Fr Josh Miechels: Peace possible despite restrictions

By Fr Josh Miechels – August 23, 2021

Feeling we’ve lost control of our lives is disturbing. But assuming we were in control of them in the first place is a mistake. PHOTO: 123rf

Sydney priest Fr Josh Miechels shares his lockdown lessons from France

Lockdown is not fun. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be lived peacefully.
Especially when you’re in another country, in a language you speak clumsily, missing basic goods like your friends and favourite places and argileh and sunshine, doing a new task which deprives you even of the people around you.

This was my experience arriving in France six months ago, in the middle of Covidfest with a 6pm curfew, a 10km movement radius and most things closed – a situation which endured for some unwelcome months.

Six months later the weather hasn’t changed – despite being in Summer Luxemburg, Belgium and Germany are currently flooding – but all the rest has, finally, changed.
And yet there are already whispers of a return to restrictions upon the conclusion of Summer. Still it is possible, if we want, to live such situations in peace. The key lies in our decisions – of attitude, and taking the proper means.

The key lies in our decisions – of attitude, and taking the proper means.

What do I mean by attitude? I mean that if one’s attitude is ‘O my God this is so terrible, I am locked in my home, I am all alone, and it is too much for me, and I am so bored and I can only be happy and free when they lift restrictions” – then certainly my time will be a challenging one, especially as these thoughts don’t reflect the truth – they don’t reflect reality.

So often many of our problems are because of the way we think about things.

I am not a psychologist and I humbly leave that domain to them. But writing as a pastor, my experience is that, fallen, warped and wounded beings that we are, we are very good at creating, consciously or unconsciously, our own boxes and locking ourselves inside and then saying how terrible they are.

Often the hurts we have suffered, as well as the vices into which we have immersed ourselves, deeply affect our freedom to see our situations as they truly are. To already recognise this is being on the way to the solution.

Fr Josh Miechels
Father Josh Miechels. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

There are many reasons the situation is hard. One is that human beings are simply not naturally wired to not socialise and not push boundaries: it’s part of what makes us so noble and beautiful. Another reason is simply because it’s new: like anything new, it’s hard at first.

Part of the reason is the collection of injustices about the situation: I didn’t cause it, I may not agree with the measures, and, as one writer has highlighted, some regulations – like those which simultaneously banned me from my family but permitted me to sleep with strangers – are genuine headscratchers.

Part of the difficulty, and even the extremity of some measures, is that in the West we have been getting too used to getting things our own way – too used to controlling things.

Filled by our riches, beneficiaries of what Warren Buffet refers to as the ‘genetic lottery’, feeling so smart and clever about our science and technology and procedures – we can think we can control our lives. This is not a strength but a weakness.

For to try to control everything in my life is a dangerous fraud. Partly because it’s an unattainable goal on earth and even in heaven: you just can’t do it. And partly because in trying to control everything in my life I start trying to control others too – what they can say, what they can do and even what they are ‘allowed’ to think, firstly in public, and soon after in private. I ‘have’ to control them, if I am serious about controlling everything in my life, as to live in this world is to live surrounded by others – and if I can’t handle their differences, I end up either alone, or surrounded by people who bend to my wishes.

It kills my relationship with God because soon enough God is no longer God, someone whom I must obey, and Jesus becomes a convenient mirror of whatever I think.

It’s the cardinal sin and classic trap of Sauron: that “I will be free and happy when I control everything”. This is not true. It’s not possible. It’s not even true for today. And, since I’m limited and fallible, my ‘control’ will always be a limited and fallible one.

It doesn’t mean we can’t be responsible: true freedom is being responsible, and making decisions. But a condition of living life is receiving it.

I will speak more about some decisions we might make in my next column.

With Permission. This article first appeared on

Fr Josh Miechels: French village touches God

By Fr Josh Miechels – August 6, 2021

There’s something heavenly – literally – about Paray-le-Monial. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

If you ever visit this little corner of France, you can encounter the heart of the crucified Jesus

I thought I understood Paray but I hadn’t.

I am writing this on the third of four trains today on my way to the lovely vaguely Australian-weather-like village of Mirepoix in the south of France having just finished what the French call a “session” in a little town called Paray-le-Monial.

Paray is special because it is there that Jesus revealed his Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. This private revelation was not simply a heart to look at, nor just an experience of it – he also articulated to her the content of his heart.

The first and most important thing about the message of Jesus in Paray is just how much God loves us. One of the biggest problems we have in the Church in Australia is how little we appreciate how much God loves us. I remember one priest (now a bishop) remarking that one of our problems since the council is that we have spoken about the love of God – and little else. I think that’s true. The way we have often explained this love of God is that God is this vague far away indeterminate spirit who never looks but benevolently on everything we do.

The obvious problem with such a god is that he is obviously not loving – being so uninterested in me as to just bless whatever I want to do – and so obviously not really God at all, but rather a weak and pointless Eternal Wonderfulness Spirit sadly denuded of gonads and any effective reality who is uninspiring of trust and lacking of understanding of real, incarnate, painful human life and the fun of being flesh and blood. Little wonder, as the stats tells us, most of our youth, especially our young blokes, abandon Christian living as soon as they’re out of primary school.

The heart of Paray is the heart of Jesus crucified. Going to Paray, spending time there, is taking time with that beating heart, being moved by the warmth of that heart, and being healed by it. The heart of Jesus is an open one. Cut open, just like the heart of each of us who is broken-hearted by what the others did, by my hurt and pain – and at the same time God’s heart, totally divine, the encounter of my human heart with that of the creator of my heart, to undo and put back in smooth order. Jesus hurts – because who loves him? And yet there he is constantly, seeking, hoping for, our yes.

And that’s the point of the summer sessions. The whole thing – the heart-capturing liturgy, the architecture, the talks by experts, the personal testimonies of stuff that really happened to people, the availability of people to talk to and pray with, the convivial meals and the constantly surprising evening programs – volunteers pour out their time and energy to help facilitate one single thing: a deeply personal encounter with Jesus standing there, heart open to all, gushing forth his healing blood and water. It is perhaps no accident that a river runs through Paray, and that it is cocooned in stunning blood-orange sunsets.

The heart of Paray is the heart of Jesus crucified. Going to Paray, spending time there, is taking time with that beating heart, being moved by the warmth of that heart, and being healed by it.

In Paray, people meet Jesus.

This is not paid advertising: it’s just what I saw. I have been going to Paray since 2004, but these 5 days were the first I have gone as a priest. It’s the first time I’ve lived Paray in that way, and certainly it’s different from that point of view. Firstly because I was flat chat. Paray is a place to find rest – to doze our heart against the warm security of the heart of Jesus. But not for priests – at least, not necessarily in Summer.

I had to make an effort to plot out a time for adoration. And even then, despite being carefully hidden away in a dark corner of the Chapel of the Apparitions,“Excuse me Father are you here for confessions?”, “Excuse me Father, I happened to notice you were hearing confession, could you also hear mine?” My days were flooded with the work of mercy:- afternoons spent in the team for the parcours Aujourd’hui (“Today”, as in “Zacchae’us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today”) to accompany those divorced and in a new relationship; mornings and evenings spent hours of availability for confessions.

There are many ways to meet God – he is so generous. One easy way is in Paray. If you want to meet God, go to Paray.

With Permission. This article first appeared on

Fr Josh Miechels: What do we need? Saints

By Fr Josh Miechels – July 7, 2021

Members of the Emmanuel Community talk with a Sydneysider on Redfern streets. The Community, founded in France in the 1960s, engages in street evangelisation, taking Christian witness to the streets to witness to Jesus to ordinary men and women without distinction.Photo: Patrick J. Lee

What the world desperately needs most from the Church is saints.

This is my understanding of what Sebastian Condon was saying in a column in The Catholic Weekly a few weeks ago. And who can dispute that? Just look at the history of the Church. Even when combined together the work of committees and organisations is utterly outclassed by the personal holiness of one single saint. Hence the incessant call of St John Paul II, Benedict, and now Francis to holiness for the sake of others, if not ourselves.

This does not mean, and Condon underlines this, that bureaucracy is an evil. Families and parishes – the two single most influential seats of the Church’s mission – receive much of the fruit of bureaucracy. Spare a prayer for those who work and suffer – for Satan does not like their efforts – for us in Catholic offices around the world.

But a word of respectful disagreement about noisy evangelisation.

Thank God somebody does it. We aren’t all called to street evangelisation – but we are all called to discomfort for the salvation of many: “Go from your country and your kindred and your Father’s house” (Gen 12:1). The Incarnation is that very thing – when the co-eternal Son left his Father’s house to discomfit himself “unto death, even death on a cross” for others.

It’s not a new thing. Jesus spent three years doing it – having deeply personal conversations with strangers in the street. The apostles did the same. The stories of the saints are littered with such experiences.

And in a world where it has become dangerously easy to simply shut out anything I assume I don’t like, ‘disruptive’ public evangelisation – conditioned by charity, prudence and union with the local bishop – is a real act of mercy to our neighbour, who may well otherwise go their life without.

In a society chock-full of impersonal unasked-for offensive advertising, the Church renders a service to colour a tiny bit of it in the proposal of the attractive nobility of Christ through a charitably interested in personal and genuinely human encounter.

Hopefully it’s not noise. The Kingdom of Noise is the domain of Screwtape’s father below. Bosch’s trumpeters do much to highlight this distressing expression of Hell. It might be better characterised by that scene towards the end of 1968’s Oliver! As the bedroomed sleeping Oliver is awoken by the outside call of the rose vendor, disarming by its noble simplicity and respect for his freedom, so do those who take time on the streets unexpectedly interrupt the habitual mode of existence of those they meet there.

And characteristic of the action of saints, such activities hit well above their weight. Once, concluding a pre-mission repast with my fellow missionaries in the local pub (the Gospel accounts are, after all, often coloured by the presence of alcohol!) I was on my way out when a lady, noticing my collar, asked if I was a priest.

Confirming this was so, we had a good brief conversation reminiscing about her youth in a Catholic school. My companion had the foresight to invite the lady to the church which served as our base for the evening.

Madam thought this unlikely, and while we both warmly welcomed her while letting her feel totally free, the lady was understandably keener to pass the evening with her friends.
I found her, hours later, kneeling in adoration clutching a paper with a bible text, silent tears anointing her cheeks.

I don’t know what will happen to her or anyone: but I do know that street evangelisation is important to non-Christians. And that through it people meet God.

With Permission. This article first appeared on

New retreat for married couples comes to Sydney

By Marilyn Rodrigues – June 4, 2021

Peter McGregor, facilitator at Love and Truth retreats for married couples says that he knows those who attend receive much from them, particularly from the time spend together with their spouse and God. PHOTO: Unsplash/Daniel Foster

Weekend to meet need of every marriage for support

Eliza and Michael McCumstie know that married bliss doesn’t come automatically for couples after the excitement of the wedding day.

Four years after their wedding, despite their best intentions and being blessed with two children, they found themselves struggling. “We didn’t have many married couples our age to talk to, and the ones we did seemed to be very happy together,” Eliza said.

“What’s not often talked about is that marriage can be really hard and it can be really lonely when things are not going so well.”

“From the moment we got there, it was such a welcoming environment and the retreat was so lovely and was a real turning point for us.”

Eliza searched online for Catholic retreats for married couples and came across a Love and Truth retreat being held near them in Melbourne by the Emmanuel Community.

“From the moment we got there, it was such a welcoming environment and the retreat was so lovely and was a real turning point for us,” she said.

Eliza and Michael McCumstie with their Harriet who attended a Love and Truth retreat with them in 2014 when she was six months old.

“We liked that it wasn’t just someone teaching theology to us, but a couple who were also prepared to share their own story about the kinds of trials they have faced in their marriage and how they came out the other side. That was very refreshing. It was good to meet other couples at different stages of their married lives as well.

“We realised that although we were going to Mass on Sundays we hadn’t really been inviting the Lord into our marriage and our daily lives. Now our spiritual lives are very different today and that’s why our marriage is stronger now at nearly 11 years than it was back then.”

Now being held for the first time in Sydney, a Love and Truth retreat will run from 26-27 June at the Mt Carmel Retreat Centre in Varroville, near Campbelltown.

It provides an opportunity for all married couples to come closer to God, strengthen, nourish and renew their marriages.

Mary and Peter McGregor will deliver the talks at the retreat. Peter told The Catholic Weekly said that while engaged couples are required to have lots of marriage preparation, there’s little support from the Church available in the months and years after the wedding day itself.

Presentations on the weekend will focus on the nature of married love, how God is the source of a couple’s married love, and how a couple’s differences can help them grow in love for each other.

“What couples will hear on the weekend will not just be theoretical, but will include ‘testimonies’, that is, witness from personal experience,” Peter said. “We know that the couples who come will receive a lot from the presentations, but even more from the Lord, not just through the talks, but through prayer, sharing, and time together.”

With Permission. This article first appeared on

Pentecost retreat offers opportunity to know God the Spirit

May 3, 2021

A scene from Pentecost is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Mary of the Isle Church in Long Beach, N.Y. The feast of Pentecost, celebrated May 31 in 2020, commemorates the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles 50 days after Christ’s resurrection. Pentecost also marks the end of the Easter season. PHOTO: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz

Overnight event will ask for outpouring for Pentecost

By Dominic Lawrence

A Pentecost retreat asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit will be held in Varroville on the weekend of 22-23 May.

The aim of the Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit – so says St Seraphim of Sarov. What does this mean? Is it really possible for us in the twenty-first century? And if so, how is it done?

The approaching solemnity of Pentecost provides clues to answering these questions, as it reminds us how essential the Holy Spirit is. It calls us to remember the apostles, sitting fearfully in the upper room behind locked doors, even though they have witnessed the greatest event in the history of the world: the resurrection of Jesus, which has won for them their salvation. It is only when they receive the Holy Spirit that the apostles are transformed, boldly proclaiming the good news.

This feast, then, should prompt us to ask ourselves: am I a pre-Pentecost disciple, fearful and closed in on myself?

This feast, then, should prompt us to ask ourselves: am I a pre-Pentecost disciple, fearful and closed in on myself? Or am I a post-Pentecost disciple, open to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and seeking the good of others and their salvation?

As Catholics, we are blessed to have already received the Holy Spirit at Baptism, and to have been strengthened by Him again at Confirmation. The Christian life, then, is a call to enter more deeply into the graces we have received through these sacraments, so that we may truly be filled with the Holy Spirit.

For though we may have received these sacraments, we sometimes tend to grow cold in the spiritual life and freeze over, losing access to the graces available to us. So we need to ask for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that He may come with His fire, as at Pentecost two-thousand years ago, and defrost us, filling us with the joy, courage, zeal and freedom that the apostles so wonderfully displayed in Acts.

This Pentecost, the Emmanuel Community in Sydney is hosting an overnight retreat to ask for this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and to provide Catholics with an opportunity to enter more deeply into this special solemnity in the life of the Church, through Mass, Eucharistic adoration, Confession, praise and talks.

The Emmanuel Community invites you to attend this new upper room, in the bold expectancy that the Holy Spirit will come with His transformative power and His gifts. If the Holy Spirit worked wondrously through those fearful, weak and wounded apostles to spread Christianity to the world, just think what He could do in our lives if we let Him!

With Permission. This article first appeared on