19 May 2016

'The family is the image of God, who is a communion of persons' (Pope Francis). Sunday Reflections, Trinity Sunday, Year C

The Two Trinities, Murillo, 1675-82
National Gallery, London [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)

Jesus said to his disciples:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Responsorial Psalm
New American Bible version (Philippines, USA)

During my kinder, primary and secondary school years, 1947 to 1961, my brother and I had breakfast and dinner - a midday meal in Ireland in those days - with our mother. In the evening we had 'tea', as that lighter meal was known in some English-speaking countries. My father had his dinner and tea combined, the four of us together. I often heard my mother 'complain' about having to prepare two meals for my father in the evening. It would never have crossed her mind, or that of any other working-class housewife in urban Ireland in those days, to have dinner for the whole family in the evening.

However, we did have dinner together on Saturdays and Sunday's. My father, like other construction workers, had a half-day on Saturday. Saturday was the only day when we had soup, very often barley soup, served in cups, not in bowls.

Phoenix Park, Dublin, in the summer [Wikipedia]

Sunday dinner was special, as it was for all families, and meant extra work for my mother who would spent the whole morning after Mass and breakfast preparing it. My father would take the two of us to meet our paternal grandfather and then for a walk in the nearby Phoenix Park. 

I don't ever recall my parents telling us that we were a family. We just knew. But it was only as an adult and after ordination that I realised that it was at our evening meals on weekdays and at our midday meals on Saturdays and Sundays that I experienced, without being aware of it, what family is. And our Sunday walks with my father were what is now called 'bonding'. Another part of that was Dad taking us to soccer games from time to time in nearby Dalymount Park. 

When I went as a young priest to the USA to study I discovered that families had to really work at being families, as the family couldn't be taken for granted, as it still could be in Ireland at that time.

Pope Francis is probably familiar with Murillo's painting above, The Two Trinities. In his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, On Love in the Family he states in No 29: With a gaze of faith and love, grace and fidelity, we have contemplated the relationship between human families and the divine Trinity. The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Begetting and raising children, for its part, mirrors God’s creative work. The family is called to join in daily prayer, to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and become ever more fully a temple in which the Spirit dwells. [Emphases added.]

Pope Francis highlights this link again in No 71: Scripture and Tradition give us access to a knowledge of the Trinity, which is revealed with the features of a family. The family is the image of God, who is a communion of persons. At Christ’s baptism, the Father’s voice was heard, calling Jesus his beloved Son, and in this love we can recognize the Holy Spirit. Jesus, who reconciled all things in himself and redeemed us from sin, not only returned marriage and the family to their original form, but also raised marriage to the sacramental sign of his love for the Church. In the human family, gathered by Christ, ‘the image and likeness’ of the Most Holy Trinity has been restored, the mystery from which all true love flows. Through the Church, marriage and the family receive the grace of the Holy Spirit from Christ, in order to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s love. [Emphases added.]

Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest [Web Gallery of Art]

Almost every Catholic in Ireland went to Sunday Mass in those days and our Protestant neighbours went to church. When I was a child it was usually my father who took me to Mass on Sunday morning. And on special days such as Easter Monday, Whit (Pentecost) Monday, which were public but not Church holidays, he would take me to High Mass in one of the churches in Dublin belonging to religious orders such as the Capuchins and the Dominicans. 

Before Pope Pius XII changed the Holy Week liturgies in 1955 the ceremonies on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday were held in the morning. Not too many would attend these. but on the afternoon of Holy Thursday my mother would take my brother and me to visit seven churches for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Altar of Repose. That practice disappeared after 1954 in Dublin but is alive and well here in the Philippines in the larger cities where it is called Visita Iglesia. This was an experience, without being aware of it, of being drawn into the wider family that is the Church.

I must confess that as a child I didn't appreciate too much my father bringing me to High Masses or my mother bringing me to visit seven churches on Holy Thursday. But I could see clearly how Dad loved the solemnity of the  High Mass and how central the Mass was to his life. He went to Mass every day of his life right up to the day he died. I am grateful now for the way my parents brought me into the life of the Blessed Trinity in this way. But I am also grateful for the way they drew me into the life of the Trinity, without being aware of it, through our daily family life, especially our evening meal together.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are often referred to as the three monotheistic faiths. Those who belong to these three faiths believe in only One God.

I have often heard Catholics say in a well-meaning way, 'We all believe in the same God.' But that is not so. Only Christians believe in a God who is a communion of persons.

And Pope Francis has very forcefully reminded us that while the Most Holy Trinity is a mystery that we can never fathom, the Triune God is intimately part of our lives, especially through the sacrament of matrimony and the family: The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Family Meal, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, 1757
Villa Valmarana ai Nani, Vicenza, Italy [Web Gallery of Art]

Antiphona ad introitum    Entrance Antiphon

Benedictus sit Deus Pater, Unigenitusque Dei Filius,
Blest be God the Father, and the Only Begotten Son of God,
Sanctus quoque Spiritus,
and also the Holy Spirit, 
quia fecit nobiscum misericordiam suam.
for he has shown us his merciful love.

This is the Offertory Antiphon in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass on the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

17 May 2016

Newly-elected President of the Philippines depicts Filipinos as barbarians

Malacañang, Residence of the President of the Philippines
Pasig River, Manila [Wikipedia]

Philippines' President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has said he aims to bring back death by hanging.
Mr Duterte said he will ask his country's congress to reimpose the death penalty, which has been suspended since 2006 following opposition from the Catholic church.
The controversial presumptive president, who was making his first policy pronouncements since winning last week's election based on an unofficial count, said that capital punishment by hanging should be imposed for crimes such as murder, robbery and rape.
Mr Duterte went on to say that those convicted of more than one crime would be hanged twice.
"After the first hanging, there will be another ceremony for the second time until the head is completely severed from the body," he said in the nationally televised news conference.
The above is from a report in the Irish Examiner dated 16 May.
In other words, the President-elect whose surname, appropriately, rhymes with 'too dirty', is declaring to the world that Filipinos are barbarians. After 45 years in the country I know that such is not true, though there is considerable violence. There are currently more than 1,400 unsolved murders in Davao City, allegedly 'peaceful' after 22 years of the Duterte dictatorship there which will continue courtesy of his daughter and son, newly-elected as mayor and vice-mayor. The President-elect has acknowledged his links to the 'Davao Death Squad' which has probably carried out most of these murders, including the killings of the four sons of Clarita Alia.
The Independent (England) has this story by Samuel Osborne today: Philippines president-elect RodrigoDuterte pledges to bring back death penalty and shoot to kill powers. It adds, He said he preferred hanging to firing squads because he does not want to waste bullets. Hanging has never been used as a form of execution in the Philippines.
Tom Smith writes in The Guardian (England) 10 May: Don’t compare Trump and Duterte – the Philippines leader is far worseSmith notes: The 71-year-old has been allowed to run as an anti-establishment figurehead due to a lack of media scrutiny. This is in spite of the fact that he has been mayor of Davao (the largest city in Mindanao) for 22 years and has served as a congressman. Trump is the political outsider and while Duterte cultivates a similar image it simply isn’t true. He is a trained lawyer and he and his family are developing into a powerful political clan.

Not all in the media here in the Philippines have been uncritical of the man who will become President on 30 June.

Lindsay Murdoch in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald has this story: Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte to urge Congress to introduce public hangings. Murdoch reminds us: Only a handful of countries carry out public executions, including Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. Yes, the Philippines will be in good company.

And if 
Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina whose execution was postponed in Indonesia in April last year at the last minute will come before the firing-squad again, is the new President of the Philippines going to plead on her behalf?

Some newspapers, here in the Philippines and abroad, have used the term 'landslide' to describe the victory of the Mayor of Davao. While it is true that he is 15 percentage points ahead of the next of the five candidates, he got only 38.6 percent of the votes. (That unofficial count is almost complete and nobody has questioned its accuracy).

In other words, more than 60 percent of those who voted - 8o percent of those eligible did so - did not want this man as President of the Philippines. However, he has been lawfully elected and has a term of office of six years.

In Ireland, where I'm from, the abiding symbol of the Philippines is that of the Filipino nurse, who is found in almost every hospital in the country, a symbol of caring, of professionalism, of kindness, of healing.

The symbol of the Philippines that the President-elect is now promoting around the world is that of the Filipino as barbarian.

God help the Philippines!

12 May 2016

'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.' Sunday Reflections, Pentecost, Year C

Pentecost, El Greco, 1596-1600
Museo del Prado, Madrid [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Vigil Mass  (Years A, B and C)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) [This page gives the readings for both the Vigil Mass and the Mass during the Day]

Liturgical Note. Pentecost, like Easter and some other solemnities, has a Vigil, properly so-called. This is not an ‘anticipated Mass’ but a Vigil Mass in its own right, with its own set of prayers and readings. It fulfils our Sunday obligation. There may be an extended Liturgy of the Word,er similar to the Easter Vigil, with all the Old Testament readings used. 

The prayers and readings of the Mass During the Day should not be used for the Vigil Mass, nor those of the Vigil Mass for the Mass During the Day. 

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.”

Gospel  John 14:15-16,  23b-26 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate,  the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
John 20:19-23 (Good News Bible)

More than 20 years ago I was asked to celebrate Mass for a group of girls aged around 14  from a Catholic school in Cebu City in the central Philippines. They were having a recollection day in a retreat house. I made myself available for confession about 30 minutes before Mass. It soon became clear to me that many wanted to go to confession and after half an hour I went to the teacher and suggested we wait a while before starting Mass.

As the girls continued to come, some also sharing problems, I realized that this was their need. I spoke again to the teacher and suggested that we not have Mass that afternoon but that we arrange for one in school a few days later. She readily agreed.

These youngsters were experiencing God's infinite loving mercy and recognised that. Pope Francis has been highlighting this ever since he was elected. 

In his homily on 17 May 2013 at his Mass in St Martha's, where he lives, Pope Francis spoke again about God's mercy. In his homily he said, Peter was saddened that, for a third time, Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” This pain, this shame – a great man, this Peter – [and] a sinner, a sinner. The Lord makes him feel that he is a sinner – makes us all feel that we are sinners. The problem is not that we are sinners: the problem is not repenting of sin, not being ashamed of what we have done. That's the problem

Pope Francis added, Peter let himself be shaped by his many encounters with Jesus and this 'is something we all need to do as well, for we are on the same road,' the Holy Father said, stressing that 'Peter is great, not because he is good, but because he has a nobility of heart, which brings him to tears, leads him to this pain, this shame - and also to take up his work of shepherding the flock.' [Emphases added.]

Regular confession is an ongoing encounter with the loving Jesus in which he shapes us. Pope Francis notes that 'Peter let himself be shaped'. We make a decision each time we go to confession, a decision that's not always easy to make. But Jesus never spurns us.

On 28 April 2013 Pope Francis confirmed a group of young people from different countries. The last of three points he made in his homily was this: And here I come to my last point. It is an invitation which I make to you, young confirmandi, and to all present. Remain steadfast in the journey of faith, with firm hope in the Lord. This is the secret of our journey! He gives us the courage to swim against the tide. Pay attention, my young friends: to go against the current; this is good for the heart, but we need courage to swim against the tide. Jesus gives us this courage! There are no difficulties, trials or misunderstandings to fear, provided we remain united to God as branches to the vine, provided we do not lose our friendship with him, provided we make ever more room for him in our lives. This is especially so whenever we feel poor, weak and sinful, because God grants strength to our weakness, riches to our poverty, conversion and forgiveness to our sinfulness. The Lord is so rich in mercy: every time, if we go to him, he forgives us. Let us trust in God’s work! With him we can do great things; he will give us the joy of being his disciples, his witnesses. Commit yourselves to great ideals, to the most important things. We Christians were not chosen by the Lord for little things; push onwards toward the highest principles. Stake your lives on noble ideals, my dear young people! [Emphases added.]


Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.

Pope Francis hears young persons' confessions, 23 April 2016

Among other things, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost has given us the sacrament of confession/reconciliation/penance, that beautiful expression of God's mercy.

In his Message for the Jubilee of Mercy for Adolescents, held in Rome 23-25 April this year, Pope Francis writes: I realize that not all of you can come to Rome, but the Jubilee is truly for everyone and it is also being celebrated in your local Churches. You are all invited to this moment of joy. Don’t just prepare your rucksacks and your banners, but your hearts and your minds as well. Think carefully about the hope and desires you will hand over to Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in the Eucharist which we will celebrate together. As you walk through the Holy Door, remember that you are committing yourselves to grow in holiness and to draw nourishment from the Gospel and the Eucharist, the Word and the Bread of life, in order to help build a more just and fraternal world. [Emphases added].

One of my greatest joys as a sinner is receiving forgiveness in confession from the priest, who absolves me in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that is, with God's full authority. One of my greatest joys as a priest is to welcome a fellow sinner, whether young or old, whether someone who comes frequently to confession or is returning after many years, and to assure that sinner of God's mercy and absolving my fellow pilgrim in the name of that merciful God.

Veni Sancte Spiritus
(Sequence for Mass on Pentecost Sunday. This may be sung or said after the Second Reading.)

Veni, Sancte Spiritus,
et emitte caelitus
lucis tuae radium.

Come, Holy Spirit,
send forth the heavenly
radiance of your light.

Veni, pater pauperum,
veni, dator munerum
veni, lumen cordium.

Come, father of the poor,
come giver of gifts,
come, light of the heart

Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.

Greatest comforter,
sweet guest of the soul,
sweet consolation.

In labore requies,
in aestu temperies
in fletu solatium.

In labor, rest,
in heat, temperance,
in tears, solace.

O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.

O most blessed light,
fill the inmost heart
of your faithful.

Sine tuo numine,
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.

Without your grace,
there is nothing in us,
nothing that is not harmful.

Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.

Cleanse that which is unclean,
water that which is dry,
heal that which is wounded.

Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.

Bend that which is inflexible,
fire that which is chilled,
correct what goes astray.

a tuis fidelibus,
in te confidentibus,
sacrum septenarium.

Give to your faithful,
those who trust in you,
the sevenfold gifts.

Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,
da perenne gaudium.

Grant the reward of virtue,
grant the deliverance of salvation,
grant eternal joy.

[The English translation is one of many].

06 May 2016

'You are witnesses of these things.' Sunday Reflections, The Ascension of the Lord, Year C

The Ascension of Christ, Rembrandt, 1636
Alte Pinakothek, Munich [Web Gallery of Art]

The Solemnity of the Ascension

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Where the Ascension is observed on Ascension Thursday

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Responsorial Psalm for the Ascension
(New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

The Sunday on which the Ascension is now celebrated in many countries is also the Church's World Communications Day. The first was in 1967. Jesus tells the disciples in today's Gospel - and through them tell us - You are witnesses of these things. Jesus is asking us to use all modern means of communication so that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

When I went home to Ireland on vacation from the Philippines in 1994 before beginning six years as vocation director I took a short course for missionaries in the use of computers given by a religious sister who had worked in an African country for many years. She wasn't the best teacher I've ever had in teaching the 'mechanical' basics of her subject but she was a wonderful motivator. Although the internet was still in its infancy she told us stories of how it had helped save lives in the country where she worked.

Some years ago when checking my email in the Philippines I found myself 'chatting' with a friend, a Filipina married to a Westerner and living in her husband's country. I'll call her Maria. It was clear to me very quickly that she was going through a crisis and thinking of doing the worst to herself. At the time she 'hated' everyone except me and 'didn't believe' in God anymore.

I was able to help Maria see that the issue wasn't any of the things she mentioned but was within herself. I also got her to agree to meet a priest in her own area, someone I had never met and still haven't. But I was able to contact him through email, having got his address from someone else whom I have never met in person. 

I learned later that that meeting with the priest was to be a turning point for my Maria. She was able to face the world again with hope and hasn't looked back since.

At the time this happened I had come to know a 16-year-old girl in the Philippines who had been made pregnant by her boyfriend. I'll call her Ana. I'm not sure to what degree she had consented to the activity that led to her carrying a baby. She was from another part of the country but was welcomed by religious sisters who run a home for girls, most of whom have had pretty bad experiences. Ana was was very angry and part of that anger was directed at the baby she was carrying.

I told Maria about Ana. One of the ironies was that Maria couldn't have a child, a great sorrow to her and her husband. Despite her 'not believing' in God I asked her to pray for Ana, something she readily agreed to do, and told her that I would ask Ana to pray for her. When I met Ana a day or two later she too readily accepted her mission of prayer.

Visitation, Luca della Robbia, c.1445
San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, Pistoia, Italy [Web Gallery of Art]

Shortly after that we celebrated the feast of the Visitation. After Mass I asked Ana if she would like me to bless her and the baby in her womb. She was happy with this and later told me that she had felt the baby moving for the first time. More importantly, her anger had disappeared. Some time later she was able to go home to her own family and delivered her baby there.

This incident opened my eyes to the truth of what the Sister who gave us classes on the use of computers and the internet had told us. Here was I at my computer in the Philippines when 'by chance', the 'chance' being undoubtedly the Holy Spirit, giving crisis counselling to a friend on another continent and helping her to meet someone I had never met who could listen to her in person.

Pope Francis, Palo, Leyte, Philippines
17 January 2015 [Wikipedia]

Ascension Sunday this year is the Church's 50th World Communications Day. The theme of the message of Pope Francis is Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter.

I've added my own emphasis to this paragraph from the
message: Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups. The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks. I pray that this Jubilee Year, lived in mercy, 'may open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; and that it may eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination' (Misericordiae Vultus, 23). The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbour whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.

My online communication with 'Maria' was fully human and charged with the grandeur of God (Gerard Manley Hopkins). So was my communication with 'Ana' and her unborn child when I blessed them both after Mass on the Feast of the Visitation.

Pope Francis concludes his message with these words (emphasis added): Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as 'closeness'. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.

Both Maria and Ana experienced the encounter between communication and mercy, one through the internet the other face-to-face. God communicated his merciful love to each.

May all of us accept and use the internet as a gift of God which involves a great responsibility.

Last week I included Portia's speech from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Pope Francis quotes from this in his message for today. Above is the speech from a 2004 film production of the play.

Pope Francis: For this reason, I would like to invite all people of good will to rediscover the power of mercy to heal wounded relationships and to restore peace and harmony to families and communities. All of us know how many ways ancient wounds and lingering resentments can entrap individuals and stand in the way of communication and reconciliation. The same holds true for relationships between peoples. In every case, mercy is able to create a new kind of speech and dialogue. Shakespeare put it eloquently when he said: ‘The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes’ (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I).