01 March 2024

'The Risen Christ was not an abstraction, or mere theological doctrine, to Shahbaz Bhatti.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Christ Cleansing the Temple
Luca Giordano [Web Gallery of Art]

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple (John 2:15; Gospel).

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel John 2:13-25 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

Léachtaí i nGaeilge


Christ in Agony on the Cross

Since I was a child, I was accustomed to going to church and finding profound inspiration in the teachings, the sacrifice, and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was his love that led me to offer my service to the Church (Shahbas Bhatti).

Last week I focused on the life and death of Shahbaz Bhatti,  assassinated in Pakistan on 2 March 2011. I want to do the same this week as I think that this man exemplifies what being a follower of Jesus is. Here are two quotations from him. 

The first:

I have been asked to put an end to my battle, but I have always refused, even at the risk of my own life. My response has always been the same. I do not want popularity, I do not want positions of power. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.

The second:

I, as a humble servant of Jesus Christ, will continue to serve the suffering, victimised and persecuted communities, and am ready to even sacrifice my life to defend the principles of religious freedom, human equality and the rights of minorities.

These quotations are from a politician who was a Catholic and the only Christian in the cabinet of the national government in Pakistan. Not long after he spoke those latter words he was assassinated on 2 March 2011. His name was Clement Shahbaz Bhatti. He was 42.

The first quotation is from a testament published a few days after his death in La Civiltà Cattolica, the weekly magazine published in the Vatican, and also here. The second is what he said to the media after being re-appointed to the cabinet as Minister for Minorities’ Affairs on 11 February 2011, less that two weeks before his death.

Today’s First Reading from the Book of Exodus is the proclamation of the Ten Commandments, beginning with I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.

The first three commandments have to do with our relationship with God, the other seven with our relationships to one another. Shahbaz Bhatti’s vision embraced both kinds of relationships. In his testimony he wroteMy name is Shahbaz Bhatti. I was born into a Catholic family. My father, a retired teacher, and my mother, a housewife, raised me according to Christian values and the teachings of the Bible, which influenced my childhood. Since I was a child, I was accustomed to going to church and finding profound inspiration in the teachings, the sacrifice, and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was his love that led me to offer my service to the Church. The frightening conditions into which the Christians of Pakistan had fallen disturbed me. I remember one Good Friday when I was just thirteen years old: I heard a homily on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to his love by giving love to my brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially of the poor, the needy, and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country.

Shahbaz Bhatti had a profound sense of vocation as a follower of Jesus Christ serving the poorest. Jesus was at the heart of his life. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. He uses this image again in the last paragraph of his testimony: I believe that the needy, the poor, the orphans, whatever their religion, must be considered above all as human beings. I think that these persons are part of my body in Christ, that they are the persecuted and needy part of the body of Christ. If we bring this mission to its conclusion, then we will have won a place at the feet of Jesus, and I will be able to look at him without feeling shame.

That evokes the words of Jesus to St Martha after she asked him to rebuke her sister Mary: It is Mary who has chosen the good portion, which will not to be taken from her.

It also expresses a deep sense of the Mystical Body of Christ, as does the previous paragraph of his testimony: I say that, as long as I am alive, until the last breath, I will continue to serve Jesus and this poor, suffering humanity, the Christians, the needy, the poor. I believe that the Christians of the world who have reached out to the Muslims hit by the tragedy of the earthquake of 2005 have built bridges of solidarity, of love, of comprehension, and of tolerance between the two religions.

Shahbaz Bhatti lived out the Ten Commandments as a follower of Jesus in the mission our Saviour proclaimed at the beginning of his public life: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,  because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

One of Shahbaz Bhatti’s closest friends, a Muslim and a member of the same political party, was assassinated on 4 January 2011, Governor Salman Taseer of Punjab, murdered by one of his own bodyguards. These two politicians and friends opposed the blasphemy laws and asked for the release of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman falsely accused of breaking the blasphemy laws and sentenced to death. Her long ordeal ended only in 2019 when she was allowed to go to Canada. The following year she moved to France.


Servant of God Clement Shahbaz Bhatti [Wikipedia]
(9 September 1968 - 2 March 2011) 

The Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi opened the cause for the beatification of Shahbaz Bhatti on the fifth anniversary of his death.

St Paul tells us in the Second Reading: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. In a video interview with the BBC four months before his death, to be broadcast in the event of his death, Shahbaz Bhatti said: I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of [the] Cross and I am following of the Cross and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights.

El Greco's painting above shows the Crucifixion rooted in Toledo, the Spanish city where he spent the second half of his life. Jesus became one of us: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) and died for us. Shahbaz Bhatti's words are a reflection of the truth that El Greco expresses in his painting: I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights.

The possibility of his being assassinated was something he spoke about a number of times. But he was ready to accept it because of his deep faith in Jesus Christ who suffered and died for us on the Cross.

In the Gospel today Jesus drives the people engaged in commerce out of the Temple telling them: Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade. The whole thrust of Shahbaz Bhatti’s life from his student days was to resist and oppose false values that held people in servitude in Pakistan. This was his ways of making a whip out of cords and driving them all out of the temple. He did this with a deep sense of vocation, awakened in him by his parents and especially by the Good Friday homily he heard when he was 13. The sacrifice of Jesus was perhaps the deepest formative influence in his life.

The Gospel today also speaks of the Resurrection: Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up . . . and when therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. The response to today’s Psalm is You, Lord, have the message of eternal life. Shahbaz Bhatti lived out of his faith in the Resurrection: I only want a place at the feet of Jesus . . . If we bring this mission to its conclusion, then we will have won a place at the feet of Jesus, and I will be able to look at him without feeling shame.

Fr Raymond de Souza, a Canadian priest, said in a homily in Ottawa a few days after the killing of Shahbaz BhattiIn the face of death the Christian proclaims the truth of the Risen Christ. The Risen Christ was not an abstraction, or mere theological doctrine, to Shahbaz Bhatti. He knew that the Lord Jesus was at work in his life. He had a personal relationship with Him. He believed that his life was proceeding under the Lord’s Providence. He knew that the Risen Christ is the Lord of History. He knew that the time of his departure was close at hand; he knew that he had fought the good fight; he knew that his race was almost finished.

This sense that our true home is in heaven, when we will have won a place at the feet of Jesus, has become obscured and forgotten to a large degree today. Shahbaz Bhatti was probably not familiar with the 8th Sermon of St Columban, the great Irish missionary saint (c.540 - 625), but understood what he said there: Since we are travellers and pilgrims in the world, let us ever ponder on the end of the road, that is of our life, for the end of our roadway is our home.


Pope Benedict's Angelus Talk, 7 March 2011

Pope Benedict speaking about Shahbaz Bhatti five days after his assassination.


Traditional Latin Mass

Second Sunday in Lent

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 03-03-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: Ephesians 5:1-9Gospel: Luke 11:14-28. 

A Pair of Boots
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:2; Epistle).


23 February 2024

'I just want a place at the feet of Jesus.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B


 

The Transfiguration
Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

Fra Angelico (c.1395 - 18 February 1455) was an Italian Dominican friar. He was beatified by Pope St John Paul 11 on 3 October 1992 and his feast day is observed on 18 February.

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 9:2-10 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son;[c] listen to him. And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.


Léachtaí i nGaeilge


Assumpsit Iesus Petrum
Sebastián de Vivanco (Ávila, 1551 - Salamanca, 1622)
Música Reservata de Barcelona directed by Bruno Turner


Assumpsit Iesus Petrum, et Iacobum et Ioannem fratrem eius, et duxit eos in montem excelsum seorsum, et transfiguratus est ante eos.

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

Et ecce vox de nube dicens: His est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi bene complauci, ipsum audite.

And a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him" (Mark 10: 2,7).

Servant of God Clement Shahbaz Bhatti [Wikipedia]
(9 September 1968 - 2 March 2011) 

In today's first reading God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son 'on a height that I will point out to you'. We can only imagine the heartbreak of Abraham being asked by God to give offer his only son by Sarah his wife, born when both of them were very old. But God wasn't looking for the life of Isaac but for Abraham to submit himself to God's will, no matter the consequences. Abraham's sacrifice of his own will made him our Father in faith, as the Roman Canon says, the Father of countless Jews and Christians. Muslims also venerate him.

From the time of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, down to our own day, God has been calling certain individuals to give up everything that is precious to them, including life itself, for the sake of others.

The struggle of Abraham is a sign of the struggle that Jesus would have to go through. Last Sunday we got a glimpse of his struggle in the desert where he was tempted by Satan, basically to abandon the mission the Father had given him. During Holy Week we will see his awful struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane and his cry from the Cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Each of us in some way has to share in that struggle, to let go of our own will in something big or small for the sake of others and to do what God want us to do.

Shahbaz Bhatti was living in a situation where he knew that God might ask him to give up his own life. Less than two months before his death Governor Salmaan Taseer of Punjab, a Muslim, was murdered by one of his own security guards because of his opposition to Pakistan's Blasphemy Law.

Mr Bhatti was deeply committed to working for groups discriminated against, including the Christian minority in Pakistan. He gave as the reason for his commitment, I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and say that I am following Jesus Christ. (These words were quoted in the reflection on the Second Station of the Cross in the Colosseum in Rome led by Pope Francis on Good Friday 2015.) He was gunned down on 2 March 2011 in  Islamabad, just after leaving his mother's home.

In the video below Shahbaz Bhatti speaks about the possibility of his death. A note with the video says :Bhatti's close colleague shared the video with Al Jazeera saying that Bhatti had requested him to do so in the eventuality of his assassination because 'it is with the Muslim world I want to share the message of love. That is the only message that can bring the Muslim world out of the circle of hate and killings'.

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of this video.


[Update: Benedict Rogers, a close friend of Shahbaz Bhatti, in an article published on 2 March 2021 writes about this interview: Four months before his murder, he recorded an interview with the BBC for broadcast in the event of his death.]

Below the video is a transcript of what Mr Bhatti said.


Minister Bhatti, you forgot one question in the interview. Your life is threatened by whom and what sort of threats are you receiving?

The forces of violence, militant banned organizations, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, they want to impose their radical philosophy on Pakistan. And whoever stands against their radical philosophy that threatens them, when I’m leading this campaign against the Sharia Law, for the abolishment [abolition] of [the] Blasphemy Law, and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized, persecuted Christian and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me.

But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of [the] Cross and I am following of the Cross and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles. I will prefer to die for my principle and for the justice of my community rather [than] to compromise on these threats.

Sts Peter, James and John, as they came down the mountain after having seen the Transfigured Jesus, wondered what 'risen from the dead' meant. A few weeks after the assassination of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti the bishops of Pakistan petitioned the Holy See to declare him a martyr. Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, who drafted the petition, said, We Christians in Pakistan want to transform the death of Shahbaz Bhatti into a prophecy of the Resurrection. It was only after the Crucifixion that the Resurrection could occur and it was only after Easter Sunday that the Apostles found the answer to their question. On 2 March 2016, the fifth anniversary of his death, the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi began collecting testimonies about Shahbaz Bhatti to inquire into his martyrdom and sanctity.

May each of us pray for the grace to make these words of Shahbaz Bhatti our own: I just want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.


Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (detail)
Velázquez  [Web Gallery of Art]

Martha had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching (Luke 10:39).

I just want a place at the feet of Jesus (Shahbaz Bhatti).

+++

On 18 February The Catholic Herald (England) posted this story on their website: Report: 8,000 Christians murdered in worst year for Islamist attacks.


Traditional Latin Mass

Second Sunday in Lent

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 2-25-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7. Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9. 

Transfiguration
Marco Benefial [Web Gallery of Art]

After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart (Matthew 17:1; Gospel).


 


16 February 2024

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

 

The Repentant Peter

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

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

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

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

 

Léachtaí i nGaeilge


Cupola Decoration
Early Coptic Painter [Web Gallery of Art]

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the men who were martyred:


·                     Bishoy Adel Khalaf           

·                     Samuel Alhoam Wilson  

·                     Hany Abdel-Masih Salib

·                     Melad McCain Zaky         

·                     Abanoub Ayad Attia       

·                     Ezzat Bushra Nassif

·                     Yousef Shokry Younan   

·                     Kirillos Shukry Fawzy      

·                     Majid Suleiman Shehata

·                     Somali Stéphanos Kamel              

·                     Malak Ibrahim Siniot       

·                     Bishoy Stéphanos Kamel

·                     Mena Fayez Aziz              

·                     Girgis Melad Siniot          

·                     Tawadros Youssef Tawadros

·                     Essam Badr Samir             

·                     Luke Ngati           

·                     Jaber Mounir Adly

·                     Malak Faraj Abram          

·                     Sameh Salah Farouk       

·                     Matthew Ayariga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Latin Mass

First Sunday in Lent

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

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

The Temptation of Christ
Tintoretto [Web Gallery of Art]

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