‘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).

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‘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.

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Stories and Statistics of Children Behind Bars. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 17 February 2017

Stories and Statistics of Children Behind Bars
by Father Shay Cullen

Image courtesy of Preda

The Philippine congress is debating to lower the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 years of age to nine years. Those promoting the change in the law say children are criminals and are being used by drug syndicates to commit crimes because they cannot be prosecuted. This is not true. The police should go after the drug lords, not blame the children. It seems that the criminal masterminds are immune and untouched, some are police, while the children are being jailed.

The advocates of the proposed new law claim thousands of children are into criminal acts and into drug peddling and crime. It is not true, the statistics below published by Reuters recently shows the truth that very few minors are involved in crime.

The children may be jailed or shot dead as young as nine years old if the law passes as they will be considered criminal suspects. Researchers from the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) in 2016 visiting the detention centers interviewed the children and discovered that many suffered acts of abuse and even torture.

Eric is an 11-year-old street child. He looks only about six. He is malnourished and stunted like thousands of children living in poverty in the slums and on the streets of the Philippines where the wealth is in the hands of the few.

His schooling is almost zero and he has difficulty writing his name. He committed no crime but ran away from home because his stepfather beat him. He was picked up on the street by officials and was then put in a detention center and then the bad things happened to him. He was treated as a criminal and locked behind bars with other children.

They had just the empty cell, no education, no pictures just bare walls, only boredom and fear of punishment. There were no beds and he slept on a wooden bench or the floor. There was no exercise yard, they were not allowed outdoors into the sunlight. They were allowed to stretch their hands out the barred window into the sun. There were no books, comics, toys, learning materials or TV. They just had boredom and detention, cut off from the freedom they loved.

Full article on Preda website.

 

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‘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.

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‘But I say to you . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Young Jew as Christ, 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)

Gospel Matthew 5: 17-37 [20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37] (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

For the shorter reading everything in [square brackets] may be omitted.

Jesus said to his disciples:

[“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.] For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; [and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,  and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.]

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.]

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, [either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.] Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Entrance Antiphon   Antiphona ad introitum

Be my protector, O God, a mighty stronghold to save me.
Esto mihi in Deum protectorem, et in locum refugii, ut salvem me facias.
For your are my rock, my stronghold!
Quoniam firmamentum meum et refugium meum es tu,
Lead me, guide me, for the sake of your name.
et propter nomen tuum dux mihi eris, et enutries me.
 
Ps. ibid. In you, 0 Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in aeternum: 
In your justice rescue me and deliver me. 
in iustitia tua Iibera me, et eripe me
Glory be to the Father.
Gloria Patri . . .
 
Be my protector, O God, a mighty stronghold to save me.
Esto mihi in Deum protectorem, et in locum refugii, ut salvem me facias.
For your are my rock, my stronghold!
Quoniam firmamentum meum et refugium meum es tu,
Lead me, guide me, for the sake of your name.
et propter nomen tuum dux mihi eris, et enutries me.
 
The text in bold is used in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the full text in the Extraordinary Form, though it may also be used in the Ordinary Form.

The Marriage at Cana, Martin de Vos [Web Gallery of Art]

More than thirty-five years ago I spent part of a summer working in a parish near New York City. One day when I was on duty I answered the phone. The man calling gave me his name, which I wrote down. He told me he was living in an irregular situation, having been divorced from his wife. He was asking what the Church could do for him in that situation. I tried to tell him about programs that the Church had in the diocese for Catholics who were divorced and re-married civilly or living with someone else. The latter situation wasn’t nearly as common then as it is now.

I was able to find his mailing address easily and wrote him a letter letting him know that I had understood his situation and the reason for his anger and frustration. Again, I informed him of the ways the Church was trying to be with those who found themselves in situations such as his.

The following day I had another phone call from the man. He thanked me profusely for my letter, for having listened to him and for having heard what he was trying to say. He also acknowledged that he was in a situation that he himself had created.

Today’s Gospel shows us a Jesus who is somewhat different from the ‘domesticated’ meek and mild Jesus that we often imagine or create. He speaks of hard things: the consequences of breaking God’s law, the necessity of forgiving and accepting forgiveness, the fruits of anger – not the feeling, which is something spontaneous, but the decision to remain angry/to hate – and the effects of adultery. Some of the most difficult parts of the gospel may be omitted and probably will be by many priests, for various reasons.

The media at the moment are giving lots of coverage to how the Church approaches those who are living with someone not their spouse. One might be led to think that the Church is being harsh for the sake of being harsh, imposing impossible difficulties on some of its members and failing to be ‘merciful’ and ‘pastoral’.

On 11 February 2014 Fr Edward McNamara LC, who writes for the Catholic news agency Zenitreplied to a question about this very matter. He quotes from The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos 1650 and 1651. The latter says, Toward Christians who live in this situation, and who often keep the faith and desire to bring up their children in a Christian manner, priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate as baptized persons: ‘They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts for justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace.

I have close friends in such situations and in visiting parishes in Britain to do mission appeals for the Columbans I’ve met couples in irregular situations who are very much involved in their parishes, but who accept the teaching of Jesus, expressed through his Church, and live with that painful reality which they know they have created for themselves, for whatever reasons.

[I wrote this reflection three years ago but right now this very question is causing quite a bit of distress, division and confusion in the Church in the context of one part of Amoris Laetitia, the document by Pope Francis on love in the family published last year.]

Christ and the woman taken in adultery, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) we find this exchange at the end:

Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

Jesus shows the woman the greatest respect. Part of that respect is not denying that she had sinned. She knew that she had. God alone knew what had been going on in her heart. Jesus restored her dignity to her, gave her hope: Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.

Jesus has taught us very clearly what marriage is: Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ (Matthew 19:3-6)

This is a hard saying. Many utterly reject it, even the part about male and female. Others wrestle with the consequences of not accepting the teaching of Jesus when they find themselves in difficult situations.

Some think, wrongly, that the Church does not allow persons who are divorced to receive Holy Communion. That is not true. An ongoing seriously sinful situation is created when two persons, at least one of whom is married in the eyes of the Church, choose to live together whether after a civil wedding or otherwise. The same, of course, applies to any two persons not married to each other who live together in a sexually intimate relationship. That is a choice people make. But if a divorced person lives a chaste life he or she isn’t living in a sinful situation.

The First Reading makes it very clear that God gives us the freedom to choose – and that there are consequences to the choices we make:

If you choose, you can keep the commandments,

    and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.

He has placed before you fire and water;

    stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.

 Before each person are life and death,

    and whichever one chooses will be given.

For great is the wisdom of the Lord;

    he is mighty in power and sees everything;

his eyes are on those who fear him,

    and he knows every human action.

 He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,  

    he has not given anyone permission to sin.

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

The response in the responsorial psalm, which is an echo of the first reading, is Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord! (NAB). This is taken from Psalm 119 [118], as are the verses used in the responsorial psalm. this is the longest psalm, 176 verses in groups of eight in praise of God’s law as something that makes us free.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus challenges us in every aspect of our lives. He challenges us to think with a new mindset. St Paul expresses it well: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).

That means taking to heart the words that Jesus repeated a number of times in the Sermon on the Mount: You have heard that it was said . . . But I say to you . . .

God So Loved the World (from Stainer’s ’The Crucifixion’)

Words: Text compiled by William John Sparrow-Simpson

Music: God So Loved the World (from Stainer’s ‘The Crucifixion’) John Stainer

 

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,

That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish,

But have everlasting life.

For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world,

But that the world through Him might be saved.

Communion Antiphon (John 3:16)

God so loved the world 

that he gave his Only Begotten Son, 

so that all who believe in him may not perish, 

but may have eternal life.

 

 

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Prayer Intentions of Pope Francis for February 2017

Pope Francis, Palo, Leyte, Philippines
17 January 2015 [Wikipedia]
Universal Intention
Comfort for the Afflicted: That all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized, may find welcome and comfort in our communities.
This Reflection is from the website of The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) USA.
Urgent Intention
Sacredness of Life: We pray for the children who are in danger of the interruption of pregnancy, as well as for persons who are at the end of life — every life is sacred! — so that no one is left alone and that love may defend the meaning of life. 
Thanks to The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) USA.

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Suspects are not Humanity, says Justice Secretary. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 2 February 2017

Suspects are not Humanity, says Justice Secretary

by Fr Shay Cullen

Small children of nine are to be branded as criminals and to be held responsible for childhood mistakes. Stealing when they are hungry and abandoned. Fighting back when they are abused and bullied. They cry when there is no one to feed them. What are they expected to do to survive? That’s the plight of thousands of abandoned boys and girls in the Philippines today.

According to Representative Pantaleon Alvarez, the Speaker of the lower house of the Philippine Congress, the country is crime-ridden and it can be blamed on criminals who start at the age of nine. The law must be changed to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the present 15 years old to nine years old.

The reason cited is that children are used by syndicates to commit serious crimes because at 15 and younger they cannot be prosecuted. This is not true. There is no evidence to support such a statement. All research and statistics point in the opposite direction, that children are not to blame for the crimes of adults. Children below 15 cannot discern what is unlawful.

But the Congress representatives want to please President Rodrigo Duterte who believes that even children are criminals. Several members of his cabinet do not agree with the lowering of the minimum age and they oppose it. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez advised the cabinet secretaries who are against it to resign if they don’t agree with the President.

Many disagree. The secretaries heading the government agencies are there to advise, support, guide, object as necessary and suggest the right and true way of good governance. When they comment on presidential proposals, they are required to be rational, study the data and science and be guided by it. They are not dummies or robots, as the Speaker would have them to be.

Full article on the Preda website here.

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Columban Fr Thomas Parker RIP

Fr Thomas Parker

(28 March 1924 – 31 January 2017)

Thomas Parker was born in Glasson, County Westmeath, Ireland, on 28 March 1924. He was educated at Glasson National School and St Finian’s College, Mullingar. 

Glasson, County Westmeath [Wikipedia]

He entered St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan, in September 1941 and was a member of the first class of Probationers in the new building. He was ordained priest on 21 December 1947. Due to the accidental death of one of his brothers in March 1948, he was not sent immediately to the missions but was assigned for a year to pastoral work in the Cathedral Parish in Galway. He was then assigned to Korea.

Kimiidera, Wakayama City, Japan [Wikipedia]

He arrived in Korea on June 1950, but with the onset of the Korean War he and other colleagues were assigned to Japan later that year. Those were very difficult years in Japan: parish congregations were tiny and huge efforts were made to reach out to people who had little interest in Christianity. For the next 17 years Tom served in Fukuoka, in Gobo, in Hashimoto, in Montana, in Kamogawa, in Shingu and in Wakayama City where he was Area Superior.

Supper at Emmaus, Hendrick Terbrugghen [Web Gallery of Art]

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 (Luke 24: 29). 

‘Father Tom was an excellent host . . .’

In January 1977, he was assigned to the USA and to the General Mission Office in Omaha, Nebraska. Over the following twenty years he served in many of our houses including Quincy, MA, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Father Tom was an excellent host wherever he was assigned, and his friendly, open personality made him very effective on promotion work. When his health deteriorated he returned to Ireland, and entered the Dalgan Retirement Home in 2008.

Man Praying, Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Father Tom was a dedicated missionary priest. Asked in an interview what kept him going over the years he replied, ‘Well, I suppose saying one’s prayers, and all the prayers offered for us by people at home and in many other places . . . you can’t explain what kept you going . . . a miracle, really, when you look back at it now’.

Father Tom died peacefully on 31 January 2017. He is survived by one brother, Brother Colman Parker, a Marist Brother. His funeral will take place on Friday 3 February in Dalgan Park.

May he rest in peace.

Hamabe no uta 浜辺の歌  Song of the Seashore

Composed by Tamezō Narita

Text by Fr Cyril Lovett, slightly edited here.

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‘Let your light shine before others . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

A View of Toledo, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

‘A city built on a hill cannot be hidden’ (Mt 5:14).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 5:13-16 (New RevisedStandard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition) 

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’

Childhood of ChristGerrit van Honthorst [Web Gallery of Art]

‘Let your light shine before others . . .’ (Mt 5:16).

One of the darkest periods in the history of the world was 1939 to 1945 when much of the world was at war. At the heart of the darkness was Nazi Germany, where freedom had been almost entirely suppressed. But not quite. Between June 1942 and February 1943 a small group of students at the University of Munich with their philosophy professor Kurt Huber formed The White Rose, a non-violent resistance group working against Hitler and the Nazi regime. 

Sophie Scholl

(9 May 1921 – 22 February 1943) [Wikipedia]

Among the leaders were Sophie Scholl and her older brother Hans. They were executed together. Both were devout Lutherans. It is said that she was influenced by the writings of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. Others in the group, such as Willi Graf, were devout Catholics. Not all were Christians but they shared a commitment to speaking the truth, even if it cost them their young lives. Most were in their early 20s.

Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen [Wikipedia]

One German Catholic who had a great impact on the group was Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop of Münster, Germany, who died just after being made a cardinal in 1946, a giant of a man physically (6 feet 7 inches /2.01 m tall), morally and spiritually. He was known as The Lion of Münster. In a series of sermons in 1941 he denounced some of the policies of Hitler, including that of euthanasia. Hans and Sophie Scholl used one of these in a leaflet that The White Rose printed and distributed secretly.

It was while distributing leaflets – the movement produced a total of six, their only means of communication – at the University of Munich, that Hans and Sophie were caught and then executed.

The members of The White Rose are remembered and honored today and a number of films have been made about them. The video above contains footage from one of those.

You can see Franz Josef Müller, a member of The White Rose who survived, speak about the movement here[The video, by request, can’t be embedded.]

White Rose Memorial, University of Munich [Wikipedia]

I remember the late Fr Vincent San Juan SJ, a Filipino who spent most of his life as a priest in the family life apostolate, telling me that during the days of Martial Law here in the Philippines when the government was conducting a vigorous campaign of promoting contraception – doctors in government hospitals often ligated women shortly after they had given birth, with no regard for their husbands or for their feelings – he sometimes gave seminars to government workers. They had little real freedom. But they were happy and encouraged to hear what they recognized as the truth from Father San Juan. To the participants in these seminars who were bombarded daily with government propaganda the Jesuit priest speaking the truth of the Gospel in a quiet and encouraging way was the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world.

The Department of Health and the Department of Education in the Philippines were planning to distribute condoms to students in government high schools in 2017-18 –with great sensitivity. Thank God, the Secretary of the Department of Education announced on 30 January that her department would not go ahead with this. Those who showed their opposition to this were being, in this situation, the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world.

Hans and Sophie Scholl and their companions knew that their lives were in danger. But their Christian faith led them to be the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world. Through them at least some experienced the truth of the words of Isaiah 9:2 quoted in Matthew 4:16, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned

Salt is of use only when it is mixed with other things. The light of the sun doesn’t exist for itself, for us to look at it. If we did we would be blinded. It is meant to light up everything around us, as we are meant by being salt and light to bring others to taste and see the joy of knowing Jesus the Risen Lord.

Not many are called, as some of the members of The White Rose were, to be the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world by laying down their lives. But those in The White Rose got their Christian faith, their moral values from others who for them were the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world. Some of them had belonged to various Nazi movements for young people but saw through the false values being promoted and left. In other words, they had been formed in solid values by others, older persons such as parents, some teachers perhaps. others trying to live honest and upright lives as followers of Jesus, ‘missionary disciples’, as Pope Francis calls us to be in Evangelii Gaudium No 120, without even being aware that they were such.

If you google ‘Sophie Scholl’ or ‘The White Rose’ on YouTube you will find many videos about the movement. There have been two movies made about Sophie and the movement, The White Rose (with English subtitles) directed by Michael Verhoeven in 1982 and Sophie Scholl – the Final Days  (with English subtitles) directed by Marc Rothemund in 2005.

Pope Francis [Wikipedia]

On 27 October 2013 in his homily in St Peter’s Square on World Family Day Pope Francis explicitly called families to be the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world. And, characteristically, he called them to be such in a spirit of joy. He ended his homily with these words:

Dear families, you know very well that the true joy which we experience in the family is not superficial; it does not come from material objects, from the fact that everything seems to be going well . . . True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons, something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey. But the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God in the family and his love, which is welcoming, merciful, and respectful towards all. God alone knows how to create harmony from differences. But if God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, self-centredness prevails and joy fades. But the family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally. That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it is the leaven of society.

Dear families, always live in faith and simplicity, like the Holy Family of Nazareth! The joy and peace of the Lord be always with you!

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt (Mt 2:14).

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Criminals at Nine Years Old? Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 25 January 2017

by Father Shay Cullen 
[Photo from Preda website]
Andres is just one 10-year-old child and he has lived on the streets of Metro Manila most of his life, like thousands of other street children. They are abandoned, work as scavengers, market boys or girls and are vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse by adults. They are uneducated and without family or social welfare, care and protection. They are completely vulnerable to the influence of those who can give them food or money. 
 
Andres was a survivor. He worked as a scavenger collecting plastic bottles and other pieces of junk to sell in order to buy enough food for the day. But it was never enough. He only knew he had to get food and anything he did to survive was the right thing for him to do. He didn’t get enough scraps one day and he saw a cell phone on a vendor’s tray at the market and he took it. He sold it and bought food. Andres, like most children, didn’t know if this was right or wrong. The moral or legal issues were not a reality for him. He was just hungry. He was arrested by the barangay tanod (village guard) and charged with theft. Was he a criminal?  
 
There is a majority of Filipinos who say, ‘No, he is not’. The Philippine Congress on two previous occasions said he is not. There are now voices of the police and local district officials who blame children as young as nine years of age as notorious criminals and they say that children should be treated as criminals. They are trying to persuade congressional representatives to amend the law and to lower the minimum age of criminal liability of Filipino children from 15 to nine years of age. They think that a child should be allowed to go without any intervention to help him/her know right from wrong. The law directs that help and intervention be given for children in conflict with the law. This lowering of the age of criminal liability would be detrimental to children and should not be changed. 
 

Full article on Preda website here.

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