20 December 2018

'Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ Sunday Reflections, The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Year C

The Holy Family, Heinrich Meyring [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)

Gospel Luke 2:41-52 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   

Now every year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents  saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.

Christ Among the Doctors, Leonaert Bramer [Web Gallery of Art]

Today is the Feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. On 19 March the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today's gospel refers to Joseph and Mary as the parents of Jesus. Mary says reproachfully to her Son, Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety. To the puzzlement of both Mary and Joseph, Jesus replies, Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?

St Matthew shows clearly the role of St Joseph in the life of Jesus: An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 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 1:20-21).

Joseph's first responsibility was to be the husband of Mary and, as such, was to name her Son, thereby becoming his legal father. In some paintings of the Nativity St Joseph is a background figure, or partly hidden in the dark, but clearly protective of Jesus and Mary, and in an attitude of worship towards the Infant.

The Nativity, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

But in depictions of the Flight into Egypt, of which there are many, we often find St Joseph leading the way, as in this woodcarving. 

The Flight Into Egypt, Unknown Flemish Master [Web Gallery of Art]

The Greek-born Doménikos Theotokópoulos, (1541 – 1614) who settled in Toledo, Spain, as a young man was known as 'El Greco', 'The Greek'. In the  painting below he captures the role of St Joseph as a protective parent.

St Joseph and the Christ Child, El Greco [Web GAllery of Art]

As a child I saw my parents as my father and mother. Now I remember them not only as that but as a married couple. And sometimes I think that the Church over-emphasises the importance of the family at the expense of marriage, which is the foundation of the family. St Joseph's primary responsibility was to be the husband of Mary and, as such, to be the one known as the father of Jesus, even though Mary's Son wasn't his. 

And in today's gospel Mary painfully discovers that, in a sense, he isn't hers either, as he says, Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house? At the beginning of his adolescence Jesus was, in his humanity, coming in touch with his heavenly Father's will. The mystery of Jesus being both God and Man is something we cannot fathom. St Paul says that Jesus though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6).

But this incident shows us that Mary and Joseph as parents suffered the same pain that every parent of an adolescent goes through. They were learning that they did not 'own' Jesus, that they would have to let him go at some stage.

I recall some incidents involving my father. One was when I was no more that three, possibly only two. Like St Joseph, he was a carpenter and made a little saddle that he put on the crossbar of his bicycle, on which he went to work every morning. I recall him taking me for a 'spin', probably on a Saturday afternoon, in the area where we lived at the time, I sitting joyfully on the little wooden saddle he had made. It's like a photo in my mind that captures a moment of delight between father and son.

Then when I was around ten he taught me how to ride a bicycle. I borrowed that of a cousin a little older than me. Dad held the back of the saddle tightly so that I wouldn't lose balance and stayed with me patiently. Then at a certain point I realised that he wasn't holding it anymore and that I was moving forward without falling. He knew when to let go. 

He taught me how to swim around that same time, with the same approach. He gave me a sense of security - but didn't cling on when I didn't need that kind of security anymore.

My parents taught me what trust was by trusting me. In Ireland the symbol of adulthood was - and maybe still is, I don't know - the key to the house. I was given the key when I was only 13. None of my friends had that privilege. Even on one occasion three years later when I came home very late on my bicycle from a dance and they were waiting at the door sick with worry - nobody on our street had a telephone and mobile phones probably weren't even in the imaginations of science-fiction writers - all I got was a well-deserved scolding. They still trusted me to use my key responsibly.

I saw too that on occasions when there might be a combination of heat and coldness in their relationship for a few days, they still took care of each other. After attending a very early Mass Dad would come home, prepare my mother's breakfast and bring it to her in bed before heading off for work. And when he came home in the evening his dinner would be always ready. I remember his amusement on the only occasion in their married life when my mother didn't have it ready. She had been delayed by something unexpected and was really embarrassed. Dad just laughed.

In Worldwide Marriage Encounter one of the things we emphasise is that Love is a Decision. It's not a feeling, though feelings are related to it, of course. I saw that in my parents' lives and I also saw that they made important decisions together. One example was when I was 13. My father was asked to take on a job for six months in a town in the south of Ireland. This meant that he would be able to come home only one weekend per month. I know that my parents discussed this thoroughly and also spoke to us, their two sons, about it, before deciding that Dad should take on the job.

This cartoon, which I found on a friend's Facebook, captures in a humorous way what Love is a Decision means. (I think that the cartoon has been been to many places in cyberspace.)

As I look back now, I see clearly that my parents were husband and wife first, and father and mother second. That did not mean that they saw parenthood as being of lesser importance but that they saw it as being a consequence of being married. I think they had their priorities right.

The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that marriage is the root of the family. 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 1:20-21).

The liturgical Season of Christmas continues until the Feast of The Baptism of the Lord on Sunday 13 January. The Sussex Carol is a traditional English Christmas song but has an Irish connection in that the words were first published by Bishop Luke Wadding, who was Bishop of Ferns, Ireland, and who died in 1691.

'And the Word became flesh and lived among us.' Sunday Reflections, Christmas Day, 2018

Adoration of the Shepherds, Murillo [Web Gallery of Art]

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord has four different Mass formularies, each with its own prayer and readings. Any of the four fulfills our obligation to attend Mass. These are:

Vigil Mass, celebrated 'either before or after First Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Nativity'; that means starting between 5pm and 7pm.

Mass During the Night, known before as 'Midnight Mass'. 

Mass at Dawn.

Mass During the Day.

When you click on 'Readings' below from the New American Bible you will find links to the readings for each of the four Masses. The readings from the Jerusalem Bible for the four Masses are all on one page.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel (Mass During the Day) John 1:1-18 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition) 

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.

Mary’s Boy Child
Written by Jestor Hairston in 1956. The lyrics are in a Caribbean dialect of English.

'Blessed is the fruit of your womb.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Advent, Year C

Visitation, Luca della Robbia [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)
Gospel Luke 1:39-45 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

The Visitation, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

About eleven years ago I celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Visitation in a home for girls where most come from a background of abuse. One girl of 16, whom I'll call 'Gloria', was pregnant. She was from another part of the Philippines and had been working in a restaurant and said that one of her co-workers was responsible. I wasn't quite sure to what extent the cause of the pregnancy had been consensual or whether the young man had taken advantage of the young woman. Perhaps there was an element of both.

Gloria was very angry and would not accept the baby she was carrying who was by this time around six months, as I recall. I invited her at the end of the Mass to come forward for a blessing for herself and her child. She agreed. I placed my hand gently on her stomach, as Elizabeth and Mary do in the painting below, while I prayed. 

Visitation, Rogier van der Weyden [Web Gallery of Art]

Gloria told me afterwards that she could feel the baby moving as I blessed them both - and she had a smile on her face. She was able to go home to her own place some time later where she gave birth.

Rogier van der Weyden captures the sacredness of the lives of the unborn Jesus and John the Baptist. El Greco captures the swirl of a dance of life, the flowing blue robes suggesting the joy of the two pregnant mothers, Mary and Elizabeth. Luca della Robbia's sculpture shows the sacred intimacy of the moment that Mary and Elizabeth met, each carrying a precious life, Mary's child the Son of God, God-become-Man.

Today's gospel has particular relevance in the context of ongoing public debates in a number of countries about abortion, including Ireland and the USA.


One of a number of ministries to both women and men who have been directly affected by abortion is Rachel's Vineyard. I have connections with Rachel'sVineyard, Ireland, which has brought its healing retreat to such places as the Faroe Islands, Hungary, South Korea and Lebanon.

Del Verbo Divino
San Juan de la Cruz

Del Verbo divino
la Virgen preñada
viene de camino:
¡ si les dais posada !

Concerning the Divine Word
St John of the Cross

With the divinest Word, the Virgin
Made pregnant, down the road
Comes walking, if you'll grant her
A room in your abode. 

Translation by Roy Campbell

Posada is a Spanish word meaning 'lodging' or 'accommodation'. In some Spanish-speaking countries and communities, especially Mexico, Las Posadas is a nine-day preparation for Christmas.

11 December 2018

'Again I will say, rejoice.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C

St John the Baptist with Saints, Cima da Conegliano [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)

Gospel Luke 3:10-18 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   

And the crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Rejoice in the Lord alway
Setting by George Rathbone (1874 - 1951)
Voces Angelorum Choir, Indonesia
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Amen.(Philippians 4:4,6-7, Authorised [King James] Version.)

Note: this translation uses 'alway', not 'always'.

The above is a setting by George Rathbone of the first and last verses of today's Second. It emphasises a basic theme of Advent: Joy. And today the Church focuses on that. We call the Third Sunday of Advent 'Gaudete Sunday' from the Latin opening word of the Entrance Antiphon, 'Gaudete in Domino semper,' 'Rejoice in the Lord always'.

The First Reading begins with the same theme: Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! (Zephaniah 3:14).

'Ligaya' is the Tagalog word for 'joy' and is a common enough name for girls in the Philippines. It is the name used for the girl at the heart of the story below, though not her real name, which was a particularly beautiful one. St Joseph is one of the central figures in the gospels read at Mass as we approach Christmas and is highlighted in the gospel for Monday, 17 December, Matthew 1:1-17, and in the gospel for Tuesday, 18 December, Matthew 1:18-24. It was through St Joseph, the Husband of Mary, that Jesus was born of the line of David, as God had promised. And by naming Jesus, as the angel asked him to do, St Joseph became the legal father of Jesus. 

I published the story below, written by Korean Columban lay missionary Columba Chang Eun-Yeal, in the November-December 2015 issue of MISYONonline.com, the magazine of the Columbans in the Philippines of which I was then editor. It had appeared there before in the November-December 2003 issue. It is a story that shows the joy that only God can give, a joy that usually comes from within a very painful situation, a situation that may well be the result of a grave sin.

by Columba Chang Eun-Yeal

The author

There may be as many as close to ten million Filipino overseas workers spread all over the world.  They greatly help the country’s economy by the money they send home. However sometimes they may be taken for granted for those at home who think that they have an easy life abroad. Read Aling Maria’s story below and find out the dangers that OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), and their counterparts from other countries, face and the abuses they experience. We thank ‘Mang Pepe’ for his help in writing this article in which we’ve changed the names.
'Mang' and 'Aling' are Tagalog honorifics for a man and woman, respectively, older than oneself. 'Tatay' is the equivalent of 'Papa' and 'Daddy'.
I met Mang Pepe and his daughter Ligaya through my work with Caritas Manila. I visit the family regularly. They live in a poor part of the city and Mang Pepe makes a living by doing odd jobs. My work takes me to families affected by HIV/AIDS. I knew Mang Pepe’s story before he shared it with the congregation at the Saturday evening Mass in Baclaran Church on 7 December 2002 at the end of a celebration organized by Caritas Manila for World AIDS Day.
Baclaran Church, exterior [Wikipedia]

A Greener Pasture

Mang Pepe and his wife Aling Maria were having difficulties putting their five children through school. This sometimes led to arguments. Eventually Aling Maria decided to work in the Middle East. She felt happy when accepted as a nursing aide with a two-year contract in the UAE. She prepared her documents. She and Pepe sold their house and lot for her fare and placement fee. She flew out on 5 February 1989, full of hope for her family’s future financial stability.
Aling Maria soon discovered that her contract as a nursing aide was terminated just a few months after she arrived, without any hope of renewal. But she didn’t want to go back to the Philippines with an empty pocket. She decided to take the ‘TNT’ (tago ng tago, Tagalog for hidden, ie illegal) route. She managed to find a series of jobs as a saleslady, cashier and office worker.

Columba Chang, left, with friend in Manila

Hope turns into a nightmare

As an illegal worker, she was often subjected to different abuses like underpayment, long hours of working without a day off and so on. But the worst thing was when one of Aling Maria’s employers took advantage of her and made her pregnant. When she came home to the Philippines in October 1993 Mang Pepe and the family were very shocked to learn that Aling Maria carried a child in her womb. She hadn’t mentioned anything about this before. However, despite this they still welcomed her and the child with joy . . . but deep in their hearts there was a shadow of sadness, fear and uncertainty.
After a few days the tabloids reported that three Filipino overseas workers had been sent home because of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS – and that one of them was Aling Maria. These stories, and the rumors they spawned, continued for a month. Some relatives, neighbors and friends rejected Aling Maria. The children of Mang Pepe and Aling Maria were torn apart. Some wanted to quit school and leave the area. The family suffered greatly because of the stigma.
Interior of Baclaran Church [Wikipedia]

Confirmed HIV

Aling Maria and Mang Pepe went to the Department of Health (DOH) for a series of blood tests. The tests confirmed what Aling Maria knew already, that she and her ‘little mercy child,’ as Mang Pepe called his wife’s daughter had HIV. The doctor gave them counseling and advice and information about HIV/AIDS.

Ligaya is born

Aling Maria decided not to stay in the hospital and continued to work as a pension plan insurance agent. In time she gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Ligaya. Gradually, however, Mang Pepe saw his dear wife turning into a picture of misery as she suffered from constant headaches and flu. Aling Maria was hoping for a miracle that would ease her agony. It was not to be. The HIV developed into full-blown AIDS. Her appetite disappeared until she couldn’t eat anymore. Mang Pepe and the children saw Aling Maria slowly dying. He prepared the family to accept her death as the will of God. She died on 15 December 1997, aged 46.
Like everyone else in Baclaran Church, I was deeply touched by Mang Pepe’s story, even though he had told it to me many times. I was touched by the great love of this simple man who accepted as his own a daughter who was the fruit of the brutal violation of his wife. Mang Pepe is ‘Tatay’ to Ligaya. Her schoolmates sometimes tease her because her features clearly show her Middle Eastern origins. But her Tatay stands by her, as do her brothers and sisters.

Rest During the Flight into Egypt, Francesco Mancini [Web Gallery of Art]

Proud to be her Tatay

Tatay Pepe is proud of Ligaya’s singing ability and smiled as she sang at the celebration in Baclaran. Ligaya is very proud of her Tatay and knows the depth of his love as a father. She has very uncertain health and is often in the hospital. The shadow of AIDS hangs over her.
St Joseph named Jesus, the Son of Mary, and thereby became his legal father. He loved Mary, his wife, and raised Jesus as his own son. Mang Pepe has gone through the agony of knowing that his wife was violated overseas, after dishonest employers had taken advantage of her in other ways. When she brought home a child who was not his, he made her his own. This latter-day St Joseph in Manila has given much joy to his daughter Ligaya as she has given much joy to him and others, like myself, who have come to know and love her.

‘Ligaya’ died in the latter part of 2004. I was in Baclaran Church, at the invitaion of Columba, the day that Mang Pepe told his story and came to know ‘Ligaya’ as a friend. Shortly before she died I had the privilege of talking to her on Columba’s mobile phone. She was a delightful child. The light of heaven upon her.

Joseph's Song
Written and sung by Michael Card