‘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.

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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.

‘One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ Sunday Reflections. Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A

Blind Pensioner with a Stick, Van Gogh [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 9:1-41 [9: 1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38] (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. [And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”] As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Silo′am” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.” He said, “I am the man.” [They said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Silo′am and wash’; so I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”]

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” There was a division among them. So they again said to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

[The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age, ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”] They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshiped him. [Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.]

From The Gospel of John

In his homily on the Solemnity of the Annunciation in 2014 Pope Francis said, Salvation cannot be bought and sold; it is given as a gift, it is free . . . We cannot save ourselves, salvation is a totally free gift.  The Pope continued: Since it cannot be bought, in order for this salvation to enter into us we need a humble heart, a docile heart, an obedient heart like Mary’s. Moreover, the model on this journey of salvation is God himself, his Son, who did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, and was obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

All of the people in this Sunday’s gospel had been given the gift of faith but only the man who received the gift of sight from Jesus professed his faith openly, his faith in Jesus: Lord, I believe. Not only that, he began to share the gift of his faith with others, most especially the Pharisees who were trying to intimidate him. They proclaimed themselves as disciples of Moses. As such, they should have been prepared for the coming of the Messiah who was now among them.

But they had developed a sense of ‘proprietorship’ of their faith, a righteous complacency that blinded them to the extent that they dismissed a man who was born blind as a sinner with nothing from which they could learn. The man born blind, on the other hand, has an acute sense of being gifted, by the gift of sight and by the gift of faith. He is an embodiment of the thrust of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel.

Our Christian faith is a gift that can be lost by an individual and by a whole community. The Church flourished in North Africa and in the Middle East before Islam came into being but the vast majority lost the gift of our faith. In our own lifetime the faith has been rapidly disappearing from places such as Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Quebec. Fifty years ago these places were sending missionaries to every part of the world and their seminaries were full. Now most of the seminaries have been closed down. Just over 100 years ago CICM brothers and priests (Scheut Missionaries, Missionhurst) and ICM Sisters came to the mountains of northern Luzon from a part of Europe that is as flat as a billiard table, most of Belgium and the Netherlands. In February 2014 Belgium made it legal for sick children to be killed, to be put down like sick animals. There was little international reaction to this, though there was to the putting down of a healthy giraffe in a zoo in Denmark a few days earlier.

There still are people in these places and others like them who are living the Christian life faithfully, often heroically. Martyrs such as Fr Ragheed Ganni of Iraq and politician Shahbaz Bhatti of Pakistan are outstanding examples. Another is the late Professor Jérôme Lejeun, doctor and researcher, who in 1959 discovered the cause of Down syndrome (trisomy 21). 

Servant of God Jérôme Lejeune

In so many places in the gospel we find Jesus going out to those considered unimportant such as the blind man in today’s gospel. Pope Francis met with thousands of persons who are blind or profoundly deaf on Saturday 29 March 2014, the first ever such gathering in the Vatican. And there were probably some present who were both deaf and blind.

John Milton, who went blind as an adult, in his poem On His Blindness (below) shows an acceptance of what he calls his mild yoke and a sense of our sight and everything else being gifts from God.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium No 264 gives us some pointers:

We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence . . . How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence!

The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart.

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 words of Pope Francis suggest a basic attitude of gratitude to God such as we see in the man who tells everyone, One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. 

Somewhat different from the Pharisees’ Surely we are not blind, are we?

Which statement/question reflects my stance before God?

On His Blindness by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide

Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide,

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’er land and ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

This video, posted by the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, is, I think, an eye-opener.

‘To ask for a drink is no big request but to ask it of me?’ Sunday Reflections, Third Sunday of Lent, Year A

Christ and the Samaritan Woman, Duccio di Buoninsegna 

[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 4:5-42 [5:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42] (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus came to a city of Samar′ia, called Sy′char, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

There came a woman of Samar′ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar′ia?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

[Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”  The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”  The woman said to him,] “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

[Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him.

Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”]

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him [because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”] So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

The video is taken from The Gospel of John directed by Philip Saville.

I remember reading a story about Pope John Paul I when he was still known as Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice. One of his priests in a rural parish was known more for being absent from his parish than for being present. Cardinal Luciani went to visit the parish – and the priest was away. So the Cardinal covered for him until the priest returned some days later. The wayward parish priest got the shock of his life when his archbishop asked him to hear his confession.

Cardinal Luciani, who later became known as ‘The Smiling Pope’ and was with us for only 33 days in 1978 as Bishop of Rome, didn’t scold the priest. He simply asked him to do for him what only a priest can do – forgive sins in God’s name in the sacrament of confession.

Pope John Paul I, 26 August 1978

In the gospel Jesus asks the woman at the well directly, Give me a drink. As she was to point out to Jesus he didn’t have the wherewithal to draw water himself from the well. She did.

About twenty-five years ago I was at a sports-fest for children and young people with mental disabilities in the campus of a Catholic high school here in the Philippines. As I was leaving I saw a group of teenage boys, who hadn’t been involved in the sports activity, lounging in the lobby. Behind my back they called Hey, Joe! a greeting that goes back to the last days of World War II when American soldiers, ‘GI Joes’, helped Filipinos to defeat the Japanese. The greeting lingered on for many years and you still hear it occasionally. Often it is well meant but sometimes there’s a barb, or at least a lack of respect.

When I heard the Hey, Joe I got mad. Then I saw that my car, an old VW, had a flat tire. I immediately turned to the boys with whom I was mad and asked, Can you help me change the tire? Immediately they came to my aid and I didn’t have to do anything. (Someone once asked me when I told this story if the boys had had anything to do with the flat tire. They hadn’t. It was just one of those things.) When I was leaving we were all smiling at each other and I was full of gratitude.

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial 
Many ‘GI Joes’ are buried here [Wikipedia]
 

In the gospel Jesus gently leads the woman to acknowledge her sinful life, but not by humiliating her. He draws her into an expression of faith, a recognition that he might be the Messiah. Not only that, he leads her to being a missionary. She goes into town to tell others about Jesus.

In a commentary I once read the writer pointed out that the gospel doesn’t tell us if the woman actually gave Jesus the drink he had asked for! But his physical thirst, which was real, was secondary to his thirst for the welfare of the woman and the people of Sychar. Jesus wasn’t the only one to break the taboo of Jews and Samaritans not speaking to one another. So did the people who asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Presumably the disciples were included in the invitation. All were drawn into something higher than ancient divisions by the presence of Jesus. All were drawn into a relationship with Jesus and in that to a new way of relating to one another.

The teenage boys who said Hey, Joe behind my back were being teenage boys. While perhaps there was some lack of respect there was no real malice and it was more of adolescent bravado. But once I let them know my need they didn’t see me anymore as some anonymous foreigner but as a person they could help. A personal relationship, even if fleeting, had been established, one that called on their generosity. When I left we were all smiling at one another and my heart was filled with gratitude.

Cardinal Luciani might well have berated the parish priest for having neglected his parishioners. Instead, he called him to be a priest in the deepest sense, hearing in his archbishop’s request for confession the voice of Jesus asking the Samaritan woman, Give me a drink.

Pope John Paul I 
(17 October 1912 – 28 September 1978) [Wikipedia]

A Woman of No Distinction

by Chris Kinsley & Drew Francis [2007]

I am a woman of no distinction
of little importance.
I am a women of no reputation
save that which is bad.

You whisper as I pass by and cast judgmental glances,
Though you don’t really take the time to look at me,
Or even get to know me.

For to be known is to be loved,
And to be loved is to be known.
Otherwise what’s the point in doing
either one of them in the first place?

I WANT TO BE KNOWN.

I want someone to look at my face
And not just see two eyes, a nose,
a mouth and two ears;
But to see all that I am, and could be
all my hopes, loves and fears.

But that’s too much to hope for,
to wish for,
or pray for
So I don’t, not anymore.

Now I keep to myself
And by that I mean the pain
that keeps me in my own private jail
The pain that’s brought me here
at midday to this well.

To ask for a drink is no big request
but to ask it of me?
A woman unclean, ashamed,
Used and abused
An outcast, a failure
a disappointment, a sinner.

No drink passing from these hands
to your lips could ever be refreshing
Only condemning, as I’m sure you condemn me now
But you don’t.

You’re a man of no distinction;
Though of the utmost importance.
A man with little reputation, at least so far.

You whisper and tell me to my face
what all those glances have been about, and
You take the time to really look at me.
But don’t need to get to know me.

For to be known is to be loved and
To be loved is to be known.

And you know me.
You actually know me;
all of me and everything about me.
Every thought inside and hair on top of my head;
Every hurt stored up, every hope, every dread.

My past and my future, all I am and could be.
You tell me everything,
you tell me about me!

And that which is spoken by another
would bring hate and condemnation.
Coming from you brings love, grace,
mercy, hope and salvation.

I’ve heard of one to come
who could save a wretch like me
And here in my presence, you say
I AM He.

To be known is to be loved;
And to be loved is to be known.

And I just met you.
But I love you.
I don’t know you,
but I want to get to.

Let me run back to town
this is way to much for just me.
There are others: brothers,
sisters, lovers, haters.

The good and the bad, sinners and saints
who should hear what you’ve told me;
who should see what you’ve shown me;
who should taste what you gave me;
who should feel how you forgave me.

For to be known is to be loved;
And to be loved is to be known.
And they all need this, too.
We all do
Need it for our own.

 

‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ Second Sunday of Lent, Year A

Transfiguration, Fra Angelico [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 17:1-9 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

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.”

The Upper Basilica, Lourdes [Wikipedia]

Like Peter, James and John, I caught a glimpse of something of the Purity of God on a hill. Tradition tells us that Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor, Israel. My ‘Mount Tabor’ was a hotel at the top of a hill in Lourdes, France.

During Holy Week 2001 I took part in the international pilgrimage of Faith and Light to Lourdes which takes place every ten years. Faith and Light was born of a desire to help people with an intellectual disability and their families find their place within the Church and society. This was the main purpose of the organized pilgrimage to Lourdes at Easter of 1971. The founders of the movement were Jean Vanier and Marie-Hélène Mathieu. 

Jean Vanier is also the founder of L’Arche. In the video below he speaks about the beginnings of that, not as a project or movement but as a covenant with two individuals with learning disabilities and their own dreams, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux.

Jean Vanier speaks about the early days of L’Arche and finding God in others
 
I was based in Britain at the time and traveled with a group from the north of England. However, before I left the Philippines for Britain in 2000 I had been invited to be chaplain to the small contingent from the Philippines, as I had been on the fringes of Faith and Light in the Philippines between 1992 and 2000. The Filipinos were staying in a hotel at a distance from the shrine and at the top of a hill. There was also a group of Faith and Light pilgrims from Hong Kong, including Fr Giosue Bonzi PIME, an Italian, in the same hotel. (I was with the English pilgrims in a hotel close to the shrine.)
Chinese ceramic plate, circa 1680 [Wikipedia]
 
One of those from Hong Kong was Dorothy, a girl of about eleven with Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21). Her father died suddenly when she was very young. Dorothy’s face had the delicate beauty of Chinese ceramics. But she had an extraordinary inner beauty, a purity that could have come only from God. Though I had no Cantonese and she had no English, we were able to communicate simply by looking at one another. She showed complete trust in me. She had a vulnerability that called forth the deepest respect.
Fr Giosue Bonzi PIME with Dorothy, now an adult, in Hong Kong

In Irish there’s an expression used for a person with a severe mental or learning disability, duine le Dia, ‘a person with God’. Dorothy was such for me, in a very full sense of that phrase: she was a clear expression of the beauty and of the purity of God for me.

The Opening Prayer of today’s Mass reads:
O God, who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son,
be pleased, we pray,
to nourish us inwardly by your word,
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.
Through . . .
When Peter, James and John went up Mount Tabor with Jesus they had no idea that would see the divinity of Jesus there. They had no idea they would hear God the Father say This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him! The Entrance Antiphon [below], taken from Psalm 26 [27], prays, It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me. I have no doubt that I saw the face of the Lord in that young girl with Down Syndrome from Hong Kong whom I met in Lourdes in Holy Week 2001.
Jesus may speak to us at any time, unexpectedly, as he revealed his presence to me in that hotel at the top of a hill in Lourdes. May we make the Opening Prayer our own so that, with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory.
Antiphona ad introitum  Cf. Ps 26[27]:8-9; [1]
Tibi dixit cor meum:
quæsívi vultum tuum,
vultum tuum, Dómine, requíram:
ne avértas fáciem tuam a me.
[Dóminus illuminátio mea,
et salus mea: quem timébo?
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, 
et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Tibi dixit cor meum:
quæsívi vultum tuum,
vultum tuum, Dómine, requíram:
ne avértas fáciem tuam a me.]
Entrance Antiphon
Of you my heart has spoken:
Seek his face.
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek;
hide not your face from me.
[The Lord is my light,
and my salvation. Whom should I fear?
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy spirit.
As it was, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Of you my heart has spoken:
Seek his face.
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek;

hide not your face from me.]

The text in bold is used in the Ordinary Form of the Mass and the longer text in the Extraordinary Form, though it may also be used in the Ordinary Form especially if chanted.

‘Jesus, mercy; Mary, help.’ Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year A

The Tempation of Christ, Juan de Flandes [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 4:1-11 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Matt Talbot statue, Dublin [Wikipedia]
 
I remember vividly a homily given on the First Sunday in Lent in St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, the Columban seminary in Ireland where I studied from 1961 to 1968, by the late Fr Edward McCormack, who taught us Latin. We all recognised Father Ted, as we called him, as a saintly man. It was clear from his preaching that he was experiencing something of the horror of the very idea of the Devil tempting Jesus, God who became man. It was as if the very soul of Father Ted was shuddering.

Matt Talbot was a Dubliner who had become an alcoholic by the age of 13 or 14 and spent the next fourteen years as a drunkard. He went to the extreme once of stealing a fiddle (violin) from a beggar and pawned it to get money for drink. It was his only living, Matt tells us in the video, and I think that was the worst thing I ever did in my life. Matt made many efforts later to trace the beggar but never succeeded.

Yet during his fourteen years of drinking Matt hardly ever missed Sunday Mass, though he didn’t receive Holy Communion, and always said a Hail Mary before sleeping. I think that’s what saved me in the long run, he tells us.

At the beginning of the second video Matt, masterfully played by Irish actor Seamus Forde, goes through a soul-wrenching temptation right at Communion time, something that happens the same Sunday morning at Mass in three different churches, a temptation that drives him out of each, until he falls on his knees outside one of them and prays Jesus, mercy; Mary help, a prayer that most Dubliners would have been familiar with. Perhaps Jesus had called Matt to share in the experience of his three temptations in the desert.
Matt Talbot towards the end of his life [Wikipedia]

The second video shows Matt sending a donation to the Maynooth Mission to China, as the Columbans were first known in Ireland, some time in the mid-1920s. The note he enclosed is in the Columban archives in Ireland. [A Columban priest told me recently that the original is now in Rome, with a copy in Ireland.] The amount, one pound from himself and ten shillings (half of a pound) from his sister, was considerable for poor people.

Towards the end of the video Matt speaks of the things God had asked him to do. He put these thoughts in my mind when I was praying – and I knew they came from him. Only the priest in confession knew about these special things, small things God wanted me to do. They weren’t for anybody else.

Among the special things, small things were the chains he wore on certain occasions. It was these very chains, found on his body when he died, that led to people asking questions about me . . . God must have wanted it that way . . . using me to say something to people today, now.

Lent is a gift that God gives the Church each year, a personal gift to each member of the Church, a time when he wants to put these thoughts in my mind when I am praying.

Matt Talbot was the farthest thing imaginable from the ‘celebrities’ of today during his life. In the more than 90 years since his death he has given hope to many, especially persons struggling with alcoholism and other addictions. 

Will I allow God this Lent to put whatever thoughts he wants to in my mind by giving him time in prayer? Will I allow him, as Mary did when she said Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word, to use me to say something to people today, now?

Will I fall on my knees in moments of great temptation, as Matt did during the terrible struggle he had right at Communion time three times on the one Sunday morning, perhaps reflecting the three temptations of the Lord in today’s gospel, and plead Jesus, mercy, Mary help?

They thought I was missing the good things in life. But God gave me the best part – and he never took it away.

 

St Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner St, Dublin [Wikipedia]
 
Dubliners refer to churches by their street names rather than by their patronal names. The church above, which Matt calls ‘Gardiner Street church’, is that of the Jesuits. Matt also refers a number of times to the ‘chapel’ in Seville Place, the Church of St Laurence O’Toole, once Archbishop of Dublin. This is another old Dublin usage, calling a church a ‘chapel’. The accent and idioms of Matt in the two videos are pure Dublin. 
 
When I was a child my mother, when ‘going into town’, ie into the city centre, would sometimes go through Granby Lane and we’d pray at the spot where Matt died. Everyone in Dublin then knew who Matt Talbot was. I’m not so sure about today.
 
You can discover more about this wonderful man at the Dublin Diocesan Matt Talbot website and by googling, especially on YouTube.
The Annunciation, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]
 
Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38).

‘I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.’ Sunday Reflections, 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Rest on the Flight into Egypt (detail), Caravaggio [Web Gallery of Art]

But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me,
    my Lord has forgotten me.’
Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,

    yet I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:14-15. First Reading).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 6:24-34 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said to his disciples:

 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Thursday 2 March is the sixth anniversary of the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, seen with Pope Benedict in the video above during an audience in September 2010. He was assassinated in Islamabad, Pakistan, shortly after leaving his mother’s home. Mr Bhatti, a Catholic, was the first Christian to be appointed to the Cabinet in Pakistan and was responsible for minorities. The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for his death.

Sandro Magister, one of the leading journalists covering the Vatican, wrote about the death of Shahbaz Bhatti on 14 April 2011 in A Lesson of Holiness from Remote Pakistan. [The link to this no longer works.]Magister writes:

The Bible that Shahbaz always had with him is now in Rome in the memorial for the martyrs of the past century, in the basilica of Saint Bartholomew on the Isola Tiberina.

One of the most informative and concerned articles on what his murder has meant in Pakistan and in the whole world is without a doubt the one published in La Civiltà Cattolica dated April 2, 2011.

An article that is all the more significant given that this magazine of the Rome Jesuits is printed after inspection and authorization by the Vatican secretariat of state. So it reflects the thinking of the Holy See in this regard.

In Pakistan, out of a population of 185 million inhabitants, Christians are 2 percent, one million of them Catholic. But among the Muslims as well there are minorities in danger: Shiites, Sufis, Ismaili, Ahmadis.

Clement Shahbaz Bhatti شہباز بھٹی
(9 September 1968 – 2 March 2011)

‘I do not want popularity, I do not want positions of power. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.’

The article in La Civiltà Cattolica was written by Fr Luciano Larivera SJ and includes most of The spiritual testament of Shahbaz Bhatti. I have highlighted parts of this.

‘My name is Shahbaz Bhatti. I was born into a Catholic family. My father, a retired teacher, and my mother, a housewife, raised me according to Christian values and the teachings of the Bible, which influenced my childhood. Since I was a child, I was accustomed to going to church and finding profound inspiration in the teachings, the sacrifice, and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was his love that led me to offer my service to the Church.

‘The frightening conditions into which the Christians of Pakistan had fallen disturbed me. I remember one Good Friday when I was just thirteen years old: I heard a homily on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to his love by giving love to my brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially of the poor, the needy, and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country.

‘I have been asked to put an end to my battle, but I have always refused, even at the risk of my own life. My response has always been the same. I do not want popularity, I do not want positions of power. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.

This desire is so strong in me that I consider myself privileged whenever – in my combative effort to help the needy, the poor, the persecuted Christians of Pakistan – Jesus should wish to accept the sacrifice of my life. I want to live for Christ and it is for Him that I want to die. I do not feel any fear in this country. Many times the extremists have wanted to kill me, imprison me; they have threatened me, persecuted me, and terrorized my family.

I say that, as long as I am alive, until the last breath, I will continue to serve Jesus and this poor, suffering humanity, the Christians, the needy, the poor. I believe that the Christians of the world who have reached out to the Muslims hit by the tragedy of the earthquake of 2005 have built bridges of solidarity, of love, of comprehension, and of tolerance between the two religions. If these efforts continue, I am convinced that we will succeed in winning the hearts and minds of the extremists. This will produce a change for the better: the people will not hate, will not kill in the name of religion, but will love each other, will bring harmony, will cultivate peace and comprehension in this region.

I believe that the needy, the poor, the orphans, whatever their religion, must be considered above all as human beings. I think that these persons are part of my body in Christ, that they are the persecuted and needy part of the body of Christ. If we bring this mission to its conclusion, then we will have won a place at the feet of Jesus, and I will be able to look at him without feeling shame.’

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Vermeer [Web Gallery of Art]

Can anyone fail to be moved by the testament of Shahbaz Bhatti who saw his vocation as a Christian to serve his people as a politician but whose only desire was to have a place at the feet of Jesus? This is a member of a small, often despised minority, living out his Christian vocation as a politician and who can say I want to live for Christ and it is for Him that I want to die.

The British band Ooberfuse whose lead singer, Cherrie Anderson, is the daughter of a Filipina mother, wrote the song above for the first death anniversary of the death of Shahbaz Bhatti and sang it at a prayer rally organised by Christian Pakistanis in Britain and held in Trafalgar Square, London. They incorporated part of the last televised interview in English that Shahbaz Bhatti gave in which he said I know what is the meaning of [the] Cross.

The song above was written by Eric Sindhu who knew Shahbaz Bhatti. Fr Finbar Maxwell, a Columban who served in Pakistan for many years and is now here in the Philippines told me that the song is in Urdu and is in the traditional ‘dirge’ form of singing.  The lyrics refer to  Christian faith of Shahbaz, to his blood spilled, and to the ‘book’ of his life. Father Finbar echoed my own comment when he wrote: The tone, sentiment and beauty of the song indeed transcend the need for translation.

Fr Tomás King and Gerard Bhatti
 
Fr Tomás King, an Irish Columban priest in Pakistan, met Gerard Bhatti, a brother of Shahbaz and wrote Shahbaz Bhatti: ‘I know what is the meaning of Cross.’ 
After the death of Shahbaz the Pakistani government offered his position in the Cabinet to the family who decided that Paul, another brother, should take it. He is a medical doctor who worked for some years in Italy. He too has been receiving death threats.
No one can serve two masters, Jesus tells us in this Sunday’s gospel. Shahbaz Bhatti described his Master in detail: I believe that the needy, the poor, the orphans, whatever their religion, must be considered above all as human beings. I think that these persons are part of my body in Christ, that they are the persecuted and needy part of the body of Christ
In his Mass in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae on Monday 16 September 2013 Pope Francis asked us to Pray for politicians that they govern us well. One politician I don’t pray for but pray to regularly is this Pakistani martyr for the justice that our Catholic Christian faith demands is Clement Shahbaz Bhatti. I truly believe that he has won a place at the feet of Jesus.

‘But I say to you, Love your enemies . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The Inspiration of St Matthew, 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 Matthew 5: 38-48 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said to his disciples:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Columban Fr Rufus Halley (1944 – 28 August 2001) 

Father Rufus Halley was one year behind me in the Columban seminary in Ireland. We were close friends. He came to the Philippines in 1969, two years before I did. He spent his early years in the country in Tagalog-speaking parishes in an area of the Archdiocese of Manila south of the metropolitan area, now the Diocese of Antipolo. He was fluent in the language. He began to feel a clear call from God to leave the security of working in an area overwhelmingly Christian and mostly Catholic to a part of Mindanao where Columbans had worked for many years that is overwhelmingly Muslim, the Prelature of Marawi. There he became fluent in two more Filipino languages, Meranao, spoken by the majority of Muslims in the area, and Cebuano, spoken by most of the Christians.

Both Muslims and Christians saw Father Rufus as a man of prayer, a man of peace, a man of God. Over the years he earned the trust of some Muslim leaders despite the long history of distrust between Muslims and Christians that sometimes led to outright conflict. Because of the trust he had built up he got an extraordinary request: to mediate in a feud between two groups of Meranaos. He was a foreigner, a Christian and a Catholic priest.

Father Rufus saw this as another call from God and agreed. He also sought the advice of a Muslim elder who wasn’t involved in the conflict. Over a period of many weeks he was going back and forth between the leaders of the two factions until eventually they agreed to meed. The morning of the meeting was filled with tension but when the leaders arrived they agreed to end the feud.

A week or so later Father Rufus dropped into the house of one of the leaders of the conflict and, to his delight, saw a leader of the other faction having coffee with him, the two men engaged in a lively, friendly conversation into which they invited the Irish priest.

Father Rufus used to speak about this event as the highlight of the twenty years he spent living among Muslims, a period when tension was seldom absent from his life and where there was often danger. Though a person who had a naturally optimistic disposition – five minutes in his company would get rid of any ‘blues’ you might feel – that didn’t keep him going. His Christian hope and faith did.

Father Rufus with young friends
On the afternoon of 29 August 2001 while returning on his motorcycle from an inter-faith meeting in Balabagan, Lanao del Sur, to Malabang, maybe five or six kilometres away and where he was assigned, Father Rufus was ambushed by a group of men who happened to be Muslims and shot dead.

Both Christians and Muslims were devastated by his death.

Father Rufus came from a privileged background and could have entered any profession. But he chose to answer God’s call to be a missionary priest. Our Columban superiors sent him to the Philippines.

He later chose, in answer to God’s call and with the blessing of our superiors, to go to a very difficult mission. That choice led to twenty years of joyful service there to Catholics and Muslims, and to his death. 

Father Rufus wasn’t the enemy of anyone. Because of that and because they saw him as a man of God, two groups of Muslims who were enemies accepted him as a mediator. He wasn’t a man to greet only your brothers and sisters but one who crossed barriers and who brought people together out of a desire to do God’s will.

St Thérèse of Lisieux aged 15 [Wikipedia]

The closing words of Jesus in today’s gospel are Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. For years my understanding of becoming perfect in this sense was of a blueprint like that of an architect. If you found this blueprint and built according to its specifications then you’d have a perfect product.

But a building is inanimate. 

However, I found a very different image of perfection in Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St Thérèse of Lisieux: Perfection consists simply in doing his will, and being just what he wants us to be. This is an image of a living being, of a unique being. God’s will gradually unfolded in the life of Father Rufus, as a flower unfolds, the growth being silent and hardly noticeable most of the time.

I see in the stages of the life of Father Rufus, whose baptismal name was Michael, a testimony of the truth of the words of St Thérèse and a model of how we can follow the words of Jesus. Through his daily prayer, his daily faithfulness, his responding to God’s will at crucial moments in his life, he became what God willed him to be: a Catholic priest who as he laid in death on the side of a road in a remote area of the southern Philippines, became an even stronger bridge between Christians and Muslims, a man who in life and death showed the true face of Jesus Christ, God who became Man out of love for all of us. 

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.