31 May 2013

'You give them something to eat'. Sunday Reflections, Corpus Christi

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

Gospel Luke 9:11b - 17 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus welcomed the crowds and spoke to them of the kingdom of God, and cured those who had need of healing. Now the day began to wear away; and the twelve came and said to him, "Send the crowd away, to go into the villages and country round about, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a lonely place." But he said to them, "You give them something to eat." They said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish--unless we are to go and buy food for all these people." For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, "Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each." And they did so, and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces. 

In countries where Corpus Christi is celebrated on Thursday 30 May the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C is observed on 2 June. Here are the readings:

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

I'll take advantage of Pope Francis having celebrated Mass on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, known officially now in English as The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, yesterday in the plaza outside the Basilica of St John Lateran, the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. Here is the English translation of his homily, given in Italian, by Vatican Radio. I have highlighted parts that struck me. [The original Italian text is here. The translation does not seem to have been done by a native English-speaker. There is another translation on the Zenit website.]

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the Gospel we have just heard, there is an expression of Jesus that always strikes me: 
"You give them something to eat"  (Lk 9:13). Starting from this sentence, I let myself be guided by three words: discipleship, fellowship and sharing.

1. First of all: who are those to whom we are to give to eat? The answer is found at the beginning of the Gospel: it is the crowd, the multitude. Jesus is in the midst of the people: He welcomes them, talks to them, He cures them, He shows them the mercy of God. In their midst, he chooses the twelve Apostles to be with Him, and like Him, to immerse themselves in the concrete situations of the world. People follow Him, listen to Him, because Jesus speaks and acts in a new way, with the authority of someone who is authentic and consistent, who speaks and acts with truth, who gives the hope that comes from God, who is revelation of the face of a God who is love - and the people with joy, bless God.

This evening we are the crowd of [which] the Gospel [tells]: let us also strive to follow Jesus to listen to him, to enter into communion with Him in the Eucharist, to accompany Him and in order that He accompany us. Let us ask ourselves: how do I follow Jesus? Jesus speaks in silence in the Mystery of the Eucharist and every time reminds us that to follow Him means to come out of ourselves and make of our own lives, not a possession, but a gift to Him and to others.

2. Let us take a step forward: whence is born the invitation that Jesus makes to his disciples to feed the multitude themselves? It is born from two elements: first, the crowd, having followed Jesus, now finds itself in the open, away from inhabited areas, as evening falls, and then, because of the concern of the disciples, who asked Jesus to dismiss the crowd, that they might seek food and lodging in the nearby towns (cf. Lk 9:12). Faced with the neediness of the crowd, the solution of the disciples is that every man should take care of himself: “Dismiss the crowd!” [the disciples say]. How many times do we Christians have this temptation! We do not care for the needs of others, dismissing them with a pitiful, “God help you.” Jesus’ solution, on the other hand, goes in another direction, a direction that surprises the disciples: [He says], “You give them something to eat.” 

But how is it that we are to feed a multitude? “We have only five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” But Jesus is not discouraged. He asks the disciples to seat people in communities of fifty people, He raises his eyes to heaven, recites the blessing, breaks the loaves, and gives them to the disciples for distribution. 

It is a moment of profound communion: the crowd, whose thirst has been quenched by the word of the Lord, is now nourished by His bread of life – and they all ate their fill, the Evangelist tells us.

This evening, we too are gathered around the Lord’s table, the table of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which He gives us once again His body, makes present the one sacrifice of the Cross. It is in listening to his Word, in nourishing ourselves with his Body and his Blood, that He makes us go from being a multitude to being a community, from [being strangers] to being [in] communion. The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion, which brings us out from individualism to live together our journey in His footsteps, our faith in Him. We ought, therefore, to ask ourselves before the Lord: How do I live the Eucharist? Do I live it anonymously or as a moment of true communion with the Lord, [and] also with many brothers and sisters who share this same table? How are our Eucharistic celebrations?

3. A final element: whence is born the multiplication of the loaves? The answer lies in the invitation of Jesus to his disciples: “You yourselves give [to them]...,” “give,” share. What do the disciples share? What little they have: five loaves and two fishes. But it is precisely those loaves and fishes that in God’s hands feed the whole crowd

And it is the disciples, bewildered by the inability of their means, by the poverty of what they have at their disposal, who invite the people to sit down, and - trusting the Word of Jesus – distribute the loaves and fishes that feed the crowd. This tells us that in the Church, but also in society, a keyword that we need not fear is “solidarity,” that is, knowing how to place what we have at God’s disposal: our humble abilities, because [it is] only in the sharing, in the giving of them, that our lives will be fecund, will bear fruit. Solidarity: a word upon which the spirit of the world looks unkindly!

Tonight, once again, the Lord distributes for us the bread which is His body, He makes a gift of Himself. We, too, are experiencing the “solidarity of God” with man, a solidarity that never runs out, a solidarity that never ceases to amaze us: God draws near to us; in the sacrifice of the Cross He lowers Himself, entering into the darkness of death in order to give us His life, which overcomes evil, selfishness, death

Jesus this evening gives Himself to us in the Eucharist, shares our same journey – indeed, He becomes food, real food that sustains our life even at times when the going is rough, when obstacles slow down our steps. The Lord in the Eucharist makes us follow His path, that of service, of sharing, of giving – and what little we have, what little we are, if shared, becomes wealth, because the power of God, which is that of love, descends into our poverty to transform it.

Let us ask ourselves this evening, adoring the Christ truly present in the Eucharist: do I let myself be transformed by Him? Do I let the Lord who gives Himself to me, guide me to come out more and more from my little fence to get out and be not afraid to give, to share, to love Him and others?

Discipleship, communion and sharing. Let us pray that participation in the Eucharist move us always to follow the Lord every day, to be instruments of communion, to share with Him and with our neighbor who we are. Then our lives will be truly fruitful. Amen.

I don't recall such an event before, where Catholics in every time zone will be making a Holy Hour of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the same time as in Rome. Though the video emphasises cathedrals and religious houses, it will also take place in many other churches and chapels, including St Mun's, Ballachulish-Glencoe, Scotland, where I am at the moment.

Ths worldwide Holy Hour is in the context of the Year of Faith.

May this hour be a moment of great grace for the Church and the world.

A booklet in Italian and Latin for the Holy Hour to be observed in St Peter's, Rome, is on the Vatican website here. The English version is here on the Year of Faith website.

Marten Pepijn, 1637 [Web Gallery of Art]

29 May 2013

'Delay communions until adulthood, says priest' - Irish Examiner today

May is the month in Ireland when children make their First Holy Communion. Over the years it has become less and less a significant moment of faith in the lives of young Irish Catholics and more and more an extravagant family celebration where the Christian faith is no more than a background and very often lacking in the parents of the First Communicant.

Today's Irish Examiner carries a story under the headline Delay communions until adulthood, says priestFiachra Ó Cionnaith's report begins:

The claim has been made by a leading Catholic priest, who said the age-specific system has lost almost all connection to what is meant to be intended. 

Speaking on RTÉ Liveline programme [a very popular phone-in radio show on the main national station] yesterday, Fr Paddy Byrne said the modern-day version of the religious rites of passage has become a 'hostile' event involving families who do not want to be there. 

He said cultural changes in recent years mean many ceremonies now involve parents who have moved away from the Church, but feel peer pressure to allow their children to join the ceremonies. 

In other cases, he said, otherwise religious families see the events more as family parties and opportunities for their children to be given money and presents. 

The article quotes Fr Byrne: 85% of children taking first communion are not seen again by the Church. This figure may not be quite accurate as probably most of them will appear in church at least once after their First Holy Communion - for their Confirmation about five years later. Then for many, maybe most, it's 'Goodbye'.

TV3, a commercial station in Ireland, broadcast Modern Ireland - My First Holy Communion  (video above) in 2009. It looks at three families, two Irish and a Nigerian family now living in Dublin. Ironically, the immigrant family is the most comfortable financially. For all three families the First Holy Communion of one of their children is a very important family event. One father hopes that it will bring his separated parents together for the occasion. Sadly, it doesn't.

But it is only the Nigerian family that clearly sees the day above all as a celebration of their Catholic faith and an occasion they hope will be one of a deepening in his faith of the young boy making his First Holy Communion.

The excerpts from the Mass in County Louth shown in the video made me shudder.

First Communicants at Holy Family Home for Girls. I had just baptised and confirmed some of them. Most of these girls come from backgrounds of poverty and many have experienced far worse than that.

Though I'm not sure that I'd go along with the idea of leaving the sacraments of initiation until adulthood I think that Fr Byrne is highlighting the crisis of a widespread loss of the Catholic Christian faith in Ireland, something I've posted about before, also in the context of First Holy Communion.

Father Byrne observes that First Holy Communion and Confirmation are losing their meaning for Irish Catholics and notes, There’s a majority [of parents] who are quite unruly when it comes to the basic etiquette of how to behave. I’ve often been asked 'do you have wi-fi here, can people go on Facebook?'

How can someone who doesn't now the alphabet teach another how to read? How can parents or grandparents who have in effect lost the faith or for whom Mass is not important pass on the faith to their children and grandchildren? Pope Francis carries in his breviary a note from his paternal grandmother, born Rosa Margherita Vasallo and who emigrated from Italy to Argentina with his parents: May my grandchildren, to whom I have given my whole heart, have a long and happy life but if pain, sickness or loss of a loved one should fill them with sadness, may they remember that one breath taken at the Tabernacle, where the greatest and august martyr is present and one glance at Mary at the foot of the cross, will act like a balm that is able to heal the deepest and most painful wounds.

Where are the Rosa Margheritas in contemporary Ireland?

Céad míle fáilte romhat, a Íosa, a Íosa
A hundred thousand welcomes to you, o Jesus, o Jesus
A traditional Irish Communion / Christmas hymn


Céad míle fáilte romhat, a Íosa, a Íosa,
Céad míle fáilte romhat, a Íosa,
Céad míle fáilte romhat, a Shlánaitheoir
Céad míle míle fáilte romhat, a Íosa, a Íosa...

Glóir agus moladh duit, a Íosa, a Íosa,
Glóir agus moladh duit, a Íosa,
Glóir agus moladh duit, a Shlánaitheoir,
Glóir, moladh agus buíochas duit, a Íosa, a Íosa...

Céad míle fáilte romhat, a Shlánaitheoir,
Céad míle míle fáilte romhat, a Íosa, a Íosa...


A hundred thousand welcomes to you, o Jesus, o Jesus,
A hundred thousand welcomes to you, o Jesus,
A hundred thousand welcomes to you, o Saviour,
A hundred thousand welcomes to you, o Jesus, o Jesus...

Glory and praise to you, o Jesus, o Jesus,
Glory and praise to you, o Jesus,
Glory and praise to you, o Saviour,
Glory, praise and thanks to you, o Jesus, o Jesus...

A hundred thousand welcomes to you, o Saviour,
A hundred thousand welcomes to you, o Jesus, o Jesus...

26 May 2013

An Irish cat mothering ducklings

The domestic cat is surely one of God's most delightful creatures. Last Thursday The Irish Times carried this story: Purrfect Harmony: mother cat suckles ducklings. Whether or not the cat is suckling the ducklings she is certainly mothering them.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah11:6-8 RSV-CE).

Here's a Japanese choral version of Leroy Anderson's The Waltzing Cat.

23 May 2013

'When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.' Sunday Reflections, Trinity Sunday

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 16:12-15 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to his disciples: "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Albrecht Dürer, 1511 [Web Gallery of Art]

The two paintings above, like many others, depict the Holy Trinity with the crucified, dead Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St Caesarius of ArlesThe faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity.

Though it is a mystery that we can never fully understand, the Trinity shows God's total involvement in our lives. Without the Creator we wouldn't be. Without God becoming Man in the Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, we would not have the possibility of eternal life. Without the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we would never understand who we are, the beloved sons and daughters of God the Father, the beloved brothers and sisters of Jesus and therefore of one another.

And none of this would be possible if Jesus had not lived among us and died for us. The paintings show us the price that God was willing to pay that we would know him and return his love.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman expresses the central mysteries of our faith in Firmly I believe and truly, taken from his extended poem The Dream of Gerontius. Sir Edward Elgar later set this to music, though the setting below is by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

We Christians begin almost every prayer, liturgical or otherwise, with the words In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit or with Glory to the Father . . . The Catechism tells us: Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: not in their names, for there is only one God, the almighty Father, his only Son and the Holy Spirit: the Most Holy Trinity.

Like the painters Carracci and Dürer, Newman draws us to the Incarnation, the reality of God becoming Man, and the Paschal Mystery, the death and resurrection of Jesus:

And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.

And I trust and hope most fully
In that Manhood crucified

The Second Person of the Trinity becoming one of us, living among us, dying for us in a most humiliating way, and being raised from the dead is the source of our hope. It is by following Jesus wholeheartedly that we too are bearers of this hope to others. As Pope Francis said in his homily last WednesdayJesus was 'promoted' to the Cross. He was 'promoted' to humiliation. That is true promotion, that which makes us seem more like Jesus.

In the fourth stanza, not sung here, Newman brings us to the central fact that the Holy Spirit, who will guide you into all the truth, does so above all through the Church:

And I hold in veneration,
For the love of Him alone,
Holy Church as His creation,
And her teachings are His own.

Last Sunday, Pentecost, Pope Francis in ending his homily referred to 'the harmony of the Church'. As Christians we cannot go it alone. God, the Holy Trinity, is a Community, the Perfect Community, Three Persons but One God. We are made in God's image, which means we are made to be part of a community. Here are the closing words of the Pope's homily:

Today’s liturgy is a great prayer which the Church, in union with Jesus, raises up to the Father, asking him to renew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May each of us, and every group and movement, in the harmony of the Church, cry out to the Father and implore this gift. Today too, as at her origins, the Church, in union with Mary, cries out: 'Veni, Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love!' Amen.

Words: Blessed John Henry Newman, from  The Dream of Gerontius
Music: Shipston, traditional English melody arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.

And I trust and hope most fully
In that Manhood crucified;
And each thought and deed unruly
Do to death, as He has died.

Simply to His grace and wholly
Light and life and strength belong,
And I love supremely, solely,
Him the holy, Him the strong.

[And I hold in veneration,
For the love of Him alone,
Holy Church as His creation,
And her teachings are His own.

And I take with joy whatever
Now besets me, pain or fear,
And with a strong will I sever
All the ties which bind me here.]

Adoration aye be given,
With and through the angelic host,
To the God of earth and Heaven,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, John Everett Millais, 1891

21 May 2013

'Jesus was promoted to the Cross . . . to humiliation. That was true promotion'. Pope Francis in his homily on 21 May

Real power is service.

Jesus was 'promoted' to the Cross. He was 'promoted' to humiliation. That is true promotion, that which makes us seem more like Jesus.

Pope Benedict was constantly reminding us that our faith is, above all, in Jesus Christ. Pope Francis is doing the same, with a very different way of communicating. And Pope Benedict's stepping down is an outstanding example of real power as service. Only he had the power to make the decision that he did and he made it out of a real sense of service to the Church and its mission. 

18 May 2013

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

Pentecost, Sir Anthony van Dyck, 1618-20 [Web Gallery of Art]

Pentecost Sunday, at the Vigil Mass (Saturday evening)

NB The Vigil Mass has its own prayers and readings. Those for the Mass During the Day on Sunday should not be used – though many priests seem to be unaware of this. It is incorrect to refer to the Vigil Mass as an ‘anticipated Mass’. It is a celebration proper to the evening before Pentecost Sunday. The Vigil Mass also fulfills the Sunday obligation.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) [This link is to the readings for the Vigil Mass and for the Mass on Sunday]

Pentecost Sunday, Mass During the Day

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)  [This link is to the readings for the Vigil Mass and for the Mass on Sunday]

Gospel John 20:19-23 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And 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; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 

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

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

These youngsters were experiencing God's infinite loving mercy and recognised that. Pope Francis has been highlighting this ever since he was elected. One prominent Italian journalist, Andrea Tornielli has even written about what he calls Mercy. The first encyclical of Pope Francis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veni, Creator Spiritus (Come, Holy Ghost, Creator)
At the opening of the conclave that elected Pope Francis

Veni Creator Spiritus, 
Mentes tuorum visita, 
Imple superna gratia, 
Quæ tu creasti pectora.

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, come. 
From thy bright heavenly throne!
Come, take possession of our souls.
And make them all Thine Own! 

Qui diceris Paraclitus, 
Altissimi domum Dei, 
Fons vivus, ignis, caritas, 
Et spiritalis unctio.

Thou who art called the Paraclete, 
Best gift of God above,  
The  Living Spring, The Living Fire, 
 Sweet Unction, and True Love! 

Tu septiformis munere, 
Digitus paternæ dexteræ, 
Tu rite promissum Patris, 
Sermone ditans guttura. 

Thou  who are sevenfold in Thy grace, 
Finger of God's right hand, 
His Promise, teaching little ones 
To speak and understand! 

Accende lumen sensibus, 
Infunde amorem cordibus, 
Infirma nostri corporis, 
Virtute firmans perpeti. 

O guide our minds with thy blest light, 
With love our hearts inflame, 
And with thy strength, which ne'er decays, 
Confirm our mortal frame. 

Hostem repellas longius, 
Pacemque dones protinus: 
Ductore sic te prævio 
Vitemus omne noxium. 

Far from us drive our hellish foe, 
True peace unto us bring,  
And through all perils guide us safe 
Beneath thy sacred wing. 

Per te sciamus da Patrem, 
Noscamus atque Filium, 
Teque utriusque Spiritum 
Credamus omni tempore.

Through Thee may we the Father know,  
Through  Thee  the  Eternal Son,  
Thee the Spirit of them both 
Thrice blessed Three in One.

Deo Patri sit gloria, 
Et Filio, qui a mortuis 
Surrexit, ac Paraclito, 
In sæculorum sæcula. Amen. 

All glory to the Father be
With his co-equal Son;
The same to thee, great Paraclete,
While endless ages run.