11 May 2021

How many strangers would entrust their life to us simply because they knew we were Christians? Sunday Reflections, The Ascension, Year B

 

Ascension
Andrea della Robia [Web Gallery of Art]


The Ascension, Year B 

The Ascension is celebrated on Ascension Thursday, 13 May, in England & Wales and in Scotland. In the USA it is celebrated on Ascension Thursday in the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, Philadelphia, elsewhere on Sunday 2 June. In all of these areas Ascension Thursday is a Holyday of Obligation.

The Ascension is observed on Sunday, 16 May, in Aotearoa-New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Philippines.

 

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel  Mark 16:15-20  (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

Jesus said to his disciples:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. 


Léachtaí i nGaeilge


Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B

These readings are used in countries/jurisdictions that observe the solemnity on Ascension Thursday.

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel  John 17:11b-19  (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them[ in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

The Ascension
Theophanes the Cretan [Web Gallery of Art]

Reflection for the Ascension

Fr Giuseppe Raviolo SJ (1923 - 1998) was a Pope St John XXIII-like figure, physically and spiritually, from Italy who spent most of his priestly life in Mindanao, Philippines, where I came to know him. He was the first rector of St John Vianney Major Seminary in Cagayan de Oro City. But he also spent nine years in Vietnam and was rector of the major seminary in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, during the Vietnam War. He once told me an extraordinary story from that period.

The North Vietnamese Army was advancing on Saigon. The soldiers were divided into groups of three. The standing order was that if one tried to surrender the other two were to shoot him. One particular group found themselves surrounded by American soldiers and one of them surrendered. The other two did not shoot their companion and were captured along with him. Later they asked their companion why he had taken such a risk. He answered, I knew you were Christians and that you would not shoot me. The two were in fact Catholics and had discussed the matter and had decided that, as Christians, they could not shoot their companion if that particular situation arose.


These were soldiers in the army of a Communist country, an army without any chaplains, and their companion, who was not a Christian, took it for granted that they would not take his life because he knew that they were Christians.

Fr Giuseppe Raviolo SJ

In the First Reading today, the opening verses of the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus says to his disciples, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Those two Catholic soldiers in the North Vietnamese  army were powerful witnesses of Jesus to their companion. They chose to live their faith in Jesus. And he entrusted his life to them because he knew they were Christians.

How many strangers would entrust their life to us simply because they knew we were Christians?


St Jane Frances de Chantal 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

This is really a postscript. The other day I came across the following quotation in This Tremendous Lover by Dom Eugene Boylan OCSO. It made me smile and it also highlighted for me that prayer is essentially being in a relationship with God, knowing that God loves us.

A saint should be a very easy person to live with. Unfortunately, those who try to be saints are often the opposite. Might we refer them to the example of St Jane Frances de Chantal? While she was still living in the world, St Francis de Sales became her director. The result of his influence may be gathered from the comment of one of her servants. 'The first director that Madame had made her pray three times a day. and we were all put out; but the Monsignor of Geneva (St Francis de Sales) makes her pray all day long and no one is troubled.'


Antiphona ad introitum Entrance Antiphon  Acts 1:11 

Viri Galilaei

Setting by William Byrd

Sung by Cardinall’s Musick


Viri Galilaei, quid admiramini aspicientes in caelum?
Men of Galilee, why gaze in wonder at the heavens?Quemadmodum vidisti eum ascendentem in caelum, ita veniet, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.This Jesus whom you saw ascending into heaven will return as you saw him go, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Omnes gentes plaudit manibusL iubilate Deo in voce exultationis.

Clap your hands all peoples! Shout to God with loud sounds of joy!

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Viri Galilaei, quid admiramini aspicientes in caelum?
Men of Galilee, why gaze in wonder at the heavens?Quemadmodum vidisti eum ascendentem in caelum, ita veniet, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

This Jesus whom you saw ascending into heaven will return as you saw him go, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass the whole text above is sung or recited. In the Ordinary Form the text in bold is recited or sung unless it is replaced by a suitable hymn.


Extraordinary Form of the Mass

Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) 

Ascension Thursday 

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 5-13-2021 if necessary).

Lesson: Acts 1:1-11.  Gospel: Mark 16:14-20.


Sunday After the Ascension

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 5-16-2021 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 Peter 4:7-11. Gospel: John 15: 26, 27; 16:1-4.

 

Authentic Beauty

Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.

Pope Benedict XVI meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel, 21

Spring Song
Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
Pianist: Mai Morimoto



04 May 2021

'Father, are you angry with God?' Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday of Easter, Year B

 

The Little Fruit Seller


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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel  John 15:9-17  (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

Jesus said to his disciples:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.


Léachtaí i nGaeilge



If ye love me, keep my commandments,
and I will pray the Father,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may 'bide with you forever,
e'en the spirit of truth. (John 14:15-17)

This is a setting by Thomas Tallis (c.1505 - 1585) of today's Communion Antiphon, with the first part of John 14:17 added.

Communion Antiphon   Antiphona ad communionem (Jn 14:15-16) 

Si diligitis me, mandata mea servate, dicit Dominus. Et ego rogabo Patrem, et alium Paraclitum dabit vobis, ut maneat vobiscum in aeternum, alleluia.

If you love me, keep my commandments, says the Lord, and I will ask the Father and he will send you another Paraclete, to abide with you for ever, alleluia.

Christ Blessing the Children
Nicolaes Maes [Web Gallery of Art]

In May 2015 I gave a retreat to the Missionary Sisters of the Catechism in Lipa City, south of Manila. The Sisters have a house dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe where they take care of elderly and sick women whom they refer to as the lolas, the 'grandmas'. In another part of the compound they had at the time a group of orphans, five young boys and six young girls. (If my memory is correct the Sisters were planning to build an orphanage). Four of the boys served Mass every morning, including 'Zacchaeus', as the Sisters called him, the youngest of the boys and small, proudly wearing his white cassock like the others. 'Zacchaeus' wasn't yet old enough to make his First Holy Communion or First Confession. His role as a server was to hold up the small white towel - and he really had to stretch to do so - when the priest washed his hands during the Offertory.

The youngest of the girls was Chiara, aged four or five at the time. The children were present at lunch on the last day of the retreat, which had a celebratory air to it. I noticed after I had said Grace Before Meals that Chiara was somewhat tearful. Then I discovered that on such occasions she led the community in a Hail Mary as part of Grace. So the Sisters encouraged her to do so even though this visiting priest had pre-empted her. After a little hesitation and the drying of her tears she prayerfully led us all in the Hail Mary and then invoked the protectors of the Congregation - Mother of Good Counsel, St Joseph, St Veronica Giuliani, St Gemma Galgani and St Bernadette Soubirous.

The Prayer Before Meal
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin [Web Gallery of Art]

During the retreat I told a number of stories of seemingly insignificant events where God had revealed himself to me through the actions of children and of older persons without their being aware of it. Then on the way back to Manila after the retreat Sister Evelyn Cortes SMC, whose family I have I have known since she was in high school in Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, and Sister Eppie Resano SMC told me a story about Chiara where she showed an understanding of what this Sunday's Second Reading is all about, without being aware of it.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:7-10).

Some time before I gave the retreat a missionary priest visited the Sisters and celebrated Mass for them. Little Chiara saw him as being very severe in his demeanour. After Mass she tugged on his cassock and asked him, Father, are you angry with God? It seems that the following morning he wasn't quite as severe looking!

Some may be angry with God. I don't think that God is too perturbed about that when he knows that the source of our anger may be bewilderment over tragedies in our lives, for example, just as we allow those whom we love to vent their anger on us because basically they trust us and we have some idea of the source of their anger.

Perhaps a more common experience, especially among persons who are serious about following Jesus faithfully but who try to live as if God's love had to be earned, as if it could be earned, is the idea that God is angry with us.

St John tells us so beautifully what the situation really is: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Most of the Gospel readings on the Sundays and weekdays of Easter are taken from John 13-17, the Last Supper Discourse in which Jesus speaks to each of us with intense love about the intimacy into which he calls each of us through our baptism. In today's Gospel Jesus says to each of us, speaking from his heart to ours - Cor ad cor loquiter, 'Heart speaks to heart', as St John Henry Cardinal Newman emphasised on his coat-of-arms - As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love . . . This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you . . . You are my friends . . . You did not choose me, but I chose you . . . The initiative comes from God. Love comes from God and our loving response to that love is itself a gift from God. We do not and cannot earn God's love. God who is love gives us himself as pure gift.

How can such a God be angry with us and how can we be angry - choosing to remain angry as distinct from a spontaneous feeling - with such a God?

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). 
 

For the LORD takes delight in his people; 
he crowns the poor with salvation (Psalm 149:4, Grail translation).

May, the Month of Mary

Garland of Flowers with the Madonna and Child
Christiaen Luyckx [Web Gallery of Art]

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!

Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.


Bring Flowers of the Rarest (Queen of the May)

Composed by Mary E. Walsh, sung by Frank Patterson


Bring flowers of the rarest
bring blossoms the fairest,
from garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling
the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!

Refrain:
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Oh, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers,
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue

Refrain

Sing gaily in chorus;
the bright angels o'er us
re-echo the strains we begin upon earth;
their harps are repeating
the notes of our greeting,
for Mary herself is the cause of our mirth.

Refrain

Extraordinary Form of the Mass

Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) 

Fifth Sunday after Easter 

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 5-9-2021 if necessary).

Epistle: James 1:22-27.  GospelJohn 16:23-30.

 

Authentic Beauty

Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.

Pope Benedict XVI meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel, 21

Recuerdos de la Alhambra
(Memories of the Alhambra)
Composed by Francisco Tárrega, played by Alí Arango



27 April 2021

'Discover ever more deeply the joy of being united with Christ in the Church.' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B

 

The Red Vineyard
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel  John 15:1-8  (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

Jesus said to his disciples:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

 

Léachtaí i nGaeilge



Antiphona ad communionem  Communion Antiphon (Cf John 15:1,5)

Ego sum vitis vera et vos palmites [dicit Dominus];
I am the vine and you are the branches, [says the Lord].
qui manet in me et ego in eo, hic fert fructum multum, alleluia.
Whoever remains in me and I in him, bears fruit in plenty, alleluia.

Vineyards with a View of Auvers
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Today’s gospel was the one used by Pope Benedict when he celebrated Mass in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on 22 September 2011. In his homily the Pope used these striking words [emphases added]In the parable of the vine, Jesus does not say: 'You are the vine', but: 'I am the vine, you are the branches' (John 15:5). In other words: 'As the branches are joined to the vine, so you belong to me! But inasmuch as you belong to me, you also belong to one another'. This belonging to each other and to him is not some ideal, imaginary, symbolic relationship, but – I would almost want to say – a biological, life-transmitting state of belonging to Jesus Christ. Such is the Church, this communion of life with Jesus Christ and for one another, a communion that is rooted in baptism and is deepened and given more and more vitality in the Eucharist'I am the true vine' actually means: 'I am you and you are I' – an unprecedented identification of the Lord with us, with his Church.

So many are caught in a ‘Jesus and me’ mentality, which ignores the reality of the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation, words from the Second Vatican Council that Pope Benedict quotes.

As I was reading the Pope’s homily I was thinking that he could have been speaking directly to the people of my native Ireland where there is a deep crisis in the Church. He says to the congregation in Berlin, Many people see only the outward form of the Church. This makes the Church appear as merely one of the many organizations within a democratic society, whose criteria and laws are then applied to the task of evaluating and dealing with such a complex entity as the ‘Church’. If to this is added the sad experience that the Church contains both good and bad fish, wheat and darnel, and if only these negative aspects are taken into account, then the great and beautiful mystery of the Church is no longer seen.

It follows that belonging to this vine, the ‘Church’, is no longer a source of joy. Dissatisfaction and discontent begin to spread, when people’s superficial and mistaken notions of ‘Church’, their ‘dream Church’, fail to materialize! Then we no longer hear the glad song ‘Thanks be to God who in his grace has called me into his Church’ that generations of Catholics have sung with conviction.

The Virgin of the Grapes
Pierre Mignard [Web Gallery of Art]

I sometimes feel discouraged at happenings in Ireland. I sometimes feel discouraged at happenings in the Philippines, where I spent most of my life as a priest, especially within the Church.

But Jesus tells us clearly that separated from him we can do nothing. Each of us has to decide whether or not we wish to remain united to the life-giving vine who is Jesus himself. Pope Benedict says, Every one of us is faced with this choice. The Lord reminds us how much is at stake as he continues his parable: ‘If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned’ (John 15:6).There is nothing of the ‘meek and mild’ in these stark words of Jesus.

Yet the Gospel, the Good News’ is by definition a message of joyful hope, as the Pope reminded the people in Berlin:

The decision that is required of us here makes us keenly aware of the fundamental significance of our life choices. But at the same time, the image of the vine is a sign of hope and confidence. Christ himself came into this world through his incarnation, to be our root. Whatever hardship or drought befall us, he is the source that offers us the water of life, that feeds and strengthens us. He takes upon himself all our sins, anxieties and sufferings and he purifies and transforms us, in a way that is ultimately mysterious, into good branches that produce good wine. In such times of hardship we can sometimes feel as if we ourselves were in the wine-press, like grapes being utterly crushed. But we know that if we are joined to Christ we become mature wine. God can transform into love even the burdensome and oppressive aspects of our lives. It is important that we ‘abide’ in Christ, in the vine. The evangelist uses the word ‘abide’ [‘remain’] a dozen times in this brief passage. This ‘abiding in Christ’ characterizes the whole of the parable. In our era of restlessness and lack of commitment, when so many people lose their way and their grounding, when loving fidelity in marriage and friendship has become so fragile and short-lived, when in our need we cry out like the disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘Lord, stay with us, for it is almost evening and darkness is all around us!’ (cf. Luke 24:29), in this present era, the risen Lord gives us a place of refuge, a place of light, hope and confidence, a place of rest and security. When drought and death loom over the branches, then in Christ we find future, life and joy. In him we always find forgiveness and the opportunity to begin again, to be transformed as we are drawn into his love.

To abide in Christ means, as we saw earlier, to abide in the Church as well. The whole communion of the faithful has been firmly incorporated into the vine, into Christ. In Christ we belong together. Within this communion he supports us, and at the same time all the members support one another. We stand firm together against the storm and offer one another protection. Those who believe are not alone. We do not believe alone, we believe with the whole Church of all times and places, with the Church in heaven and the Church on earth.

Pope Benedict finished his homily in Berlin with these beautiful words: Dear Sisters and Brothers! My wish for all of you, for all of us, is this: to discover ever more deeply the joy of being united with Christ in the Church, with all her trials and times of darkness, to find comfort and redemption amid whatever trials may arise, and that all of us may increasingly become the precious wine of Christ’s joy and love for this world. Amen.

Still-life
Sébastien Stoskopff [Web Gallery of Art]


Extraordinary Form of the Mass

Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) 

Fourth Sunday after Easter 

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 5-2-2021 if necessary).

Epistle: James 1:17-21.  Gospel: John 16:5-14.

 

Authentic Beauty

Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.

Pope Benedict XVI meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel, 21 November 2009.


Beethoven's 6th Symphony, 'The Pastoral', 2nd movement
Conducted by Manuel López-Gómez

The 'Pastoral' Symphony of Beethoven has probably been for many their introduction to symphonic music. For me it is very much in harmony with spring, especially the Second Movement above.

Below is the complete symphony played by the Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome, conducted by Claudio Abbado.