31 December 2014

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Happy New Year!

The Granduca Madonna, Raphael (Raffaello), 1504
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence [Web Gallery of Art]

So the shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Adoration of the Shepherds, Caravaggio, 1609
Museo Regionale, Messina, Italy [Web Gallery of Art]

[Alternative] Antiphona ad introitum    Entrance Antiphon
Cf. Isaiah 9:1, 5; Luke 1:33

Lux fulgebit hodie super nos,
Today a light will shine upon us,
quia natus est nobis Dominus;
for the Lord is born for us;
et vocabitur admirabilis, Deus,
and he will be called Wondrous God,
Princeps pacis, Pater futuri saeculi;
Prnce of peace, Father of future ages:
cuius regni non erit finis.
and his reign will be without end.

This is sung in the chant of the Ambrosian Rite, used in the Archdiocese of Milan.

A Mhuire Mháthair, Mother Mary
This hymn in Irish is sung to the melody of the Maori song Pokarekare Ana. Below is my translation.

Mother Mary, this is my prayer,
that Jesus will live for ever in my heart.
Ave Maria, Ave, my love!
You are my mother and the Mother of God.

Mother Mary, throughout my life,
be with me as a protection against every danger.
Ave Maria, Ave, my love!
You are my mother and the Mother of God.

Mother Mary, full of grace,
May you be with me at the hour of my death.
Ave Maria, Ave, my love!
You are my mother and the Mother of God.

Happy New Year!
Manigong Bagong Taon!
Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise!

27 December 2014

'The parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.' Sunday Reflections, Feast of the Holy Family

Presentation in the Temple, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, 1671
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest [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) 

The above include alternative First and Second readings and Responsorial Psalms for Year B. This Gospel is always read in Year B.

Gospel Luke 2:22-40 [or Luke 2:22, 39-40]  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”
 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.  Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,  then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.]
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
The text in [square brackets] may be omitted.

Before Christmas we listened to the words of St Matthew: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 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 1:18-21)

Joseph, by obeying God's messenger and by naming the Son his wife Mary bore, became the legal father of Jesus. The Church honours him above all as the Husband of Mary. St John XXIII added the words and blessed Joseph, her Spouse to the Roman Canon, now also known as the First Eucharistic Prayer, while Pope Francis has included that phrase in the other three main Eucharistic Prayers. It was as the Husband of Mary that St Joseph took care of her and of Jesus. It was St Joseph whom Jesus knew as Dad/Papa/Tatay. It was from St Joseph that Jesus, God who became Man, learned, in his humanity, to grow into manhood.

St Joseph submitted his whole being, as did his wife Mary, to doing God's will. Jesus was flesh of her flesh, but not of his. Yet he loved Jesus as if he was his own son, first of all by loving his mother.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder,1566
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels [Web Gallery of Art]

Peter Bruegel the Elder, maybe the first major painter to focus on the lives of ordinary people, captures the quiet responsibility of St Joseph, leading the donkey on which the heavily pregnant Mary is riding. The picture above is a detail of the full painting that I used on Christmas Eve. Bruegel has transposed Bethlehem to a village in the Netherlands in the middle of winter. He captures the reality that the Holy Family were 'nobodies'. None of the people around notices them. They too are caught up in the red tape of their day, having to travel long distances to have their names registered.

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout in the Presentation in the Temple shows St Joseph as a man who is somewhat shy, not wanting to be in the limelight, but standing protectively over Mary as she kneels before Jesus held in the arms of Simeon, with Anna the Prophetess in the background. St Joseph here reminds me very much of my own father.

And in the video of the Presentation what strikes me is that St Joseph is the one carrying Jesus. But before he hands the infant to Simeon he quietly asks Mary's permission to do so. Mary hands Jesus back to Joseph after receiving him from Simeon and it is St Joseph, as head of the Holy Family, who presents the infant to the priest who offers him to God. The priest has no idea who this child of poor parents really is.

On 17 November Pope Francis saidIt is necessary to insist on the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its intangible assets. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's growth and emotional development. This is why, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I stressed the 'indispensable' contribution of marriage to society, a contribution which 'transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple' (n. 66). And this is why I am grateful to you for the emphasis that your colloquium has placed on the benefits that marriage can provide children, the spouses themselves, and society.

There have always been children who have grown up without one or both parents. In the Bible they are seen as young persons in need of special care from the wider community. I have known many single parents, some of them widowed, raising their children lovingly and heroically. But this is not the norm.

Incredibly, many within the last two or three decades have come to dismiss the importance of husband/father and wife/mother, have come to dismiss the conception and birth of children in the way that God intended.

Pope Francis with a young recovering addict 
World Youth Day 2013, Rio de Janeiro [Wikipedia]

Though without a family of my own I have for many years experienced the title 'Father' as a call to be one in a number of senses: a 'spiritual father' who leads others to our Heavenly Father through his Son Jesus Christ, and a father-figure to young persons who may have lost their father or who may even have been abused by their father or by other fatherly figures in whom they should have been able to trust.

As a man, I see today's Feast of the Holy Family to be a call especially to us men to be like St Joseph, to be responsible, to be loving; if married to love our wives above all, if not, to be like fathers to young persons who come into our lives in whatever way and for whatever reason.

As a priest I am grateful to God for calling me not only to be 'Father' but to be a father to many in the sense that St Joseph was truly a father to Jesus.

Some Christmas Songs

This English Christmas carol, very popular also in Ireland, is hardly known at all in the Philippines.

The melody of this carol goes back at least to 1400. It is sung here by Libera, a London-based boys' choir.

26 December 2014

A Christmas Reflection from Pakistan

Fr Tomás King is a Columban priest from Ireland who works in the Diocese of Hyderabad, in the Sindh Province of Pakistan. This is his Christmas reflection.

View of Nagarparkar City from Karoonjhar Mountains

CHRISTMAS 2014, Nagarparkar 

Dear Friends, greetings from Pakistan. I hope all is well with you as you prepare to celebrate Christmas. 

Last weekend I sat down to put a few thoughts together to send as Christmas greetings. I was hoping to focus on the good news story for Pakistan in recent weeks; that being the teenager Malala Yousafzai being joint winner of the Nobel Peace prize along with, Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian    child rights activist. Malala was shot a few years ago by the Taliban, but survived.  Her offence; to go to school, as well as to demand education for all children, particularly girls. Malala, in her acceptance speech, she asked her government to 'build schools and not tanks'. 

But just a few days later, Tuesday 16th the Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar city and killed 148 people, most of whom, 132, were children. It is simply incomprehensible, impossible to understand the mentality that would motivate one to carry out such acts.The children were systematically and intentionally targeted, so as to cause as much death, damage and destruction as possible.  

What kind of response is possible, and necessary to such pure hatred? Are there any hints of answers in the Christmas story? St Luke’s Gospel tells us that the 'shepherds were keeping watch in the night'. What were they looking for? Maybe for something to brighten up their difficult lives. Maybe they were looking for the 'the light that shone in the darkness' which is the image used in St John’s Gospel to describe Jesus’ presence among us. How does light shine in darkness, as the image seems to suggest?  

Christ being born in our world, is very much about finding God inside of ordinary every day events. And also it seems, even in the darkness of sin, violence, war, greed and the other negative realities that are part of our world, difficult as that is. Christmas is about light being seen inside of darkness. Christmas invites and challenges us to watch like the shepherds when we look at the world and see the light which is God’s presence, grace, graciousness, forgiveness, love, unselfishness and innocence. 

We also need the attitude and disposition of Mary. St Luke’s Gospel also tells us that when Mary heard from the shepherd what Jesus was to become her response was to 'treasure all these things and ponder them in her heart'.  There is a lot in this appearance of God in the world that we cannot understand. But ‘watching,’ ‘treasuring’ and ‘pondering’ will help us on the way to understanding and enable us to give and receive the blessing, the ‘benediction’ that Rabindranath Tagore speaks off below: 


Bless this little heart, this soul that has won the kiss of heaven for our earth. 
He loves the light of the sun, he loves the sight of his mother's face. 
He has not learned to despise the dust, and to hanker after gold. 
Clasp him to your heart and bless him. 
He has come into this land of an hundred cross-roads. 
I know not how he chose you from the crowd, came to your door, and grasped you hand to ask his way. He will follow you, laughing the talking, and not a doubt in his heart. 
Keep his trust, lead him straight and bless him. 
Lay your hand on his head, and pray that though the waves underneath grow threatening, 
yet the breath from above may come and fill his sails and waft him to the heaven of peace. 
Forget him not in your hurry, let him come to your heart and bless him.  

Peace and Blessings this Christmas for the coming year. 

Father Tomás

Adoration of the Shepherds, El Greco, c.1610
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [Web Gallery of Art]

Photos from Wikipedia.

24 December 2014

'And the Word became flesh and lived among us.'

The Census at Bethlehem, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1566
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels [Web Gallery of Art]

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child (Luke 2: 1-5, NRSVACE).

Adoration of the Shepherds, Rembrandt, 1646
National Gallery, London [Web Gallery of Art]

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger (Luke 2:15-16, NRSVACE).

At the Mass during the Day
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (John 1:1-18).
Adoration of the Shepherds, Murillo, 1646-50
The Hermitage, St Petersburg [Web Gallery of Art]

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5).

Christmas in the Trenches 1914

 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,praising God and saying,
 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ (Luke 2: 13-14).

The song above was written by John McCutcheon.

At the Mass during the Day

Entrance Antiphon     Antiphona ad introitum Cf. Isaiah 9:5

Puer natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis, 
A Child is born for us, and a son is given to us;
cujus imperium super humerum ejus,
his sceptre of power rests upon his shoulder, 
et vocabitur nomen ejus, magni consilii Angelus.
and his name will be called Messenger of great counsel.

Ps 97 [98]: 1. Cantate Domino canticum novum quia mirabilia fecit.
O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, 
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Puer natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis, 
A Child is born for us, and a son is given to us;
cujus imperium super humerum ejus,
his sceptre of power rests upon his shoulder, 
et vocabitur nomen ejus, magni consilii Angelus.
and his name will be called Messenger of great counsel

The shorter version, in bold, is used in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the longer in the Extraordinary Form.
Scripture texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition.

The arrangement of Adeste Fideles is by English composer Sir David Willcocks who will turn 95 on 30 December.

Nollaig Shona!
Merry Christmas!
Malipayon nga Pascua!
¡Feliz Navidad!

20 December 2014

'Let it be with me according to your word. ' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B

The Annunciation, El Greco, 1595-1600
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest, Hungary [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) 

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

The Annunciation, Gerard David, 1506
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [Web Gallery of Art]

The Incarnation
by St John of the Cross

Then He summoned an archangel, 
Saint Gabriel: and when he came, 
Sent him forth to find a maiden, 
     Mary was her name.

Only through her consenting love 
Could the mystery be preferred 
That the Trinity in human 
     Flesh might clothe the Word.

Though the three Persons worked the wonder 
It only happened to the One. 
So was the Word made incarnation 
     In Mary's womb, a son.

So He who only had a Father 
Now had a Mother undefiled, 
Though not as ordinary maids 
     Had she conceived the Child.

By Mary, and with her own flesh 
He was clothed in His own frame: 
Both Son of God and Son of Man 
     Together had one name.   

                [Translation by Roy Campbell]

In both paintings above Mary has the word of God, the Hebrew Bible, what we Christians call the Old Testament, open in front of her. And when she says, let it be with me according to your word, she is accepting the Word. The opening words of St John's Gospel, read at the Mass During the Day on Christmas Day and read at the end of every Mass in the Extraordinary Form, tells us who the Word is: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Further on, in Verse 14, St John writes those magnificent words that are at the centre of our faith: And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes what St John of the Cross said about this: In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.

The Annunciation in an initial R, Fra Angelico, c.1430
Museo di San Marco, Florence [Web Gallery of Art]

'Silence' is not what most of us associate with the days coming up to Christmas. But the Church invites us to enter into an inner silence during these days, difficult though that may be. The above is on a parchment, part of a Missal, which in the old days included the readings during Mass. Fra Angelico, a Dominican friar, was declared 'Blessed' by St John Paul II in 1982. This work again invites us into contemplation of the wondrous event of the Annunciation, the moment of the Incarnation when God became Man in the womb of Mary.

Julian of Vézelay (c.1080 - 1165), a French Benedictine monk, reflects on the silence into which Jesus entered, the silence that Mary bore in our heart, the silence that God invites us to enter at this time:

There came a deep silence. Everything was still. The voices of prophets and apostles were hushed, since the prophets had already delivered their message, while the time for the apostles' preaching had yet to come. Between these two proclamations a period of silence intervened, and in the midst of this silence the Father's almighty Word leaped down from his royal throne. There is a beautiful fitness here: in the intervening silence the Mediator between God and the human race also intervened, coming as a human being to human beings, as mortal to mortals, to save the dead from death.
I pray that the Word of the Lord may come again today to those who are silent, and that we may hear what the Lord God says to us in our hearts. Let us silence the desires and importunings of the flesh and the vainglorious fantasies of our imagination, so that we can freely hear what the Spirit is saying. Let our ears be attuned to the voice that is heard above the vault of heaven, for the Spirit of life is always speaking to our souls; as scripture says, a voice is heard above the firmament which hangs over our heads. But as long as we fix our attention on other things, we do not hear what the Spirit is saying to us.

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of the Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Gabriel's Message. An old Basque hymn.

1. The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
‘All hail’ said he ‘thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

2. ‘For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

3. Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
‘To me be as it pleaseth God,’ she said,
‘My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.’
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!

4. Of her, Emanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:1
‘Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

Antiphona ad Communionem  Communion Antiphon  Isaiah 7:14

Ecce Virgo concipiet et pariet filium;
Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son;
et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel.
and his name will be called Emmanuel.