26 May 2020

'If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.' Sunday Reflections, Pentecost, Year A

Pentecost Cupola, San Marco, Venice
Italian Mosaic Artist [Web Gallery of Art]


Pentecost Sunday, at the Vigil Mass
(Saturday evening), Years ABC

NB: The Vigil Mass has its own prayers and readings. Those for the Mass During the Day should not be used – though some priests seem to be unaware of this. It is incorrect to refer to this Vigil Mass as an ‘anticipated Mass’. It is a celebration proper to the evening before Pentecost Sunday and may be celebrated in an extended form, like the Easter Vigil. It also fulfils the Sunday obligation.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 7:37-39 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Mass during the Day, Year A

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 20:19-23 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

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.’

Léachtaí i nGaeilge



Sequence: Veni, Sancte Spiritus
Sung by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain

The Sequence may be said or sung, after the Second Reading.

Thirty-eight years ago I did a number of short supplies in parishes in a diocese in the western USA. In one parish where I spent only a weekend I found a note that had been shoved under the front door on Monday morning and addressed to me. There was no signature but it was written in the style of a teenage girl.

Very often anonymous letters are negative and condemnatory of the receiver. This was the very opposite. I don’t remember what the gospel reading of the Sunday was but it highlighted the mercy of God and that is what I had preached about. Whatever I said touched the writer of the note profoundly. She wrote that for years she had hated God. I’ve no idea why or of what had been troubling her. She might well have been the victim of some awful act of another. But when at that Sunday Mas she heard the Good News that God is a forgiving God and that he loves each of us individually and unconditionally she was able to let go of the hatred, if that is what it really was, and of the anger in her heart and accept God’s love. She wrote that for the first time in years she went to Holy Communion.

As we celebrate the Descent of the Holy Spirit the gospel today tells us that the Risen Lord, appearing to the Apostles, 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.”

One of the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church is the power to forgive in God’s name, to enable us to hear Jesus say to us what he said to the Apostles twice in today’s short reading, Peace be with you. This is the gift he offered at the Last Supper.

Confession
Giuseppe Maria Crespi [Wikipedia]

This is the gift God gives us most especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, what many of us still call Confession or Penance.   It is the way in which God, through the Church and specifically through the sacrament of Holy Orders, brings back into communion with him those who have turned away from him through mortal sin, that is a sin involving grave matter, a clear awareness that it is such and full and deliberate consent to the act. To go to confession in that situation is a matter of urgency, to be done before we go to Holy Communion again. Then Holy Communion becomes a true celebration of the full communion that God wants each of us to have with him.

But the sacrament is also a great help to those who are faithfully following Jesus but who sometimes take to byways down which God is not calling them, byways that lead into sin. Though the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not essential for the forgiveness of such sins it is the special way given by God through the Holy Spirit for that. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.

I left that parish on Monday morning and did not know who had shoved the note under the door. I’ve no idea what became of the writer. Perhaps she went to confession shortly after. Very likely she hadn’t committed any grave sin but had suffered greatly because of the actions of another; But whatever the situation was she had a profound experience of God’s mercy that Sunday, something like that of Zacchaeus, like that of the woman caught in adultery, like that of the Prodigal Son.

The gospels don’t tell us what subsequently became of Zacchaues or of the woman caught in adultery. But we know that the Holy Spirit profoundly touched their hearts, healed their wounds and changed their lives as Jesus passed by. And I know that the Holy Spirit profoundly touched the heart and healed the wounds of that young woman in the western USA parish as Jesus ‘passed by’ that Sunday morning through a priest who spent only two nights there.

The Sequence in today’s Mass, Veni Sancte Spiritus, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, expresses something of that in the seventh stanza:

Lava quod est sordidum, Heal our wounds, our strength renew,
Riga quod est aridum, On our dryness pour your dew,
Sana quod est saucium. Wash the stains of guilt away.

English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ captures something of the presence of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of life in the closing lines of his poem God’s Grandeur:

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm heart and with ah! Bright wings.

God's Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins, performed by Lance Pierson


Dum complementur
Composed by Palestrina, sung by The Sixteen, Harry Christophers

Dum complerentur dies Pentecostes,
erant omnes pariter dicentes: Alleluia.
Et subito factus est sonus de caelo. Alleluia.
Tamquam spiritus vehementis,
et replevit totam domum. Alleluia.

Dum ergo essent in unum discipuli
congregati propter metum Iudaeorum,
sonus repente de caelo venit super eos.
Tamquam spiritus vehementis,
et replevit totam domum. Alleluia.

The Latin words are based mainly on Acts 2:1-2, the opening verses of the First Reading in both the Vigil Mass and the Mass During the Day:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.


Pentecost, from a Prayer Book
Girolamo da Cremona [Web Gallery of Art]


19 May 2020

'I am with you always . . .' Sunday Reflections, Ascension, Year A

Ascension Cupola, San Marco, Venice
Italian Mosaic Artist [Web Gallery of Art]

Ascension, Year A

The Ascension is celebrated on Ascension Thursday, 21 May, in England & Wales, Scotland. In the USA it is celebrated on Ascension Thursday in the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, Philadelphia. In all of these places Ascension Thursday is a Holyday of Obligation.

The Ascension is observed on Sunday, 24 May, in Aotearoa-New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Philippines, USA (apart from the jurisdictions mentioned above).

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

Gospel Matthew 28:16-20 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’


Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A

These readings are used in regions where the Ascension is observed on Asceinsion Thursday.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 17 1-11 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Ascension
Andrea della Robbia [Web Gallery of Art]

The reflection is for the Ascension.

Halliday Square, Dublin


Early in the summer of 1953 when I was ten my father taught me how to ride a bicycle. In August of that year, when we were on holiday in Bray, south of Dublin, he taught me how to swim. I borrowed cry cousin Deirdre's bike, a small blue one and practised on Halliday Square, Dublin, just below our street and to the left in the photo above. It had a long enclosed garden in the centre where some local people grew vegetables, as I recall, and in my young mind was a kind of racing circuit.

However, in order to do any racing I had to learn first to keep on the bike while moving. My father held on to the saddle while I moved forward, wobbling quite a bit for about ten metres before we'd start again. I'm not sure how many times we repeated this or over how many evenings. But a moment arrived when I realized that I was moving forward steadily and surely - and that Dad wasn't holding on to the saddle. I was on my own. A great thrill - with an awareness that I could't 'unlearn' how to ride. From that moment I could only move forward, in more senses than one. And before long I found myself racing around the circuit that was Halliday Square, sometimes against others, sometimes just 'against myself'.

Bray Head and beach, Bray, Ireland

Dad's approach to teaching me how to swim was similar. He held his hand under my chest, in fairly shallow water, off the stony beach in the photo above. I was trying to do the breaststroke. As with the bike, he showed great patience and I had absolute trust in him knowing that he wouldn't let me sink, just as he hadn't let me fall off the bicycle.

Once again there was the magic moment when I realized that Dad's hand was no longer touching my chest - I was swimming on my own. And as with cycling, this is an ability that you cannot 'unlearn'.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, Jesus tells the Apostles in the First Reading (Acts 1:8).

My experience with my father - and with my mother too who often said to me in my childhood years, When you're 21 you'll be responsible for yourself, giving me a goal to reach - helps me understand something of the meaning of today's feast. If my Dad had kept holding on to the saddle of my cousin's bike I would never have learned to go on my own. If he had kept holding me while teaching me to swim I would have remained dependent on him.

If Jesus, the Risen Lord, had stayed with the Apostles they would have remained in Jerusalem and never have gone to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

For the next eight years after learning to ride a bike I cycled to school twice each day, unless it was raining, coming home for lunch, getting about an hour's exercise in the process without calling it that. And in a very real way my Dad was always with me because he had enabled me to acquire a skill that in turn gave me a new freedom that brought with it new responsibilities and new possibilities. New possibilities and the responsibilities that go with them continue to arise in my life as a priest. 

And in the life of the Church, as in the life of each individual, new situations with their challenges are constantly arising. The one thing that we can be certain of as disciples of Jesus, carrying out the mission he has entrusted to the Church, whatever our particular part may be in that mission, is the truth of his final words before his Ascension, And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

He is with us always through his Holy Spirit whose coming we will celebrate next week on Pentecost Sunday.


Antiphona ad introitum  Entrance Antiphon Acts 1:11

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

Omnes gentes plaudite manibus: iubilate Deo in voce exultationis.
All peoples , clap your hands, cry to God with shouts of joy.
Gloria Patri, et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat iin principio et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Amen.

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

The text in bold is used in the Mass in the Ordinary Form while the longer form is used in the Mass in the Extraordinary Form (the Traditional Latin Mass). 

Below is a setting by English composer William Byrd who died in 1623, sung by the New Cambridge Singers.




Music for the Easter Season


Jesus bleibet meine Freude
by Johann Sebastian Bach
Singers: Voces8; oboist: Nick Deutsch; organist: Alexander Hamilton

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete (John 15:11).

15 May 2020

'I will not leave you orphaned.' Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A

The Last Supper
John 13:1-17:26


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

Gospel John 14:15-21 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised 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 for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’




Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (detail)

I have shared this story, or parts of it, a number of times here, maybe even recently. But it is an event in which I see the call of Jesus to intimacy with him and with the Father in the Last Supper Discourse from which today's Gospel is taken.

In the summer of 1982 when I worked for a month or so in an American parish after a year's study in Toronto I went to visit a friend who had turned 29 earlier that year. I first met 'Gina', as I'll call my Italian-American friend, when she was a mixed-up 16-year-old with a generous and honest heart. Over the years I was a mentor in the faith to her, mostly by letter, as we met only every few years. Gina was a wonderful letter-writer, hence the painting by Vermeer above, though I used to gently tease her on occasion about misspellings - she was a teacher.

I had seen Gina grow strong in the faith over the years and when she graduated she chose to teach in a Catholic school, with a lower salary, than in the public school system, because of her commitment. She also took time out at one stage to spend a year working with a charismatic group.

When we met in 1982, shortly after she had spent some time in the ICU, Gina told me that she felt she didn't have long to live. It was the first time anyone had ever said that to me and I had the grace to take her at her word. I knew that she didn't enjoy robust health and I was also aware of two attempts to take her own life.

The first was when she was around 17. She slit her wrist. Fortunately, her parents found her and took her straight to hospital. During her recovery, which was a kind of 'resurrection' experience for her, she saw clearly that her parents loved her, despite the infidelity of her father that she had been aware of since she was about six, knowledge she had tried to protect her younger brother from.

But in the summer of 1981, before I went to Toronto, I spent a month in the parish where I found myself again the following year. Not long after going there I did something that I rarely did - make a phone call late at night. I normally don't phone someone unless there's some business to discuss and I don't call people when they might already be in bed. I was shocked when Gina answered. She sounded drunk. I discovered that she had taken an overdose of a high-risk medicine that the doctor had prescribed for her multiple sclerosis (MS). I told her I would come over immediately. She said that she would't let me in. She lived in an apartment on her own, not far from her parents' house. I asked another priest to come with me. And when we arrived she didn't carry out her threat not to let me in.

After a couple of hours we were satisfied that Gina hadn't taken enough to kill herself and that she wouldn't do anything drastic during the night. I promised to return in the morning and I was to spend most of the next two days with her. 

I knew that at that particular time I was the only person whom Gina could trust and open her heart to. The breakthrough came on the second morning. What had triggered off her attempted suicide was something her mother had said indicating that Gina wasn't living up to her expectations. Gina, who felt deep shame at the state she was in in my presence, asked me, What are your expectations of me? I answered, I don't have any, only hopes.

That was when Gina made a clear decision to live. St Peter tells us in today's Second Reading: Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15-16).

When I went back to the parish later I had no worries. A few days later Gina came to Mass there, as serene and happy as could be. For the second time in her life she had truly experienced a 'resurrection' but this time understanding it clearly from the vantage of her deep faith. 

And a day or two later I received a letter from Gina that I still treasure that was an expression of her Catholic Christian faith and of her reverence for the grace that the priesthood is for God's people and specifically for her. And she got her 'revenge' on me for my teasing about her occasional misspellings by deliberately misspelling almost every word in the opening paragraph and promising to say a Hail Mary for each misspelled word I might find in the rest of the letter - and binding me to say a certain number of Hail Marys for her if I didn't find any. (I found one - years later on one of the many occasions I have re-read Gina's letter!)

Supper at Emmaus
Hendrick Terbrugghen [Web Gallery of Art]

One thing I learned from the experience in 1982 was that a person may have a deep and strong faith and yet be very fragile. I also learned, as I've learned from many other situation down the years, that you don't have to have experienced the specific pain of the person you are listening to in order to understand or for that person to know that he or she is truly heard and understood.

When Gina then told me the following summer that she thought she didn't have long to live I took her seriously and knew that she was probably right. When I had heard after arriving in her area that  she was in the ICU I didn't want to face the possible consequences of that.

We spoke to each other for maybe two or three hours about what her death would mean to her and to me. There was nothing morbid about this. We were sharing at the deepest level of our Catholic Christian faith. Gina truly believed in the reality of the Resurrection. And she had discovered that God is a loving and merciful God, particularly the previous summer.

During these Sundays and weekdays the Gospel is from the Last Supper Discourse in St John's Gospel (John 14-17). Jesus knows he is to suffer an ignominious and utterly painful death. Yet there is nothing morbid about his words. He is calling his closest companions into the intimacy of the Holy Trinity. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. And telling them of the Holy Spirit whom he will send Jesus says, You know him, because he will abide with you, and he will be in you. Gina and I at that moment shared in the intimacy of the Holy Trinity through the presence of Jesus the Risen Lord, the kind of intimacy captured by Terbrugghen in his painting above, Supper at Emmaus.

After talking through all of this Gina and I went to a restaurant for lunch where we were joking and laughing. Deep in our hearts we experienced something of what Jesus promised the Twelve - and all of us - at the Last Supper: So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you (John 16:22).

I never saw Gina again. She died a few months later, very peacefully. And I know that her parish priest celebrated Mass in her apartment, with her family and some friends present, a day or two before her death.

Because I live, you also will live.


If ye love me
Composed by Thomas Tallis, sung by Cantate Boys' Choir.
St John Paul II was born on 18 May 1920.

Antiphona ad Communionem  Communion Antiphon John 14:15-16

Si diligitis me, mandata mea servate, dicit Dominus.
If you love me, keep my commandments, says the Lord,
Et ego rogabo Patrem et alium Paraclitmum dabit vobis,
and I will ask the Father and he will send you another Paraclete,
ut maneat vobiscum in aeternum, alleluia.
to abide with you for ever, alleluia.

Translation used by Tallis

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. 


Easter Music
Venite, exsultemus Domino. Psalm 94[95]:1.
Come, ring out our joy to the Lord.
Téanam agus canaimís don Tiarna.


Hosanna


A friend in the Philippines sent me the link to Hosanna and told me that it is often sung at international meetings of Faith and Light. The music was written by Carl Tuttle, an American, who leads the song in this video. Here are the lyrics.

Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest; 
Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest.

Lord, we lift up your name with hearts full of praise;
be exalted,  O Lord, My God; Hosanna in the highest.

Glory, Glory, Glory to the King of Kings;
Glory, Glory, Glory to the King of Kings.

Lord, we lift up your name with hearts full of praise;
be exalted, O Lord, my God; Glory to the King of Kings.

Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest; 
Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest.

Lord, we lift up your name with hearts full of praise;
be exalted,  O Lord, My God; Hosanna in the highest.

It is interesting that a hymn of praise coming out of an American Protestant tradition has become a multi-lingual one during the Covid-19 pandemic with a 'virtual' international choir led from Međugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Blessed Mother is especially venerated. And it has become an anthem for Faith and Light which has its origins in Lourdes in 1971 and, while Catholic-inspired, is also ecumenical and inter-faith in its celebration of the lives of persons with learning disabilities.

Interesting too that while the soloists of the 'virtual' choir sing in their own languages, they sing Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in excelsis together in Latin, the language that is the heritage of all Catholics of the Latin or Roman Rite, who are the vast majority of Catholics.