‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ Sunday Reflections, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

 
The Canaanite Woman, 
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry [Wikipedia]
 
 
For Readings and Reflections for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A,  click on the following: 
 
 
Sunday Reflections for this Sunday three years ago links the situation of the Canaanite woman in the gospel with the situation of Christians in war-torn Iraq and Syria. The video above features the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, after it was liberated from ISIS last October.
The vast majority of Catholics in Iraq and Syria belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church and Syrian Catholic Church. There are more than twenty Eastern Catholic Churches, though the vast majority of Catholics worldwide are Roman (or Latin) Catholics. All are equally Catholic and all are in full communion with Rome. Archbishop Mouche (also spelled Moshe), belongs to the Syrian Catholic Church.
May we continue to pray for the Church in Iraq and Syria with the persistent faith of the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel.
I invite all to pray that Iraq may find peace, unity, and prosperity in reconciliation and in harmony among its different ethnic and religious components. (Pope Francis, 29 March 2017).

‘This is the struggle of our life – to let Christ rule.’ Sunday Reflections, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Salvation of Peter, Andrea da Firenze [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 14:22-33 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised CatholicEdition) 

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Fr William Doyle SJ

3 March 1873 – 16 August 2017

Father William Doyle SJ, killed on 17 August 1917 in the Third Battle of Ypres, Belgium, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, wrote this commentary on today’s Gospel.

About the fourth watch of the night he cometh to them

Christ did not show himself until the fourth watch of the night. How often is this same history repeated in our own case! There is no encouragement, no comfort. We are wearied waiting. There is no sign of approaching help. Why not give up! Surely we never bargained for this. We never believed things would come to such a pass! Oh, the anguish of these moments, when in the midst of struggle, depression and loneliness Christ withholds his sensible presence. 

Christ delays to come. But he is watching all the time; he would only test us. Let him not be disappointed. This is a moment of tremendous grace. If we are stout of heart and bear our trial manfully, we will emerge from the crucible with well-nigh herculean strength. These are moments that disentangle us from many of the trappings that weaken and weigh us down. After they have passed, invariably we find our vision clearer and our appreciation of the value of things truer.

Walking upon the sea

Thus does he come to us also walking upon the sea with these words upon his lips. ‘Have a good heart, fear not. It is I.’ And we whisper to ourselves, ‘It is the Lord.’ Yes, then we understand. Then everything goes easy and we wonder that we should ever have doubted. Then we are ashamed of our wavering. What a beautiful tribute to Christ our trust would have been. So we determine next time we will understand. We decide that when next the tide of our life runs high, when our heart-boat is lashed by a rugged sea, we will understand that Christ is near, watching us and we fight fearlessly and cheerfully. Thus, little by little, troubles and crosses will serve to clamp the trust in Christ that will steady our hearts and like St Peter will will cry out: ‘Lord if it be thou, bid me come to thee across the waters.’ O the joy of our hearts as the master says ‘Come.’ And we go. We really walk upon the sea. We do wonders until some tremendous sorrow-wave dashes up between us and Christ, and for a moment we lose heart and cry out ‘Lord save me’.

Immediately he spoke with them

Immediately – that word is full of love – stretching forth his hand he takes hold of me. And when He has come into my heart-boat the wind ceased. But it is only after Christ has been given full control of our heart-boat that the winds cease. This is the struggle of our life – to let Christ rule.

So long as he must come over the waters to us there will be many a lonely struggle. But when through great generosity on our part we have emptied our lives of everything likely to raise a tempest in the heart, then Christ will sit at the helm and the waves may toss, the winds may roll and blow about the boat. We are calm. We have no cause to fear. Christ sits at the helm and rules.

The reflection above was taken from pages 182-184 of To Raise the Fallen, compiled and edited by Patrick Kenny and published by Veritas. The book launching took place on 10 August at Hodges Figgis, Dublin.

Soldiers Burying their Dead, Bissen [Web Gallery of Art]

Fr Doyle fulfilled one of his duties – and also one of the corporal works of mercy – by burying the dead. His own body was never recovered.

What Happened at the Battle of Passchendaele?

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As the current stand-off between North Korea and the USA continues let us pray for a peaceful resolution to the situation.

O God, who show a father’s care for all, 

grant, in your mercy, 

that the members of the human race, 

to whom you have given a single origin, 

may form in peace a single family 

and always be united by a fraternal spirit. 

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,

for ever and ever.

 

Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice (The Roman Missal).

‘I was able for once to offer the Holy Sacrifice on my knees.’ Sunday Reflections, The Transfiguration, Year A

Transfiguration of Christ, Paolo Veronese [Web Gallery of Art]

As the Feast of the Transfiguration is a feast of the Lord  it is celebrated today instead of the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 17:1-9 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised CatholicEdition) 

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

Father Willie Doyle SJ, in a letter, writes about the Mass he celebrated on Monday 6 August 1917 in the trenches during the Third Battle of Ypres, Belgium, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele.

For once getting out of bed was an easy, in fact, delightful task, for I was stiff and sore from my night’s rest. My first task was to look round and see what were the possibilities for Mass. As all the dug-outs were occupied if not destroyed or flooded, I was delighted to discover a tiny ammunition store which I speedily converted into a chapel, building an altar with the boxes. The fact that it barely held myself did not signify as I had no server and had to be both priest and acolyte, and in a way I was not sorry I could not stand up, as I was able for once to offer the Holy Sacrifice on my knees.

It is strange that out here a desire I have long cherished should be gratified, viz. : to be able to celebrate alone, taking as much time as I wished without inconveniencing anyone. I read long ago in the Acts of the Martyrs of a captive priest, chained to the floor of the Coliseum, offering up the Mass on the altar of his own bare breast, but apart from that, Mass that morning must have been a strange one in the eyes of God’s angels, and I trust not unacceptable to Him

British trench, Battle of the Somme, 1916

One keeping watch while the others sleep [Wikipedia]

It is clear that Fr Doyle, an Irish Jesuit who had volunteered to serve as a chaplain in the British army during the Great War (1914-1918) and who was assigned to Irish regiments – the whole of Ireland was then part of the United Kingdom – had a profound sense of the presence of God as he celebrated Mass in the tiniest of spaces in a trench unfit for human habitation. He had a deep sense of being graced by God with a deep inner silence despite the noise of shells being fired by both the German and British armies. It was, in a sense, a Transfiguration moment for him.

Peter, James and John got a brief glimpse of the divinity of Jesus Christ when he took them up the mountain. It was a grace for the present and for the future. This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him! It was a grace from God the Father that gave them the courage to preach the Gospel after Pentecost and, for Peter and James, to lay down their lives for the it.

Stretcher bearers, Passchendaele, August 1917 [Wikipedia]

Fr Willie Doyle was more than familiar with scenes such as that in the photo above. He spent much of his days and nights trying to reach wounded and dying soldiers, sometimes including Germans, in order to anoint and give them absolution, to speak a last word of comfort, to assure them that God was not absent from the hell that the First World War was. More than three million soldiers died and more than eight million were wounded in the fighting on the Western Front, of which the Battle of Passchendaele was part, between 1914 and 1918.

One of those who died was my great-uncle, Corporal Lawrence Dowd, an older half-brother of my maternal grandmother, Annie Dowd Collins. He was killed on the day that Father Doyle celebrated Mass in his trench and that he wrote about above, the feast of the Transfiguration, and in the same area. So this Sunday is the 100th anniversary of his death. I do not know if Uncle Larry and Father Willie ever met but my uncle must have known who this heroic priest was as he was known and loved by all the Irish soldiers, Catholic and Protestant, fighting in Flanders.

Fr William Doyle SJ (3 March 1874 – 16 August 1917)

Fr Doyle was killed ten days after my great-uncle. To Raise the Fallen, compiled and edited by Patrick Kenny  and very recently published by Veritas, describes what happened: The precise details surrounding Fr Doyle’s death are unclear. But at some time in the late afternoon of 16 August 1917, a group of soldiers led by Lieutenants Marlow and Green got into trouble beyond the front line, and Fr Doyle ran to assist them. It seems that Fr Doyle and the two officers were about to take shelter when they were hit by a German shell and killed. His body was never recovered.

Mass in an Austrian military hospital, 1916 [Wikipedia]

Sir Percival Philips, a war correspondent, wrote in the Daily Express(London) in August 1917: The Orangemen (members of a Protestant organisation, mainly in what is now Northern Ireland) will not forget a certain Roman Catholic chaplain who lies in  a soldier’s grave in that sinister plain beyond Ypres. He went forward and back over the battle field with bullets whining about him, seeking out the dying and kneeling in the mud beside them to give them absolution, walking with death with a smile on his face, watched by his men with reverence and a kind of awe until a shell burst near him and he was killed. His familiar figure was seen and welcomed by hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place. Each time he came back across the field he was begged to remain in comparative safety. Smilingly he shook his head and went again into the storm. He had been with his boys at Ginchy and through other times of stress, and he would not desert them in their agony. They remember him as a saint – they speak his name with tears. (To Raise the Fallen, page 187).

To the hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place – and to wounded and dying Germans he encountered – Fr Doyle’s presence was something of a ‘Transfiguration experience’. Through this brave Catholic priest they saw something of the divinity of a loving God, that loving God that he had experienced so many times in unexpected ways and places, the loving God whose presence he was so conscious of as he celebrated Mass on his knees in a muddy hole in a trench ten days before his death.

If we have eyes to see and ears to hear we can see flashes of God’s divinity in the actions of those around us, sometimes in the midst of tragedy, of evil, sometimes in the midst of very ordinary events of daily life, sometimes in the midst of joyful circumstances. May God open our eyes and ears to those flashes of his divinity.

At the grave of my Great-uncle Lawrence Dowd in Potijze Chateau Cemetery, Ieper, Belgium, September 2001. Uncle Larry, my maternal grandmother’s older half-brother, was killed on the Feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August 1917. I was the first relative to visit his grave, in September 2001.