‘The Lord goes up with shouts of joy.’ Sunday Reflections, The Ascension

The Ascension, Andrea della Robbia [Web Gallery of Art]

 

For Readings for the Ascension and the Seventh Sunday of Easter and for Reflections on the Ascension click on the following:

The Ascension

Three White Cottages in Saintes-Maries, van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

A work of art is the fruit of the creative capacity of the human being who stands in wonder before the visible reality, and who seeks to discover the depths of its meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colors and sounds. Art has the capacity to express and to make visible man’s need to go beyond what he sees; it manifests his thirst and his search for the infinite. In fact, it is like a door opened to the infinite — to a beauty and a truth that goes beyond the everyday. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, carrying them higher(Pope Benedict XVI).

‘Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’ Sunday Reflections, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A

St PhilipGiuseppe Mazzuoli [Web Gallery of Art]
 
Readings and Reflections: 
Canonizations in Fatima

Lucia Santos, left, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto [Wikipedia]

On Saturday 13 May Pope Francis will canonise Blessed Francisco Marto (1908 – 1919) and his sister Jacinta (1910 – 1920) in Fátima, Portugal, on the 100th anniversary of the first apparition of the Blessed Mother there to the three children.

A good friend of mine who is a priest and a Scripture scholar once pointed out to me that in all the places where the Church has affirmed that our Blessed Mother truly appeared it was to poor people. We can see this in such places as Guadalupe (1531) in Mexico, La Salette (1846) and Lourdes (1858) in France, Beauraing (1932-33) and Banneux (1933) in Belgium, Fátima (1917) in Portugal and Knock (1879) in Ireland. I have been blessed by having taken part in pilgrimages to all of these except La Salette and Guadalupe.

You may find this article of interest: The surprising connection between Our Lady of Fatima and Islam.

Ave de Fátima

Sung in Portuguese by the Choir of the Shrine in Fátima

 

Beatification in Dublin of Blessed John Sullivan SJ

Blessed John Sullivan SJ 

[Facebook. Portrait by Seán O’Sullivan]

Also on 13 May, for the first time in history, a beatification will take place in Ireland, that of Fr John Sullivan SJ (1861 – 1933), by  Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The ceremony will be held in St Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner Street, Dublin, a church that is closely associated also with the Venerable Matt Talbot (1856 – 1925). These two men grew up within walking distance of each other, but in totally different circumstances, John Sullivan in prosperity and Matt Talbot in poverty. God called both of them to sanctity, as indeed he calls each of us through our baptism. They responded to this call.

St Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner St, Dublin [Wikipedia]

For some reason, Dubliners rarely refer to their churches by their patronal name but rather by the street name. Had this ceremony been held in Dublin 50 or 60 years ago it would not have taken place in this or in any other church but in an open, public space. It will be interesting to see how the Irish media will cover the event.

Please pray this weekend for a renewal  of the Catholic Christian faith in Ireland where to a large extent in recent decades it has been rejected or marginalized as a purely private matter, and despised by some.

Sunday Reflections, Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A. Columban ordination to diaconate.

The Good Shepherd, Martin van Cleve the Elder [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 John 10:1-10  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said:

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

You’ll find the Reflections here.

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Columban Ordination to Diaconate

Bishop Honesto F. Ongtioco of Cubao ordained Erl Dylan J. Tabaco to the diaconate on 30 April in the Columban House of Studies, Cubao, Quezon City. The new deacon is from Holy Rosary Parish, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro City. He spent two years, 2014 to 2016, on First Mission Assignment in Peru as part of his preparation for the Columban missionary priesthood. You can read about his work there with children who are profoundly deaf and with young persons with intellectual disabilities here

Erl Dylan J. Tabaco with youngsters in Peru
 
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Bring Flowers of the Fairest, also known as Queen of the May, a very popular Marian hymn in Ireland, especially during the month of May, was written by Mary E. Walsh and is sung here by the late Irish tenor, Frank Patterson.

‘Then there eyes were opened . . .’ Sunday Reflections, Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

Supper at Emmaus (detail) 1606, Caravaggio [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 Luke 24:13-35 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,  but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,  and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,  and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

You will find the Reflections here.

 

‘My Lord and my God!’ Sunday Reflections, Second Sunday of Easter (or Sunday of Divine Mercy), Year A

The Apostle St Thomas, El Greco [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 John 20:19-31 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)  

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31 from The Gospel of John

 

We can read the words of Jesus to Thomas as a gentle rebuke that has led to the nickname he may carry for all eternity: ‘Doubting Thomas’. But I prefer to see him as the one who understood that the Risen Lord must carry the scars of his crucifixion and who made the most explicit act of faith in the whole of Sacred Scripture: My Lord and my God!

The First Reading today (Ats 2:42-47) opens with the words They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. ‘The breaking of the bread’ is an expression used for the celebration of the Eucharist. We can see in this sentence the essence of the Mass as we celebrate it today: listening to God’s word, praying and sharing in the Sacrifice of Jesus and sharing his Body and Blood.

Some commentators say that the failure of Thomas was not to listen to God’s word as related by his companions. Maybe he did fail here but did the others have the same awareness as Thomas had that the Risen Lord must carry his scars for all eternity?

In Evangelii Gaudium No 7 Pope Francis writes: I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’.

Thomas had been a companion of Jesus for two to three years but what he experienced in today’s gospel was precisely what Pope Benedict describes as the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

Servant of God, Fr Emil Joseph Kapaun (20 April 1916 – 23 May 1951) celebrating Mass with American soldiers during the Korean War [Wikipedia]

In his general audience in St Peter’s Square on 31 October 2012 Pope Benedict said: I cannot build my personal faith in a private dialogue with Jesus, because faith is given to me by God through a community of believers that is the Church and projects me into the multitude of believers, into a kind of communion that is not only sociological but rooted in the eternal love of God who is in himself the communion of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, it is Trinitarian Love. Our faith is truly personal, only if it is also communal: it can be my faith only if it dwells in and moves with the ‘we’ of the Church, only if it is our faith, the common faith of the one Church.

Pope Francis re-echoes this in Evangelii Gaudium Nos 264 – 268: We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence . . . Sometimes we lose our enthusiasm for mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters . . . The word of God also invites us to recognise that we are a people . . . Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. When we stand before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.

What both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are saying is that while our faith is in a person, Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, it can never be a question of ‘Jesus and me’. Pope Benedict says, faith is given to me by God through a community of believers that is the Church and projects me into the multitude of believers and Pope Francis emphasises that He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.

In other words, I can only know myself as a brother or sister of Jesus, as a son or daughter of God the Father when I know myself as a member of their family, which I have become through my baptism.

And that awareness of who I am is strengthened when I join other members of God’s family every Sunday as they devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

British soldiers at Mass in the Netherlands during World War II [Wikipedia]

Many Irish Columbans served as chaplains in the British Forces during World War II. One, Fr Patrick McMahon, died in action in Normandy, France, after rescuing a Canadian soldier on 14 August 1944.

In the Office of Readings, prayed by priests, monks, nuns and others as part of the Prayer of the Church, there are two readings. The first is from the Bible and the second usually from writers in the early centuries of the Church. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Easter Week the second reading is from Instructions to the Newly Baptized in Jerusalem also known as The Jerusalem Catechesis, written, as far as I know, by St Cyril of Jerusalem. The author says, Just as the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is no longer just bread, but the body of Christ, so when the Holy Spirit has been invoked on the holy chrism it is no longer mere or ordinary ointment; it is the gift of Christ, which through the presence of the Holy Spirit instils his divinity into us [Friday].

For the Saturday reading the author tells the newly-baptized: Do not, then, regard the bread and wine as nothing but bread and wine, for they are the body and blood of Christ as the master himself has proclaimed. Though your senses suggest otherwise, let faith reassure you. You have been taught and fully instructed that what seems to be bread is not bread, though it appears to be such to the sense of taste, but the body of Christ; that what seems to be wine is not wine, though the taste would have it so, but the blood of Christ

When I celebrate Mass with the Deaf here in Bacolod City, a group whose needs the late Columban Fr Joseph Coyle was the first priest to respond to and whose vision is being carried on now by many others, both Deaf and hearing, after the consecration of the bread and again of the wine, I hear from speaking people who are present the words of St Thomas, My Lord and my God. Just like St Thomas, they recognise the presence of the Risen Lord in the bread and the winde that have no become his Body and Blood.

Fr Emil Kapaun and Fr Patrick McMahon recognised the presence of Jesus in the bread and wine that became the Body and Blood of Christ each time they celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They also recognised the presence of Jesus in the wounds of the soldiers they tended and in whose service they sacrificed their lives – following the example of St Thomas who, according to tradition, was martyred in India.

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Regina caeli is sung during the Easter Season at the end of the Church’s Night Prayer (Compline).

The Coronation of the Virgin, Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

Regina cæli, lætare, alleluia:
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia,
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
V. Gaude et lætare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.
R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.
 
Oremus.
Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi,
mundum lætificare dignatus es:
præsta, quæsumus, ut per eius Genitricem Virginem Mariam,
perpetuæ capiamus gaudia vitæ.
Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. R. Amen.
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
The Son whom you merited to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Let us pray.
O God, who through the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
gave rejoicing to the world,
grant, we pray, that through his Mother, the Virgin Mary,
we may obtain the joy of everlasting life.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

‘For as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.’ Sunday Reflections, Easter Sunday

ResurrectionLéonard Limo Sin [Web Gallery of Art]

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

At the Mass during the Day

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Note that the above links also give alternative gospels that may be read on Easter Sunday.

Gospel John 20:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

John 20:1-9 from The Gospel of John

I remember as a young priest, maybe in the summer of 1968 about six months after my ordination, celebrating Sunday Mass in the chapel of the Irish Sisters of Charity (now the Religious Sisters of Charity) in Stanhope Street, Dublin, where I had made my First Holy Communion on 20 May 1950. The beautiful chapel is no longer there.

I remember clearly that my mother was at the Mass and that I preached about the Resurrection, probably quite eloquently and certainly with conviction.

However, it was only when my mother died suddenly less that two years later that I got any real grasp of what the Resurrection is. Within hours of receiving the news at breakfast time in New York, where I was studying, I felt its truth in my very being.

I preached again about the Resurrection in the presence of my mother’s remains at her funeral Mass, again with conviction and maybe with some eloquence as before. But my conviction, my faith in the Resurrection, was now rooted in my heart, not just in my head.

After the Mass my father, a man of deep quiet faith who went to Mass every day of his life right up to the day of his own sudden death in 1987, told me that he had felt utterly desolate going into the church but now felt at peace. A cousin’s husband thanked me for speaking about what really matters. Nearly 40 years later a fellow Columban, who had been present while a seminarian, told me that he still preaches in his funeral homilies in Japan whatever I had said at my mother’s funeral Mass. I really have no idea what I said but I remember vividly the change in my understanding of the Resurrection during those days.

Anniversary of 1994 genocide in Rwanda

But the hope that the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is not only for us as individuals. It can bring hope and reconciliation to a whole nation. In 1994 in Rwanda, an overwhelmingly Christian nation, more than half of its then between seven and eight million people Catholics, between 500,000 and 1,000,000, mostly members of the minority Tutsi people, were slaughtered between 7 April and the middle of July.

In the video above a man who lived through it, probably as a child, says outside a church in Kigali, the country’s capital, Today’s Mass was about Resurrection. And I believe that one day the souls of the people we lost will resurrect. Sister Mujawayezu Marie Anastasie, a survivor of the genocide,  says, I think now that things are like before, even better than before. People are good to each other, talking. People trust each other. For what I see it seems OK but I do not know what’s inside a person’s heart.

Sister Mujawayezu’s words express some uncertainty but trust and hope win out. This is a fruit of the Resurrection, that God’s love has conquered evil and death. And the Rwandan Genocide was the result mainly of neighbour killing neighbour. There have been reports and photos in the media in recent years of individuals who had killed other individuals not only asking forgiveness of someone they had widowed but working with that widow to enable her to have a livelihood.

It is acts such as these that remind us of the truth of the Resurrection, of the presence of the Risen Lord among us, still carrying the scars of his Crucifixion, as the people of Rwanda who have asked for forgiveness or who have forgiven their former enemies still carry the scars of 1994.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon [Wikipedia]

The civil war in Rwanda was short and brutal. That in Lebanon lasted from 1975 to 1990 with an estimated 120,000 deaths and about a million leaving the country. Today it is affected by the ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria.

The people of Lebanon are Arabs, nearly 40 percent of them Christian. Most of those are Maronite Catholics who have always been in full communion with Rome. The vast majority of Christians in the Middle East are Arabs, in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria. They are descended from the very earliest Christians. Islam originated nearly six centuries after the death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Like the people of Rwanda, the people of Lebanon carry the scars of their civil war. But the Christians there also carry the living grace of the Resurrection of Jesus. I have used the video below a number of times before but I know of no more joyful proclamation of the Resurrection than Jesus is Risen, sung here in Arabic in a shopping mall in Beirut three years ago at Eastertime.

No translation is necessary, though you can switch on the English captions. You can see the look of surprise on the face of a Filipina taking caring of a child and the look of delight on the face of a young Muslim woman.

The truth and joy of the Resurrection being proclaimed in Arabic by professional singers in a mall in Beirut, Lebanon

Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia!

He is risen as he said, Alleluia!

Happy Easter!

‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’ Sunday Reflections, Palm Sunday, Year A

Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, Melozzo da Forli [Web Gallery of Art]

The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem

Gospel Matthew 21:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
        and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The following Hymn to Christ the King may be sung during the procession.

Chorus:

Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit,

     rex Christe redemptor,

cui puerile decus prompsit

     Hosanna pium.

Glory and honour and praise be to you,

     Christ, Kind and Redeemer,

to whom young children cried out

     loving Hosannas with joy.

 Readings during Mass

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

The response for today’s Responsorial Psalm is My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? (‘forsaken me’ in the Jerusalem Bible Lectionary), the last words of Jesus according to St Matthew, whose version of the Passion is read today. The readings carry that theme, explicitly or implicitly. The Prophet Isaiah says, I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The church applies these words to the sufferings of Jesus. Yet there isn’t total abandonment: The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Psalm 21 (22) is fulfilled in the Passion and Death of Jesus. St Paul in the reading from his Letter to the Philippians speaks of the self-emptying of Jesus who:  though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

The Agony in the Garden, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

An tAthair Pádraig Ó Crolaigh (Fr Patrick Crilly) of the Diocese of Derry, Ireland, reflects on this in his poem in Irish, An Crióst Tréigthe (The Abandoned Christ). I have added my own English translation.

An raibh sé ina aonar ar feadh a shaoil,

Was he alone throughout his life,

An Críost seo scartha ón Trionóid naofa?

This Christ separated from the holy Trinity?

Ar chrothnaigh sé an dá phearsa eile,

Did he notice the absence of the two other persons,

Nó an raibh sé in aineolas orthu?

Or was he unaware of them?

 

Agus i ndiaidh fhás na spioradáltachta ann,

And after the growth of spirituality in him,

I ndiaidh greim a fháil ar a cheangal le Dia,

After he grasped his connection with God,

Ar fágadh in aonar arís é ar an chrois

Was he left alone again on the cross

Gan a fhios aige cén fáth ar tréigeadh é?

Not knowing why he had been abandoned?

 

Nuair a fhuair sé bás ar an chrois,

When he died on the cross

Ar ócáid cheiliúrtha é filleadh abhaile?

Was going home an occasion of celebration?

Nó ar bhraith sé tréigean a dhaonnachta

Or did he feel the abandonment of his humanity

I gcumha a shaoil abhus mar dhuine?

In the loneliness of his life here as a human being?

 

Ag leanúint Chríost dúinn i mbeocht an tsaoil

In following Christ in the living of life

An mbuailfimid lena thréigean siúd?

Will we encounter his abandonment?

An féidir linn a bheith Críostaí

Can we be Christian

Gan casadh sa saol leis an Chríost tréigthe?

Without coming across the abandoned Christ in life?

Ag leanúint Chríost dúinn i mbeocht an tsaoil

In following Christ in the living of life

An mbuailfimid lena thréigean siúd?

Will we encounter his abandonment?

An féidir linn a bheith Críostaí

Can we be Christian

Gan casadh sa saol leis an Chríost tréigthe?

Without coming across the abandoned Christ in life?

 

Poem taken from Brúitíní Creidimhpublished by Foilseacháin Ábhar Spioradálta, Dublin, 2005The title could be translated as ‘Mashed Potatoes of Faith’. Potatoes are the main staple in Ireland.

Father Ó Crolaigh, I think, is teasing out some of the meaning of St Paul’s words in today’s Second Reading: Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus wasn’t acting or engaging in any kind of ‘drama-drama’, as we say in the Philippines. He truly suffered a sense of being forsaken, of being abandoned, in the very depths of his being. He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. We see that in the Garden of Gethsemane when the three Apostles closest to him fell asleep during his hour of greatest need. His cry from the Cross, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? comes from the innermost recesses of his heart, from a sense of even his Father having abandoned him.

One of the forms of feeling abandoned that I have come across in recent years in persons I have met and in my reading is a sense of disillusionment with the Church. In some predominantly English-speaking countries Church leadership has lost much of its moral authority because of the way it has been seen to have dealt – or not to have dealt – with the awful reality of some priests having abused children and adolescents.

Many older persons in Western countries are bewildered by the reality of the younger generations having abandoned the Church to a large degree, not a few having abandoned Christianity itself. Maybe some have abandoned the faith because they see the Church, and by extension Christ himself, as having abandoned them. That should be a fearful thought for those who see themselves as followers of Jesus with the responsibility of making him known to the world.

In more and more families spouses are abandoned by their husband or wife, children by their parents. Though it’s not as great a phenomenon now as it was in the 1970s and 1980s, friends have expressed to me their sense of having been abandoned by their priests who left. I know from friends who have left the priesthood that their decision to do so was often very painful and not taken lightly but I have rarely heard one who has made that decision express any awareness of the pain it has left in others.

Pope Francis has spoken a number of times about the ‘throwaway culture’ that has resulted in the killing of humans considered ‘unnecessary’ and in the slavery of others, as he did in January 2014 when speaking to diplomats assigned to the Vatican (above).

Jesus in his experience of being abandoned, forsaken, has carried the pain of all who go through that to whatever degree and from whatever cause.

+++

THE DONKEY
by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

When fishes flew and forests walked 
And figs grew upon thorn, 
Some moment when the moon was blood 
Then surely I was born; 

With monstrous head and sickening cry 
And ears like errant wings, 
The devil’s walking parody 
On all four-footed things. 

The tattered outlaw of the earth, 
Of ancient crooked will; 
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, 
I keep my secret still. 

Fools! For I also had my hour; 
One far fierce hour and sweet: 
There was a shout about my ears, 
And palms before my feet.

‘Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ Sunday Reflections, Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A

The Raising of Lazarus, Rembrandt [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)

For the shorter form of the Gospel omit the passages [in square brackets].

Gospel John 11:1-44 [11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45] (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

[Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”] But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”  [The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”  Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”]

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. [Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.] When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

[When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When] Jesus [saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he] was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.


From The Gospel of John 

I think it was back in the 1980s when I was at home in Ireland on a visit that I heard a young diocesan priest being interviewed on national radio about his work as a prison chaplain. He spoke about an occasion when he spent an hour in a cell with one prisoner who was there for stealing on a large scale. The priest got no response whatever – until he was about to leave. He then looked at the young man, put his arms around him and said, ‘I love you’, adding the man’s name.

The prisoner broke down and began to open up to the priest. Over a period of time they became friends. After he was released the young man set up a successful security agency, no doubt drawing on his ‘professional skills’.

In Worldwide Marriage Encounter we say ‘Love is a decision’. At times it may be accompanied by warm feelings, at other times the very opposite. It is easy for a young man and a young woman who find each other attractive to feel ‘love’. This may lead to ‘until death do us part’, a very solemn decision to love one another.

In his general audience on Wednesday, 2 April 2014, Pope Francis reminded married couples of this, gently, humorously and clearly. The secret is that love is stronger than an argument. And therefore I always advise married couples, ‘Don’t end your day without making peace.

Here the Pope was saying ‘Love is a decision’. He added humorously: It’s not necessary to call the United Nations and have them come to your house to broker the peace. A little gesture will do, a caress, a ‘Goodnight, see you tomorrow’. And tomorrow you start over. This is life, carry on! Go forward with the courage to want to live together. This is great, it’s beautiful. What Pope Francis is saying here is that love is a decision, a major decision made on one’s wedding day that demands many daily ‘minor’ decisions. The same applies to anyone called to a commitment.

The young priest visiting the prisoner in Ireland wasn’t experiencing any feelings of love for the prisoner and the latter probably felt deep anger towards him, maybe even hatred. But the priest made a decision to love that man, no matter how difficult it was, no matter what he was feeling at the time.

The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt), Van Gogh

[Web Gallery of Art]

In the gospel we find Jesus making a number of decisions, all expressions of love:

  • He decided not to go immediately to visit the gravely ill Lazarus when he got news of this: Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
  • He then decided to go back to Judea despite the fears of his disciples that harm would come to him.
  • He accepted the reproaches of both Martha and Mary: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. He made no attempt to ‘explain’ why he hadn’t come.
  • He told the people: Take away the stone.

The purpose of Jesus in all these decisions was to lead the disciples and Martha and Mary into a deeper faith:

  • To the disciples and later to Martha: Lazarus is dead.  For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.
  • To the Father: Father, I thank you for having heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me

It is clear from the gospels that Jesus had a special, though not exclusive, affection for Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Maybe he felt free to drop into their home at any time and not be ‘on duty’. (As an aside, in more than 40 years in the Philippines I have rarely seen a bishop invited to any kind of occasion except to ‘do something’, to be ‘on duty’.) The friendship Jesus had with the three gave them the freedom to be open with him and to be true to themselves.  Luke 10:38-42 shows us Martha scolding Mary in front of Jesus in a way that happens with someone considered part of the family. The Lord, if you had been here . . . of both Martha and Mary can be read as a reproach mingled with hope to someone deeply trusted. 

Jesus invites each of us into that kind of warm, trusting relationship that is expressed in the story about St Teresa of AvilaOnce, when she was travelling to one of her convents, St Teresa of Ávila was knocked off her donkey and fell into the mud, injuring her leg. ‘Lord’, she said, ‘you couldn’t have picked a worse time for this to happen. Why would you let this happen?’ And the response in prayer that she heard was, ‘That is how I treat my friends’. Teresa answered, ‘And that is why you have so few of them!’

But above all in the raising of Lazarus, which points towards the death and Resurrection of Jesus himself, we see the resurrection and the life who was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved confronting death and conquering it. The death he was conquering wasn’t only physical death but the sickness and death brought about by sin. Jesus calls us to faith and hope in him and to make decisions to love based on that faith and hope.

It was such faith that gave that young priest in the prison cell the courage to express his love, rooted in the love of Jesus for both, for the prisoner in deed and then in word. And it was that expression of love, in deed and in word, rooted in the love of the resurrection and the life for both, that enabled the man to walk out of the prison cell he had created for himself in his own heart.

The decision of the priest to stay with the prisoner despite the lack of response and the eventual decision of the prisoner to believe in God’s love for him were both examples of love being a decision, decisions based on trust in God’s love for them, the kind of trust that Martha and Mary had in Jesus.

Antiphona ad Introitum Cf Ps 42 (43) 1-2
 
Iudica me, Deus
et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta,
ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me,
qui tu es Deus meus et fortitudo mea.
 
Entrance Antiphon  Cf Ps 42 (43) 1-2
Give me justice, O God,
and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless.
From the deceitful and cunning rescue me,
for you, O God, are my strength.

Columban Sister Kathleen Melia: ‘Just one more on someone’s hit list’

Sr Kathleen Melia SSC [Sunday Examiner]

Columban Sister Kathleen Melia SSC, from County Leitrim, Ireland, was attacked outside her home in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines, on the evening of Ash Wednesday. She is now recovering in Manila. Below is an article from the 19 March 2017 issue of Sunday Examiner, the English-language weekly of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong. It is slightly edited and used with permission.

OZAMIZ CITY (SE): ‘The wound in the people’s minds is deeper and more painful than the wounds in the body of Sister Kathleen Melia,’ Columban Father Sean Martin from Ozamiz City in the Philippines told the Sunday Examiner after the 70-year-old Columban Sister was bashed in her home on 1 March, Ash Wednesday.

Sister Kathleen has worked among the Subanen people in the hills of Zamboanga for over 30 years and the unexplained attack is being described by the people as one more step in the chain of evil that is maligning their lives.

Sister Kathleen returned home to Midsalip on the afternoon of 1 March. Around 9.30pm she went out to close windows when she was attacked.

A hand was clamped over her mouth and the other hand began choking her, but she was able to get at her attacker’s face and, in protecting himself, he took his hand off her mouth—she screamed. He then thumped her on the chest and she fell the 30 centimetres from the raised pathway, hurting her leg and losing consciousness. He then ran off.

Sister Kathleen lives in a compound of three houses, the other two are community homes for the Subanen people to gather and speak in their own language without being mocked, derided or laughed at by others. After 30 odd years she speaks their language well and the people came to help her, then the police arrived. As people wondered whether the attacker intended to kill or frighten her, the police sent security with her to a hospital in Ozamiz City.

Midsalip

Sister Kathleen needed a blood transfusion, but the search for a donor was arduous and time consuming, with a seminarian eventually having to travel the five hours from Cagayan de Oro to match her B negative blood type. (Fewer than one percent of Filipinos have RH negative blood).

Then a boat trip to Manila, as flying was problematic. The morning boat had not arrived by nightfall, but there was faith it would come eventually.

Fr Sean Martin

Father Martin, who spent many years in Midsalip, says that this is just one act of violence among many in the volatile area of the nation, where the politics of the gun reign, the rich plunder and grow richer and the poor are squeezed out of even the little they have. But this is how politics and industry operate in Mindanao and deaths related to conflict of interest among various groups does not come as a surprise.

Father Martin related that in the previous week, Rosing Arnosa, who ran in the election last May against the incumbent mayor, Leonida Angcap, was shot five times in front of his house in Midsalip around nightfall. Although badly wounded he did not lose consciousness and recognised the gunman, who is now the murderer, as Arnosa later died of his wounds in a hospital in Pagadian City around 1.00am. He believed that the barangay captain, Eduardo Selim, from Matalang, was angry because his son was arrested and charged with being a goon (violent enforcer) for Angcap. Bail was set at Php120,000 (US$2,400, €2,200).

Picketing area in Midsalip

In the small town of Midsalip alone nine people were killed in the run up to the elections in May last year. Four were goons, thugs or hitmen of another mayor and five worked for Conrado Lumacad, who also ran against Angcap.

Father Martin adds that although the mayor has two charges of plunder against her, it does not seem to concern her, even though President Rodrigo Duterte has used some rhetoric about the crime. He seems more intent on killing the poor and did not complain when the congress removed the charge of plunder from the ‘Kill Bill’ that was passed in the lower house on 7 March.

‘But in these remote areas, killing witnesses and scaring opponents is the usual way for powerful people to keep control,’ Father Martin explained. He also remembered that Angcap’s son killed five road workers while driving under the influence in the early hours of the morning in 2013, but it was hushed up and did not even make it to the newspapers. He still holds his job with the municipality.

‘Plunder, manslaughter with impunity is the name of the game in the world of the mayor and it just increases the brazenness,’ Father Martin reflected.

It is all a warning to Sister Kathleen not to stand in the way of mining and logging companies that come to rape the countryside, mostly illegally. She is just one more person on someone’s hit list.

Columban Father Vincent Busch, of Subanen Crafts and seen at the beginning of the video above, recently sent an update on Sister Kathleen’s situation. Here is the last part of his report.

On 14 March Sister Kathleen’s operation began at 11am as scheduled. The surgical team was led by Osteopathologist Doctor Vicente Gomez. For two hours Dr Gomez tried to take out the old pin that was inserted in her leg during a previous surgery years ago. That pin is now obsolete and the instruments used to extract it were no longer readily available. The doctor knew that the previous pin was old so he asked the manufacturer of the pin for the proper instruments to remove it.  Even with the proper tools the doctor couldn’t remove the old pin.  

He tried alternative instruments but these instruments also did not work.   What he had planned to do was take out the old pin and replace it with a new and longer one. In the end, he inserted the new pin next to the old one.  The old pin had adhered to the bone.   Ordinarily it would have taken only 1 1/2 hours to fix the fracture; instead the surgical procedures lasted from 11am to 6pm.  Sister Kathleen will not be able to put weight on her repaired leg for three months.  She will need to use a walker until the leg and bone have healed and strengthened.

Through all these past three weeks Sister Kathleen has been aware of her situation. She was and remains calmly involved in her recovery.  While in

Ozamiz she had many Subanen visitors who have known and worked with her for decades, as well as visitors she knows from Ozamiz.  I visited her every day and on Sunday 5 March 5 celebrated Mass with her in the hospital, with the Columban Sisters of the Ozamiz City community present.

On the morning of 15 March Sister Kathleen had her first therapy session in which she managed to sit on the side of her hospital bed. 

This chronology presents the events following the attack on Sister Kathleen.  It reveals her calm resolve in facing her ordeal, and it brings to light the efforts of the Subanen Ministry and of Columbans, especially the Columban Sisters, to tend to Kathleen’s needs.

Sister Kathleen with friends in Midsalip

Misyon, now MISYONonline.com, the magazine of the Columbans in the Philippines of which I have been editor since October 2002, published an article by Sr Kathleen Melia in the May-June 1998 issue, Mining: Threat to our Tribes.

In an article by Mary Joy Rile, editorial assistant of MISYONonline.com, in the November-December 2011 issue, Hope for Midsalip, Sister Kathleen is quoted: If a Subanen cuts down one tree, he is charged for breaking the law. But what about the loggers who move freely? The Subanens have been oppressed in their own land. When mining is permitted, the companies will claim the land, the water, the trees and the rest. There is no justice here in Midsalip.

Rice land, Midsalip

God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:29-31).

Proposed drilling site, Midsalip