16 February 2024

Their only words were: 'Jesus, help me!' Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B


The Repentant Peter

'Repent and believe in the gospel' (Mark 1:16; Gospel).

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:12-15 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Cupola Decoration
Early Coptic Painter [Web Gallery of Art]

One of my teachers in the Columban seminary in the 1960s was a saintly priest, Fr Edward McCormack. Father Ted, as we knew him, spent most of his life as a priest teaching Scripture to Columban seminarians in Ireland and the USA. He also taught our class Latin.

I vividly remember one occasion when he celebrated our community Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. In the Traditional Latin Mass Matthew 4:1-11 was always read, and still is. That's now the Gospel for Year A in the New Mass. As he was preaching  it was clear that he had a deep, personal sense of the horror of Satan tempting Jesus, God who became Man, of Evil trying to prevail over Love, God himself. 

We have daily examples of the power of evil. One is the murder on 12 February 2015 of 2o Coptic Orthodox Christians, Egyptian men working in neighbouring Libya and one other man, Matthew Ayariga, probably from Ghana - like the countless OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) - working abroad. They were beheaded simply because they were Christians.

In a meeting four days later with a delegation from the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, Pope Francis said the following.

I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today, I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: 'Jesus, help me!' They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.

The vast majority of Christians in Egypt, about ten percent of the population, are Coptic Christians and according to tradition they trace their origins to St Mark preaching the Gospel in Alexandria in the very early days of the Church. Most are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Though they are not in communion with Rome, the Catholic Church recognises all their sacraments. A minority of Coptic Christians are in full communion with Rome as the Coptic Catholic Church. They number around 200,000.

These are the men who were martyred:

·                     Bishoy Adel Khalaf           

·                     Samuel Alhoam Wilson  

·                     Hany Abdel-Masih Salib

·                     Melad McCain Zaky         

·                     Abanoub Ayad Attia       

·                     Ezzat Bushra Nassif

·                     Yousef Shokry Younan   

·                     Kirillos Shukry Fawzy      

·                     Majid Suleiman Shehata

·                     Somali Stéphanos Kamel              

·                     Malak Ibrahim Siniot       

·                     Bishoy Stéphanos Kamel

·                     Mena Fayez Aziz              

·                     Girgis Melad Siniot          

·                     Tawadros Youssef Tawadros

·                     Essam Badr Samir             

·                     Luke Ngati           

·                     Jaber Mounir Adly

·                     Malak Faraj Abram          

·                     Sameh Salah Farouk       

·                     Matthew Ayariga.

A note in the Wikipedia entry says of Matthew Ayariga: It was later learned that this 21st victim was named Matthew Ayariga and that he was from Ghana. (A few sources say he was from Chad, but most say he was from Ghana) . . . His remains were finally transferred to Egypt and laid to rest with the other martyrs at the end of September 2020.

These men are now honoured as saints by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, to give it its full name. The remains of the 21 martyrs were laid to rest in the newly-built Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland in the village of Al-our where 13 of the martyrs were from.

The Roman Martyrology contains many lists of martyrs like the one above. In some monasteries these lists are read each day during the Office of Prime. The Roman Canon, also known as Eucharistic Prayer I, includes two such lists of martyrs of the early Church, one before the Consecration and one after.

May all Christian martyrs who shared in the temptations of Jesus Christ and in his Crucifixion obtain for us the courage to be fearless witnesses of our Lord Jesus Christ in our daily lives. (The Greek word from which the word 'martyr' derives means 'witness.) 

May the witness of the 21 men martyred in Libya on 12 February 2015 inspire us to take the words of Jesus in today's gospel to heart: Repent and believe in the gospel.

Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland
Al-our, Minya, Egypt

Traditional Latin Mass

First Sunday in Lent

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 2-18-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11. 

The Temptation of Christ
Tintoretto [Web Gallery of Art]

And the tempter came and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread' (Matthew 4:3; Gospel).

09 February 2024

'You died out of love and did not abandon us in our misery.' Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Yachounomori Garden,Tatebayashi, Gunma, Japan 

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:40-45 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Lilac Bush 
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

'The Impressionistic brushstrokes and Japanese style accentuated outline of the iris leaves . . .' (WGA notes).

Two things jumped out at me from the Gospel reading: And a leper came to Jesus, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean” and people were coming to him from every quarter. Jesus was moved with pity for the leper and, we can be sure, with pity for the crowds who came looking for him. The gospels are full of stories of Jesus healing individuals and of healing many.

This week I read an article by my Columban confrere Fr Joe Brooder who was two classes behind me in the seminary and who has worked in Japan since 1970, apart from some years in Britain in the 1990s when he visited many parishes there on behalf of the Columbans.

Father Joe's story is about Hiroko, a middle-aged parishioner of his some years ago whose husband was a Protestant. (Only 1.5% of the population is Christian.) They had one daughter who had left the family home. Father Joe wrote: Hiroko had the glorious habit of coming into Mass just as I was starting, sit down in the back pew and as I would be imparting the final blessing at the end of Mass she would dart out of the church with the speed of a swallow leaving her nest after feeding her young and disappear into city air. Hiroko usually went to Sunday Mass but sometimes would not be there for months.

One Monday morning Hiroko turned up at Mass wearing huge sunglasses, which Father Joe saw as some kind of fashion. However, she stayed after Mass and Father Joe approached her, thinking that she wanted to go to confession. However, she told him that her husband was a drunkard who often beat her up. She took of her glasses and the proof was there. Her long periods of absence from Sunday Mass were due to her recovering from ordeals like this. And the abuse of her mother by her father was the reason their adult daughter had left the home.

Father Joe asked Hiroko if she had remembered what the First Reading at the Mass that Monday was about. She did. It was about God's call to Abram to leave his country and to go to the land that He would show him. Hiroko found this comforting. She had already contacted her sister in another part of Japan who had invited her to come and stay. Father Joe, in his own words, 'ordered her' to do just that, as Abram had followed God's call. She said she would.

To Father Joe's astonishment Hiroko returned the following Friday. She told him that she had bought a ticket, packed her bags, called a taxi and put her bags in it. But before she got in she went back to the house and went to look at her husband for the last time. I went into his room, she told the priest. The stench of drink, urine and feces was overwhelming. I looked at him snoring away and turned around to leave the house for good. That was the moment I saw the crucifix on the wall. I could swear that Jesus on the cross was looking down directly on my husband and there was deep compassion and love in His gaze. I fell on my knees and cried out, ‘Oh Jesus, you suffered so much for me and for him here. You died out of love and did not abandon us in our misery. Here I am going to abandon him and seek my own comfort.'

Hiroko went back to the taxi, apologised to the driver, gave him some money and took her bags back into the house where she cleaned up her husband, changed him into fresh clothes and washed all the soiled linen. She spent the night watching over her husband. Now and again I would look up at the crucifix and I swear, Father, that the gaze that came out of the face of Jesus was no longer pity and compassion but that of a serene joy.

Next day her husband of 30 years asked her to take him to hospital. After unburdening herself Hiroko told Father Joe that she had to go back to the hospital as her husband needed her. The priest wrote: She left  me  in  a  daze.  I  was  ashamed  that  I  had  not  the courage to tell her to take up her cross and follow Jesus. I told her to dump her cross and seek her own comfort. At the same moment I knew I was blessed because I knew that I had just met a living saint and a living martyr called Hiroko. I knew I had met love in the flesh. I knew that Hiroko had left me with an example that was divine.

Not long after, Hiroko's estranged daughter, who had left home disgusted with 'Christianity', unexpectedly contacted her mother. When she heard that her father was in hospital she came with her daughter, the grandchild her father didn't know he had. Then something wonderful happened. Hiroko's husband, like the leper who approached Jesus, got down on his knees and apologized for all the pain that he had caused his wife and the brutal example he gave to his daughter. He asked for forgiveness and swore to never take a drop again, a vow he never broke. I was able to visit him in hospital and that brute of a husband became a reformed alcoholic, a reformed husband, a reformed father, a  reformed  Christian,  a  reformed  human  and  all  became a reformed family. The beast had become a lamb. The hot temper he once owned became a kind and gentle temper. He knew he was loved by God, by Jesus, by his wife and daughter. But his health never recovered. He died surrounded by love some months later and was buried out of his own Protestant Church. I am sure he got the surprise of his life when he got past St  Peter and  was  smothered  by  the  mother  he never knew he had - the Blessed Virgin Mary.

One of the verses in today's Responsorial Psalm sums this up: But now I have acknowledged my sins; I said: 'I will confess my offence to the Lord.' And you, Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin.'

As it happens, this Sunday is World Day of the Sick, observed each year on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, not observed this year as it falls on Sunday.

Father Joe's article, which touched me very deeply as an expression of the Gospel, the Good News, ends with these words: Time passed. One day Hiroko came to me and said, ‘I am leaving  this  area’.  I presumed she  was going  to  live  with  her daughter. I said ‘Have a good time in Tokyo with your newly-found daughter’. She looked at me and said gently, ‘Father, you once ordered me to leave my country and go like Abram to the land that God was showing me. Now I will obey you. This afternoon I am finally going off to live with my loving big sister far away from here. Goodbye’. I lost all contact with her. But I know where she lives. She lives in my heart still inspiring me, guiding and hopefully praying for me.


The impact of the story of Hiroko on me is that it points me towards Jesus and I want to be among the people coming to him from every quarter.

Hail Mary in Japanese

courage to tell her to take up her cross and follow Jesus. I
told her to dump her cross and seek her own comfort. At the
same moment I knew I was blessed because I knew that I
had just met a living saint and a living martyr called Hiroko. I
knew I had met love in the esh. I knew that Hiroko had le
me with an example that was divine
just as I was starng, sit down in the back pew and as I would
be imparng the nal blessing at the end of Mass she would
dart out of the church with the speed of a swallow leaving her nest aer feeding her young and disappear into city air.used to come to Sunday Mass just as it had begun and left just before it ended. There were long periods when she didn't attend. One Sunday she arrived wearing very large sunglasses, which Father Joe attributed to some fashion fad.

Traditional Latin Mass

Quinquagesima Sunday

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 2-11-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 Cor 13:1-13. Gospel: Luke 18:31-43. 

Christ Healing the Blind (1570-75)
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

Jesus  asked him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' He said, 'Lord, let me receive my sight' (Luke 18:40-41; Gospel).

02 February 2024

'Her last two years were also full of pain, yet always of love and light . . .' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B


 A Sick Woman
Jan Josef Horemans II [Web Gallery of Art]

Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her (Mark 1:30; Gospel}.

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:29-39 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

And immediately Jesus left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening at sunset they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is what I came for.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Pope Benedict with children [Source]

One of the striking features of the Gospels is the number of times Jesus healed sick people, usually an individual, such as Simon Peter's mother-in-law in in this Sunday's gospel, sometimes all who were sick or oppressed by demons in the same gospel reading. 

This week I will simply copy Pope Benedict's words on Sunday's gospel during his Angelus talk on this same Sunday in 2012. I will highlight what particularly strikes me. 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday’s Gospel presents to us Jesus who heals the sick: first Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who was in bed with a fever and Jesus, taking her by the hand, healed her and helped her to her feet; then all the sick in Capernaum, tested in body, mind and spirit, and he 'healed many… and cast out many demons' (Mk 1:34). The four Evangelists agree in testifying that this liberation from illness and infirmity of every kind was — together with preaching — Jesus’ main activity in his public ministry.

Illness is in fact a sign of the action of Evil in the world and in people, whereas healing shows that the Kingdom of God, God himself, is at hand. Jesus Christ came to defeat Evil at the root and instances of healing are an anticipation of his triumph, obtained with his death and Resurrection.

Jesus said one day: 'those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick' (Mk 2:17). On that occasion he was referring to sinners, whom he came to call and to save. It is nonetheless true that illness is a typically human condition in which we feel strongly that we are not self-sufficient but need others. In this regard we might say paradoxically that illness can be a salutary moment in which to experience the attention of others and to pay attention to others!

However illness is also always a trial that can even become long and difficult. When healing does not happen and suffering is prolonged, we can be as it were overwhelmed, isolated, and then our life is depressed and dehumanized. How should we react to this attack of Evil? With the appropriate treatment, certainly — medicine in these decades has taken giant strides and we are grateful for it — but the Word of God teaches us that there is a crucial basic attitude with which to face illness and it is that of faith in God, in his goodness. Jesus always repeats this to the people he heals: your faith has made you well (cf. Mk 5:34, 36).

Even in the face of death, faith can make possible what is humanly impossible. But faith in what? In the love of God. This is the real answer which radically defeats Evil. Just as Jesus confronted the Evil One with the power of the love that came to him from the Father, so we too can confront and live through the trial of illness, keeping our heart immersed in God’s love.

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano [Source]
(29 October 1971 - 7 October 1990) 

We all know people who were able to bear terrible suffering because God gave them profound serenity. I am thinking of the recent example of Blessed Chiara Badano, cut off in the flower of her youth by a disease from which there was no escape: all those who went to visit her received light and confidence from her! Nonetheless, in sickness we all need human warmth: to comfort a sick person what counts more than words is serene and sincere closeness.

Dear friends, next Saturday, 11 February, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, is the World Day of the Sick. Let us too do as people did in Jesus’ day: let us present to him spiritually all the sick, confident that he wants to and can heal them. And let us invoke the intercession of Our Lady, especially for the situations of greater suffering and neglect. Mary, Health of the Sick, pray for us!

[Sunday, 11 February, is this year's World Day of the Sick, which takes place each year on the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, not observed this year because Sunday takes precedence.]

Blessed Chiara [Source]

On a pastoral visit to Palermo, Italy, on 3 October 2010 Pope Benedict had this to say about Blessed Chiara [emphases added]: I do not want to start with a discussion but with a testimonial, a true and very timely life story. I believe you know that last Saturday, 25 September, a young Italian girl, called Chiara, Chiara Badano, was declared Blessed in Rome. I invite you to become acquainted with her. Her life was a short one but it is a wonderful message. Chiara was born in 1971 and died in 1990 from an incurable disease. Nineteen years full of life, love and faith. Her last two years were also full of pain, yet always of love and light, a light that shone around her, that came from within: from her heart filled with God! How was this possible? How could a 17- or 18-year-old girl live her suffering in this way, humanly without hope, spreading love, serenity, peace and faith? This was obviously a grace of God, but this grace was prepared and accompanied by human collaboration as well: the collaboration of Chiara herself, of course, but also of her parents and friends.

 You may read more about Blessed Chiara Luce Badano in The Saint Who Failed Math by Richelle Verdeprado  published in the September-October 2010 issue of MISYONonline.com, the magazine of the Columbans in the Philippines of which I used to be editor. 

The whole of Pope Benedict's address to the young people and families of Sicily is well worth reading and reflecting on. 

St Paul on Preaching

Ruins with St Paul Preaching
Giovanni Paolo Pannini [Web Gallery of Art]

St Paul begins the Second Reading with these words: For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16). 

n my 80 years I never remember such confusion in the teaching Church. We need to pray earnestly that all who are called to preach and teach the Gospel will be faithful to what the Church has handed down since the time of the Apostles, the teaching that they received from Jesus Christ. 

The Ten Commandments apply to every person. No one is exempted from any of them, though none of us lives fully up to them. But Jesus has given the Church the great gift of the Sacrament of Penance/Confession/Reconciliation to forgive us and get us up on our feet again.

The first recorded words of Jesus are in the Gospel of St Mark, the first of the Four Gospels to be written: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). 

Traditional Latin Mass

Sexagesima Sunday

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 2-04-2024 if necessary).

Epistle2 Cor 11:19-33; 12:1-9Gospel: Luke 8:4-15. 

 Shipwrecked Sailors Coming Ashore
Jean-Baptiste Pillement [Web Gallery of Art]

Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea. (2 Corinthians 11:24; Epistle).