22 November 2013

'Today you will be with me in Paradise.' Sunday Reflections, Christ the King, Year C

CrucifixionPedro de Campaña, c.1550 [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

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

And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at Jesus, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 

Responsorial Psalm (New American Bible Lectionary)

A Dominican friar in Ireland told me three years ago or so about one of his confreres who was to celebrate Mass one morning in a nearby Sisters' convent. Since it was only a short walk he decided to wear his habit. (It was the Dominican habit that first caught my imagination about the priesthood when I was six or seven, though later on I never considered joining the Dominicans.) Along the way the friar met a Sister from another convent who chided him for being so 'old-fashioned' or 'pre-Vatican 2' or words to that effect. A little further on a young man stopped him. This was the conversation that followed:

You're a priest, right?


Well I'm getting married tomorrow and I need to go to confession.

So Father heard the young man's confession on the street and went on his 'pre-Vatican 2' way to celebrate Mass.

Today's Gospel shows us Jesus hanging on the Cross under a sign that said in Greek, Hebrew and Latin 'King of the Jews'. And the Kingdom he came to establish broke through in the conversation between him and one of the two thieves crucified with him. 

The brief conversation that St Luke records shows us what the Sacrament of Confession is all about. This young man acknowledged his sinful ways and accepted the punishment he received. He recognised the innocence of Jesus and saw in him something that spoke profoundly to him of God's love and mercy. It is very unlikely that he could see that Jesus was indeed God who became Man. But he saw in him a man of God and saw in some way the true nature of the Kingdom that Jesus had established.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Fr William Doyle SJ (1873 - 1017) 

The June 2013 issue of The Pioneer, the magazine of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association has an extraordinary story of how a young woman received the grace of forgiveness in baptism hours before her execution for murder in England just over a century ago. Snatched from the Brink tells how a young woman, Fanny Cranbush, a former prostitute, had asked if she could see a priest whose name she didn't know and had no idea where he was.

Through God's grace the priest, Fr Willie Doyle SJ, who was to die in Belgium on 16 August 1916 as a chaplain in the British army during the Great War, was located, travelled across from Ireland and spent the last few hours with Fanny. She wanted to be baptised and was also able to receive her First and Last Holy Communion as Fr Doyle celebrated Mass with her in her cell. The Bread of Life was the last food she ate.

A couple of years before this Father Willie had been giving a mission in a parish in the east of England. He had been hearing confessions well into the night and happened to pass Fanny on the street as he went to his lodging and she was plying her 'trade'.

Father Doyle was totally in the dark when he arrived at the prison but Fanny reminded him of their previous encounter.

You said to me, ‘Child, aren’t you out very late? Won’t you go home? Don’t hurt Jesus. He loves you.’ You said this so gently, so appealingly, and then you gave me a look that seemed to go right through me.

The memory of those words were what led her to the moment when she knew that Jesus was speaking the same words to her as she went to her execution that he spoke to the thief on the cross on his right: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Probably the most central theme of the teaching of Pope Francis is God's mercy. He speaks of the Sacrament of Confession in that context. Last Wednesday he told the thousands gathered in St Peter's Square that he goes to confession himself every two weeks because he is a sinner. He spoke especially to priests about their responsibility of being merciful.

Here is the English version of the Pope's talk read by a speaker. I've highlighted some parts of it.

Dear Brothers and Sisters: Today I would like to speak again on the forgiveness of sins by reflecting on the power of the keys, which is a biblical symbol of the mission Jesus entrusted to the Apostles. First and foremost, we recall that the source of the forgiveness of sins is the Holy Spirit, whom the Risen Jesus bestowed upon the Apostles. Hence, he made the Church the guardian of the keys, of this power. The Church, however, is not the master of forgiveness, but its servant. The Church accompanies us on our journey of conversion for the whole of our lives and calls us to experience reconciliation in its communal and ecclesial dimension. We receive forgiveness through the priest. Through his ministry, God has given us a brother to bring us forgiveness in the name of the Church. Priests, who are the servants of this sacrament, must recognize that they also are in need of forgiveness and healing, and so they must exercise their ministry in humility and mercy. Let us then remember always that God never tires of forgiving us. Let us truly value this sacrament and rejoice in the gift of pardon and healing that comes to us through the ministry of priests.

As a priest who is, as every priest should be, familiar with both sides of the confessional box, I am truly grateful to Pope Francis for reminding us so often of God's love, of the reality of sin and of the Devil, of the reality of God's mercy, expressed most especially through the beautiful Sacrament of Confession/Penance/Reconciliation/Forgiveness.

About 15 minutes before he died on the battlefield while trying to rescue a wounded soldier Fr Willie Doyle, who had an extraordinary gift of bringing hardened sinners back to God, himself went to confession for the last time.


May I ask your prayers as I make a retreat from 25 to 30 November. Thank you.

The Mass in the video above, in which today's Entrance Antiphon was sung, was celebrated in Westminster Cathedral, London, on 18 September 2010 during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain. The longer form, used in what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite - 'The Old Mass', 'The Tridentine Mass' - is sung, as it may be in the Ordinary Form.

Antiphona a introitum   (Revelations 5:12; 1:6)

Dignus est Agnus, qui occísus est, 
accípere virtútem et divinitátem 
et sapiéntiam et fortitúdinem et honórem. 
Ipsi glória et impérium in saecula saeculórum.

[V. (Ps. 71: 1) Deus, judícium tuum Regi da: et justítiam tuam Fílio Regis. v. 
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. 
Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper 
et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.]

Entrance Antiphon   (Revelations 5:12; 1:6)

How worthy is the Lamb who was slain, 
to receive power and divinity, 
and wisdom and strength and honour.
to him belong glory and power for ever and ever.


Crux Fidelis said...

In Spain this summer I met a Spanish Carmelite friar, an ordained academic, who told me quite proudly that he did not possess a habit and that jeans and tee shirt were his habit. I found it sad that one of the spiritual heirs of St John of the Cross (whose writings were his field of expertise) should hold his garb in such disdain.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Happy St Andrew's Day, Crux! I have had many positive experiences, especially when travelling, when people were aware from my dress that I'm a priest. But more than 30 years ago when travelling by train from London to Glasgow and wearing jeans and a red sweater someone asked me if I was a priest!

May God grant eternal rest to those who died in the Glasgow tragedy last night.