29 August 2018

'Keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.' Sunday Reflections, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

The Scullery Maid, Giuseppe Maria Crespi [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 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)  So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
‘You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.
‘For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
Silver Torah Case [Wikipedia]
Moses said to the people: 'So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.' (First Reading).

A silver cup for for netilat yadayim, the Jewish ritual washing of hands [Wikipedia]

The Indian Rupees 9,000 monthly rent mentioned in the video is the equivalent of about €110, US$128 or Php6,800 (August 2018).

More than six years ago I was speaking to a Filipino seminarian who had worked in Dubai for some years. He had been quite involved in his parish at home and wanted to visit a group of Catholics from Kerala, India, who lived in a labour camp in Dubai. His friends thought he was crazy but he went anyway. He simply wanted to befriend these men whose living conditions he had heard about.

What he described was what I've found subsequently in videos such as the one above, which is from an Indian TV station, except that in my imagination I had pictured World War II-type wooden huts instead of big buildings not unlike apartment blocks in large cities.

The men made him most welcome. The air inside was just as the reporter in the video described. His hosts were preparing a meal outside their crowded bedroom. They didn't see much need to wash their hands or their utensils and what they were preparing was somewhat more spicy than what Filipinos normally eat.

But the young Filipino enjoyed being with his fellow Catholics, whom he knew were his brothers. He could see clearly their living conditions and was able to understand some of their stories. But what struck him most of all was their hospitality.

The Pharisees and scribes in today's gospel ask Jesus, Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?

Louis Pasteur in his Laboratory, Albert Edelfeldt [Wikipedia]

I don't think that Jesus is telling us to be careless with food, in preparing it or eating it. Scientists such as Louis Pasteur have shown us the importance of doctors washing their hands and equipment before surgery, a connection that hadn't been seen before. But what Jesus is on about, I think, is the attitude of someone who would notice that the workers from Kerala in a 'villa' in Dubai didn't wash their hands before cooking and eating and would be critical of them - instead of asking why the washing facilities they shared with so many others were lacking. Someone who would fail to see the overcrowded living quarters and the underpaid workers, separated from their families, being exploited by their employers and by recruiting agencies in their own countries.

The situation my young Filipino friend came across in Dubai can be found in many countries. The term 'OFW' is widely used in the Philippines. It means 'Overseas Filipino Worker'. OFWs are often described by politicians as modern-day heroes. But too few politicians and others are asking why so many, probably a minority in the overall picture but yet a large number of individual real persons, are exploited by some agencies at home and by employers abroad. In reality, these are treated as anything but heroes.

Nor is Jesus opposing tradition or traditions. He was a faithful Jew, as were Joseph and Mary and understood their importance. Tradition and traditions, even if we don't know their origins, are basically life-giving. The Pharisees and scribes  in today's gospel - not all Pharisees and scribes were like these - have turned them into ways of sucking the lifeblood out of people.

Reb Tevye in the extract from Fiddler on the Roof below says, And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do. The exploited workers from Kerala carried with them the tradition of hospitality they had inherited from their ancestors and welcomed a stranger from the Philippines in Dubai. Despite their appalling conditions they knew who they were. They lacked freedom in so many ways but they had the freedom to be welcoming. Hospitality is one of the most cherished experiences in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. It is cherished in every culture and it is at the heart of following Jesus, who showed hospitality to others, rich and poor, and who graciously accepted it from others, rich and poor. Indeed, he was sometimes criticised for eating with the poor, as he is in today's gospel because his companions didn't wash their hands.

I don't know if the workers from Kerala whom my friend met had a chance to go to Mass. He did as he lived very near a church. But the Prayer after Communion today fits in with their meeting in Dubai.

Renewed by this bread from the heavenly table, 

we beseech you, Lord, 
that, being the food of charity, 
it may confirm our hearts 
and stir us to serve you in our neighbour. 
Through Christ our Lord.

And because of our traditions everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.

This setting by  Seán Ó Riada of the Our Father in Irish was sung last Sunday at the closing Mass of this year's World Meeting of Families in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, with Pope Francis as the main celebrant.

21 August 2018

'It means entering into a dynamic of sacrificial love . . .' Sunday Reflections, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

The Crucifixion of St Peter, Caravaggio [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 John 6:60-69 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

When many of Jesus’ disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’

Pope Francis in Palo, Leyte, Philippines, 17 January 2015 [Wikipedia

This Sunday's gospel concludes the Eucharistic Discourse of Chapter 6 of St John's Gospel. The teaching of Jesus that many of his disciples could not accept was what we heard last Sunday: "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. 

St Peter today speaks on behalf of those who stay with Jesus: Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.
In his Angelus audience on Sunday 23 August 2015 Pope Francis spoke these words which are very relevant to today's gospel. I have highlighted parts of the text.

In these Sundays, the Liturgy proposes to us, from the Gospel of John, Jesus' discourse on the Bread of Life, that is He Himself and that is also the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Today's passage (Jn. 6, 51-58) presents the last part of that discourse, and refers to some of those among the people who are scandalized because Jesus said: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day" (Jn. 6,54).
The astonishment of those listening is understandable; in fact, Jesus uses the typical style of the prophets to provoke in the people – and also in us – questions and, in the end, to make a decision. The first of the questions is: What does "eat Jesus' flesh and drink his blood" mean? Is it only an image, a way of saying, a symbol, or does it indicate something real? To answer this, one needs to guess what is happening in Jesus' heart while he breaks the bread for the hungry crowd. Knowing that He must die on the cross for us, Jesus identifies Himself with that broken and shared bread, and that becomes for Him the "sign" of the Sacrifice that awaits Him. This process culminates in the Last Supper, where the bread and wine truly become His Body and His Blood.
It is the Eucharist where Jesus leaves us a precise purpose: that we can become one with Him. In fact, he says: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (v.56). To remain: Jesus in us and us in Him. Communion is assimilation: eating Him, we become Him. But this requires our "yes", our adherence to the faith.
At times, during the Holy Mass, it may happen to feel this objection: "What is the purpose of the Mass? I go in Church when I feel like it, and I pray better alone." But the Eucharist is not a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual experience, it is not a simple commemoration of what Jesus has done in the Last Supper: we say, to understand well, that the Eucharist is a "memorial", that is, an act that actualizes and makes present the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus: the bread is truly His Body given to us; the wine is truly His Blood that has been shed.
The Eucharist is Jesus who gives Himself entirely to usBy nourishing ourselves from Him and remaining in Him through the Eucharistic Communion, if we do it with faith, it transforms our life; it transforms it into a gift to God and a gift to our brothers. To nourish ourselves from that "bread of life" means being in tune with the heart of Christ, to assimilate His choices, His thoughts, His behavior. It means entering into a dynamic of sacrificial love and become a person of peace, of forgiveness, of reconciliation of sharing in solidarity. It is the same as Jesus has done.
Jesus concludes his discourse with these words; "Whoever eats this bread will live forever" (Jn. 6,58). Yes, living in a concrete, real communion with Jesus on this earth makes us pass from death to life. The heavens begin precisely in this communion with Jesus.
In Heaven, Mary our Mother awaits us – yesterday we celebrated this mystery. May She obtain for us the grace of nourishing ourselves always with faith in Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Servant of God Fr Emil Kapaun celebrating Mass during the Korean War [Wikipedia]

I came to know of Fr Emil Kapaun in my teenage years when I read a biography I came across in a public library in Dublin. I was inspired by his heroism as a chaplain in the US forces during the Korean War. I was delighted to discover that this heroic priest shared a birthday with me, 20 April, and 'cancelled out' another born on that date - Adolf Hitler. 

We can listen to Fr Kapaun's own voice echoing the words of St Peter in today's gospel: We can be sure to expect that in our own lives there will come a time when we must make a choice that between being loyal to the true faith or of giving allegiance to something else which is either opposed to or not in alliance with our faith.

In the video below it is clear how Father Kapaun, who is being considered for beatification, lived the words of Pope Francis about the Eucharist: To nourish ourselves from that "bread of life" means being in tune with the heart of Christ, to assimilate His choices, His thoughts, His behavior. It means entering into a dynamic of sacrificial love and become a person of peace, of forgiveness, of reconciliation of sharing in solidarity. It is the same as Jesus has done.

One cannot but be moved by the description by Sergeant Herbert Miller in the video above of how Fr Kapaun saved his life during the Korean War when a North Korean soldier had a gun to his head. 'He pushed that guy aside, bent down, picked me up and carried me'. He carried Sergeant Miller for 50 kms. It means entering into a dynamic of sacrificial love, as Pope Francis said in his talk quoted above. 

In the video below it is clear that Chaplain Kapaun utterly believed that in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Jesus the Risen Lord becomes truly present among us and not just symbolically. He put thousands of miles on his jeep to bring the presence of Christ in the Eucharist to the front lines. He often celebrated Mass for them on the hood of his jeep [0:59 - 1:06]. 

In the prison of war camp Fr Kapaun was like a mother to all the soldiers . . . He'd help keep them clean. He'd wash their clothes. He'd lead them in prayer services. He'd celebrate Mass in secret when he could [2:27 - 2:53].

The last thing they saw him do in this life was bless the men who were taking him to his death and pray out loud, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do'  [3:33 - 3:44].

The crucifix in the background to those words of Jesus that Fr Kapaun repeated was carved later in his memory by one of his companions in the camp - a Jew.

Surely this heroic priest lived the words of Pope Francis: It means entering into a dynamic of sacrificial love and become a person of peace, of forgiveness, of reconciliation of sharing in solidarity. It is the same as Jesus has done.

The life and death of Fr Emil Joseph Kapaun expressed fully the response of Simon Peter to Jesus, Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

The last few months, and particularly the last few weeks, have revealed the terrible betrayal of their mission by many priests and bishops. Their deeds have destroyed countless lives and have undermined the faith of people trying to live the Gospel as members of the Catholic Church. 

Men like Fr Emil Kapaun are the true face of the priesthood. May such priests continue to bring the light of Christ into a world of darkness, bring the hope that is Jesus the Risen Lord into the lives of many. 

In the two videos above Fr Kapaun's surname is pronounced in different ways: 'capAWN', 'CAPE-un', 'cape-AWN'. As far as I know, the first is correct. 

15 August 2018

'Being configured to Christ the eternal High Priest . . .' Sunday Reflections, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003)  Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer.
[Today's gospel ends at 2:54]

Readings(New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 6:51-58 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to the crowd:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; 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 for ever.’
Mass in the Trenches, The Great War, 1914-18 [Jesuits in Britain]
During his homily in St Peter's Basilica on 26 April 2015 at the ordination Mass of 19 new priests Pope Francis said: Indeed, in being configured to Christ the eternal High Priest, and joined to the priesthood of their Bishop, they will be consecrated as true priests of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, to preside at worship, and especially to celebrate the Lord’s Sacrifice.

In using the words 'being configured to Christ' Pope Francis was echoing what both St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI taught.

Pope Francis also spoke to the young men of the importance of being ministers of God's mercy, especially through the Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of the Sick: Through the Sacrament of Penance you forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church. And I, in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord and of his Spouse, the Holy Church, ask you all to never tire of being merciful. You are in the confessional to forgive, not to condemn! Imitate the Father who never tires of forgiving. With Chrism oil you will comfort the sick; in celebrating the sacred rites and raising up the prayer of praise and supplication at various hours of the day, you will become the voice of the People of God and of all humanity.

Sometimes being configured to Christ can mean for a priest that, like Jesus himself, he is called to the extent of living those same words in his own life, The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. One such priest was Fr William Doyle SJ whose 101st death anniversary was on 16 August. 

3 March 1873 - 16 August 1917

I am grateful to Pat Kenny, owner of the blog Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ and compiler and editor of To Raise the Fallen for the information below.

Here is an account of the death of Fr Doyle, which took place in Belgium during the Battle of Passchendaele, also known as The Third Battle of Ypres, from the biography by Alfred O'Rahilly, a university professor who later became a priest:

Fr. Doyle had been engaged from early morning in the front line, cheering and consoling his men, and attending to the many wounded. Soon after 3 p.m. he made his way back to the Regimental Aid Post which was in charge of a Corporal Raitt, the doctor having gone back to the rear some hours before. Whilst here word came in that an officer of the Dublins [editor's note: Royal Dublin Fusiliers, known as the 'Dubs'] had been badly hit, and was lying out in an exposed position. Fr. Doyle at once decided to go out to him, and left the Aid Post with his runner, Private Mclnespie, and a Lieutenant Grant. Some twenty minutes later, at about a quarter to four, Mclnespie staggered into the Aid Post and fell down in a state of collapse from shell shock. Corporal Raitt went to his assistance and after considerable difficulty managed to revive him. His first words on coming back to consciousness were: “Fr. Doyle has been killed!” Then bit by bit the whole story was told. Fr. Doyle had found the wounded officer lying far out in a shell crater. He crawled out to him, absolved and anointed him, and then, half dragging, half carrying the dying man, managed to get him within the line. Three officers came up at this moment, and Mclnespie was sent for some water. This he got and was handing it to Fr. Doyle when a shell burst in the midst of the group, killing Fr. Doyle and the three officers instantaneously, and hurling Mclnespie violently to the ground. Later in the day some of the Dublins when retiring came across the bodies of all four. Recognising Fr. Doyle, they placed him and a Private Meehan, whom they were carrying back dead, behind a portion of the Frezenberg Redoubt and covered the bodies with sods and stones.

Stretcher bearers, Passchendaele, August 1917 [Wikipedia]

Christmas Midnight Mass 1916

O'Rahilly gives an account of the last Christmas Midnight Mass that Fr Doyle would celebrate, an account that shows the Irish Jesuit carrying out two of the responsibilities that Pope Francis spoke about in his homily above to those he was about to ordain: especially to celebrate the Lord’s Sacrifice and Through the Sacrament of Penance . . . to never tire of being merciful. 

Christmas itself Fr. Doyle had the good luck of spending in billets. He got permission from General Hickie to have Midnight Mass for his men in the Convent. The chapel was a fine large one, as in pre-war times over three hundred boarders and orphans were resident in the Convent; and by opening folding-doors the refectory was added to the chapel and thus doubled the available room. An hour before Mass every inch of space was filled, even inside the altar rails and in the corridor, while numbers had to remain in the open. Word had in fact gone round about the Mass, and men from other battalions came to hear it, some having walked several miles from another village.

Before the Mass there was strenuous Confession-work. “We were kept hard at work hearing confessions all the evening till nine o’clock” writes Fr. Doyle, “the sort of Confessions you would like, the real serious business, no nonsense and no trimmings. As I was leaving the village church, a big soldier stopped me to know, like our Gardiner Street [editor's note: where the Jesuit church in Dublin is located] friend, ‘if the Fathers would be sittin’ any more that night.’  He was soon polished off, poor chap, and then insisted on escorting me home. He was one of my old boys, and having had a couple of glasses of beer — ‘It wouldn’t scratch the back of your throat, Father, that French stuff’ — was in the mood to be complimentary. ‘We miss you sorely, Father, in the battalion’, he said, ‘we do be always talking about you’. Then in a tone of great confidence: ‘Look, Father, there isn’t a man who wouldn’t give the whole of the world, if he had it, for your little toe! That’s the truth’. The poor fellow meant well, but ‘the stuff that would not scratch his throat’ certainly helped his imagination and eloquence. 

I reached the Convent a bit tired, intending to have a rest before Mass, but found a string of the boys awaiting my arrival, determined that they at least would not be left out in the cold. I was kept hard at it hearing Confessions till the stroke of twelve and seldom had a more fruitful or consoling couple of hours’ work, the love of the little Babe of Bethlehem softening hearts which all the terrors of war had failed to touch.”

The Mass itself was a great success and brought consolation and spiritual peace to many a war-weary exile. This is what Fr. Doyle says:

“I sang the Mass, the girls’ choir doing the needful. One of the Tommies [editor's note: 'Tommy' was the generic nickname for the ordinary British soldier], from Dolphin’s Barn, sang the Adeste beautifully with just a touch of the sweet Dublin accent to remind us of home, sweet home, the whole congregation joining in the chorus. It was a curious contrast: the chapel packed with men and officers, almost strangely quiet and reverent (the nuns were particularly struck by this), praying .and singing most devoutly, while the big tears ran down many a rough cheek: outside the cannon boomed and the machine-guns spat out a hail of lead: peace and good will — hatred and bloodshed!

“It was a Midnight Mass none of us will ever forget. A good 500 men came to Holy Communion, so that I was more than rewarded for my work.”

Royal Irish Rifles at the Somme, France, July 1916 [Wikipedia]

Six days before he was killed Fr Doyle wrote to his father about an incident in which he carried out another priestly responsibility mentioned by Pope Francis in his homily: With Chrism oil you will comfort the sick.

A sad morning as casualties were heavy and many men came in dreadfully wounded. One man was the bravest I ever met. He was in dreadful agony, for both legs had been blown off at the knee But never a complaint fell from his lips, even while they dressed his wounds, and he tried to make light of his injuries. Thank God, Father, he said, I am able to stick it out to the end. Is it not all for little Belgium? The Extreme Unction, as I have noticed time and again, eased his bodily pain. I am much better now and easier, God bless you, he said, as I left him to attend a dying man. He opened his eyes as I knelt beside him: Ah! Fr. Doyle, Fr. Doyle, he whispered faintly, and then motioned me to bend lower as if he had some message to give. As I did so, he put his two arms round my neck and kissed me. It was all the poor fellow could do to show his gratitude that he had not been left to die alone and that he would have the consolation of receiving the Last Sacraments before he went to God. Sitting a little way off I saw a hideous bleeding object, a man with his face smashed by a shell, with one if not both eyes torn out. He raised his head as I spoke. Is that the priest? Thank God, I am all right now. I took his blood-covered hands in mine as I searched his face for some whole spot on which to anoint him. I think I know better now why Pilate said Behold the Man when he showed our Lord to the people.

In the afternoon, while going my rounds, I was forced to take shelter in the dug-out of a young officer belonging to another regiment. For nearly two hours I was a prisoner and found out he was a Catholic from Dublin, and had been married just a month. Was this a chance visit, or did God send me there to prepare him for death, for I had not long left the spot when a shell burst and killed him? I carried his body out the next day and buried him in a shell hole, and once again I blessed that protecting Hand which had shielded me from his fate.

The trench warfare of World War I was a form of hell, where evil was present. But Jesus Christ the Risen Lord was present there too - and recognised by so many soldiers, particularly at the moment of death, through the presence of priests such as Fr Willie Doyle SJ, whose inspiring life I first learned about in kindergarten in the late 1940s. In celebrating Mass, in hearing confessions, in anointing dying soldiers, in burying those who had died in battle, priests were bringing hope and light, the hope and light that is Jesus himself, into the midst of an awful darkness. And in some cases these priests were called to be configured literally to the dying Christ so that they could say: the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Today please pray for all priests, without whom we could not have the Bread of Life.