‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B

‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) directed by Philip Saville

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)Gospel John 15:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) Jesus said to his disciples:“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

The Virgin of the Grapes
, Pierre Mignard, 1640s

Musée du Louvre, Paris [Web Gallery of Art]

Around this time twenty years ago I paid my only visit to the Holy Land, at the insistence of a friend of mine, Ninfa, whom I had met at a charismatic gathering in Tagum, Davao del Norte, Mindanao, in 1977. When Ninfa worked for a family in Israel she began to organise pilgrimages to the holy sites for her fellow Filipino workers, Overseas Filipino Workers, or ‘OFWs’, as they are known here in the Philippines.

Ninfa had arranged for us to stay for some nights in Jerusalem in a school run by Salesian Sisters. It was during the long vacation so there were no students there. During dinner the first evening I discovered that among the 14 or 15 visitors in the dining room, pilgrims from many parts of the world, all strangers, apart from Ninfa, there were three who knew persons I knew. Not for the first time I felt in a very personal way the reality that we as Christians truly are one. I am the vine, you are the branches.

Pope Benedict, in a homily during Mass at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on 22 September 2011 reflects on this:


If we consider these beati and the great throng of those who have been canonized and beatified, we can understand what it means to live as branches of Christ, the true vine, and to bear fruit. Today’s Gospel puts before us once more the image of this climbing plant, that spreads so luxuriantly in the east, a symbol of vitality and a metaphor for the beauty and dynamism of Jesus’ fellowship with his disciples and friends – with us.

In the parable of the vine, Jesus does not say: ‘You are the vine’, but: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ (John 15:5). In other words: ‘As the branches are joined to the vine, so you belong to me! But inasmuch as you belong to me, you also belong to one another.’ This belonging to each other and to him is not some ideal, imaginary, symbolic relationship, but – I would almost want to say – a biological, life-transmitting state of belonging to Jesus Christ. Such is the Church, this communion of life with Jesus Christ and for one another, a communion that is rooted in baptism and is deepened and given more and more vitality in the Eucharist. ‘I am the true vine’ actually means: ‘I am you and you are I’ – an unprecedented identification of the Lord with us, with his Church.

This last week here in the Philippines brought people together in prayer for an OFW, Mary Jane Veloso, the mother of two young boys, who was due to be executed by firing squad in Indonesia, along with eight others, all having been found guilty, in separate cases, of bringing illegal drugs into that country or trying to smuggle them out. Most people, including myself, believe that she was duped and was unaware of what she was carrying in a new suitcase given her. She had been led to believe, like many others, that a good job awaited her. At the last minute, some hours after she had said goodbye to her family and was preparing for the worst, she was told that the execution had been postponed because of new information from the Philippines. An hour after she learned this the other eight, involved in different cases of smuggling of illegal drugs, were taken out and shot.

One of those was a Brazilian, Rodrigo Gularte, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, apparently did not understandthat he was to be executed. This was told by Fr Charlie Burrows OMI, who has been working in the area where the executions took place since the 1970s. He has been present at executions in the past. He also told how guards present when Mary Jane Veloso was bidding goodbye to her children broke down crying.

I discovered that Fr Burrows is from Dublin, is the same age as myself and went to the same school, though he was a year behind me and I can’t claim to have known him. But again I was struck by how we are related through our baptism. An Irish priest in Indonesia spending so much time with a Brazilian facing execution there and apparently spending time with Mary Jane Veloso, though there were Filipino priests who were helping her and her family. I am the vine, you are the branches.

All of these were united through their faith in Jesus Christ, a faith received as a precious gift at baptism.

During the last visit of her family to Mary Jane they prayed together and sang, at her request, a hymn written for the Great Jubilee of 2000 by a namesake, Mary Jane C. Mendoza, better known as Jamie Rivera.

Open your hearts to the Lord and begin to see the mystery
That we are all together as one family.

I am the vine, you are the branches.

Antiphona ad Communionem Communion Antiphon Cf. John 15:1,5

Ego sum vitis vera et vos palmites, dicit Dominus;

I am the true vine and you are the branches, says the Lord.

qui manet in me et ego in eo,

Whoever remains in me, and I in him,

hic fert fructum multum, alleluia.


Rosary and Scapular [Wikipedia]


Bring Flowers of the Rarest (Queen of the May)

Bring flowers of the rarest
bring blossoms the fairest,
from garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling
the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Oh, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers,
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue


Sing gaily in chorus;
the bright angels o’er us
re-echo the strains we begin upon earth;
their harps are repeating
the notes of our greeting,
for Mary herself is the cause of our mirth.


Columban Fr Denis Bartley RIP

Fr Denis Bartley

18 September 1927 – 20 April 2015

Fr Denis Bartley died in Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, on 20 April. Born at Killinure, Brittas, Pallasgreen, County Limerick on 18 September 1927.  He was educated at Eyon National School, and Mount Melleray, where he also studied two years of Philosophy. He came to St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, in 1947 and was ordained priest on 21 December 1951.

Mambajao, viewed from Mount Hibok-Hibok [Wikipedia]

Appointed to the Philippines and the District of Mindanao, he served initially in Mambajao (Camiguin), and later in the parishes of Dumalinao, Dumingag (both in Zamboanga del Sur), Ozamis City, Malabang (Lanao del Sur) and Sapang Dalaga (Misamis Occidental). A number of these appointments were particularly difficult, and he served there in traumatic times.

Mount Hibok-Hibok [Wikipedia]

He was in Mambajao after Mount Hibok-Hibok’s volcanic eruption killed 1,000 people and destroyed the parish house on 4 December 1951. [Editor’s note: the Columbans had just taken over the four parishes in Camiguin from the Jesuits.] He was pastor of Malabang when Fr Martin Dempsey was shot dead on 19 October 1970. 

Fr Martin Dempsey

1934 – 19 October 1970

In March 1974, Fr Bartley was appointed to the USA and served as director of promotion.

Cathedral Basilica of St John the Apostle and Evangelist, Lima [Wikipedia]

In 1980, he was assigned to Peru and served in Lima during the following three years. Re-assigned to the USA in 1983, he did mission education work, and served in the Bayside and Kew Garden houses in New York City before returning as bursar to the Columban house in Omaha, Nebraska, where the American headquarters are located. He served in various other roles in Omaha until poor health forced his return to Ireland and to St Columban’s Nursing Home in January 2012.

Father Denis was a private, rather reserved person, yet he was good company and an excellent host. Totally dedicated and committed to the people, he was remembered with great affection in many parishes long after he had been transferred elsewhere.  

May he rest in peace. 

Fr Patrick Raleigh, Regional Director of the Columbans in Ireland, described Father Denis’s funeral as ‘a very joyful celebration’ – not unusual at Columban funerals – and noted that at the lunch after the burial in St Columban’s Cemetery a couple of Limerick songs were sung, led by Bob Richardson, a nephew of Father Denis, and Paddy Crowe, a brother of Columban Sister Sheila Crowe. One was There is an Isle, associated especially with rugby in Limerick.

The other song was Limerick, You’re a Lady. Your editor happened to find a recording of this sung by Milaflor Abordo from the Philippines.


George Clooney on how to celebrate Mass

Maybe the heading to this post is slightly misleading, since George Clooney is talking about his aunt, Rosemary Clooney, as a singer, not about the Mass. But what he says about her (0:21 – 0:33) is something that we priests can take to heart: She served the song probably better than any singer I’ve ever seen. At some point in her career she decided she didn’t have to show off as a singer and she would just serve the song. And that’s what she does.
When I was a child growing up in Aughrim Street Parish in Dublin, newly-ordained priests from Kimmage Manor would often say the later Masses on Sunday morning. People would say, One of the Holy Ghost Fathers (now known as ‘The Spiritans’) said the eleven o’clock Mass yesterday’. It didn’t matter who he was or what his name was. What was important was that he had celebrated Mass. That’s what mattered.
Each priest in those days had his own ‘style’, which he was probably not conscious of. Some tended to celebrate Mass quickly, some slowly. But every Mass was essentially the same and there were no ‘surprises’. A young altar-boy in Scotland two years ago said to me, It’s hard serving at Mass since each priest is so different. I don’t think he was referring to anything weird or off-the-wall. But there is more room for ‘surprises’ in the Mass now than in the old days. And some of these can drive and have driven people away from the Church, and maybe even away from the Faith.
Rosemary Clooney surely serves the beautiful 1938 song by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics), I’ll Be Seeing You, in the video above, even though her voice wasn’t as fresh or as supple as when she was younger. But she brings something of the experience of the difficult life that her nephew refers to in his introduction to her interpretation of the song, with only a pianist to accompany her. He in turn serves the singer and the song. Rosemary doesn’t have to show off as a singer.
And neither do we priests have to show off when we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
A much younger Rosemary Clooney (1928 – 2002) singing the same song, without its introduction, on a TV show in the 1950s. Clearly she had already decided that she didn’t have to show off as a singer and she would just serve the song.

‘Have you anything here to eat?’ Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B


Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1606

Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan [Web Gallery of Art]

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:35).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Luke 24:35-48 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)   Then they told what had happened on the road, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Responsorial Psalm [Philippines, USA]

St Pope John Paul II skiing in 1984

Both St John Paul II and I skied, though never together. He skied most of his life, managing to ‘escape’ even when pope to do so. My career was limited to one glorious day early in January 1969 in Toggenburg, near Syracuse in Upstate New York. If I could re-live one day in my life that is the one I would choose. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the air was crisp and clean and I remember devouring mandarin oranges and laughing for about ten minutes when I fell off the ‘T-bar’ while going back up to the top of the beginners’ slope.

T-bar lift, Sweden [Wikipedia]

I had been ordained less than 13 months before and was studying music in Manhattanville College, Purchase, New York, north of New York City, run by the Religious of the Sacred Heart. One of the students, Regina McGann, invited me to spend some days with her family in Jamesville. She came from a large family and her parents, Harold and Mary, made me feel most welcome.

If I could re-live that wonderful day of skiing it would have to include the family meal that evening in the McGann household – or any of the evenings I was there. We sat around a big round table and there was no rush. The emphasis wasn’t on eating but on enjoying a family mealtogether. The McGann Family was for me a great example of the truth of Fr Patrick Peyton‘s slogan, The family that prays together stays together. Father Peyton used a copy of Murillo’s painting below in his Family Rosary Crusade.

Virgin and Child with a Rosary, Murillo, 1650-55

Museo del Prado, Madrid [Web Gallery of Art]

The McGann Family prayed the Rosary every night except Sunday, when the prayed Compline, the Night Prayer of the Church. This practice went back long before Vatican II, which encouraged lay people to pray parts of the Breviary, The Prayer of the Church.
But what I learned from this wonderful family is that The Family that eats together stays together. As an adult I came to see that it was through our family meals while growing up that I had experienced most of all being part of a family. The only time we were all together was in the evening. And Sunday dinner, in the early afternoon, was always something special, as it was for every family that I knew.

Today’s gospel opens with the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus recount how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. They had invited Jesus to dine with them and that is how they discovered who their companion on the road – whom they had invited to join them – really was.

And to show the disbelieving apostles and disciples that he is not a ghost Jesus asks, Have you anything here to eat? 

During the Easter Season we also hear at Mass gospel readings fromJohn 21 the chapter that includes the scene of the extraordinary catch of fish, some of which Jesus, the Risen Lord, cooked when he said,Come and have breakfast (John 21:12). After that meal he asks Peter three times, Simon son of John, do you love me?

This is a moment of great intimacy when Peter discovers that it is as his beloved friend that Jesus give him his mission – Feed my lambs . . . tend my sheep . . . feed my sheep.
It is clear from these gospel readings, and from many others, most especially the accounts of the Last Supper, that God reveals himself to us in the intimacy of a meal. If the family meal or meals with close friends are not part of our lives, how can we understand the meal aspect of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? In the Mass, in which we unite ourselves with the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, he gives himself, the Risen Lord, body, blood, soul and divinity, as so many of us learned when we were young, as the Bread of Life. It is not a symbol of himself that he gives in Holy Communion, but his very self, carrying the scars of Calvary and giving us the strength to do the same.

But he also reveals himself to us in our ordinary meals, sometimes even over a cup of tea or coffee. I remember one person who was close to me who for many years had carried a resentment towards someone now dead, a resentment that was the result of a painful incident. She recalled what her father, long since dead, had said to her many years before: Never carry a grudge against anyone. Over that cup of tea she finally let go of her self-inflicted pain, forgave, and moved on with a new lightness in her heart. I have no doubt whatever that it was Jesus the Risen Lord who spoke to her that day through the words of her father. It was a kind of Resurrection experience, over a cup of tea.

Even when we’re not talking about profound things at a meal, when we see them as occasions when we most experience our humanity, when we see the link between the family or community meal, or a meal to which we invite someone living alone, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we can more readily understand the implications of the closing words of today’s gospel, You are witnesses of these things.

The simple Grace Before and After Meals can remind us gently of the presence of the Risen Lord at our table, as truly present as he was at the table in Emmaus, as truly present as he was when he asked the apostles, Have you anything here to eat?
Prayer before the meal, Adriaen Jansz van Ostrade, 1653British Museum, London [Web Gallery of Art]


Not Manchester United Football Club but Manchester United Methodist Choirs. This ancient Easter hymn is introduced by the arranger, Philip Stopford.

Christ the Lord is risen again!

Christ the Lord is risen again;

Christ hath broken every chain;

Hark! Angelic voices cry,

Singing evermore on high,


He, Who gave for us His life,

Who for us endured the strife,

Is our Paschal Lamb today;

We, too, sing for joy, and say


He, Who bore all pain and loss

Comfortless upon the cross,

Lives in glory now on high,

Pleads for us, and hears our cry;


He Who slumbered in the grave,

Is exalted now to save;

Now through Christendom it rings

That the Lamb is King of kings.


[He Whose path no records tell,

Who descended into hell;

Who the strong man armed hath bound,

Now in highest heaven is crowned.


Now He bids tell abroad

How the lost may be restored,

How the penitent forgiven,

How we, too, may enter Heav’n.


Thou, our Paschal Lamb indeed,

Christ, Thy ransomed people feed:

Take our sins and guilt away,

Let us sing by night and day


Prayer Intentions of Pope Francis April 2015: Creation; Persecuted Christians

Apostleship of Prayer


Pope Francis addressing the European Parliament [Wikipedia]

Universal Intention – Creation

That people may learn to respect creation and care for it as a gift of God. 


Evangelization Intention – Persecuted Christians

That persecuted Christians may feel the consoling presence of the Risen Lord and the solidarity of all the Church.

A small town in Austria. Fr Shay Cullen, 20 March 2015

A Small Town in Austria

by Fr Shay Cullen


Fiss, Austria [Wikipedia]

[Fr Cullen doesn’t name the small town he visited]


When the mayor of this seemingly clean and well-ordered town invited me during my lecture tour to a meeting with his town council in 2014 he said the town had problems and asked if I could help.

At first he discussed fair trade and how his town could do more to support the sale of Preda Fair Trade products and help ease the global exploitation of poor farmers and indigenous people he had read about in the Preda Fair Trade website (www.predafairtrade.net).

He would like to get the town certified as a “Fair Trade” town by the International Fair Trade Committee that makes the awards. “Well, Mayor,” I said, “that will depend on the amount of fair trade products that are sold here at the World Shop based on the population of the town over a given period.”

He smiled and nodded. “I know that your organization Preda Foundation is also working against unfair trade, I read in your web site, campaigning against the trade in human beings, saving the victims in a therapeutic home. Can we be a part of that too?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “the sales of Preda products help save and heal the trafficked and abused children sold into sex slavery.”

He then asked how we work to get mayors like him to help.

I explained that the government and a large part of the Philippine population are in denial and need to be freed from unknowing, indifference and apathy. They need to be freed from the secret silence that surrounds the hateful and sordid crime against innocent and vulnerable children.

Continue on website of Preda.

Holy Week 2015: the Love that can Change the World. Fr Shay Cullen, 31 March 2015

Holy Week 2015: The Love That Can Change the World

by Fr Shay Cullen


El Espolio (The Disrobing of Christ), El Greco, 1577-79

Sacristy of the Cathedral, Toledo, Spain [Web Gallery of Art]

What brought about the shameful torture, humiliation and excruciating execution, as a criminal on a Roman cross is what we need to ask and answer everyday not just during Holy Week.

Hundreds of thousands of true Christians around the world suffer persecution, torture and death these days because they are disciples of Jesus of Nazareth and put into practice his spiritual values that give meaning to life itself.

Why is there such opposition to a message, a way of life that espouses; love of the outcast, freedom, human rights and dignity, equality and the defence of children and a better life for the poor and the oppressed people of this world?

The Man who was called by some a great prophet who had come back to life, a wonder worker, a spiritual teacher, a man of compassion, a peace-maker, a defender of children and women and a social revolutionary brought these values into the world by his simplicity of life and his living out of these values.

He was welcomed into the capital Jerusalem one sunny April morning two thousand years ago by adoring crowds waving palm branches who were inspired by his teaching, healing and prophetic voice for the poor and the downtrodden. He stood with the marginalized outcasts and victims of social injustice. He was a hero and inspirational spiritual leader that day and everyday since. 

Continue on website of Preda.

Heinous sex crimes against Filipino babies. Fr Shay Cullen, 16 March 2015

Heinous sex crimes against Filipino babies

by Fr Shay Cullen

Adoration of the Shepherds, Jacopo Bassano, 1590-91

San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice [Web Gallery of Art]

It must be one of the most heinous crimes of the century, with little exaggeration and one, which went undetected by Filipino police until Dutch Internet investigators found abhorrent and revolting child pornography of Filipino children being sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered on videos on the computer of a Dutch national.

Attorney Janet Francisco, executive officer of National Bureau of’Investigation’s Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTRAD), said the videos were so “hateful, disgusting, and painful to watch. The babies being tortured and sexually assaulted and listening to their cries could haunt you forever,’ she told a national newspaper.

This terrible litany of crimes against children with the help of Filipino women who recruit, traffic and abduct children as young as one year old is surely just one crime of many. There are hundreds if not thousands of such crimes un-detected, un-reported and unknown.

Continue on website of Preda.