way to heaven.

Our participation in the Eucharist, our reception of Communion, is not some kind of reward for ‘being good’ or ‘being holy.’ Medicine is not given to the healthy. Participation in the Eucharist is for sinners, people who know their own moral weakness, and recognize their need of help. Holy Communion fortifies us for the daily struggle against weakness. Receiving communion is not something we do for God, but something he gives to us.

When we come to Mass with the intention of receiving Holy Communion, we need to call to mind our sins, our struggles, doubts and fears. Then we need to ask God to give us his strength in Holy Communion, because we know that we are not yet prepared for life in heaven with Him.

The manna that the Israelites ate in the desert strengthened them for their journey on earth. But the Sacrament of Holy Communion gives us the power to achieve something that nothing else on earth can promise: eternal life.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: 1 Kings 19:4-8
Responsorial: Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Reading II: Ephesians 4:30-5:2
Gospel: John 6:41-51

A few days ago I came back from the diocesan pilgrimage from Wrocław to the monastery of Jasna Góra in Częstochowa. During the month of August, thousands of pilgrims set off from different parts or Poland to walk on foot to the shrine of our Lady of Częstochowa. It takes nine days to walk the pilgrimage from Wrocław. From some parts of Poland, it can take up to nineteen days.

The sight and experience of pilgrims walking step-by-step, kilometer by kilometer, hour after hour, day after day is a great reminder to the pilgrims and everyone they meet on the way that we are all pilgrims in this world, making our way to our heavenly destination.

A walking pilgrimage, in the summer heat, with sore feet, sleeping in tents, feeling hot, tired and dirty helps me to understand the weariness of Elijah in today’s first reading. All he wanted to do was sit down under a broom tree and die.

But Elijah wasn’t just walking in the desert. He was following the will of the Lord. So his exhaustion was both physical and spiritual. We can all sometimes feel empty, bored and even exhausted as we try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. There will be times in our faith life when we feel like we cannot go on, like it’s too difficult to believe in Jesus, hope in him, trust in him and do his will. This is when — like Elijah — we need refreshment on our journey, something to help us overcome our spiritual stagnation and loss of the will to live.

During our nine-day pilgrimage, we passed through many towns and villages where the residents gave us food and drink. They opened wide their hearts and their homes, going to great effort to prepare meals and give us bottles of water to make our pilgrimage a little bit easier. To me, they were like the angels who brought food for Elijah. But it was the daily Mass, sometimes celebrated outdoors, in the open air, that gave meaning to our pilgrimage and gave us the spiritual sustenance we needed to keep going toward our goal of Jasna Góra.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, it can be difficult to believe that God is really present — Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity — in Holy Communion. We can have doubts just like the Jews in today’s Gospel. But if you find your lack the strength to carry on with life, to cope with all the difficulties that you face, or to work through your struggles with the faith, I urge you to make an act of faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. At the elevation of the host, you can say with Doubting Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Or you can say with another follower of Jesus, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief!’ Make an act of faith in the fact that in the Eucharist, Jesus really has provided us with the daily sustenance we need on our pilgrimage to heaven.

After the angel brought him food, Elijah was able to walk for forty days on that one meal. Jesus gives us the food that will take us much further — all the way to eternal life.

Today, tell Jesus how tired you are. Tell him how weak you are. Ask him to give you the strength you need to complete the pilgrimage of your life.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: 2 Kings 4:42-44
Responsorial: Psalm 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18
Reading II: Ephesians 4:1-6
Gospel: John 6:1-15

Jesus’s disciples were convinced that it is impossible to feed so many people. But Jesus did not allow them to neglect such a basic need as hunger. As always, Jesus has pity on his people. Personally, I find it a bit surprising that Jesus worked a miracle despite the Apostles’ lack of faith. Maybe that was the point: to show the Apostles that they could believe in him, that he cares for us and our every need.

All of us are aware how many goods we waste in daily life; we know that many resources that are desperately needed in one part of the world, are thrown away in other places.

The miracle we see in today’s Gospel should remind us to become part of God’s plan by sharing what we have. When we share the goods we have been blessed with, we allow God to perform miracles in our lives. By sharing with others when we have too much, we make it possible for God to show us his power and providence when we are in need.

In the Gospel, Jesus looked up and saw what the crowd needed. We, too, have to ‘raise our eyes’ and see with the eyes of Christ, trying to find people who need our help. We can give away extra clothing, we can donate food; we can give money to charities that help the poor. But we can also look for people’s needs in very simple ways, for example offering assistance to someone on the street or on the tram.

To see with the eyes of Christ, we need to ‘raise our eyes’ in two ways. First, we need to start noticing the needs of the people around us. Second, we need to raise our eyes to God, so he can show us what we need to do, and give us the grace and ability to do it. Sometimes that may mean the grace to overcome our fear that our offer of help will be refused or resented. But we must not be afraid to try; we have to step out in faith.

Robert Cardinal Sarah from Guinea wrote about his visit to Japan after the tsunami in 2011. Simply his presence there, his willingness to be among the suffering, gave people hope, even if they were non-Christian. He received a letter from a Buddhist who said she was about to end her life because of her suffering and pain, but the presence of Cardinal Sarah helped her in a way she could not describe.

Pope Benedict’s first encyclical was called God is love – Deus caritas est. In that encyclical, he wrote that the practical help we call charity is needed even in the most developed and wealthy societies, because suffering and loneliness are universal and comfort is always needed. This kind of service and help is part of every Christian life, no matter where we live. Sharing our time, attention and material goods with others is the way we become like Jesus.

This week, let’s ‘raise our eyes’ and look around us for those who need our help. We may not be rich; we may have even less than the boy in the Gospel. But God is asking us to trust him: he is the God of miracles.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Amos 7:12-15
Responsorial: Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Reading II: Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel: Mark 6:7-14

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The theme of today’s readings is vocation. Vocation means the choosing, calling and sending of a prophet to prophesy, sending apostles to preach the message of God’s love. We heard the testimony of the prophet Amaziah: ‘The Lord took me from following the flock, and he said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.””

In the Gospel we heard about Jesus who sent the Apostles out two by two, and gave them authority over unclean spirits. Every prophet, every apostle, was called and sent to fulfill God’s plan in the mystery of salvation, as well as to fulfill God’s plan for him personally.

One month ago, during a meeting of Catholics in Uzbekistan, the country where I have the joy of serving for the past few years, we reflected on the theme of vocation. We considered the vocations of many famous people from the past: Abraham, Moses, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and many saints. Before adoration, which we offered in thanksgiving for the gift of vocations, I stressed one point. I said that it was good that we reflected on vocations and all that the Apostles and saints had done in the Church
all over the world. I said, ‘Look here, now — in your life, in your parish — at the people, the priests, whom you meet. In each of them, you can see that God continues to call and send his people. The Lord still calls people today, and sends them to different places to bring the people the Good News.’

I reminded them of the first priests who went to Uzbekistan and established new parishes in the late twentieth century. Thanks to their efforts, we have five parishes in that mostly Muslim country. I have the joy of working in the first parish community that was established in Uzbekistan, in Fergana. Last year we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the registration of the parish community. The first priest was Józef Świdnicki. He served Catholics in Central Asia when the region was under the control of the Soviet Union.
He opened the way for the Franciscans, who came after the fall of Communism. The first Franciscan priest was Fr Krzysztof Kukułka who was also your English-speaking priest here for a couple of years. His job was to build the cathedral in Tashkent. Then, in 2005, the Lord sent us our bishop, the Franciscan Jerzy Masulewicz. After reflecting on the history of God’s generosity in sending such people to them, the people prayed for all the priests, sisters and lay people who answered the call to bring the Gospel to Uzbekistan, to their parishes, to their families. It was a beautiful time of prayer.

I share this memory with you to inspire you to think about the people God has sent into your life to show you the way to the Lord, who have been the missionaries in your life, who have announced the Good News to you.

Take a moment to be grateful for the people God has sent to you in the most important moments of your life, to bring you the sacraments,
or simply to radiate God’s love for you, and illuminate a time of darkness and doubt.

And now, maybe you feel God’s inspiration, his call, in your life. Maybe he has wants to send you to a person or a community, or even to another country, to announce the Good News. There are many ways we can be called: as a priest, as a religious sister or brother, as a volunteer, as a prayerful intercessor for those who are called to go out into the world to spread the Gospel. Each of us is called and sent to bring Christ to others, even if we never leave our homes.

Fr Andrzej Kulczycki, OFMConv

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Ezekiel 2:2-5
Responsorial: Psalm 123:1-2, 2, 3-4
Reading II: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Gospel: Mark 6:1-6

How do we look at and think about each other? Everything that I look at is seen from my subjective point of view. Do you really know everything about yourself? If not, how can you be sure of knowing someone else’s heart and deep intentions?

Interpretation kills relationships. How? It blocks us from seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary and the deeper mystery and uniqueness of the other. It obscures the beauty and the good that others have – especially our most beloved: wives, husbands, children, even mothers-in-law. It leads us to think we know everything about others, but our prejudices and assumptions prevent us from seeing new depths within them. And so we’re not open to letting them surprise us. We’ve imprisoned and ‘fossilized’ them in our own worldview.

That’s what happened to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. He returned home to his own village and his own people, and even though they were astonished by his wisdom and news of his miracles, they could not get beyond their own assumptions about him. They were sure that that they knew who he was: ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s Son?’ they said. ‘Don’t we know his mother Mary, his extended family, and where he came from? Who does he think he is? Isn’t he the same as us?’ And they would not accept him. In their eyes, his familiarity cancelled out his wisdom and his miracles. Nothing kills like unthinking familiarity. Perhaps it was easier for them to accept a carpenter than a prophet in their midst.

If we do that, we think we know the other when we actually don’t. Saint Mark says that Jesus’s rejection by his own people in Nazareth rendered him powerless. And so he could work no miracles there. It’s a very destructive power that we all have: the ability to disempower others and prevent ‘miracles’ from happening.

It’s time to face the truth that we’re not so different from the people in today’s Gospel. How often do I dis-empower the people whom I love? How many times do I kill hope in them because of my lack of trust? Probably at this stage, they are discouraged from spreading their wings and flying again. Like ourselves, Jesus was deeply affected by the way people reacted to him. Their lack of faith and trust dis-empowered him.

Maybe you treat Jesus as if you know him very well. And you know how he should respond to your wishes and resolve your problems. Think about it!

One way out of the danger of thinking we know everything and everyone is to develop an attitude of gratitude, to become aware that all is a gift; all is grace, and grace is everywhere.

Fr. Grzegorz Dłużniak, SDB

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Responsorial: Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
Reading II: 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
Gospel: Mark 5:21-43

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

If I tried to sum up today’s rather long Gospel in one word, the word that comes to mind is ‘touch.’

We see Jesus, who through his touch, his closeness to us, brings us back to the fullness of life that was lost when sin and death entered the world. As we heard in the first reading, ‘God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.’

I think we probably often expect a homily to provide us with some kind of practical advice or remarkable insights into how we should live, how we should act if we are true Christians.

But I think that today’s Gospel rather invites us to discover who God is, to experience how God would like to act in each of our lives.

We see that for Jesus, the most important thing is what is good for each individual man or woman. Because he cared for the suffering woman, Jesus was willing to ignore the Mosaic law. Instead of rebuking her for contaminating him because of her flow of blood, he heals her and sends her away in peace. He reaches out his hand and touches a dead child, and his life flows into her, and she is restored to her family.

Jesus wanted to be close to the crowds who were pressing around him. He cares about people’s smallest needs – like telling people to bring food to Jairus’s daughter.

Today we have two opportunities to allow Jesus to touch us: first, in Holy Communion, and second, in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which we will have at the end of Mass.

Today, let’s be like that woman in the crowd, who ‘fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.’ Show God every part of your life that needs his healing touch. Bring him your greatest problems. Come with the faith of Jairus and the certainty of the woman who had suffered so long
with the flow of blood. Beg him to reach out with his healing hand and touch what is wounded in you. Ask him for his mercy.

Today’s Gospel is inviting you to trust in Jesus, and let him restore you to fullness of life.

Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Homily 24 June 2018: Solemnity of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, Year B

Reading I: Isaiah 49:1-6
Responsorial: Psalm 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15
Reading II: Acts 13:22-26
Gospel: Luke 1:57-66, 80

Our homily this Sunday was given by Fr Piotr Narkiewicz of St. Isidore’s Roman Catholic Church in Riverhead, Long Island, New York, USA.

In place of Fr Piotr’s homily, we offer you this translation of a homily by a Polish Dominican priest who is a student at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

Names play a very important role in biblical tradition. Often they have a symbolic dimension – they reflect the character of a man, his calling or the circumstances in which he comes into the world. They can also be a message for the community – especially when God himself gives someone a name. The angel announces to Mary that her son is to bear the name Jesus, meaning “the Lord saves.” The son of Elisabeth and Zechariah, whose name is also proclaimed by the angel Gabriel, is to be called John (Yochanan) – “The Lord is gracious.” It is this name that holds the key to a better understanding of today’s Gospel.

The angel appears to Zechariah in the temple, while he is performing priestly duties, and announces to him that God has heard his pleas – he will finally receive a child. Zechariah does not believe, because it seems humanly impossible. As a sign of his unbelief, God imposes silence on him for nine months until the boy is born. Why does Zechariah have to be silent? God silences those who are “too wise,” who want to instruct even God about what is possible and what is not. Old Zachariah, righteous and morally upright, has not understood the most important truth so far: “The Lord is gracious.” That is why he must keep silent and then confess it with all his strength. Despite a lack of understanding on the part of those around him, Zechariah fulfills the angel’s command and gives the son the name John. This is a true profession of faith: “the Lord is gracious.” This confession frees his speech and leads to worship.

Like Zechariah, every believer remains silent until he believes and confesses that “the Lord is gracious.” Perhaps like Zechariah we meticulously obey the rules, take part in worship, but are not able to truly worship God.

Rafał Wędzicki OP

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Ezekiel 17:22-24
Responsorial: Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16
Reading II: Corinthians 5:6-10
Gospel: Mark 4:26-34

We all know that Jesus liked to teach people using parables. The genius of this approach is that each of his listeners could apply the parable to his own experience, to where he was in his life at the moment. And often, we can apply the same parable to different aspects of our lives at different times in our lives. Jesus’s parables about the potential of a small seed can speak to us in many situations, whether we are just beginning a life of prayer, just starting our studies or marriage, or we’ve just welcomed a new baby into our family and are wondering, ‘What will this child become?’ In every case, we are reminded that if we just put in a small amount of effort – if we just plant the seed – God can bring great fruit from our small beginnings.

I like to apply the parable of the seed in today’s Gospel to the practice of reading the Bible. Notice that the Word of God has a mysterious power in it, just as a small seed does. The seed carries in its tiny package the power to burst out of its hard shell, push through the soil, take root and send forth shoots that are visible and fruitful. Very quickly the seed disappears and in its place is a vigorous plant. The power of the Bible is similar – the power to transform us and bring forth new life.

Reading a bit of the Bible every day — even a short passage, even without spending much time — can have the same kind of surprising results as a person scattering random seeds on the ground. It’s a very good practice – and very easy – to check the readings for each day’s Mass as a starting point to asking God what he wants to say to you today, and how he wants to guide your actions. You may not notice anything at first – the same way seeds don’t seem to be doing anything right after you plant them.

But be patient. It takes time for the word of God to take root in our heart. And then comes the great surprise, when we discover how often what we read in the Bible seems to be speaking directly to us, addressing our problems, needs and questions today, even though it was written thousands of years ago.

We can also start small and experience surprising personal growth when we begin to try to root out temptation in our lives. Even the smallest change in how we decide to think about another person can transform our hearts, minds and relationships in unexpected ways. If we resist a small temptation or offer up a small suffering for a particular intention, it becomes a prayer that has great power. When we look back from the perspective of eternal life, I am convinced that we will be surprised at how much changed in our lives and in other people’s lives, starting from just these small efforts.

When we speak about seeds, new growth and bearing fruit, we probably don’t connect those things with difficulties, rejection, illness or humiliation. But in fact, every suffering patiently endured leads to spiritual and personal growth. And it ‘grows us’ in a special way: it makes us sensitive to other people’s suffering. Like the mustard seed that grows into a dwelling-place for all kinds of birds, when we accept suffering and learn from it, we grow into a living shelter for anyone who is wounded, struggling, or rejected. This is real development if we accept our wounds as seeds for growth.

Today’s Gospel is a reminder to look for the small, simple things that we often overlook — the little opportunities to make a small sacrifice, say a quick prayer, or offer up a little inconvenience for the sake of someone in need. These are not big, grand gestures, but little seeds that can bring new life and vigor to our relationships with each other and with God.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, let today’s Gospel be an invitation to choose one, small seed to plant and nurture this week. Just one thing – a short Bible verse recalled every day, overcoming a small temptation each day, offering up to God one difficult experience every day to help someone else. Try to plant one, small seed, and watch God make it grow into something great and good.

Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Genesis 3:9-15
Psalm: 130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Reading II: 2 Corinthians 4: 13-5:1
Gospel: Mark 3:20-35

Today’s Gospel shows us the mystery of iniquity of Satan. After his fall he is unable to do anything good – not even to those who are on the same side as him.

The first sin of Adam and Eve brought division into the world: division between mankind and God, and division between people. We can see it clearly in Adam and Eve’s excuses after they sinned. When God asks, ‘Where are you?’ he is not asking because he needs information. He is asking because Adam and Eve needed to acknowledge the true nature of their relationship to God after the Fall. It is a thought-provoking question, that we all need to answer. Where are we in our relationship to God? Are we hiding from him, making excuses? Are our hearts divided? Or are we united to him and living in personal integrity?

A good example of how we should live a life of integrity and closeness to God is the life of a monk. The word ‘monk’ comes from a Greek word that means ‘unity.’ In his humility, a monk should pursue a life of unity with God — the kind of unity that we can only imagine when we read the Book of Genesis and think about what life must have been like for Adam and Eve, before sin and division entered their hearts, their marriage, and their relationship to God and the world. The Fathers of the Church say that the vocation of a monk – that pursuit of inner balance and harmony with God, the world, and others — applies to everyone, no matter what our state in life. It applies to you, just as much as it applies to me or the monk or nun in a cloister.

In this light, we see Jesus Christ as a prototype of man. In him we can observe the fullness of life and of freedom. In him, we can find the peace and balance we long for, and which we so often lose or cannot find. The evil that is sin, and the wounds we suffer because of sin prevent us from finding peace and freedom, because the kingdom of sin and evil has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God and his peace.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, when Adam and Eve sinned, God promised them that one of their offspring would heal the division between God and man. One of their offspring would open up the way again to that monastic peace, harmony and integrity that God designed us to enjoy. Jesus is that man. If we seek the deep of a man whose heart is not divided in any way, we must model our lives on Christ.

At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that we can be as intimate with him as a brother, sister or mother if only we do the will of God. This is the key. This is how we will find the peace, harmony and tranquillity that we long for in our lives. Are we ready to abandon everything that is not the will of God? God is calling you, asking you, ‘Where are you?’ Do you trust him enough to say, ‘Here I am, Lord, ready to do your will?’ Do you trust that when he asks, ‘Where are you?’ he is coming to save you, not to punish you?

Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Responsorial: Psalm 81: 3-4, 5-6, 6-8, 10-11
Reading II: 2 Corinthians 4: 6-11
Gospel: Mark 2:23-3:6

In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. In this healing, we can see Jesus’s entire earthly mission summarized. He came to free us from every evil, which is like a wasting disease, that robs us of the fullness of life, and limits our freedom to act as whole, healthy, sons and daughters of God.

Jesus said to the man: “Come up here before us.” And then: “Stretch out your hand.” Notice that the moment of healing is the moment when the man openly shows himself and his problem to God, when he shows the truth about himself.

Sometimes we forget that God is God, and he knows us better than we know ourselves. The very first step to healing, as illustrated in today’s Gospel, is the moment of admitting exactly what our problem is.

Even if we pray, we may not know what needs healing. Or rather, maybe we don’t want to know. But we need to stand in truth before other people, even if it makes us feel vulnerable or afraid. We fear the exposure of our weakness, shame, or guilt. But let’s not forget how freeing and releasing it is when we get the healing we need.

Today we need once more to admit our problems and show them to God – in prayer, the sacrament of confession, and the Eucharist.

If we don’t show our need to God, we limit or even block Jesus’s ability to heal us. If we don’t admit that we are like the man with the withered hand, we can end up like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, who focussed on rules that would limit God’s love
even on the Sabbath. Our faith can become lifeless ritual, if we do not admit that we can be weak and helpless. Because no matter how much effort we put into being good Christians, without God’s healing help, we can never gain spiritual health and freedom.

Today, let us stretch out our withered hands and ask for God’s healing. He knows our condition, and he wants to set us free. We just have to stop denying that we need his help.

Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, Year B

Reading I: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40
Responsorial: Psalm 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22
Reading II: Romans 8:14-17
Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

There is a story about a priest in a rural area who talked with one of his parishioners who did not attend Mass.

The man told the priest there was no point in going to church: he already knew about God and faith. In response, the priest asked his ‘well-educated’ parishioner how many Persons are in the Holy Trinity. The man replied, ‘Two.’

The priest then asked the man who had taught him about his faith. The man replied, ‘The parish vicar. He said that there are three Persons in the Holy Trinity, but I think that God the Father looks so old, he must have died by now.’

This story is a good illustration of what can happen when we think about God. As Christians, we can think like children when we try to understand the Holy Trinity, if we do not make an efforts to grow in our faith.

Today’s Gospel focuses on the call to go and preach, to make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism is absolutely necessary. It is our first step in faith. But where is our faith leading us? It is leading us to sharing eternal life in the Holy Trinity. Baptism is not a magic spell that automatically gets us to heaven. There is a journey between Baptism and life in the Holy Trinity. That journey is the path of personal discipleship, following Jesus every step of our lives.

The second reading today shows us how Baptism brings us into the life of the Trinity, the inner life of God in three Persons. We worship the Father through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, we are adopted into Christ’s sonship, and we are now able to call God ‘Father,’ even ‘Daddy’ – Abba.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, today, we are invited to ask the Holy Spirit to draw us ever more deeply into participation in the inner life of the Trinity. Unlike the Israelites — who heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire — we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. He can speak to us ‘from the inside,’ intimately, to our hearts. And we can respond trustfully, ‘Abba… Father.’

We were baptized when we were babies. And when we were children, it was easy to think of God as being as real and close as our parents. But we tend to forget or lose this intimacy as we get older, just like babies – who swim instinctively after birth – forget how to do it as they mature. But we have the grace of Baptism always available to us. It depends on us if we would like to experience the fullness of life in the Spirit. It starts with calling on God as simply as a child: Abba…Father.

Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Solemnity of Pentecost, Year B

Reading I: Acts 2:1-11
Responsorial: Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
Reading II: Galatians 5:16-25
Gospel: John 20:19-23

In John’s Gospel, there is an interesting detail in how he describes Jesus’s death on the Cross. John doesn’t say that Jesus ‘gave up’ his Spirit; he says that Jesus ‘breathed’ his Spirit on us. This is the very first sending of the Holy Spirit, when the Spirit of Jesus becomes the Spirit of the Apostles.

We heard about another such moment in the Gospel today. Jesus appeared to his disciples and proclaimed his peace to them, which is connected with the gift of forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of penance. Jesus did the same thing that the Creator does in the Book of Genesis, when he breathed his Spirit into a human body, giving the breath of his life to Adam.

In the same Upper Room where Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples, fifty days later, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was sent down on the Apostles.

The rapid expansion of the Church, which was born on the Cross from Jesus’s wounded side, began in a small room where the frightened disciples had hidden themselves. But on Pentecost, with the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Church is able to go boldly into the world and preach the Gospel with no fear.

We should pay attention to a difference between the reception of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and what happened when Jesus appeared to his Apostles and breathed on them. Notice how the Holy Spirit acts in the people who receive Him. Which one of us does not want to have such courage in his heart? Who does not long for such deep peace?

Today, Jesus is inviting us to receive his Holy Spirit. It depends on us if we will accept the gift. Jesus respects our choice. So it is up to us to ask him for his Spirit today as we celebrate this solemnity.

The birth of the Church which we see in the Book of Acts invites us to discover the gift of unity that is given to us by the Holy Spirit. We can see the Church’s task to be a sacrament of unity in a world that is divided in so many ways.

This unity is not based on everyone being the same. It is a unity that comes from sharing the same Spirit, the Spirit of love, which animates our love for one another. Even though we speak different languages, we are able to communicate through the language of divine Love.

As Christians, we are called to be messengers of peace and unity in the world. We should pray for the gift of unity and mutual understanding in our families, the Church, and the whole world. We are and should be different, but we need the common language of love that only God can give us.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, peace and unity among people is not the impossible hope of idealistic dreamers. It is our purpose; it is our mission; it is promised to us by God. And peace and unity are always present when we remain in the Holy Spirit.

As Christians in a hostile world, we may be as frightened as the Apostles were in the Upper Room. But like them, we are called to receive the Holy Spirit, who alone makes it possible for us to preach the Gospel by the witness of our lives.

Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Ascension of the Lord, Year B

Reading I: Acts 1:1-11
Responsorial: Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Reading II: Ephesians 1:17-23
Gospel: Mark 16:15-20

Today’s Liturgy of the Word shows us the end and the beginning of two periods in salvation history. We just listened to the end of the Gospel of Mark, and the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. Our Lord’s Ascension marks both the end of his mission on earth, and the beginning of his Church’s mission, when he commissions his disciples to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

I think most of us would like to have the experience of being close to Jesus in the same way as when he was walking the earth. We would like to be able to see him, what he looked like, listen to him, make eye contact with him, be able to feel his loving touch.

And so when we read about the Ascension, we can feel a bit disappointed or bereft. We would rather that Jesus had stayed among us as he revealed himself in his Incarnation.

And I know that this desire to see the living God is connected with the fact that we cannot see him alive in his Church, not because he is not present in the Church, but because of the way we are looking for him, and how we expect him to act.

We are like the Apostles who stood looking intently at the sky, who thought that Jesus would restore the kingdom of Israel. Staring up at the sky, they do not look at the world around them, and by faith, see his presence and action in the Church.

Perhaps that’s because at that moment, the moment of the Ascension, Jesus had not yet sent the Holy Spirit to his Church. But in our lives, it may be because we have not yet understood how God works in his Church, through its ministry.

We won’t see the signs promised in the Gospel, unless we accept the commission to go into the world and preach the Gospel. We will see signs and miracles in our lives, when we start to live the Gospel in our lives, and share our faith with others. If we want proof that Jesus is still living and present in his Church, we only need to look around us, right now, in this church. We can see gathered here together people from so many different countries and cultures, who speak so many different languages.

The short statement, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” is the verse that I chose to put on the home-page of the Pastoral Centre’s website. I chose that motto for our community, because it expresses what we share, and tells us how we should live, if we want to see Jesus living among us.

Dear brothers and sisters, as we remember the Ascension of the Lord, and his Apostles staring intently into the sky, let’s ask God today for the gift of clear sight, so that we can find his presence among us in his Church, even though he has ascended with his body and soul into heaven. He ascended, but he sent us his Spirit, so that we can be his presence in the Church. We need to open our hearts to his gifts, and let him act through us in his church.

Next Sunday is Pentecost, the day when God sent his Spirit to the Church. I would like to encourage you to take home one of the green papers that you can see near the bulletins, on the chair at the back of the church, and on the table near the chapel entrance. To prepare for Pentecost, starting today, you can read a short description of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and pray for those gifts to increase in your life and in the Church. Let us pray especially this week, that we will see Christ’s presence, living and working in each of us, in the Church, and in the world.Fr

Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Reading I: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Responsorial: Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
Reading II: 1 John 4:7-10
Gospel: John 15:9-17

Sometimes we focus so much on our own action in our faith, trying to love God and love one another, that we forget that our primary experience in faith is ‘not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.’ In his writings, Saint John emphasizes that we are loved by God all the time and in many ways.

There is a truth we can easily observe in human emotional development: only someone who has been loved is able to love others. We are able to love another person only because we learned how to love from someone else. The experience of unconditional love in our life makes us truly mature people. In an environment of unconditional love, our humanity develops as according to God’s original plan for creation.

I think that sometimes, in our efforts to love another person, to forgive someone who has hurt us, to change our attitude to someone we find difficult, we put too much stress on our own effort, rather than turning to the source of love, which is God.

If we struggle to love other people, we need to fill our hearts with love from the inexhaustible source of love – the heart of God. We need to ask him to fill our hearts with his love, rather than rely on ourselves, only to be frustrated in our efforts.

We have got used to business relationships, where nothing is free, and we think we have to earn love and attention. But when it comes to God, we are loved first. There is nothing we can do to earn his love, and we don’t have to try. We only exist because he already loves us. And he wants to fill our hearts with his love.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us his friends, not his slaves. He does not want us to believe in him because of fear, a feeling of coercion, or simply out of custom. He wants us to stay with him in friendship. He invites us, and like a true friend — a perfect lover — he leaves us completely free to accept his invitation and be filled with his love.

Dear Brother and Sisters! Let’s ask God to show us how we are lacking in love. Why can’t we believe that God loves us unconditionally? He confirmed his love in his only begotten Son — who loves you and also loves your enemy. He calls you his friend, and he calls your enemy his friend.

When we ponder the depth of God’s love for us and for everyone, maybe then it will be easier for us to find love in our hearts for all the friends of the loving God who calls us his friends.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Reading I: Acts 9:26-31
Responsorial: Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
Reading II: 1 John 3:18-24
Gospel: John 15:1-8

Eleven times in today’s Gospel we hear the verb ‘to remain.’ The original Greek word ‘menein‘ means not only to stay, but also to dwell and to abide.

In John’s Gospel, at the very beginning of Jesus’s public teaching, we read about disciples of John the Baptist following Jesus. He asked them ‘What do you want?’

They said, ‘Rabbi…, where are you staying?’ (Jn 1:38). And Jesus does not just tell them an address or the name of a place. He invites them to go with him, and they remain with him for the rest of the day.

Already we see that becoming a disciple of Jesus involves getting close to him, remaining near enough, to see how close Jesus is to the Father, and to imitate him in staying in relationship with the Father.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus shows the intimacy of this relationship through the image of a vine and its branches. The relationship is so close and so vital that separation of a branch from the vine means death.

Remaining in Jesus is the complete opposite to self-directed action based on our own abilities, impulses and perceptions, even if our intentions are good.

Jesus makes it clear: we cannot do good unless we remain in him, just as no branch can bear fruit if it is cut off from the vine. In strong and vivid images, Jesus shows our complete dependence on God. Just looking at all the spring blossoms and leaves coming out on the trees is a good reminder of how much of life happens according to God’s plan, without any help from us.

It is an invitation to remember that apart from God, we cannot do anything good. If that sounds restrictive, if it sounds like a limit on our freedom, think of it this way: think of remaining in God as an invitation to slow down, to be at peace, to dwell in the luxury of being dependent on God, allowing him to be in control and direct the course of your life for the good purposes he has in mind. Relax and let God’s plan for your life unfold with all the beauty and abundance of springtime.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, we can breathe a sigh of relief, when we see that our whole life depends on God. Even as we strive for holiness and see our faults and failings, we can rest in the knowledge that we are saved only by God’s grace. The key to holiness is to dwell in Christ, to remain in him, the true vine.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Reading I: Acts 4:8-12
Responsorial: Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29
Reading II:  1 John 3:1-2  
Gospel: John 10:11-18

Last month, Pope Francis released a new Apostolic Exhortation called ‘Rejoice and be glad.’ It is about the call to personal holiness. Today, the fourth Sunday after Easter, is called ‘Good Shepherd Sunday,’ when Catholics traditionally pray for vocations to the priesthood.

Today’s Gospel is especially fitting for a Sunday when we pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. But the call to holiness that we find in the Gospel is not addressed only to priests or people in religious orders. Every one of us is called to holiness.

Of course, the image of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd is an image of the perfect ordained priest. But it is also the model for all baptized Christians: each one of us is called to be the Good Shepherd to our neighbors.

Our ideas about the ‘Good Shepherd’ might be idealized or even childish, if we stop at the pretty pictures of a gentle Jesus surrounded by fluffy, white lambs. But at the time Jesus was speaking to his disciples, everyone would have known that shepherding is a tough job that requires hard work, endurance, and sacrifice. Being ‘good shepherds’ to the people around us means facing the fact that imitating Jesus means getting our hands dirty, putting in long hours, and giving up some of our comfort and security. Jesus gives us a clear choice: be that good shepherd, or be the ‘hired man’ who only cares about his wages, and is not interested in what happens to his fellow man.

We can tell ourselves that we just do not know any ‘lost sheep’ who need our help. But a good shepherd goes out and looks for the people who are lost, wounded, and afflicted by evils. Most of us – to be honest – would rather just stick with people who make us feel good, and keep away from people who might be inconvenient or problematic.

Are we good shepherds?

A good shepherd does not run away when he realizes that there is a wolf in the neighborhood. How do we compare to the Good Shepherd, in our relationships with difficult or needy people in our families, neighborhoods and workplaces?

Do we keep our distance? Or are we willing to put our comfort on the line and reach out to them? When the wolf attacks, the shepherd stays in the midst of his sheep. Likewise, real Christianity, real faith, gives us the courage to immerse ourselves in situations that demand self-sacrificial love for our neighbors.

Today’s Gospel tells us that a good shepherd knows his flock. Shepherds spent their days and nights within visual and vocal range of their flock. If we are good shepherds to the people around us, we need to get close to them, and enter into their lives by asking them if they need help, are they all right, is there anything we can do. We need to watch for opportunities to help, and we need to listen to them and their needs, rather than being so caught up in our own concerns that we don’t see opportunities to be Christ to others.

We know that we should imitate Christ; that’s what being a ‘Christian’ means. But do we really believe that it’s possible for us to live up to the image of the Good Shepherd?

Today’s image of the Good Shepherd should be an inspiration for all of us. Do we dare be so ambitious, as to imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd ? This is not a far-off goal, for the future, when we are in heaven, when we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. It is a challenge for now, for today, in our daily life, even if it means getting our hands dirty doing things we don’t really feel like doing, and reaching out to people we may not find attractive or pleasant.

Today, Good Shepherd Sunday,  we are called to lay down our lives for others,  ‘to live our lives with love…bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves’ (Gaudete et exsultate, 14).

Today, we are called to holiness.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

Reading I: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Responsorial: Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
Reading II: 1 John 2:1-5a
Gospel: Luke 24:35-48

Again this Sunday we read in the Gospel about the Risen Jesus appearing to his disciples. These meetings with the Lord are described by the evangelists from different perspectives, providing us with unique insights.

For example, in today’s Gospel reading, Luke is careful to stress that Jesus appeared to the disciples in his physical body and ate food. He reassured his disciples that he truly rose from the dead, and they were not seeing a ghost or hallucination. But more important than helping them believe their eyes, he gave them the gift of understanding the Scriptures. He opened their minds so they could understand that in Jesus, all the prophesies of the Old Testament had been fulfilled.

This gift of understanding the Scriptures is also offered to us. We can understand the Bible in the light of the Holy Spirit. And this is not just ‘knowing about’ the Bible or taking an intellectual approach to the Scriptures as a work of literature. Like the appearance of the Resurrected Jesus to his disciples, our encounter with Scripture should be a meeting with a real, living God. When we open the Bible, we need to open our minds to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and open our hearts to meeting Christ.

As most of you have heard, next Sunday we will meet for the first time to read the Bible and meditate on what we read. We will reflect on the Scriptures and try to encounter Jesus personally, applying the Scriptures to our own lives and situations. Today’s Gospel confirms my feeling that these Bible meetings are a good step toward helping people deepen their relationship to God in daily life, in addition to participation in Sunday Mass. Nowadays, it is easy to find the Bible in electronic versions in many languages, and I encourage you to read the Bible in your own language. You can listen to the Bible as you commute or read from the Bible in your spare moments as you walk around our beautiful city. If we have time to check our phones, we have time to read a passage from the Gospels and let it sink into our hearts and minds.

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is revealed in salvation history, as recorded in the Bible. To begin to grasp the magnitude of his love, we need to be familiar with the story of creation, the fall of man, and the covenants that God established with his people.

When we do this, we will be in the position of the disciples in today’s Gospel, when Jesus opened their minds to understand how he was the fulfilment of everything God had promised in the generations leading up to the Incarnation. We will truly discover the redemption and hope offered to us in the Resurrection.

In today’s Gospel, the disciples were given this understanding as a pure gift. For us, it will require some effort to gain the grace that the disciples received. But can there be any greater experience in this world, than a grace-filled encounter with the Risen Jesus?

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy, Year B

Reading I: Acts 4:32-35
Responsorial: Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Reading II: 1 John 5:1-6
Gospel: John 20:19-31

In the Gospel, we read that Jesus appeared to his disciples on ‘that’ first day of the week. That first day was the day of His Resurrection.

Today is the second Sunday of Easter; it is the day when the Apostle Thomas sees the Risen Jesus for the first time. Like the Apostle Thomas, today we are invited to experience Jesus’s closeness and love. Thomas is also called Didymus; his name means ‘twin.’ ‘Doubting Thomas’ is the twin of every disciple of Christ who has doubts.

So like Thomas, today we are given a second chance to ‘see and believe’ in the Resurrection of Christ. If today you find more doubt than faith in your heart – this Sunday is especially for you.

What prompted Thomas’s declaration of faith – ‘My Lord and my God!’? It was Jesus showing him the wounds in his side and his hands. Those signs not only confirmed Jesus’s identity and the truth of the Resurrection, they showed his love – his personal love – for Thomas. Because before Thomas had a chance to speak, Jesus knew the exact nature of his doubts. Jesus spoke to Thomas first – not with anger or judgement, but simply meeting Thomas in his doubt, and supplying what Thomas needed in order to believe.

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. We’ve probably all seen the image of the Merciful Jesus, painted according to the instructions given by Jesus to Saint Faustina. We see Jesus with the wounds in his hands. And this is not just a pious reminder of the crucifixion: we know that in his resurrected body in heaven, Jesus still has those wounds:it is through those wounds that he blesses us now.

Dear Brothers and Sisters! What about us? Do we experience God’s love in our life? No, we have not seen him personally like Thomas did. But even as he confirmed the faith of Doubting Thomas, Jesus remembered us, saying, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’

Do we believe in the message of his wounds? Do we believe in his love and mercy? If we have any doubt, then on this Sunday of Divine Mercy, let us gaze upon his wounds: let us admit our sins once more, and acknowledge that it was our sins that wounded Christ. And then let us find his wounded hands blessing us! Let us hear him say to our troubled hearts, ‘Peace be with you!’ Let us accept the love of our Lord and our God, who seeks out each of his disciples, and meets us where we are, even in our doubts.

Today of all days, invite the wounded Christ into your heart, into your doubts, ‘that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.’

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Resurrection of the Lord, Year B

Reading I: Acts 10:34A, 37-43
Responsorial: Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Reading II: Colossians 3:1-4
Gospel: John 20:1-9

Christ is risen! Let us rejoice in the Lord!

Today, Easter day, the first day of the week, the first day after the Sabbath, we are invited to join Mary of Magdala on her way to the tomb of our Lord Jesus. Her sad walk to the tomb is a familiar path for all of us. She goes “early in the morning, while it was still dark.” It is the time of day when things are still in shadows and nothing can be seen clearly, like those times in our lives when our faith is subject to the darkness of doubt.

The Resurrection of Christ is the central belief of Christians. Saint Paul teaches us this in the Letter to the Corinthians, where he says, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor 15:14). But even though this belief is the core of our faith, it can still be difficult to realize what it means. Our faith is somehow always in a kind of spiritual dusk, somewhere between certainty and uncertainty.

Today we walk with Mary through the early-morning darkness, to the tomb of Jesus. The tomb… the tomb… It is repeated seven times in this short text. Most of us know that walk, when we face the fragility of life; we know the sadness of approaching the grave of a loved one.

We go with Mary to the tomb of Jesus, but we don’t find his body, and we don’t see his glorious Resurrection. All we find is the stone, removed from the entrance. Like Mary, we have no proof of the Resurrection; we have received this truth by word of mouth, passed down from generation to generation. We still need to make an act of faith and believe in it.

And now we see Peter and John, leaders of the Church, running in all haste toward this central mystery of our faith. They are full of fear and hope about what they have heard from Mary. The picture on the slide shows us something of their interior state: Peter represents the mind, trying to make sense of what Mary has told them. John, the Beloved Apostle who stood by the Cross of Jesus at his Passion, represents love; anxiously concerned for the body of his Lord. They show us that faith in the Resurrection demands a response of both the mind and the heart. Our faith is both conviction of the fact of the Resurrection, and a personal encounter with the risen Jesus. Peter preaches the truth of the Resurrection in his Easter Homily, which we heard in the first reading. And the example of the martyrs through the ages witnesses to lives transformed by deep love of Christ.

Finally, with Peter and John, we reach the tomb: we enter, we see, and we believe. Our transient earthly life is confronted by the Resurrection that we will share with Christ Jesus. This Easter morning, we can believe once more that no sin, no crisis, no fear — not even death — is greater than the hope we have in the Resurrection. We can believe the words of Saint Paul, that “our life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ our life appears, then we, too, will appear with him in glory.”

Dear brothers and sisters! On this solemn day let us confront our fear of the empty tomb — fear that our faith is unfounded; fear of not meeting with God’s mercy; fear of what will happen after death. Let us take the meaning of the Resurrection into our minds and our hearts, truly believing that our life does not end at the moment of death, that our happiness is not limited to our conditions in this world.

When Mary approached the tomb, she saw that the stone had been rolled away. Let us not fear to approach the tomb of our own darkness, doubt or sin. By his death and Resurrection, Christ has rolled away the stone; he has set us free from the tomb. He invites us to come out into the light of day, into the joy of freedom from sin, and the hope of eternal life with him forever.

Christ has risen! See and believe.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Palm Sunday of our Lord’s Passion

Reading I: Isaiah 50:4-7
Responsorial: Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Reading II: Philippians 2:6-11
Gospel: Mark 14:1—15:47

Due to the length of today’s Gospel, in lieu of a homily, we will have a period of silent meditation on the Lord’s Passion.

If you would like daily Gospel meditations sent to your inbox, please subscribe to Bishop Robert Barron’s daily emails.  Bishop Barron has a multitude of resources on his Word on Fire website.  Here’s a sample of his daily Gospel meditation for Palm Sunday this year:

Friends, on this Palm Sunday we are privileged to become immersed in Mark’s great Passion narrative, where the kingship of Jesus emerges with great clarity—and also with great irony.

We read that upon being brought before the Sanhedrin, Jesus is asked whether he is the “Messiah,” an implicit reference to David. When Jesus calmly responds, “I am,” the high priest tears his robes, for how could a shackled criminal possibly be the kingly descendant of David? Upon being presented to Pilate, Jesus is asked the functionally equivalent question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Again a blandly affirmative answer comes: “You say so.” This leads the soldiers to mock him, placing a purple cloak on his shoulders and a crown of thorns on his head.

Mark does not want us to miss the irony that, precisely as the King of the Jews and the Son of David, Jesus is implicitly king to those soldiers. For the mission of the Davidic king is the unification not only of the tribes of Israel but also of the tribes of the world. What commenced with David’s gathering of the tribes of Israel would soon reach completion in the criminal raised high on the cross, thereby drawing all people to himself.

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

Reading I: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Responsorial: Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15
Reading II: Hebrews 5:7-9
Gospel: John 12:20-33

All of us experience doubts and fears. But probably few of us turn to the example of Jesus when it comes to being anxious or uncertain.

When we think about the saints, we imagine that they never had any doubts, and when we think of Jesus, we forget that he was fully human, and that he knows from experience the difficulties that we go through.

But the Letter to the Hebrews shows us how close Jesus is to our own experiences of anxiety and distress: “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus admits quite simply, “I am troubled now.”

How great is Our Lord Jesus, who in his Incarnation entered fully into our troubles. He shows us how we can overcome them in a completely human way.

Dear Brothers and Sisters! In these last days of Lent, when the Passover is fast approaching, we are coming closer and closer to the heart of Jesus, seeing his example of obedience and his reverence for God the Father. This is what we need in our lives.

In his humanity, Jesus admits: “I am troubled now.” But pay attention to how he works through his time of trouble. He continues, “Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?”

And finally he abandons his own will, saying: “it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

These four simple statements show us how to conform our will to God’s will. It is all summed up in Jesus’s conclusion: “Father, glorify your name.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters when you feel have been brought low through suffering and fear; when you feel that all is lost, that you are dying – that is the moment when you are like a grain of wheat, that has to die before it can produce abundant fruit.

When you are next in difficulty, I hope you will remember that Jesus, too, has said, ‘I am troubled now.’ Remembering Jesus’s confession can help you take a step towards his total submission when he says: “Father, glorify your name.” Jesus shows us that it is in our weakness and our wounds that we can find the deepest connection with God, as well as a chance to bring new life to others.

Jesus promised to draw everyone to him, when he was lifted up from the earth. In the celebration of the coming Passover, may we be once more lifted up to his heart, with everything that still troubles us, with everything we still fear.

Jesus knows what troubles you now. If you submit it to him, he will make it fruitful, even if this fruit is only completely realized in eternal life.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B

Reading I: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
Psalm: 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19
Reading II: Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel: John 3:14-21

The fourth Sunday of Lent, called Laetare Sunday, encourages us to be joyful, which is surprising in the liturgical season that it is associated with self-examination and repentance.

Personally, I look on Laetare Sunday as a day of hope, which is reflected in the readings. Today we heard about the Israelites returning from Babylonian captivity. In the Gospel, Jesus recalls the miracle of healing in the desert, when anyone who gazed upon the brazen serpent lifted up by Moses, was saved from death. And Saint Paul brings these themes together when he teaches us that through faith in Jesus, we are freed from the death of sin, brought to life, and raised up with Christ.

It can be difficult to feel joy, difficult to believe that joy will ever return, when we are faced with difficulties in our lives or when we carry a heavy cross. By placing Laetare Sunday in the middle of Lent, the Church invites us to contemplate the joy that flows from the Cross of Christ. After bondage to sin, comes freedom; after suffering and death, comes resurrection and eternal life. Pondering this mystery brings deep meaning to our lives, and can give us joy, knowing that we share in the suffering of Christ.

We should always find joy and hope in the redemption that is given to us by Christ Jesus. If we lack joy, if our faith is without hope, perhaps this is because we are still “dead in our transgressions” (Eph 2:5), we are still attached to our sins, unwilling to let go of them, and accept Christ’s mercy. Maybe we are still in the tomb, still in darkness.

But in that darkness, if we lift up our eyes to the Cross, we will find consolation and joy. If we acknowledge our sin and darkness, we will find God’s loving mercy. The only way to experience the deep Christian joy that we all seek, is to open ourselves up to the fullness of God’s mercy.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, if we want to lay hold of the greatest joy, we have to let go of our sins, and turn them over to God — in moments of private prayer, and in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.

This is the paschal way, the meaning of Easter. Repentances and turning from sin cannot be omitted if we want to enter fully into the joy of Easter. It is a difficult way, a narrow path, but it is worth walking this path, because it is the only path to complete joy.

When you are struggling with your sins, look at Christ on the Cross, and remember the words of Saint Paul: “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us…brought us to life with Christ.”

Trust God in His mercy. His mercy is always greater than our sins.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Third Sunday of Lent, Year B

Reading I: Genesis 9:8-15
Responsorial: Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
Gospel: John 2:13-25

We can look at the events in today’s Gospel from two perspectives: the historical and the spiritual.

On the purely historical level, we can see that at the time of Jesus, the clear division between the sacred and the profane had become blurred. When Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God, he also came to restore holiness to the Temple of God.

The Temple was where the Jews went to make offerings to God. People came from all over the Middle East to visit the Temple, and they needed to buy animals for sacrifice. The people used coins that had the images of human rulers, a custom that was forbidden by Mosaic law. These coins were exchanged for Jewish money in the court of the Gentiles. So what was meant to be a sacred place dedicated to the worship of God, also housed a thriving business of money-changers, with an emphasis on making a profit and getting rich.

Jesus’s response to this desecration of the Temple is vigorous and decisive: with a whip of cords, he drives the sellers and money-changers out of the Temple; spilling their coins and overturning their tables. His action is an unmistakeable warning that at any time and in any place, people can put their own interests before God.

This is all the more worthy of condemnation, because it is a source of scandal to those who truly want to approach God, and it is an impediment to those who should help them on their way.

On the spiritual level, the Gospel tells us that Jesus is the true Temple of God. Within a week of this event, he will be killed at the instigation of his own people. Significantly, THAT sacrifice will cost thirty pieces of silver.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, we may not be changing money or selling animals in church, but we may still be guilty of putting our relationship to God on a commercial basis. We may think of prayers or good deeds like a kind of currency that we offer God in exchange for something we want, or to enhance our reputation with people around us. We may think, ‘I obey the commandments. So why doesn’t God give me what I want, when I want it?’ We bring our personal relationship with our loving Father down to the level of a business transaction.

That’s bad enough. But if this is how we view our faith, unbelievers can be excused for thinking that Christianity is mere superstition.

Lent is a time when we commit ourselves more deeply to prayer, fasting and alms-giving. It is also a good time to examine our motives in doing these things. Is prayer or attending Mass the spiritual equivalent of making a bank deposit once a week? Do we fast so we can look better to others, or give alms grudgingly, counting the cost and expecting a reward?

Or do we do these things because God is God and worthy of our praise? Do we do these things to soften our hearts toward our neighbour, and grow closer to the heart of God? Do we give, knowing that everything we have has been given to us by God?

Let us cleanse the temples of our hearts of every impure motive, and approach our heavenly Father with gratitude, because he has paid for each one of us with the most precious blood of his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Second Sunday of Lent, Year B

Reading I: Genesis 22:1-2, 9A, 10-13, 15-18
Responsorial: Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19
Reading II: Romans 8:31B-34
Gospel: Mark 9:2-10

A Czech Bible scholar tells his students that you can comprehend the Old Testament, only when some of its stories shock you so much that you wonder if they were inspired by the devil or the Holy Spirit.

The testing of Abraham is that type of story. The story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most dramatic passages of the Old Testament — of the whole Bible. Not without reason, the Catechism of the Catholic Church holds up two people as great examples of faith: Abraham and Mary, whose faith was tested to the limit of human endurance. Today we do not read the entire story of the Sacrifice of Isaac, but when scholars carefully examine the story of Abraham, they conclude that Isaac was already in his thirties when God tested his father. As a fully-grown man, Isaac allowed himself to be bound for sacrifice. Isaac was as obedient as his father to the command of God, no matter what it would cost.

When we understand more about the story of Abraham and Isaac, it is easy to see that it anticipates the sacrifice of another Father and another Son on another mount. God had pity on Abraham and did not require the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. Instead, God himself made the supreme sacrifice: far from seeking the death of his creatures, the Son of God laid down his life to ransom theirs. Like Isaac, the Son of God was obedient to his Father’s will, and allowed himself to be crucified. As St Paul reminds us today: ‘He…did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all.’

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I would like to point out two important aspects of this story. The first is that our faith will lead us to crucial moments in our lives, moments that are literally both a cross and a cross-roads, when we will have to make difficult choices and we will probably suffer. And it is only our faith that will get us through such moments.

The second is that the events on mount Moriah point directly to the Cross on Golgotha. And the lesson of Golgotha is that for the Christian, suffering and difficulties have meaning: they lead to the glory of our Resurrection with Christ.

Does this sound strange? Scandalous? Hard to accept?

It is.

That’s why we read in today’s Gospel about the Transfiguration of Jesus. Notice that he takes Peter, James and John up a mountain – there not to test their faith, but to strengthen it. When they are confronted with the Crucifixion and the apparent end of all that Jesus taught them to believe in — to hope for — they would be able to recall his glorious appearance in conversation with Elijah and Moses.

At the Transfiguration, Peter declares, “It is good that we are here!” But we know that life is not an unbroken series of good times. Today’s readings during this time of Lenten repentance and preparation help us to persevere in difficult times. Some of you may not need to add penitential practices to your life this Lent. Maybe you have a Golgotha of your own to climb — trouble in a relationship, suffering caused by illness, immanent unemployment or difficulty making ends meet.

Our faith can and will be tested in many ways, but we have to remember that God does not allow us to be tested beyond our strength. In our trials and temptations, we should set off with Abraham and Isaac on a journey of faith, resolve to set aside our will and accept God’s will in our life. We should take all our sorrows to the foot of the Cross, and in the Cross of Christ, find hope for our small crosses. Take them to the cross with the faith that God is our Father, who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

First Sunday of Lent, Year B

Reading I: Genesis 9:8-15
Responsorial: Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Reading II: 1 Peter 3:18-22
Gospel: Mark 1:12-15

It is a beautiful coincidence that the readings for the first Sunday in Lent are appropriate as well for the Baptism of baby Amelia, born to a couple from our English-speaking community.

In the first reading, we heard about Noah and the great flood .The flood waters can be seen as a symbol of the destruction that we bring on ourselves and the world when we turn away from God and his commandments. But the destructive consequences of sin are followed by God’s mercy: He established a covenant with Noah, a covenant that was renewed each time it was broken by mankind.

Noah and his family were preserved by means of a wooden ark. We Christians are saved by the wood of the Cross, which has the power to overcome every evil that afflicts human-kind. In the second reading, St Paul tells us that the flood waters that cleansed the world from sin, prefigure the saving waters of Baptism.

We get our English word ‘baptism’ from the Greek word ‘baptizo,’ which means ‘immersion.’ In baptism, a person is immersed in water, or water is poured over his head. And as St Paul explains, the immersion of baptism is not a matter of removing dirt from the body, but of purifying the soul.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, in today’s Baptism, you will witness once again the events of your own Baptism. You will hear the questions your parents answered on your behalf. As you listen and participate, witness and welcome this new Christian into the life of the Church, the Body of Christ, ask God to renew in your own heart and soul, your baptismal purity and innocence as a son or daughter of our heavenly Father. At your Baptism, your parents answered for you; at Amelia’s Baptism, we can all ask Christ to help us cherish the priceless gift of membership in his Body, the Church. As Amelia receives the Holy Spirit through the waters of Baptism, ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten and encourage you in your Christian vocation.

In Baptism, each of us has great hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. His Cross is our ark, which does infinitely more than rescue us from death by drowning. It leads us into eternal life.

As we begin this Lent with the Baptism of baby Amelia, let’s immerse ourselves in the saving mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection: death to our old life of sin, purification through prayer and penance, and resurrection to new life with Christ in heaven.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Responsorial Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 10:31—11:1
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45

I’ve asked myself how many times I have begun or concluded prayer with the petition: ‘God, if you will, you can change me, change my life.’ But I realized that in fact, I have not prayed that way very many times. I’m more likely to say, ‘God, I want you to do what I want in my life.’

When we look at the prayer of the leper in today’s Gospel, we notice two things about what he says to Jesus. First, he has a clear and concrete request: to be made clean. But even as he asks directly for something he needs, he submits to God’s authority, saying, ‘If you wish….’

In one sentence, the leper acknowledges his misery and hopelessness. He knows that he cannot cure his own leprosy: he is powerless to change his condition, which was a kind of living death. Only a desperate person would break the strict prohibitions of Mosaic law which forbade an unclean leper to approach the healthy and risk infecting them.

Jesus’s response to the leper is as clear and direct as the leper’s request: ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’

Often, this is the response we want from God, but we do not want to admit our misery and our neediness. We want God to change something in our lives, but we do not approach him with the humility of a leper approaching his Lord.

The simplicity of the exchange between the leper and Jesus gives us another insight into the quality of our prayer. God wants us to trust him and approach him in simple confidence, like the leper. But very often, we badger God with arguments, trying to convince him of the validity of our need, instead of trusting God’s goodness and being open to his will.

The urgency of our need leads us to approach God with suspicion and doubt, instead of trust in his loving concern for us.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, probably each one of us here has something that we would like to ask of God — some need for ourselves or someone we love. Bring that need to God today, expressing it simply and clearly, and beginning with the simple phrase, ‘If you wish.’ Such a prayer allows God to be God, and allows us to come to him in humble acknowledgement of our need.

Bring your need to God in this Mass today at the elevation of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, saying simply, ‘If you wish,’ and expressing your need. God invites us to pray for anything we want – even if we do not know what is best for us. When we come to him in our misery and need, and say in simple sincerity, ‘If you wish,’ the Father who knows what we need before we ask will give us our true good.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Responsorial: Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

The first reading from the Book of Job is a lament that we all may feel from time to time: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” It is a cry from the heart that is very real, and seems unanswerable .

But this lamentable description of the human condition should not be our only perspective on life.

The darkness of suffering and pain is not our destiny. Job’s cry in the darkness as night drags on, is answered on another evening, another night in today’s Gospel. Here, Jesus enlightens our darkness of sin and sickness with his mercy and love.

This is why today, we can sing “Alleluia! Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.” Christ took on our human nature; he became “weak to the weak, to win over the weak.” In Him we can find a new perspective of hope, which all generations need since sin entered into the world.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Gospel is a source of hope. I know that sometimes it is difficult to believe that something miraculous can happen in our life, or that God is really so close to us that he can grasp our hand and lift us up.

But the Gospel is still the Good News. When we feel that we are in the dark night, as Job was, we can do what Jesus did while it was still night when he went off by himself to pray.

It can be easy to think of Jesus as simply God, who works miracles to heal people. But his rising while it was still dark, and going to a deserted place, reminds us that Jesus is also truly a man. He also experienced difficulties in earthly life, and entrusted them to the Father.

When life seems dark and painful, maybe we need to spend a day or an hour and go for a walk, or hide ourselves away so we can identify the darkness we are experiencing, and try to tell God about it, even in a very emotional way.

Maybe God will work a miracle, if that is what we really need. Maybe he will simply provide the light we need to take the next few steps forward.

One thing we can be sure of: when we are in a time of darkness, we are not alone: Jesus has gone there before us, and we can be sure of his presence.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Responsorial: Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Gospel: Mark 1:21-28

Today’s Gospel reading is continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel, when we heard about the inauguration of God’s Kingdom among us and we were called to repentance. Now we can see the first manifestation of God’s presence among his people as Jesus casts out the unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue in Capernaum.

So the first public action of Jesus that Mark shows us is a revelation of Jesus exhibiting his power as God – power even over demons. His power amazed the people who witnessed the exorcism. What may surprise us Christians, is that the exorcism took place in a synagogue. How could it be possible that an unclean spirit could be in a holy place dedicated to the worship of God?

Perhaps the obvious answer is that simply belonging to God in some sense, is not enough to guarantee holiness. If we are all baptized Christians, we certainly belong to God. But can we say that there is no evil hidden in our hearts – that everything about us is pure and holy? It is one thing for God to stoop down to us with the offer of his grace; it is another thing for us to accept that grace, and submit willingly to our own purification. Without a personal commitment to Christ, we can still be enslaved to sin or any other kind of evil.

Notice that Mark refers to ‘their’ synagogue: this holy place belonged to all the people. The man with an unclean spirit was a very obvious sign that evil had entered their community. But we should not assume that he was the only person who needed spiritual healing. Any church or community, like every human heart, can resist God in a way that is subtle, hidden, and not immediately obvious. A church without Christ in the midst of it, is the home of unclean spirits, a den of thieves, as Jesus called the Temple in Jerusalem.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

People are fascinated by dramatic stories of people who are possessed by demons. But the most dangerous unclean spirit is the evil that we are comfortable with. Sometimes we tolerate an evil because we have got tired of trying to change it. Sometimes we are simply afraid to change something in our life, or to confront an evil in someone else’s life. Maybe there’s something we know is wrong and we’re not happy about it, but we dismiss the seriousness of the problem because… well… ‘That’s just the way I am. I’ve always been that way.’ Sometimes we’re afraid to ‘rock the boat’ and finally tell the truth about some lie we’ve been repeating for years, or to say frankly to a friend or relative that what they are doing is wrong.

Sometimes the evil can be a sin that we think we have under control because so far, nobody around us has confronted or rejected us because of it, or it has not – yet – brought us serious negative consequences. Maybe we’re afraid to take a stand against an evil because it’s what everyone does where we work or in our culture. And so we go along with the crowd, even though deep down, we know we should not be doing that.

Or maybe we simply harbor the evil spirit of unforgiveness, bearing grudges and keeping track of other people’s faults, so we can use it against them in our next argument.

We all know that Christ has the power to cast out these unclean spirits. But what we might forget is that we have the power to cast out the evil in our hearts. In Baptism, we entered into the life of Christ, we were invested with his authority. By the power of our Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, we can order the unclean spirits in our lives to ‘Come out!’

We can begin with the smallest temptation. The moment we recognize that we are being pulled in the direction of sin, we can stop and command the tempter to ‘get out,’ to leave us alone, in the name of Jesus Christ.

Here in our temple today, Christ is present among us. And where he is present, no evil can dwell. Let us invite him personally to enter into our hearts and souls today, so that we may experience full freedom from sin and all evil. Let us invoke the name of Jesus, knowing that when we act in his name, all things are possible according to his will.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Responsorial: Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

‘This is the time of fulfilment.’ These are the first words that Jesus says in the Gospel according to Mark. What he says next summarizes the theme of the entire book: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’

It seems to me that today’s Gospel reading would be perfectly appropriate at the beginning of Lent – a time of penance – or Advent – a time when we focus on waiting for the coming of Christ into the world. But here we have it on the third Sunday in the liturgical season that we call ‘Ordinary Time.’

On second thought, this Gospel on this Sunday makes sense, because Jesus was born, died, and rose from the dead 2,000 years ago. So we are truly in the time of fulfilment. Repenting and believing in the Gospel is simply the Christian lifestyle, and not something we remember a couple of times per year or practice on special occasions.

Immediately after a summary of the Gospel message, Mark recounts the call of the first disciples. As soon as Jesus calls them, they drop everything – leave their business and their family – and accept his invitation to ‘follow after’ him.

When we think of ‘repentance,’ we probably think of being sorry for our sins, or wishing we had not done some bad thing.

But the response of Simon and Andrew, James and John, is a kind of repentance, because real repentance means putting aside my own will and what I want to do, and following God’s will, what he wants me to do. This kind of repentance is deeper than simply trying to stop committing this or that sin. Really following Christ, making his way of life your way of life, is the kind of repentance that leads to conversion of life.

The people of Nineveh in the first reading repented of their evil ways – and that is good. But the disciples left good things – home, family, work – for something greater, something that would not only change their lives, but change the whole world.

Often in our Christian walk we find some sin, some failing, and we think, ‘If only I can get rid of this sin, then I will be OK. I won’t feel so bad about myself. I’ll be basically a good person.’

It seems a big enough challenge — difficult enough — just to face and finally overcome some sin that brings us shame or damages our relationships. We want to get to a certain level of ‘success’ as Christians and then we can just carry on with life without so much struggle against sin. We look forward to the time when ‘being good’ is easy, and we can get through the day without big regrets.

But today’s Gospel shows us that God is calling us to something more than just ‘not sinning so much.’ He’s calling us to go where we have never been before, to become someone we have never imagined we could be — like these simple fishermen, who were called to the extraordinary work of being fishers of men. When they laid down their nets and said good-bye to their families, they had no idea that they had begun a mission that would change the course of human history, shape cultures, and change billions of lives.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, for Christians, it is always the ‘time of fulfilment.’ It is a time of fulfilment whenever we are able to resist sin; it is a time of fulfilment when we conquer a sinful tendency.

But the time of fulfilment doesn’t end with that. Even if we feel that we are doing well enough, there is always more that God can show us, always more of his life that he wants to give us. We can have fulfilment beyond human imagining, because God’s ways are much greater than our ways.

If we seek total fulfilment, let us pray with the psalmist, ‘Teach me your ways, O Lord.’

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Reading I: 1 Samuel 3:3B-10, 19
Responsorial: Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 6:13C-15A, 17-20
Gospel: John 1:35-42

‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’

This is a question that every adult believer needs to ask Jesus at least once in his life. Sometimes this question comes at the beginning of our faith in Christ – as we see in today’s Gospel. Sometimes we ask this question at the moment when our faith becomes our own; when we have matured in faith from simply accepting the faith we’ve been taught, to acknowledging Jesus as the Lord of our life, and seeking to know his will for us.

Notice that John’s disciples don’t ask Jesus a deep, theological question, or challenge him to prove himself as the Pharisees did. And Jesus doesn’t offer them a complex, intellectual answer. He simply invites them to follow him, to come and see for themselves where the Lamb of God may be found. More than anything, God invites us to experience his presence.

It may seem a bit strange that when John’s disciples ask Jesus, ‘Where are you staying?’ he does not simply name a village or point to a house. Instead, he invites them to come and stay with him. But his invitation also contains a promise: ‘and you will see.’

In 2012, at the beginning of the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict said that faith ‘is not an encounter with an idea or with a project of life, but with a living Person who transforms our innermost selves, revealing to us our true identity as children of God.’

In other words, when we accept Jesus’s invitation to stay with him, we will also ‘see.’ When we accept the invitation to draw close to God, we begin to see our true identity as children of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus looked at Peter and named him, gave him a new identity. He waits to do the same for us.

With the invitation and the promise, something else is implied: a choice. The invitation to ‘come and see’ highlights the fact that God respects our freedom: at every moment the invitation is offered: “Come and see.” It is up to us to make the choice to follow him and remain with him – and in him, to find out who we really are.

In today’s first reading, the call of Samuel illustrates that it may be difficult for us to recognize God’s call, to know when he is present in our lives, inviting us into closer relationship with him. But notice that it is Samuel who cannot recognize the voice of God calling him. And it is often the same with us: the problem is not that God does not listen to us, but that we fail to hear him.

There’s one more lesson we can draw from today’s Gospel. John’s disciples asked, ‘Where are you staying?’ Jesus said, ‘Come and see.’ ‘So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day.’ It was as simple as that: ‘Come.’ And so they went.

Often in our faith life we want to be absolutely sure of where we are going, what will be required of us. We ask for proof that prayer really ‘works’ or that sacramental confession is necessary. We demand thorough theological answers or clear instructions about what we are to do with our lives.

But today’s Gospel shows us that we have to make a step in faith, first, and then we will see:
Just go to confession – and see God’s mercy for yourself.
Just go to a quiet place and pray – and listen for God’s answer.
Just open the Gospel and read it – trusting that it is where you will find Christ.

So what about you? Have you asked Jesus, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ Are you content to leave your Christian faith as a system of ideas or just a tradition that you inherited? Or are you ready to take the next step in faith?

‘Come and see.’
The invitation and the promise are God’s.
The choice is yours.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Baptism of the Lord, Year B

Reading I: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Responsorial: Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Reading II: Acts 10:34-38
Gospel: Mark 1: 7-11

When we think about Baptism, we usually think about being cleansed from sin. But the Baptism of the Lord is different. Here we have someone who is pure and holy and without sin, and he enters into water that was probably not very clean by our standards. It is not the water that makes Jesus clean and pure, But Jesus who purifies the water.

Jesus’s entrance into the waters of the Jordan, is like his entrance into our lives, and all the difficulties, problems and challenges of our human condition. His Baptism is the announcement of his immersion into his passion and death on the cross, in which he took the sins, weaknesses, and suffering of every person onto himself.

His immersion in the waters of Baptism can be seen as a sort of metaphor for his desire to become completely immersed in every detail of your life. And this includes those details that might bring you shame, sorrow or regret – those aspects of our lives that are like dirty water, in need of purification. We may resist, thinking that we are not worthy to have Jesus so intimately involved in our lives. But Jesus does not hesitate to enter fully into your life, into any human life, no matter how ‘unclean’ or unworthy the person may be or feel.

When Jesus was baptized, the voice of God the Father is heard proclaiming, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” When Jesus enters fully into our lives with his purifying presence, those same words are spoken, and they apply to us. We become adopted sons and daughters of the Father in Jesus Christ: we take part in the sonship of Christ.

We are beloved sons and daughters of God. This is what happens in the sacrament of Baptism. And yet even though we are baptized and have heard numerous times how loved we are by God, we still doubt and find it difficult to believe.

This Sunday, spend some time listening to God the Father saying to you, ‘You are my beloved child.’ Hear his voice, and be comforted in his love.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Epiphany of the Lord, Year B

Reading I: Isaiah 60:1-6
Responsorial: Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Reading II: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

“Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”

During World Youth Days in Cologne in 2005, Pope Benedict XVII, commenting on today’s Gospel, noted that when the magi paid homage to the new King, they must have been surprised that the King was “quite unlike what they were expecting.
In this way they had to learn that God is not as we usually imagine him to be.
This was where their inner journey began.”

Their inner journey is primarily a journey of faith. But it is also a journey of changing their ideas about power, about God and about man. Like the magi, each one of us, as we meet Jesus personally, is on a voyage of discovery, as we learn again and again that God is not what we expect him to be.

Each of the magi brought a different gift to Jesus, the unexpected Infant King. But their most precious gift was their prostration before him. That worship, that adoration, was the real first step on their journey to Christ. It is the beginning of every journey of faith: the moment when we place ourselves at the feet of Christ,
offering ourselves completely to God.

For the Magi, probably the most unexpected thing about the Infant King was the conditions in which they found him: born in a stable, to poor parents, no royal court, none of the usual trappings of wealth and power and majesty. And yet despite the humble circumstances of his birth, they recognized Jesus as the King of all Kings, and paid him homage.

In a sense, these magi, who are often depicted as three kings, put off their own kingship, in order to adore the majesty of Christ. They responded to his humility by humbling themselves.

And here is another surprise; here is something else we would not expect: when we humble ourselves to adore God, we become like God in his kingship – which is humble, loving, and totally self-giving. As we become more like him, we no longer ask, ‘How can this other person serve me.’ Instead, we begin to ‘become men of truth, of justice, of goodness, of forgiveness, of mercy’ (Pope Benedict XVI). We begin to ask, ‘How can I serve as God’s presence in the world?’ We no longer wish to remain comfortably in our own happiness and security. Now we want to go out into the world to give ourselves to others, as Christ came into the world to give himself to us.

Dear Brother and Sisters!

The pagan magi are the first in a long procession of believers in Jesus Christ,
spanning the centuries down to our own time. We imitate them when we offer our lives as homage to Jesus. As we lay our own particular gifts at the feet of Jesus,
he transforms us individually, so that through our talents and our deeds, we ‘rule’ with the same humble gift of self that characterizes the kingship of Christ. And this is our own journey of faith.

One last detail in the story of the magi — that ‘they departed for their country by a different way’ — shows us beautifully that an encounter with Jesus should completely change the direction of our lives. Like the magi, who wished to save Jesus from Herod’s murderous intent, we should wish to preserve the life of Christ within us. This new life will change the way we treat people around us. Like Christ, we will wish to serve them in kindness and humility, sharing the good we have received with everyone we meet.

Brothers and Sisters, each of us has a real and significant place in the procession of believers that follows the magi to the feet of Christ. Today, let us rededicate our hearts to God in homage to him, and in loving service to our neighbor.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

Mary, the Mother of God, Year B

Reading I: Numbers 6:22-27
Responsorial: Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Reading II: Galatians 4:4-7
Gospel: Luke 2:16-21

May the Lord’s face shine upon you and give you peace!

How comforting it is that the first thing we read in today’s liturgy is God’s blessing. As we begin the New Year, it is good to remember that God always wants to bless us. The simple fact that we have been blessed with life over the past 365 days confirms this fact.

The beginning of a new year always makes us think about the future. When we think about the future in the context of today’s – this year’s – first reading, we are reminded that every action we undertake according to God’s will, will be blessed by Him. If we are thinking about changing our lives, turning away from sins and overcoming bad habits, or approaching closer to God this year —in everything God blesses us now, at the very beginning of our efforts.

In the second reading, St Paul tells us that Christ came ‘in the fullness of time,’ the right time, the appropriate time, the time appointed by God. In Him, newness of life begins – in the history of the world, and in our lives.

In Him we are no longer slaves, but sons. If you were a slave to anything in the past year — to other people’s opinion, to sin, to weakness — today God reminds you that to Him, you are a son or daughter. Today he assures you that no one wants your freedom as much as He does.

Today we reflect on the magnitude of God’s blessing, and the glory of the sonship we have received in Jesus Christ. But notice that since we are no longer slaves, but sons, God waits for our co-operation with His grace. He wants our permission – our invitation – to act in our lives, to receive the blessing He so freely offers. Like Mary, who was free to say, ‘Let it be done to me according to your word,’ we are free to accept God’s will and let it transform our lives and even the history of the world.
In today’s Gospel, we see the fruit of Mary’s co-operation with God: Christ was born into the world. But we also see that Mary remembers God’s work in her life, and reflects upon it in her heart.

Keeping God’s will alive in our heart and reflecting on His action in our lives — could there be any better way to have a blessed life this coming year?

Today God offers us His blessing and the fullness of His good will for us. To fulfil His will, we need to listen and receive as Mary did. Then it will be, indeed, a happy New Year.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Holy Family, Year B

Reading I: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Responsorial: Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
Reading II: Colossians 3:12-21
Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

The theme of today’s readings is family. But when we focus on the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we can have the impression that they were a perfect family, so there’s no point in trying to imitate them. During the Christmas season in Poland, priests visit the homes of their parishioners, to pray with them and bless their homes. As a memento of the visit, we Franciscans give each family a card with a picture of the Holy Family – an ideal image that may have very little in common
with how they view their own family.

The Church is not just offering us the image of the perfect, ideal Holy Family. In today’s readings, we get practical and profound advice for our own families today. We should all try to live by that advice. But I would like to summarize three elements that make families holy. These three elements are shared by the not-so-holy family of Abraham and Sarah, as well as by the Holy Family of Nazareth.

The first is trust in God. In their barrenness, Abraham and Sarah represent the questions, desires, needs and decisions of all human families. Like them, Mary and Joseph did not know how God would accomplish his will, provide for them, keep them safe. But in both cases, we see that trusting in God’s loving plan leads to the fulfilment of his will and our needs.

Every family needs to ask for God’s will when it comes to housing, jobs, and all the day-to-day decisions that make up family life. The more we trust in God’s provision for us, the more we seek his will in all things, the more we listen for his direction in our lives, the happier our marriages and families will be. And this is true even if, like Abraham and Sarah, Mary and Joseph, there are times of great difficulty and even spiritual darkness.

The second element that these faithful families have in common is God’s promise. Abraham was promised many times that he would enter into a bountiful land and possess it, and that he would be the father of countless descendants. Mary, too, heard a promise: that she would conceive and bear a Son, who would be the long awaited Messiah of her people. And God’s promises were fulfilled in the proper time.

In a similar way, God promises his grace to our families. Every married couple, every family, that invites God into their home will receive his blessing, and his plan for them will be fulfilled in due time. If husbands and wives trust God and invite him to be the third Person in their marriage, they can always call on the grace of the sacrament, and God will give them the wisdom and strength they need to carry out all the duties and obligations of marriage, even in the face of crises and tragedy.

The final element that Abraham and Sarah, Mary and Joseph, have in common
is that their faith was tested. God tested Abraham by asking for the sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac. Mary was tested even more as she stood by the Cross, watching her Son’s suffering and death.
Both were asked to put the will of God and obedience to him above the purely human bond between parent and child. They teach us that we must never put our relatives in the place of God.

We put our parents in the place of God, if we expect them to be perfect, and cannot forgive their weaknesses and failings. We put our children in the place of God, if we cannot let them live independent, adult lives because we are afraid of being alone. We put our spouse in the place of God, if we expect him or her to be the source of all our happiness.

Nobody needs to tell you that family life is challenging: we are all different, and have different ideas about how life should be. But as a priest, in contact with many families, I can see that the more a family places God at the centre of their relationships and lives, the happier that family is.

God knows that our families need his help, just as Abraham and Sarah needed regular reminders of God’s plan for them. God does not want your family to be a perfect imitation of the Holy Family. He wants you to become a new, unique holy family of your own – perhaps not as adorable as the Family in the picture, but nevertheless a source of mutual love, forgiveness and compassion.

Jesus was born in a human family, and his presence made them holy. If each one of us keeps Jesus present in our hearts and minds, every marriage and all our families can be holy.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Nativity of the Lord, Year B

Reading I: Isaiah 52:7-10
Responsorial: Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6
Reading II: Hebrews 1:1-6
Gospel: John 1:1-18

It’s common to hear in homilies that man likes to put himself in the place of God. This is true: every time we sin, we repeat the sin of Adam and Eve, who in their disobedience, put themselves in the place of God, who alone defines what is good and what is evil.

But today, on the Solemnity of the Nativity, a reversal takes place: in His Incarnation, God places puts himself in the place of man.

Today we ponder once more the marvellous fact that God wanted to unite himself with man: the Word became flesh – the Word which was with God, and was God.

God, who to fallen man had seemed too high, too distant to be reached, reaches down to man, because He wants to be known to us. The one who ‘spoke in partial and various ways,’ before ‘in these last days…has spoken to us through the Son.’

In Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God — the Word become flesh — God makes Himself fully known. He is a God of nearness, a God of intimacy: Emmanuel – God with us – is His name and His identity.

But why did God want to become man? God, who is perfectly complete in Himself, has no need to unite Himself to His creature.

There is only one possible explanation: love – love that is expressed in perfect intimacy with the beloved.

The mystery of the Incarnation results from the mystery of God’s love. His closeness confirms that God’s love for each of us is absolutely real. He is not a God who simply speaks about love in words. He is a God who takes on our human flesh and meets us where we are: speaking to us — yes; but also touching, healing, breaking bread with us and feeding us, listening to us speak to Him, sharing our sorrow and our joy, our tears and our laughter.

But even that intimacy of walking among us, being one of us in the flesh, was not enough for Emmanuel. Pouring out His life on the Cross, offering His Body and Blood in atonement for our sins was not enough for Emmanuel.

He remains with us until the end of time, giving Himself to us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, every time we receive Him in the Eucharist.

God wants to be near, because He loves us. He doesn’t place Himself beyond our reach. In His incarnation He shortened the distance between God and man. In His Eucharistic presence, His love abolishes the distance completely.

Today in the preface to the Eucharistic prayer, you will hear these words: For in the mystery of the Word made flesh a new light of your glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind, so that, as we recognize in him God made visible, we may be caught up through him in love of things invisible. This is the miracle of today’s solemnity: God participates in our life, so that we can participate in His life.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, because of the Incarnation, you cannot say that God is far away from you and He is not interested in your life. No. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He is present in your troubles, suffering, loneliness; He is the cause of your joy, your peace, your happiness.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, try to enter more deeply into the closeness of God this Christmas. Try to believe more in His presence in every Eucharist, when He comes to you personally as He came for the first time in that stable in Bethlehem. Try to believe more in His closeness and love when you approach Him in the sacrament of reconciliation, the way the sick and sinners approached Him in Israel. Try to believe more in His closeness to you as you carry out your daily tasks, as He was close to His disciples and friends while He carried out His earthly mission.

God has done everything divinely and humanly possible to live in intimate love with you. Today, invite Him into your heart, your life, as your soul’s most welcome Guest.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B

Reading I: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Responsorial: Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
Reading II: Romans 16:25-27
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38

The fact that we are celebrating the Christmas Eve on Sunday this year was bit disappointing for my pupils, as they have the shorter Christmas break. But it seems to me a good thing, because is forces us to finish all of our Christmas preparations earlier than usual. This year, people can’t go shopping on Sunday; they can’t buy a Christmas tree or earn extra money by working on the Lord’s Day because it’s Christmas Eve. Even our chapel was decorated a few days ago, so that our helpers in the parish would not have to work today.

So today, the last Sunday in Advent, when most of our practical preparations for Christmas are done, we may experience a kind of last minute Advent. If we’ve been too busy with Christmas plans and preparations in this year’s short, twenty-day Advent, we can spend this last day on spiritual preparation for the Lord’s coming.

When I read today’s first reading, I thought that all of our Christmas preparations— cleaning the house, buying gifts, cooking many special dishes — is like David’s desire to build a house for God. He wanted to build something beautiful — a suitable dwelling for God. But a question he did not ask is whether God needed such a house in order to be close to us. In a similar way, when we feel overwhelmed by all the preparations we think we must make for Christmas, we may forget to ask ourselves if the decorations and the special dishes are necessary to meet Christ on this day.

The real key to an intimate encounter with Christ is being open to God’s presence. And the best example of this op-en-ness is Mary: in her openness to the will of God, her very body became a temple of his presence. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

For this kind of openness, no material preparation is required. To be open means to quiet ourselves and listen, so we can hear what God wants to do in our lives.

To be open to God’s presence means trying to find him in the liturgy —in the liturgy of the Word and in his Eucharistic presence — but also in our fellow-man, especially those closest to us. Our Christmas celebrations, meetings, customs and traditions are empty gestures if we don’t see Christ in others, if they don’t lead us, ultimately, to an encounter with God Himself. We can keep Christ at the centre if we begin our festivities with a short, simple family prayer, if we read the nativity narrative from the Gospel of Luke, if we take time for quiet meditation, and if our Christmas wishes for others are for God’s love and joy in their lives, rather than for a good party, good luck or good fortune in the new year.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Third Sunday of Advent, Year B

Reading I: Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
Responsorial: Psalm Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
Reading II: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28

In the Gospel for the second Sunday of Advent, the Church presents us with the figure of John the Baptist, the last great prophet of the Old Covenant, who heralds the advent of the New Covenant. John the Baptist stands for all the generations of the Old Testament, who awaited the Messiah. At the same time, he is the forerunner of Christ, the messenger who announces his coming. He prepares the way of the Lord.

John is presented as a deeply ascetic figure: living in the desert, roughly clothed in camel’s hair feeding on locusts and wild honey, calling people to penance and to conversion of life.

He seems closer to Jeremiah or one of the other ancient prophets — preaching a harsh and challenging message — instead of someone announcing the love, joy and peace that we associate with the fulfilment of all of God’s promises to Israel.

But John knew that they only way to prepare people for the Good News of salvation, is to remind them first of their sinfulness, their need for a Savior. The definition of a Christian, after all, is a sinner who knows his need of a Savior.

This is why when John proclaims a vision of judgment, he proclaims with it the hope of coming salvation. The voice that cries out to prepare the way of the Lord through penance, is the same voice that heralds the Good News of a God who offers mercy and promises eternal happiness.

The person and message of St John is a model for our own spiritual life. To see ourselves clearly, we have to acknowledge the twin truths ‘I am a sinner’ and ‘I am a child of God.

‘I am child of God, and I am sinner.’ This is the core message of Christianity, which we need to preach as a church. This is the foundation on which we should base all of our efforts in Advent.

But John the Baptist is not merely a voice that we need to heed while we prepare for Christ’s coming in Advent and at the end of time.

John can be called a ‘a one-gesture man,’ because his entire mission was to be like a finger pointing the way to Christ.
He shows us how to be heralds of the Gospel, how to live our lives in such a way that everything about us draws people’s attention to our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Too often, when Christians wish to witness their faith to other people, they draw more attention to themselves than they do to God — his love, his mercy, and his saving action in their lives. John the Baptist said to his own disciples, ‘Jesus must increase, and I must decrease.’ Is this our own guiding rule in our lives as Christians and witnesses to the Gospel?

It can be tempting to think of John the Baptist as someone who had a small role to play in salvation history: a kind of strange, extremely religious guy, who had a job to do and did it, and then simply got out of the way for the main event – the mission of the Messiah.

But maybe John’s example is needed now more than ever, when the world seems to have lost a sense of sin; forgotten that there is such a thing as objective right and wrong, moral and immoral actions. He may be just the companion we need to help us with our Advent resolutions and our Advent confession in an age when ‘preparing for Christmas’ is more about preparing for self-indulgence than purifying our souls to receive Christ. Because John the Baptist shows us that we cannot have a personal meeting with God, if we do not first prepare the way to him through constant conversion of heart.

Anyone who followed John the Baptist two thousand years ago was led directly to Jesus Christ. Today, the more closely we follow John’s example of repentance and penance, the more abundant will be our joy on the day of God’s coming, not only this Christmas, but at the moment of our death, when we finally see him face-to-face.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

Reading I: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Responsorial: Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
Reading II: 2 Peter 3:8-14
Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

In the Gospel for the second Sunday of Advent, the Church presents us with the figure of John the Baptist, the last great prophet of the Old Covenant, who heralds the advent of the New Covenant. John the Baptist stands for all the generations of the Old Testament, who awaited the Messiah. At the same time, he is the forerunner of Christ, the messenger who announces his coming. He prepares the way of the Lord.

John is presented as a deeply ascetic figure: living in the desert, roughly clothed in camel’s hair feeding on locusts and wild honey, calling people to penance and to conversion of life.

He seems closer to Jeremiah or one of the other ancient prophets — preaching a harsh and challenging message — instead of someone announcing the love, joy and peace that we associate with the fulfilment of all of God’s promises to Israel.

But John knew that they only way to prepare people for the Good News of salvation, is to remind them first of their sinfulness, their need for a Savior. The definition of a Christian, after all, is a sinner who knows his need of a Savior.

This is why when John proclaims a vision of judgment, he proclaims with it the hope of coming salvation. The voice that cries out to prepare the way of the Lord through penance, is the same voice that heralds the Good News of a God who offers mercy and promises eternal happiness.

The person and message of St John is a model for our own spiritual life. To see ourselves clearly, we have to acknowledge the twin truths ‘I am a sinner’ and ‘I am a child of God.

‘I am child of God, and I am sinner.’ This is the core message of Christianity, which we need to preach as a church. This is the foundation on which we should base all of our efforts in Advent.

But John the Baptist is not merely a voice that we need to heed while we prepare for Christ’s coming in Advent and at the end of time. John can be called a ‘a one-gesture man,’ because his entire mission was to be like a finger pointing the way to Christ. He shows us how to be heralds of the Gospel, how to live our lives in such a way that everything about us draws people’s attention to our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Too often, when Christians wish to witness their faith to other people, they draw more attention to themselves than they do to God — his love, his mercy, and his saving action in their lives. John the Baptist said to his own disciples, ‘Jesus must increase, and I must decrease.’ Is this our own guiding rule in our lives as Christians and witnesses to the Gospel?

It can be tempting to think of John the Baptist as someone who had a small role to play in salvation history: a kind of strange, extremely religious guy, who had a job to do and did it, and then simply got out of the way for the main event – the mission of the Messiah.

But maybe John’s example is needed now more than ever, when the world seems to have lost a sense of sin; forgotten that there is such a thing as objective right and wrong, moral and immoral actions. He may be just the companion we need to help us with our Advent resolutions and our Advent confession in an age when ‘preparing for Christmas’ is more about preparing for self-indulgence than purifying our souls to receive Christ. Because John the Baptist shows us that we cannot have a personal meeting with God, if we do not first prepare the way to him through constant conversion of heart.

Anyone who followed John the Baptist two thousand years ago was led directly to Jesus Christ. Today, the more closely we follow John’s example of repentance and penance, the more abundant will be our joy on the day of God’s coming, not only this Christmas, but at the moment of our death, when we finally see him face-to-face.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The First Sunday of Advent, Year B

Reading I: Isaiah 63: 16b-17; 19b; 64:2-7
Responsorial: Psalm 80:2-3; 15-16; 18-19
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel: Mark 13:33-37

“It is like a man traveling abroad.”

When we think about travelling at the beginning of December, we probably think about holiday trips this year or in previous years. We think about the past or the future. It is said that the past and the future belong to God, but the present depends on us.

And Advent, which begins today, is a good opportunity to focus not on the past or the future, but on the present, the life we are leading now.

Jesus’s warning, ‘Be watchful!’ roots us firmly in the present. Be watchful now, so you don’t miss something very important. Be watchful during Advent, so we do not lose sight of the coming of Christ at Christmas.

‘Be watchful!’ demands alert activity from us. ‘Keep watch!’ means to look for God’s presence very close to you, involved in every moment of your daily life. If you are already close to God, ‘Keep watch!’ means getting closer to him in the sacraments and through close attention to the scripture readings in Advent. Keeping watch in Advent means renewing our joy in the fact that God loves us so much that he became one of us. If we are watchful and alert, every day we will desire his coming more,

If we are not so close to God, ‘Be watchful!’ wakes us up, shows us that we are on the wrong path, and leads us back to where we should be. If we have fallen asleep in our faith or strayed from true morality, ‘Keep watch!’ reminds us that as the prophet Isaiah said, ‘we are sinful’ and even ‘our good deeds are like polluted rags.’ Advent is a time to ‘be watchful’ of our spiritual state; make an examination of conscience; make a good confession, and return to closeness with God.

Whether we are near to God or far from him, we all need a change in perspective, to remember that it’s not so much we who come closer to Christ, but Christ who takes the initiative to come closer to us. All we need to do is invite him, to ask with the whole Church that He would ‘rend the heavens and come down.” This is what we pray at Advent, and we watch with alert wakefulness for Christmas, the sublime proof that God wants to be intimately close to each of us, because in his Incarnation, he has drawn so close to us already.

This year Advent is short – only twenty days. Those twenty days may not mark any great change in our external circumstances. But everything can change in our hearts in twenty days if we are watchful, alert to God’s presence very close to us, and do not miss the ways God comes to us in every moment of our days.

This Advent, do not fall into spiritual sleep. Keep awake, and be watchful: God is very near, and he is always coming closer.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFM Conv.

The First Sunday of Advent, Year C

Reading I: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Responsorial Psalm: 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
Reading II: 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

In the first reading, we heard the prophesy of Jeremiah regarding the Messiah: “The days are coming, says the LORD.” Jeremiah’s prophesy has been fulfilled. But every year we return to those words as we await Christmas. We call this season of waiting, ‘Advent.’

The Advent season is divided into two parts. Before December 16th, the liturgy invites us to prepare for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ on the last day. That’s why today’s Gospel includes terrifying visions of what will happen on that day.

After December 17th the liturgy focuses on events two thousand years ago, when a young Jewish girl assented to God’s plan to be mother of the Messiah and everything that happened to her before Jesus was born.

So Advent is always a time of waiting, and in our liturgy, the Church on earth cries out to heaven, asking for Christ to come to us.

Entering into the prayer of the Church during Advent prepares us for Christmas, but more important, it prepares us for the moment when we will meet Christ face to face.

We can look forward to the Second Coming or to our own personal judgment with hope, and without anxiety, because when we reflect on Christ’s Nativity, we know that when he comes, he will bring peace to people of good will. Advent is a time of deep hope, if we really enter into the meaning of the season.

How can we enter more deeply into Advent?

We can pray. We can fast. But in today’s second reading, Saint Paul proposes something that can transform us into people of good will, who have nothing to fear from an encounter with Christ: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”

To increase our love for one another— that is the true aim of all our efforts to pray and fast in Advent.

How can we ‘increase our love for one another’? Start with one person. Think of one person you know whom you don’t want to love. Or perhaps there’s someone you try to love, but it seems impossible.

Prepare for God’s coming by seeing Christ in that other person. Ask God for His love so you can love your neighbor as you love Christ. Or maybe you know someone who has never experienced God’s unconditional love. Ask God to show his love for that person through you, so the person meets Christ for the first time this Christmas.

In Advent we reflect on the fact that Christ has already come, and that Christ will come again. Let’s not forget that between now and his Second Coming, Christ comes into the world through us, as we bring his love to our fellow man.

Fr Arkadiusz Żelechowski, OFMConv