23 January 2018

Columban Fr Matthew Reilly RIP

Fr Matthew Reilly
5 April 1934 - 17 January 2018

Fr Matthew ('Mattie') Reilly was born in Bellair, Moynalty, County Meath, Ireland, on 5 April 1934. Educated at Moynalty National School and St Finian's College, Mullingar, he entered St Columban's, Dalgan Park, in September 1952 and was ordained priest there on 21 December 1958. He was a younger brother of the late Columban Fr Patrick Reilly who died in 1998.


Moynalty [Wikipedia]

Father Mattie's first appointment, in 1959, was to Korea where he was to spend twelve years. After language studies he worked in the Kwangju area, spent some time as secretary to the Papal Nuncio, completed a course in catechetics atthe East Asian Pastoral Institute, Quezon City, Philippines, and served as pastor of Youngsanpo, Gwangju, before doing pastoral work in Seoul.

Gwangju at sunset [Wikipedia]

From 1972 to 1978 Father Mattie did pastoral work in the Diocese of Meath, serving as chaplain to Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, and as spiritual director to various praesidia of the Legion of Mary and to the Society of St Vincent de Paul. 

St Bede's, Widnes [Wikipedia]

From 1978 to 1984 he served at St Bede's, Widnes, then a Columban parish, in the Archdiocese of Liverpool, England, where he is still fondly remembered.

Old chapel, St Columban's, Solihull

After a brief period in office work at the Columban house, Solihull, near Birmingham, he was involved as pastor and counsellor to alcohol and drug addicts in Clouds House, East Knoyle, Wiltshire, now part of Action on Addiction. He returned to Solihull in 1986 and served there as office manager until 1992. During that time he was responsible for extending the offices.

Father Mattie returned to Ireland in 1992 and did pastoral work in the Diocese of Meath along with being a part-time chaplain in the Mater Hospital in Dublin. From 1995 to 2003 he was chaplain to St Francis Private Hospital, Mullingar. Because of his own many illnesses he got great fulfillment from chaplaincy work and the care of the sick. As his health deteriorated he could do less work but he loved to help in parishes in the Diocese of Meath whenever he could.

Vase with Cornflowers and Poppies, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

During his years in St Columban's Nursing Home, Dalgan Park, Father Mattie developed the cultivation of flowers as a hobby.He created magnificent seasonal displays of flowers in the corridors, chapels and out of doors especially for Cemetery Sunday, Jubilee Days, Easter and Christmas.

Fr Cyril Lovett


This hymn was sung after Communion during Father Mattie's funeral Mass, at his request. The words are based on a Latin antiphon sung at Requiem Masses as the body is being taken out of the church: 

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; 
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, 
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. 
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, 
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem..

Solas na bhFlaitheas ar a anam dílis
The Light of Heaven on his faithful soul.


According to family members, the song The Old Bog Road was a favourite of Father Mattie and he would sing it on occasion.

19 January 2018

'Repent . . . and follow me.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Calling of Peter and Andrew
Duccio di Buoninsegna [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.


Speaking in Rome to members of ecclesial movements on the evening of Saturday 17 May 2013, the Vigil of Pentecost, Pope Francis told this story:

One day in particular, though, was very important to me: 21 September 1953. I was almost 17. It was 'Students’ Day', for us the first day of spring — for you the first day of autumn. Before going to the celebration I passed through the parish I normally attended, I found a priest that I did not know and I felt the need to go to confession. For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened, I can’t remember, I do not know why that particular priest was there whom I did not know, or why I felt this desire to confess, but the truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. I was convinced that I should become a priest.

What is striking is that the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio experienced God's call to the priesthood unexpectedly and within the context of confession. In today's Gospel the call of Simon and Peter, of James and John to follow Jesus is within the context of a call to conversion: repent, and believe in the good news

In the First Reading God sends a very reluctant Jonah to Nineveh to call the people there to repentance. And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.


An old photo of Portobello Bridge, Dublin [Wikipedia]

Last Monday on  Nationwide on RTÉ, Ireland's national radio and TV service, a young Irish Dominican friar, Fr David Barron OP, told how he remembered the very moment when he decided to give up his job in banking, in which he was very happy, to become a Dominican priest: One evening, coming on the bus from Trinity (Dublin University) into Rathmines, coming over Portobello Bridge, I still remember, I finally gave in and said, 'I'll give it a go' [11:17 - 11:29 in the video].


The Prophet Jonah Before the Walls of Jericho
Rembrandt [Wikipedia Commons]

The First Reading, from the Book of Jonah, shows the people of Nineveh, from the King down, believing the reluctant prophet and then fasting and repenting.

In the Gospel Jesus preaches, Repent, and believe in the good news. It is in the context of that proclamation to the people in Galilee that Jesus invites Simon and Andrew, James and John, to follow him. Each of the four could make the words of Pope Francis their own: For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened . . . I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. That call was to lead the four of them to leave everything to follow him, a decision that was to bring three of them to martyrdom. The young Jorge Mario Bergoglio could not have had the slightest idea that listening to God's call would lead him to Rome.

About 16 years ago I did a mission appeal in a parish in England where the then recently appointed parish priest had inherited a filthy rectory/presbytery/convento from his predecessor. He had managed by then to clean up only his own bedroom. He could not invite me to stay at his place because the guest room was filthy and so had me put up by a neighbouring parish priest.

The people of Nineveh cleaned up the 'room' of their inner heart by turning away from sin and allowed the word of God to enter. The Gospel suggests that the two sets of fishermen-brothers had done the same and were able to hear and respond to the call of Jesus there and then.

May we do likewise, with God's grace, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation / penance / confession.

Jesus calls each of us through baptism into an intimate, personal relationship with him. He eventually reveals to us, within that relationship, the specific vocation to which he invites us - to marriage, to the priesthood, to religious life, to remaining single. We can only hear that specific invitation from Jesus if we constantly repent of our sins and accept his loving forgiveness and mercy.

Responsorial Psalm
New American Bible Lectionary (Philippines, USA)

10 January 2018

'Jesus said to them,"Come and see".' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

From The Gospel of John, directed by Philip Saville

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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


The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed. He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

St Andrew the Apostle, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

God calls each of us to our particular vocation in life in a unique way. Pope Francis has told us, for example, that it was on the occasion of going to confession when he was 17 that he saw clearly that God was calling him to be a priest. A couple at whose wedding I officiated some years ago were members of the same Catholic organisation in the university they attended. They became an 'item', as they say in the Philippines, when they were the only members of the group to turn up at the appointed time for an outing. While waiting for the others to arrive they discovered that they were more than just casual friends. Now they are happily married with four children.

I'm always amused by the Second Reading from the Office of Readings for the feast of St Anthony the Abbot, 17 January. St Athanasius tells us: He went into the church. It happened that the gospel was then being read, and he heard what the Lord had said to the rich man 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'

The young man Anthony, whose parents had died about six months previously, took these words to heart and went to live in the desert. He became, without planning it, the 'Father of Monasticism' in the Church. And perhaps if he had not been late for Mass that day the Gospel might not have struck him as it did. He was to be 'later' than most in another sense in that he was 105 when he died, a remarkable age to live to now but even more remarkable in the fourth century! Unlike the married couple above whose punctuality led them to discover God's call for them, it was through being late for Mass that Anthony discovered what God had in mind for him.

Raphaël Simi, Jean Vanier and Philippe Seux, 2014

In 1964 Jean Vanier invited two men with learning disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, who had been living in institutions, to live with him in a small cottage that he bought and renovated in France. Having done so he realized that he had made a commitment to these two men and that his commitment involved remaining single. He had no intention of founding a movement but, in God's plan, that's what came about: L'Arche. Raphaëand Philippe are now considered, with Jean, co-founders of L'Arche.

Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar, a great Swiss theologian much admired by St John Paul II, in reflecting on today's Gospel from the First Chapter of St John, links it to an incident in the last chapter, John 21: 15 ff [starting at 0:55 in the video below].




Fr von Balthasar writes: In the last chapter of the book Peter will be the foundation stone to such a degree that he will also have to undergird ecclesial love: 'Simon, do you love me more than these?'

John 21:15-17 was the gospel read at the Pope's Mass in Manila Cathedral on 16 January 2015 with priests, religious, consecrated persons and seminarians. This passage shows what is at the heart of every call from God, whether to marriage, to the priesthood, to the consecrated life, to the single life. The call is above all to an intimate relationship with Jesus. Pope Francis highlighted this in his homilyFor us priests and consecrated persons, conversion to the newness of the Gospel entails a daily encounter with the Lord in prayer. The saints teach us that this is the source of all apostolic zeal! For religious, living the newness of the Gospel also means finding ever anew in community life and community apostolates the incentive for an ever closer union with the Lord in perfect charity. For all of us, it means living lives that reflect the poverty of Christ, whose entire life was focused on doing the will of the Father and serving others.

Pope Francis also said, The poor are at the centre of the Gospel, are at heart of the Gospel; if we take away the poor from the Gospel we can’t understand the whole message of Jesus Christ.

Living the Gospel within the context of a deep personal relationship with Jesus the Risen Lord involves seeing reality through the eyes of those with little in life. Pope Francis showed this in a beautiful way by an unplanned - at least it wasn't on the official schedule - to a group of very poor children at TNK in Manila, near the Cathedral. ('Tulay ng Kabataan' means 'A Bridge to Children').



05 January 2018

'The seed of eternal life.' Sunday Reflections, The Baptism of the Lord, Year B

Baptistry, St Mark's, Venice [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)


John the Baptist proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
In countries where the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated this year on Monday 8 January, eg the Philippines and the USA, there is only one reading before the Gospel and the Creed is omitted.

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord 2013

FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
MASS AND ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Sistine Chapel, Sunday, 8 January 2012

[I have highlighted parts of the Pope's homily]


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is always a joy to celebrate this Holy Mass with the baptism of children on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I greet you all with affection, dear parents, godparents and all of you, relatives and friends! You have come here — you said so aloud — so that your newborn babies may receive the gift of God’s grace, the seed of eternal life. You, parents, have desired this. You thought of Baptism even before your child was born. Your duty as Christian parents made you think immediately of the sacrament that marks entry into divine life and into the community of the Church. We can say that this was your first educational decision as witnesses of the faith to your children: it is a fundamental decision!

The parents’ task, helped by the godfather and godmother, is to raise their son or daughter. Raising children is very demanding and at times taxes our human capability, which is always limited. However, educating becomes a marvellous mission if it is carried out in collaboration with God who is the first and true educator of every human being.

In the First Reading, we heard from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God addresses his people precisely as a teacher. He puts the Israelites on their guard against the danger of quenching their thirst and appeasing their hunger at the wrong sources: “Why”, he says, “do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?” (Is 55:2). God wants to give us good things to drink and to eat, things that do us good; whereas at times we use our resources mistakenly, we use them for things that are useless, indeed, even harmful. Above all, God wants to give us himself and his Word. He knows that in distancing ourselves from him we will soon run into difficulty — like the Prodigal Son of the parable — and, especially, that we will lose our human dignity. And for this reason he assures us that he is infinite mercy, that his thoughts and ways are unlike ours — fortunately! — and that we can always return to him, to the Father’s house. Thereafter he assures us that if we receive his Word it will bear good fruits in our life, like the rain that waters the earth (cf. Is 55:10-11).

We responded to these words which the Lord has addressed to us through the Prophet Isaiah with the refrain of the Psalm: We will “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation”. As adults, we have striven to draw from the good springs for our own good and for the good of those entrusted to our responsibility, and you in particular, dear parents and godparents, for the good of these children.

And what are “the springs of salvation”? They are the Word of God and the sacraments. Adults are the first who should nourish themselves at these sources, so as to be able to guide those who are younger in their development. Parents must give much, but in order to give they need in turn to receive, otherwise they are drained, they dry up. Parents are not the spring, just as we priests are not the spring. Rather, we are like channels through which the life-giving sap of God’s love must flow. If we cut ourselves off from his spring, we ourselves are the first to feel the negative effects and are no longer able to educate others. For this reason we have committed ourselves by saying: We will “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation”.

The Baptism of Christ, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

And we now come to the Second Reading and to the Gospel. They say that the first and principal education takes place through witness. The Gospel speaks of John the Baptist. John was a great educator of his disciples, because he led them to the encounter with Jesus to whom he bore witness. He did not exalt himself, he did not wish to keep his disciples bound to him. Yet John was a great prophet, his fame was very great. When Jesus arrived John drew back and pointed to him: “After me comes he who is mightier than I…. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:7-8).

The true teacher does not bind people to himself, he is not possessive. He wants his son or daughter, or disciple, to learn to know the truth and to establish a personal relationship with it. The educator does his duty fully, he assures his attentive and faithful presence because his objective is that the person being educated listen to the voice of truth speaking to his heart and follow it on a personal journey.

Let us return once again to the witness. In the Second Reading, the Apostle John writes: “And the Spirit is the witness” (1 Jn 5:7). He is referring to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, who bears witness to Jesus, testifying that he is the Christ, the Son of God. This is also apparent in the scene of the Baptism in the River Jordan: the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as a dove to reveal that he is the Only-Begotten Son of the eternal Father (cf. Mk 1:10). In his Gospel too, John underlines this aspect where Jesus says to the disciples: “When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jn 15:26-27). This is a great comfort to us in the work of educating in faith, because we know that we are not alone and that our witness is sustained by the Holy Spirit.

It is very important for you parents, and also for the godparents, to believe strongly in the presence and in the action of the Holy Spirit, to invoke him and to welcome him within you, through prayer and through the sacraments. It is he, in fact, who illumines the mind and warms the heart of the educator so that he or she can pass on the knowledge and love of Jesus. Prayer is the first condition for teaching because by praying we prepare ourselves to leave the initiative to God, to entrust children to him, who knows them before and better than we, and who knows perfectly what their true good is. And at the same time, when we pray we listen to God’s inspiration in order to do our part well, which in any case is our duty and which we are bound to do. The sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance, enable us to carry out our educational action in union with Christ, in communion with him and continuously renewed by his forgiveness. Prayer and the sacraments obtain for us that light of truth thanks to which we are able to be at once tender and strong, gentle and firm, silent and communicative at the right time, admonishing and correcting in the right way.

Dear friends, let us therefore all invoke the Holy Spirit together so that he may come down upon these children in abundance, consecrate them in the image of Jesus Christ and always go with them on their journey through life. Let us entrust them to the motherly guidance of Mary Most Holy, so that they may grow in age, wisdom and grace and become true Christians, faithful and joyful witnesses of God’s love. Amen.

A Catholic baptism [Wikipedia]

May each of us thank God today for our parents and godparents who brought us to be baptized so that we might receive 'the seed of eternal life'.

04 January 2018

'We have come to pay him homage.' Sunday Reflections, The Epiphany, Years ABC


The Adoration of the Magi, Luís Tristán de Escamilla [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)


In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’


Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
In countries where the Epiphany is a Holyday of Obligation it is celebrated on Saturday 6 January. Otherwise it is celebrated on Sunday 7 January this year. The Vigil Mass has its own antiphons and prayers but uses the readings above.


Adoration of the Magi, Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

While based in Britain from 2000 till 2002 I was able to spend Christmas with my brother and his family in Dublin, a short flight from England, in 2000 and 2001. During the holiday in 2001 I saw a documentary on RTÉ, Ireland's national broadcasting service, about Filipino nurses in Ireland. These began to arrive in 2000, initially at the invitation of the Irish government to work in government hospitals. Very quickly there was an 'invasion' of Filipino nurses and carers, now to be found in hospitals and nursing homes in every part of the country.

One of the nurses interviewed told how many Filipinos, knowing that the Irish celebrate Christmas on the 25th, unlike the Philippines where the culmination of the feast is the family meal, the noche buena, on the night of the 24th, offered to work on Christmas Day so that their Irish companions could be with their families. This also helped to dull the pain of being away from their own families.

I was moved to tears at the testimony of one nurse, from Mindanao as I recall, speaking about her job and her first Christmas in Ireland in 2000. She spoke very highly of her employers, of her working conditions and of her accommodation, which she compared with that of the Holy Family on the first Christmas night. She spoke of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in this situation as if they were members of her own family, as in a very deep sense they are, or we of their family.

Here was a young woman from the East powerfully proclaiming, without being aware of it, that the Word became flesh and lived among us. The fact that she wasn't aware of it, that she was speaking about her 'next door neighbours', made her proclamation of faith all the more powerful. She would have known many in her own place, and very likely knew from her own experience, something of what Joseph and Mary went through in Bethlehem. Her faith in the Word who became flesh and lived among us wasn't something in her head but part of her very being.

For much of the last century thousands of Catholic priests, religious Sisters and Brothers left Europe and North America to preach and live the Gospel in the nations of Africa, Asia and South America. Some of the countries and regions from which they left, eg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Quebec, have to a great extent lost or even rejected the Catholic Christian faith. The Jewish people had, in faith, awaited the coming of the Messiah for many centuries. But when He came it was uneducated shepherds who first recognised him and later Simeon and Anna, two devout and elderly Jews who spent lengthy periods in prayer in the Temple.

Today's feast highlights wise men from the east, not 'believers' in the Jewish sense, led by God's special grace to Bethlehem to bring gifts in response to that grace, explaining, We . . . have come to pay him homage.They reveal to us that God calls people from every part of the world to do the same and to bring others with them.

Will nurses from the Philippines and from Kerala in India, migrants from Korea and Vietnam, from the east, bring the gift of faith in Jesus Christ once again to the many people in Western Europe and North America who no longer know him in any real sense? Will they by the lives they lead as working immigrants gently invite those in the West who have lost the precious gift of our Catholic Christian faith to once again come to pay him homage?

We Three Kings of Orient Are
The Madrigal Singers, University of the Philippines



28 December 2017

'And the favour of God was upon him.' Sunday Reflections, Feast of the Holy Family; Mary, Mother of God

Presentation in the Temple
Gerbrand van de Eeckhout [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)


When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [ (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.]

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
Note that there are alternative First Readings, Responsorial Psalms and Second Readings. There are also longer and shorter versions of the Gospel.
Before Christmas we listened to the words of St Matthew: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins' (Matthew 1:18-21)

Joseph, by obeying God's messenger and by naming the Son his wife Mary bore, became the legal father of Jesus. The Church honours him above all as the Husband of Mary. St John XXIII added the words and blessed Joseph, her Spouse to the Roman Canon, now also known as the First Eucharistic Prayer, while Pope Francis has included that phrase in the other three main Eucharistic Prayers. It was as the Husband of Mary that St Joseph took care of her and of Jesus. It was St Joseph whom Jesus knew as Dad/Papa/Tatay. It was from St Joseph that Jesus, God who became Man, learned, in his humanity, to grow into manhood.

St Joseph submitted his whole being, as did his wife Mary, to doing God's will. Jesus was flesh of her flesh, but not of his. Yet he loved Jesus as if he was his own son, first of all by loving his mother.
The Census at Bethlehem (detail)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

Peter Bruegel the Elder, maybe the first major painter to focus on the lives of ordinary people, captures the quiet responsibility of St Joseph, leading the donkey on which the heavily pregnant Mary is riding. The picture above is a detail of the full painting:



Bruegel has transposed Bethlehem to a village in the Netherlands in the middle of winter. He captures the reality that the Holy Family were 'nobodies'. None of the people around notices them. They too are caught up in the red tape of their day, having to travel long distances to have their names registered.

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout in the Presentation in the Temple shows St Joseph as a man who is somewhat shy, not wanting to be in the limelight, but standing protectively over Mary as she kneels before Jesus held in the arms of Simeon, with Anna the Prophetess in the background. St Joseph here reminds me very much of my own father.

And in the video of the Presentation what strikes me is that St Joseph is the one carrying Jesus. But before he hands the infant to Simeon he quietly asks Mary's permission to do so. Mary hands Jesus back to Joseph after receiving him from Simeon and it is St Joseph, as head of the Holy Family, who presents the infant to the priest who offers him to God. The priest has no idea who this child of poor parents really is.

On 17 November 2014 Pope Francis saidIt is necessary to insist on the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its intangible assets. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's growth and emotional development. This is why, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I stressed the 'indispensable' contribution of marriage to society, a contribution which 'transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple' (n. 66). And this is why I am grateful to you for the emphasis that your colloquium has placed on the benefits that marriage can provide children, the spouses themselves, and society.

There have always been children who have grown up without one or both parents. In the Bible they are seen as young persons in need of special care from the wider community. I have known many single parents, some of them widowed, raising their children lovingly and heroically. But this is not the norm.

Incredibly, many within the last three or four decades have come to dismiss the importance of husband/father and wife/mother, have come to dismiss the conception and birth of children in the way that God intended.

Pope Francis with recovering drug addict, Brazil 2013 [Wikipedia]

Though without a family of my own I have for many years experienced the title 'Father' as a call to be one in a number of senses: a 'spiritual father' who leads others to our Heavenly Father through his Son Jesus Christ, and a father-figure to young persons who may have lost their father or who may even have been abused by their father or by other fatherly figures in whom they should have been able to trust.

As a man, I see today's Feast of the Holy Family to be a call especially to us men to be like St Joseph, to be responsible, to be loving; if married to love our wives above all, if not, to be like fathers to young persons who come into our lives in whatever way and for whatever reason.

As a priest I am grateful to God for calling me not only to be 'Father' but to be a father to many in the sense that St Joseph was truly a father to Jesus.




Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

The Mother of God Enthroned, Andreas Ritzos [Web Gallery of Art]

The first day of 2018 is observed by the Church as the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. It is also the last day of the Octave of Christmas and World Day of Peace. In some countries, eg the Philippines, it is a Holy Day of Obligation. In others, eg Ireland, it is not.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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


So the shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Adoration of the Shepherds, Jacopo Bassano [Web Gallery of Art]
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE
FRANCIS
FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE 
51st WORLD DAY OF PEACE
1 JANUARY 2018



Happy New Year!

Manigong Bagong Taon!

Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise!