28 June 2014

'But who do you say that I am?' Sunday Reflections, Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul

Sts Peter and Paul, Guido Reni
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan [Web Gallery of Art]

Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. Solemnities take precedence over Sundays in Ordinary Time.

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 some 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. 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]

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] [Link to readings of Vigil Mass and Mass During the Day]

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

From Tu es Petrus (You are Peter), an oratorio by contemporary Polish composer Piotr Rubik. The composer, who conducts above, composed the work in honour of Pope John Paul II in 2005.

Jesus says to Peter in today's gospel: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Those same words are sung as the Gospel Acclamation.. The first part of that verse is sung again as part of the Communion Antiphon.

St Augustine speaks very eloquently in one of his sermons on the reasons Jesus chose this fisherman to be the first leader of his Church:

If Christ had first chosen a man skilled in public speaking, such a man might well have said: 'I have been chosen on account of my eloquence.' If he had chosen a senator, the senator might have said: 'I have been chosen because of my rank.' If his first choice had been an emperor, the emperor surely might have said: 'I have been chosen for the sake of the power I have at my disposal.' Let these worthies keep quiet and defer to others; let them hold their peace for a while. I am not saying they should be passed over or despised; I am simply asking all those who can find any ground for pride in what theya re to give way to others just a little.

Christ says: give me this fisherman, this man without education or experience, this man to whom no senator would deign to speak, not even if he were buying fish. Yes, give me him; once I have taken possession of him, it will be obvious that it is I who am at work in him. Although I meant to include senators, orators, and emperors among my recruits, even when I have won over the senator I shall still be surer of the fisherman. The senator can always take pride in what he is; so can the orator and the emperor, but the fisherman can glory in nothing except Christ alone.

I was particularly struck by St Augustine's observation that perhaps a senator mightn't bother to speak to a fisherman even when buying fish from him. I remember being at a birthday party here in the Philippines for a boy aged ten or eleven, an only child. His paternal grandmother, a wealthy woman, whom I'll call 'Lydia', whose late husband had lingered for ten years after a stroke that left him totally incapacitated. During those years Lydia joined a prayer group, most of the members of which were people who had to struggle financially from day to day. They prayed regularly with Lydia's husband and gave her great support.

At her grandson's birthday party she asked her daughter-in-law if her driver had eaten. Then she turned to me and said, Before, I wouldn't even have noticed him. She had been changed by the faith community in her parish, especially by the members of the prayer group.

Last Wednesday in his General Audience Pope Francis spoke of how our lives are intertwined by being members of the Church. Here is a summary in English of what he said in Italian:

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the Church, we have seen that God gathered a people to himself in the Old Testament and in the fullness of time sent his Son to establish the Church as the sacrament of unity for all humanity. God calls each of us to belong to this great family. None of us become Christians on our own; we owe our relationship with God to so many others who passed on the faith, who brought us for Baptism, who taught us to pray and showed us the beauty of the Christian life: our parents and grandparents, our priests, religious and teachers. But we are Christians not only because of others, but together with others. Our relationship with Christ is personal but not private; it is born of, and enriched by, the communion of the Church. Our shared pilgrimage is not always easy: at times we encounter human weakness, limitations and even scandal in the life of the Church. Yet God has called us to know him and to love him precisely by loving our brothers and sisters, by persevering in the fellowship of the Church and by seeking in all things to grow in faith and holiness as members of the one body of Christ.

One very striking statement there is: Our relationship with Christ is personal but not private; it is born of, and enriched by, the communion of the Church. Pope Benedict frequently spoke of our faith being in the person of Jesus Christ, God who became man. Pope Francis has done the same.

The gospel read at the Vigil Mass, John 21:15-19, [in the video below from 1:13 to 3:27] brings that out very clearly. Jesus calls Simon Peter into a deep intimacy with him and it is in that context that he sends him out to preach the Gospel. that is how Jesus relates to each one of us, as he did to St Peter and to St Paul. And the director of the movie from which the video is taken, The Gospel of John, Philip Saville, has Jesus asking Peter the very personal 'Do you love me?' in the presence of the other apostles. In my imagination I had always seen Jesus as having taken Peter aside. The scene in the movie illustrates the words of Pope Francis: But we are Christians not only because of others, but together with others. St Peter here, though he has been called to a special responsibility of leadership, is still a Christian with the others. That goes for each of us, no matter what our specific responsibilities may be in the community that is the Church.

In the two gospel readings used in the celebration of this Solemnity Jesus puts the same questions to each of us that he did to St Peter: But who do you say that I am? and Do you love me? Our response, to use the words of Pope Francis last Wednesday, is meant to be personal but not private.


While preparing this post I came across the story of Hieu Van Le, a Catholic, who will become Governor of South Australia in September. He has been Lieutenant-Governor since 2007. Queen Elizabeth of Australia is also Queen of England and that's where she lives. But she's represented in Australia by the Governor-General and, in each state, by the Governor. Hieu Van Le arrived in Australia in 1977 at the age of 23, a 'boat person' from Vietnam, after a perilous journey in which he showed his leadership qualities.

In the video below he tells how, on the arrival of the small boat in which he and many others had been travelling for over a month, two Australian fishermen lifted the spirits of the Vietnamese by a simple greeting: G'day, mate. Welcome to Australia! I'm sure St Augustine would highly approve, not to mention the great fisherman we are celebrating this weekend!

20 June 2014

'The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.' Sunday Reflections, Corpus Christi Year A

The Institution of the Eucharist, Federico Fiori Barocci, 1609
Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome [Web Gallery of Art]

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi is on the Universal Calendar of the Church for the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, this year 19 June, and is a holy day of obligation. However, in the Philippines and in many other countries it has been transferred to the following Sunday.

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]

Jesus said to the Jews:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Corpus Christi Procession, Bamberg, Germany [Wikipedia]

Twenty years ago, when I was a parish priest in Mindanao, one of our volunteer catechists came to me one Saturday afternoon and said, 'My father would like to receive the Bread of Life'. She told me that though he was gravely ill he was fully conscious and so I prepared to to hear his confession, celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick with him  and to give him Holy communion.

On the way to the house I learned that the sick man had been married three times, having been widowed twice. When I arrived there were children from his three marriages and grandchildren from at least two. All who were present gathered around, except when I was hearing the man's confession. He was fully alert, knew he was near the end of his life and participated joyfully.

At the very end I asked some of the family to lay hands on him as we said a final prayer. However, the dying man turned this into something far more beautiful. He took one of his grandchildren, an infant only a few months old, and embraced it. Then he embraced each of his children and grandchildren in turn.

There was a tangible sense of joy about the house and afterwards the family served me a snack. This is not the usual practice when the priest makes a sick call.

The following morning, Sunday, the catechist came to tell me that her father had died during the night.

What really struck me was the fact that the dying man had asked for 'The Bread of Life'.

Today's feast, the Solemnity of Corpus Christ, is a celebration of the Body of Christ as the Bread of Life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. These words of Jesus caused many to walk away - because they understood what he was saying, but couldn't accept it. Others could and did.

Catholics believe, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) No 1374In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist 'the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained the Body and Blood, soul and divinity' of Christ'.

Perpetual Adoration, Chihuahua Cathedral, Mexico [Wikipedia]

The CCC clearly states in No 1376 what the Church teaches: The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: 'Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.'

The Catechism goes on to explain in Nos 1378 and 1379 two developments in the life of the Church: In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. 'The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.'

The tabernacle was first intended for the reservation of the Eucharist in a worthy place so that it could be brought to the sick and those absent outside of Mass. As faith in the real presence of Christ in his Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species. It is for this reason that the tabernacle should be located in an especially worthy place in the church and should be constructed in such a way that it emphasizes and manifests the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

There is an intimacy and a real 'communion' between people when they are together in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, whether they are just 'dropping in' to be in the presence of the Lord for a while or engaged in a more solemn form of adoration when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, such as in the photo above taken in Mexico. And no matter where in the world we are, we are in the presence of the same Lord, Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God who became Man.

Tabernacle, Dietfurt, Germany [Wikipedia]

I recall when I studied for a year in Toronto, Canada, in 1981-82 being inspired, when I used to visit a particular chapel of adoration, by the presence of university students, men and women, some spending long periods in prayer. I remember staying on a number of occasions in a home for children run by Sisters in Iriga City, in the Bicol Region of the Philippines, to see young boys and girls, all of them from a background of brokenness of one kind or another, praying in perfect silence before the Blessed Sacrament as they waited for Mass to begin.

So the Bread of Life is kept in the tabernacle of a church for two purposes: to enable the priest or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion bring the Blessed Sacrament to someone who is sick and to allow people to adore Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

It is customary for priests in parishes to bring Holy Communion to sick parishioners on the First Friday of each month. Pope Francis has spoken of the need for priests in particular to 'know the smell of the sheep'. When a priest brings Holy Communion to a sick person he often enough encounters the smell of illness, of poverty. And yet he is bringing the Saviour himself, the Bread of Life to someone who takes him at his word: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Irish poet Seán Ó Liocháin captures something of this, of the journey of the Lord from the tabernacle to the home of a sick person, using whatever transport is available, in his poem An Chéad Aoine, 'The First Friday'. [The not very poetic English translation is mine.]
An Chéad Aoine The First Friday
le/by Seán Ó Liocháin

Nuair a tháinig an sagart
When the priest came
chuig m’athair inniu,
to my father today
mar a thagann de ghnáth
as he usually comes
i dtús na míosa,
at the start of the month
le lón na beatha
with the food of life
                     a thabhairt d’fhear                    t
to give to a man
nach bhfágann an chlúid
who’s been bed-ridden
in aon chor le tamall,
for some time now,
ní hé an gnás ab ait liom féin.
It wasn't the ritual that was strange to me.
Ní hé ba mhó
What really
ba bhun le m’iontas
caused my wonder wasn't
fear dá chlú,
a man of such repute,
dá chleacht, dá éirim
of such experience, of such learning
ar cuairt na sean
visiting the old
i dtús na míosa
at the beginning of the month
le comhairle a leasa
with good counsel
a chur ar dhream
to give to those
nach bhfágfadh clúid na haithrí choíche,

who would never leave the cover of repentance again,
ach Críost a theacht
but Christ coming
i gcarr athláimhe
in a second-hand car
a cheannaigh an sagart
the priest bought
ó fhear i Ros Comáin.
from a man in Roscommon.
Ford Escort, European model (1974-80). [Wikipedia]

Antiphona ad introitum   Entrance Antiphon   Cf. Psalm 80:17

Cibavit eos ex adipe frumenti, [alleluia],
et de petra melle saturavit eos, [alleluia, alleluia, alleluia]. 
[Exultate Deo adiutori nostro: iubilate Deo Jacob.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritu Sancto:
sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper. Amen.
Cibavit eos ex adipe frumenti, alleluia,
et de petra melle saturavit eos, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia].

He fed them with the finest wheat, [alleluia],
and satisfied them with honey from the rock, [alleluia, alleluia, alleluia].
[Sing joyfully to God our strength: acclaim the God of Jacob.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.]

The texts in [squared brackets] are from the fuller version of the Entrance Antiphon used in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, ie, as in the Missal promulgated by Pope St John XXIII in 1962, an updating of the Missal used since the Council of Trent. In Summorum Pontificum, issued in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the celebration of the 'Old Mass' or 'Tridentine Mass', using the term 'Extraordinary Form' for it and 'Ordinary Form' for the Mass as it has been widely celebrated since 1969.

A setting of the Entrance Antiphon by an anonymous composer.

From Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, proclaimed by Pope Paul VI during Vatican II:

116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.

13 June 2014

'For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . .' Sunday Reflections, Trinity Sunday, Year A

The Trinity with the Dead Christ 
Lodovico Carracci, c.1590. Pinacoteca, Vatican [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)  

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

The Two Trinities 
Murillo 1675-82. National Gallery, London [Web Gallery of Art]

A few years ago we in Worldwide Marriage Encounter here in Bacolod City held a family day. One of the last activities was for the pre-teens where the children were asked to share with everyone what they most loved about their parents. One boy of about ten said, 'What I most love about my parents is that they are always together'.

In my closing remarks I picked up on this and reminded the couples that this youngster had expressed the heart of marriage: that the primary vocation of a married couple is to be husband and wife, not father and mother. The latter is a consequence of the first. When children know that for their parents nobody is more important than each other they will be drawn into that relationship.

Marriage is a reflection of the Trinity, which we celebrate today. The perfect love that the Father and Son have for one another has generated the Holy Spirit from all eternity and will continue to do so for all eternity. The love of husband and wife have for each other constantly generates love, the source of which is the Most Holy Trinity, and in most cases that love results in new life.

In his Wednesday audience on 2 April this year Pope Francis said: Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us. Indeed, God is communion too: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live eternally in perfect unity. And this is precisely the mystery of Matrimony: God makes of the two spouses one single life. The Bible uses a powerful expression and says 'one flesh', so intimate is the union between man and woman in marriage. And this is precisely the mystery of marriage: the love of God which is reflected in the couple that decides to live together. Therefore a man leaves his home, the home of his parents, and goes to live with his wife and unites himself so strongly to her that the two become — the Bible says — one flesh.

Murillo's painting, The Two Trinities, captures something of this. The unity between Mary and Joseph as wife and husband reflects the love of the Father and Son for each other. And while Joseph is not the Father of Jesus he is his legal father, according to Jewish law, as he named him: Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:19-21). The love that Joseph and Mary had for each other as husband and wife generated the love that Jesus experienced in his humanity while growing up in Nazareth, just like the youngster at our family day in Bacolod.

More than that, St Joseph was a real father to Jesus, his 'Dad', 'Papa', 'Tatay', as Spouse of Mary, the primary title the Church gives to this great saint on his major feast day, 19 March, and now in all the Eucharistic Prayers.

Carlo Dolci, 1640-45. Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence [Web Gallery of Art]

And we find a wonderful example of a father-figure in Moses in the First Reading when he pleads with God: “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance” (Exodus 34:9).

We know that more than once Moses castigated his people and he acknowledges that they can be hard to deal with: This is a stiff-necked people. But in the same breath he acknowledges himself as one of them: Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance. He is a real father, pleading on behalf of his family for God's mercy while fully aware of their and his own shortcomings.

Carracci's The Trinity with the Dead Christ shows us the Trinity in the context of the death of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, who became Man and died for us on the Cross. This is a common theme in many paintings, the Suffering Trinity. Not only Jesus suffered. So did his Father and the Holy Spirit.

Return of the Prodigal Son (detail) 
Rembrandt, c.1669. The Hermitage, St Petersburg [Web Gallery of Art]

I know of no greater expression of the suffering of the Father than the face of the father in Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son. This doesn't express the joy that we know was there but the suffering behind it. And in that parable Jesus was showing us the compassion, the 'suffering with', of the Father for each of us. 

Carracci shows us the Father and the Holy Spirit to be as much involved in Calvary as Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, God who became Man, was. They suffered along with him, out of compassion for us.

This reality too is reflected in marriage as a couple gradually prepare their children to become independent while preparing themselves for the pain of letting their children go. To a lesser extent it is reflected in the lives of all who are responsible in some way for the education, formation and mentoring of others. A teacher may feel some sadness as the year ends and students move on but a few months later a new batch will be there. However, parents never cease to be parents and will always continue to share both the joys and sorrows of their adult children, who often enough are the cause of their parents' inner suffering.

Likewise, the Persons of the Blessed Trinity never cease to be a loving God, a God who calls each of us to share in the intense and eternal Love that they are for all eternity. Every human relationship is meant to reflect that to some extent, most of all the relationship between husband and wife.

—God is my Father! If you meditate on it, you will never let go of this consoling consideration.

—Jesus is my intimate Friend (another re-discovery) who loves me with all the divine madness of his Heart.

—The Holy Spirit is my Consoler, who guides my every step along the road.

Consider this often: you are God’s . . . and God is yours. (The Forge, No 2, St Josémaría Escrivá).

Firmly I believe and truly

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.

Words by Blessed John Henry Newman. Tune: Shipston, arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The fourth and fifth stanzas above are not sung in the recording. You can read more about this hymn, which may be sung to a number of different tunes, here.

Antiphon ad introitum.  Entrance Antiphon

Benedictus sit Deus Pater,
Blest be God the Father,
Unigenitusque Dei Filius,
and the Only Begotten Son of God,
Sanctus quoque Spiritus,
and also the Holy Spirit,
quia fecit nobiscum misericordiam suam.
for he has shown us is merciful love.

08 June 2014

Pope Francis' Prayer Intentions for June 2014

Christ in the Carpenter's Shop Georges de la Tour, 1845
Musée du Louvre, Paris [Web Gallery of Art]

Universal Intention - Unemployed

That the unemployed may receive support and find the work they need to live in dignity. 

Evangelization Intention - Faith in Europe  

That Europe may rediscover its Christian roots through the witness of believers. 

Videos from the website of the Apostleship of Prayer, Milwaukee, WI, USA.