19 June 2018

‘Do not fear, only believe.’ Sunday Reflections, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Raising of the Daughter of Jairus, Paolo Veronese [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 Mark 5:21-43 (or 5:21-24, 35b-43) (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. [Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’]
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

The Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]
Lyn was someone I met when she was about 15. Three years later, when she was only halfway through her four-year college course, she quit to marry Roberto. (I’m not using their real names). Lyn was madly in love with Roberto, who had a good job and came from a relatively wealthy family.  Lyn’s family could not be described as poor either. I celebrated the wedding Mass and attended the reception in a classy hotel. In the Philippines it’s the groom’s father who pays for the reception. the young couple went to live in Manila, where Roberto was from. About a year later a daughter, whom I’ll call Gloria, was born. She had a mental disability. Another daughter, ‘Gabriela’, arrived a year or two later.

Then tragedy struck. Roberto discovered that his kidneys weren’t working properly and that he needed dialysis. Over the next couple of years Roberto and Lyn spent practically all they had on this and it ended in Roberto’s death. Meanwhile, Lyn’s parents both had serious illnesses and had to spend most of their resources on treatment.

Lyn returned to her own city with her two young daughters. She couldn’t find a job and had no qualifications since she hadn’t finished in college. With much embarrassment she came to see me and asked if I could give her an ‘allowance’. She was able to survive the next few years with help from her siblings and friends and eventually remarried.

I’ve met so many ‘Lyns’ in the Philippines who are like the woman in today’s gospel, who have spent all their resources on doctors and medicine and are still sick. I’ve met families who have pawned their little bit of land in order to enable an aged parent to have surgery that ultimately leaves the whole family impoverished and the person on whom  they had spent the money, out of a perhaps misplaced love, ending up in the cemetery.

Most Filipinos have little access to good health care. Even those who have government health insurance have to come up with ready cash if they go to hospital, unlike in Ireland or the United Kingdom. They are eventually reimbursed but have to pay interest on money they have borrowed in the meantime. I’ve heard people in Ireland and in the UK complain about the poor health services they have and their complaints are often justified. I have also heard many unsolicited words of praise for nurses from the Philippines working in hospitals in those countries.

But the sad reality is that most of these nurses, if they were still in the Philippines, would not have access to the kind of care they provide in Ireland and the UK. They would be like the woman in the gospel.

I met a Filipina in Reykjavík in 2000 who told me that she had had a kidney transplant in Denmark, paid for by the taxpayers of Iceland, a country of only 350,000 people or so. Had she been at home she would probably have ended up like Roberto.

Twenty-five years ago in a parish in Mindanao I buried Eileen, like the daughter of Jairus,  a 12-year-old. Again, poverty was a significant factor in her illness and death, despite the efforts of the doctors and nurses in the small government hospital where she died.

So the two stories interwoven by St Mark are stories that many have lived or are living, and not only in the Philippines.

But sometimes persons experience healing. I once gave a recollection day to a group of 11- and 12-year old children in a Catholic school in Cebu City. We reflected on the story of Jesus staying behind in the Temple when he was 12 and that of the daughter of Jairus, also 12. Before the afternoon session a group of the boys and girls came to tell me that Maria, one of their classmates, had a bad toothache and asked if we could pray with her. Maybe Jesus would heal her as he had healed ‘Talitha’. They thought that that was the name of the girl in the gospel! We prayed with Maria – and her toothache disappeared. The children were delighted.

St Mark gives us illustrations of the humanity of Jesus more than do St Matthew and St Luke when they recount the same stories. Scholars tell us that St Mark’s was the first gospel to be written and that the other two drew on his in writing theirs. St Matthew omits the detail of Jesus perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him. This shows us that Jesus wasn’t a ‘magician’. When he healed a sick person he gave of himself.

St Matthew leaves out another beautiful detail about the humanity of our Saviour. Jesus says to the people in the house, Give her something to eat. I can imagine the joy of everyone, including Jesus. I picture him with a smile on his face, a smile that reflects his joy – and his awareness that the girl’s family had forgotten the very practical detail that she was starving, as is anyone who has come through a serious illness. This detail of St Mark brings home to me the great reality that St John expressed in his gospel and that we pray in the Angelus, The Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus 
Setting by contemporary Polish composer Henryk Jan Botor

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt cæli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

'His birth brought great rejoicing.' Sunday Reflections, The Nativity of St John the Baptist

Birth of the Baptist, Andrea Pisano [Web Gallery of Art]

The Solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist takes precedence liturgically over the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

At the Vigil Mass

The Vigil Mass is celebrated on Saturday evening and has its own proper antiphons, prayers and readings, different from those of the Sunday Mass. Taking part in this Mass fulfils one's Sunday obligation.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 1:5-17 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

At the 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)

Gospel Luke 1:57-66, 80 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

The Visitation, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Nearly forty years ago I was chatting with a six-year-old girl in the parish in Mindanao where I was serving and asked her how many brothers and sisters she had. 'We are three', she replied in Cebuano Visayan, 'Manong, myself and the one with our mother'. 'Manong' is an honorific for an older brother or a male older than oneself, in this case her older brother. 'The one with our mother' at the time was where St John the Baptist and Jesus are in El Greco's life-filled painting of the Visitation above, still in the womb. But the unborn infant was already a real, live sibling for my young friend. 

In another parish in Mindanao, more than twenty years ago, I had a session one evening with people in one of the barrios. I was telling them how from the moment of conception every one of our qualities and characteristics, physical and intellectual, are already there. I could see that the people were fascinated, as I was myself.

What jumps out at me from the texts of both Masses for the Birth of St John the Baptist is that same sense of wonder at and awareness of new life that the little girl and the people in the barrio had. (I'll quote from the Jerusalem Bible and the Grail translation of the psalms). In the Vigil Mass Jeremiah tells us that the Lord said to him, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you. In the Responsorial Psalm in the same Mass we pray,On you I have leaned from my birth, from my mother's womb you have been my help. In the gospel of the Vigil Mass the angel says to Zechariah, Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord

The same theme is found in the Mass during the Day, Isaiah says, The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother's womb he pronounced my name. The response to the Responsorial Psalm is I thank you for the wonder of my being or, in the New American Bible Lectionary, I praise you for I am wonderfully made. And in the psalm itself we pray, For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother's womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation. Already you knew my soul, my body held no secret from you when I was being fashioned in secret and moulded in the depths of the earth.

The Visitation, Andrea Pisano [Web Gallery of Art]

Psalm 139 (138 in the liturgical books) puts the wonder of the creation of each human being in the womb in the context of the wonder of the whole of creation, something  we need to realise more. Pope Benedict in the opening paragraph of his Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2010, the theme of which was If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation, wrote: Respect for creation is of immense consequence, not least because 'creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works', and its preservation has now become essential for the pacific coexistence of mankind.

In his encyclical letter Laudato Si’, No 120, Pope Francis says something similar, with an emphasis that is particularly apt for today's feast: Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? 'If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away'.

Those who wrote the scripture texts we use in the Vigil Mass and in the Mass During the Day had something of that respect, as had my young friend and the people in the barrio.

There are only three birthdays celebrated liturgically, that of St John the Baptist, that of our Blessed Mother on September 8 and that of Jesus at Christmas. The feast of the Annunciation is celebrated nine months before that. That and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December, are celebrations of the very beginning of life. These celebrations, all connected to each other, affirm the wonder of the gift of life. One of the characteristics of the spirituality of Filipinos is precisely that. Every birthday is celebrated in some way, even by those with little or nothing. As a priest I have discovered that people can feel 'cheated' if they're not able to mark your birthday in some way.

Beneath all of this is a reflection of what is sung in the Preface for the feast we are celebrating: His birth brought great rejoicing; even in the womb he leapt for joy at the coming of human salvation. May each of us have a sense of God's own joy as we celebrate not only the birth of the Lord's cousin but recall our own birth and baptism.

At the Mass during the Day

Antiphona ad communionem  Communion Antiphon Cf Luke 1:78

Fuit homo missus a Deo, cui nomen Ioannes erat.
A man was sent from God, whose name was John.
Hic venit, ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine,
He came to testify to the light,
parare Domino plebem perfectam.
to prepare a people fit for the Lord.

18 June 2018

Columban Fr Martin Ryan RIP

Fr Martin Ryan
23 January 1929 - 15 June 2018

Fr Martin Ryan was born on 23 January 1929 in Wildfield, Muckalee, County Kilkenny, Ireland. Educated at Muckalee National School and St Kieran's College, Kilkenny, he entered St Columban's, Dalgan Park, Navan, in 1947 and was ordained priest on 21 December 1953.

St Kieran's College, Kilkenny [Wikipedia]

Father Martin was assigned to Mindanao, Philippines, in 1954 where he would work in various pastoral assignments over the following fifty years. He served in Gingoog City (Misamis Oriental, Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro), Dumalinao (Zamboanga del Sur, Diocese of Pagadian), Mambajao (Camiguin, Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro), Maranding, Linamon and Maigo (all in Lanao del Norte) and in Corpus Christi, Iligan City (those four in the Diocese of Iligan).

Mambajao, Camiguin [Wikipedia]

Around the mid-1980s Father Martin became acutely aware that he had a drinking problem. After many fruitless attempts to keep sober by his own efforts, he eventually requested that he be sent to Guest House in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. He then returned briefly to parish work in Iligan City. 

He then went to Ireland where he joined a recovery group. By the grace of God, and with the help of such groups, Father Martin enjoyed continuous sobriety from then until the end of his life. With typical frankness he wrote of his alcoholism in his memoir Muckalee to Mindanao and Back: A Missionary Round Trip, 'My sobriety today is a precious gift which I cherish'.

Sr Regina 'Inday' Bernad SSC [Columban Sisters]

Once he was sober Father Martin went to extraordinary lengths, travelling long distances to hold meetings with fellow alcoholics. He was very aware that alcoholism was causing great suffering and damage to many Filipino families. finally, with the help of Filipina Columban Sister Regina 'Inday' Bernad, who died in 2016, and trained therapist Rene Francisco he founded a treatment centre in Ozamiz City called 'IT WORKS'. (More about IT WORKS here).

It Works, Ozamiz City [FB]

In its first ten years 800 Filipinos graduated from the centre and 75 per cent of them continue to be sober. Father Martin built up the centre, sought funds for its maintenance, and when he was sure that ti could continue its work without his presence he returned to Ireland.

Father Martin was blessed with a child-like directness and simplicity. He gave himself unstintingly to the task in hand. The accidental death of his brother and fellow Columban, Father Laurence, 'Lar', in October 1995 was a very heavy blow which he bore with courage and patience. He had a passion for hurling and was always anxious for news about the fortunes of Kilkenny and of his local club, St Martins, which was named in his honour. (He had convinced the three clubs attached to the three churches in his native parish that they would be much more successful if they combined. This proved to be correct).

Father Martin died at St Columban's Retirement Home in Dalgan Park. He will be buried on Wednesday 20 June in his home parish of Muckalee in the grounds of the church of St Brendan.

May his great soul rest in peace.

St Brendan's, Muckalee [Diocese of Ossory]

Obituary by Fr Cyril Lovett.

In County Kilkenny one sport is supreme: the ancient Irish game of hurling. The clip above shows the great skill of a friend of Father Martin, Henry Shefflin (No 15 in the black and amber stripes of Kilkenny and known as 'King Henry'), considered one of the greatest ever hurlers and who retired from senior hurling in 2015. These players are all amateurs.

The Rose of Mooncoin is the anthem of Kilkenny hurlers. It is sung here by Johnny McEvoy who in his introduction mentions his childhood hero Ollie Walsh, the Kilkenny goalkeeper from 1956 till 1972. 

13 June 2018

'Ag Críost an síol, ag Críost an fómhar - To Christ the seed, to Christ the crop.' Sunday Reflections, 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

The Sower (after Millet), Van Gogh [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 Mark 4:26-34 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to the crowds: ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Reaper with Sickle (after Millet), Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Below is what I posted three years ago and part of what I posted six years ago for this Sunday.  It is now (2018) 76 years since my parents married and 'the youngest born last month' is now aged six. His father came through the medical procedure successfully, thank God.

The parables in this Sunday's gospel remind us that the faith has had many small beginnings. Perhaps the greatest is the Twelve Apostles. 

As a Columban priest I'm very conscious of our history. Fr Edward Galvin from Ireland went off to China with Canadian Fr John Fraser in 1912. Fr Fraser went on to found the Scarboro Missionary Society in Canada and Fr Galvin, with Fr John Blowick, was to set up the Missionary Society of St Columban within a few years, both societies working to bring the Gospel to the people of China.

The Columbans, along with all other Christian missionaries, were eventually driven out of China after 1949 but have a presence there again, in a different way. And a year ago, as I wrote for last Sunday, the first two Chinese students came to Manila to prepare to be Columban missionary priests. Another small beginning in the service of the mission that Jesus gave to the Church. [Update: Those two students have since left but another, Peter Dong Lichun, was ordained deacon recently and will be ordained priest, God willing, later this year. He will be the first Chinese Columban priest.]

70 years ago my parents were married. Another small beginning in faith, a faith nourished, at least in part, by the Eucharistic Congress ten years earlier in their native Dublin. Without that beginning I would not be here. 

Today, Friday, I visited a friend in Cebu City whom I hadn't seen in more than twelve years. When we last met she was single. Today I met her husband and seven children, the youngest born last month. She and her husband have both lost their mothers in the last couple of months. Her husband will be going into hospital on Saturday for a procedure on one of his kidneys.The house they were living in before was burned down and they are now in a very small temporary house from which they will have to move soon. Yet I saw a house filled with love, the older children when they came home from school giving the mano po, the hand to the forehead, a sign of respect in the Philippines and in Timor Leste (East Timor), to their parents and to me - and then going to kiss their two youngest brothers. And we shared bread together, pandesal, small pieces of bread that are very popular for breakfast and for snacks.

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.

We just don't know where the seed will be scattered and where it will bear fruit. I once met a young woman from Japan in Manila. She was moving towards the Catholic faith and the seed was being nourished in the predominantly Catholic Philippines. But the seed of her faith came to fruition in Thailand where she was baptised during an Easter Vigil. Thailand, like Japan, is a country where only about one person in two hundred is a Catholic. 

May we be aware of the many 'seeds' that the Lord has scattered in our lives, that he nourishes through the Eucharist and that he brings to fruition in the most unexpected ways.

Sheaves of Wheat, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Ag Críost an Síol

Words written in 1916 by Fr Micheál Ó Síocháin (later Coadjutor Archbishop of Sydney), music by Seán Ó Riada in 1968. This hymn in the Irish language is often sung at weddings and at funerals. Though intended by Ó Riada as an Offertory hymn it is more often sung during or after Communion. 

Ag Críost an síol, ag Críost an fómhar;
i n-iothlainn Dé go dtugtar sinn.

Ag Críost an mhuir, ag Críost an t-iasc;
i líonta Dé go gcastar sinn.

Ó fhás go h-aois, is ó aois go bás,
do dhá láimh, a Chríost, anall tharainn.

Ó bhás go críoch, ní críoch ach athfhás,
i bParthas na ngrást go rabhaimid.

To Christ the Seed

Translation by Thomas Kinsella.

To Christ the seed, to Christ the crop,
in barn of Christ may we be brought.

To Christ the sea, to Christ the fish,
in nets of Christ may we be caught.

From growth to age, from age to death,
Thy two arms here, O Christ, about us.

From death to end, not end but growth,
in blessed Paradise may we be.

06 June 2018

'Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ Sunday Reflections, 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Young Jew as Christ, Rembrandt [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 Mark 3:20-25 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Then Jesus went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

Beggar Resting, Giacomo Ceruti [Web Gallery of Art]

The note that goes with this painting on Web Gallery of Art - a wonderful website - says: The stick of the sitting figure of about seventy years of age, the knapsack on his shoulders, and the wicker basket all identify him as a pilgrim rather than as a beggar seeking alms.

Pilgrims often are beggars in the sense that some depend entirely on the goodness of others for food and lodging along their way. The Columban seminarians in the Philippines usually go on such a pilgrimage as part of their spiritual formation as Kurt Zion Pala, now ordained and serving in Myanmar, describes in The Road to Agoo.

But sometimes we can see individuals simply as beggars and, in a sense, dismiss them from our thoughts, never knowing their stories, never knowing their humanity. That has been my experience a number of times down the years.

One such experience was during my seminary years, in the summer of 1964, while working for two weeks at The Morning Star Hostel, run by the Legion of Mary, about ten minutes' walk from where I lived in Dublin. It was a place of refuge for 'down and out' men. It was far from being a luxury hotel but was a place where every man, whether short-term or long-term, was respected. The facilities have improved since then. 

While at the Morning Star I had a couple of long chats with a man I knew by sight. I'll call him Michael. He was a street singer, going around different parts of the city singing popular songs and hoping that people would give him a few pennies. Anytime I saw him he was just another beggar to me. 

But in our conversations I met in Michael a man who had a spirituality that in a real sense was beyond me. He was highly intelligent and reflected on life. He wasn't from Dublin and didn't tell me how he had ended up in the Morning Star. But I got sense of a person for whom God was very real. I wondered if he was somewhat out of his mind or if he was some kind of mystic. I felt blessed by knowing him and figured that more likely he was a mystic, certainly a man close to God. And I saw his dignity as a person made in the image of God, the serene dignity of the beggar/pilgrim that Giacomo Ceruti captured in his painting, the serene dignity of the young Jew expelled from his native country captured by Rembrandt.

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ These words in today's Gospel remind me of Michael. It is clear that the perception of some of those who knew Jesus was that he was somewhat 'off-centre'. Jesus is here identifying himself with every person who is, in some way, 'off-centre' or perceived to be such. Such persons are not always taken seriously by the rest of us. They are on the margins.

The note that goes with Rembrandt's Young Jew as Christ says, The sitter of the painting is a young Jew evicted from Spain and settled in Amsterdam in the neighbourhood of Rembrandt. Another person on the margins, evicted by followers of Jesus from his native country because he was ethnically the same as Jesus and his mother. 

I once showed a very poor black and white copy of this painting during a Sunday homily at a Mass in a home for girls in the Philippines where most of the girls had been sexually abused. One, aged 14 or 15, asked if she could keep the copy. I later had a proper print made and framed and gave it to her. I asked her what had drawn her in Rembrandt's painting. She replied, 'He looks so human'.

In today's gospel we see the utter humanity of Jesus, God who became Man. We see his utter vulnerability, allowing himself to be dismissed by some as one who has gone out of his mind.

And then the extraordinary statement by Jesus: Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

Whatever our nationality, our ethnic origins, our social standing, our level of education, our intellectual or physical abilities, our language, Jesus calls us his brother and sister and mother. His own Mother is the only one, apart from Jesus himself, who carried out God's will perfectly. Nevertheless he considers all who desire, with God's grace, to carry out the Father's will his brother and sister and mother

Jesus showed himself to me 54 years ago through Michael, whom I had seen only as a beggar before I met him. He shows himself to me through Ceruti's Beggar Resting, through Rembrandt's Young Jew as Christ. And Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, showed his humanity to my young friend in the Philippines who had been so badly treated through a very poor print of Rembrandt's painting!

Jesus reveals himself to us in the words of St John the Apostle in the hymn below, composed by a Pole and sung by a church choir in Indonesia in the ancient Latin language that is the heritage of all Roman Catholics.

May the words of Jesus and his presence among us in so many ways fill us with courage and hope!

Antiphona ad communionem  Communon Antiphon  1 John 4:16

Deus caritas est, et qui manet in caritate in Deo manet et Deus in eo.
God is love, an whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

The setting above of extracts from 1 John 4:7-21 and 1 John 3:1 is by contemporary Polish composer Henryk Jan Botor and is sung by Cappella Victoria Jakarta. This Sunday's alternative Communion Antiphon is used as the refrain. The text is from the Nova Vulgata Latin translation of the Bible.

Deus caritas est, Deus caritas est; et, qui manet in caritate, in Deo manet, in Deo manet, in Deo. 

Diligamus invicem, quoniam caritas ex Deo est; et omnis, qui diligit, ex Deo natus est et cognoscit Deum. [Let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.]

Deus caritas est, Deus caritas est; et, qui manet in caritate, in Deo manet, in Deo manet, in Deo. 

In hoc apparuit caritas Dei in nobis, quoniam Filium suum unigenitum misit Deus in mundum, ut vivamus per eum. [In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.]

Deus caritas est, Deus caritas est; et, qui manet in caritate, in Deo manet, in Deo manet, in Deo. 

Si sic Deus dilexit nos, et nos debemus alterutrum diligere, et nos debemus alterutrum diligere. [If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, we also ought to love one another.]

Deus caritas est, Deus caritas est; et, qui manet in caritate, in Deo manet, in Deo manet, in Deo. 

Si diligamus invicem, Deus in nobis manet, et caritas eius in nobis consummata est. [If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.]                                                                                                                                                                
Deus caritas est, Deus caritas est; et, qui manet in caritate, in Deo manet, in Deo manet, in Deo.                                                                                                                             Nos diligimus, quoniam ipse prior dilexit nos. Et hoc mandatum habemus ab eo, ut, qui diligit Deum, diligat et fratrem suum. [And this is the commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. We love, because he first loved us.]

Deus caritas est, Deus caritas est; et, qui manet in caritate, in Deo manet, in Deo manet, in Deo. 

Videte qualem caritatem dedit nobis Pater, et filii Dei nominemur et sumus. [See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.]

Deus caritas est, Deus caritas est; et, qui manet in caritate, in Deo manet, in Deo manet, in Deo. 

Deus caritas est, Deus caritas est; et, qui manet in caritate, in Deo manet, in Deo manet, in Deo.