27 April 2019

'My Lord and my God!' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), Year C

The Incredulity of St Thomas, 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 John 20:19-31 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’  Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The Gospel of John (2003) Directed by Philip Saville
Narrator: Christopher Plummer

In 2007, during a visit to Canada I was asked to give a talk to a prayer group. Afterwards, over coffee, I was chatting with on of the members, an elderly immigrant from Germany, who told me how she had become a Catholic. She had been raised as a Lutheran and had been on the verge of joining the Catholic Church for a long time but could not take the final step.

One weekday afternoon, feeling somewhat down because of this she went for a walk. She happened to pass by a Catholic church and decided to go in. While she was there a group of teenage boys came in went up to the front of the church, genuflected before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, knelt down for a couple of minutes, stood up, genuflected again and went on their way.

These boys were expressing what the Church has always taught: Do not, then, regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.

You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ. You know also how David referred to this long ago when he sang: Bread gives strength to man’s heart and makes his face shine with the oil of gladness. Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul. (From The Jerusalem Catecheses, used in the Office of Readings for Saturday within the Octave of Easter.)

This is the reason that Fr Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain to the Paris Fire Brigade, rescued the Blessed Sacrament from the burning Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Holy Week.

The visit of those Canadian teenage boys to the Blessed Sacrament was the German woman's My Lord and my God! moment. She became a Catholic shortly afterwards. Those boys had no idea of how their simple expression of their faith had so profoundly touched the life of a person whom they may not have even noticed.

The moment that St Thomas said My Lord and my God! was truly an 'eternal' moment. It led to his martyrdom and to his living with God for all eternity.

My German-Canadian friend's moment is 'eternal' in the same way. It led her into a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus and with all the members of the Church and points towards an eternity with God himself.

Every such moment in our lives is meant to be eternal, a moment when we experience the presence of God's love so clearly, a moment that we continue to carry with us, sometimes consciously but perhaps more often not being aware of it, a moment that leads us to eternal life.

I think that we my legitimately think of those many moments in the way St John in his gospel writes of the many other signs [miracles] that Jesus did, which are not written in this book. These moments are graces given by God so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The Mar Thoma Sliva or Saint Thomas Cross, the symbol of the Syro-Malabar Church [Wikipedia]

Nearly nine per cent of nurses in the Republic of Ireland are from India and most of these are Catholics from Kerala who belong to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church that traces its origins back to St Thomas the Apostle. These, as well as the Syro-Malankara Catholics in Kerala, are in full communion with Rome. 

I have met many Keralite Catholics here in Ireland and also in Britain and know how fervent they are in living their faith.There are Masses in the Syro-Malabar Rite every Sunday in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

May St Thomas the Apostle, whose My Lord and my God! is the most explicit expression of faith in Jesus Christ in the whole of the New Testament, continue to watch over them. 
                                                                                                                    Antiphona communionem Communion Antiphon Cf John 20:27
Setting by contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan

Mitte manum tuam, et cognoscere loca clavorum,
Bring your hand and feel the place of the nails,
et noli esse incredulus, sed fidelis, alleluia, alleluia.
and do not be unbelieving but believing, alleluia, alleluia.

Gregorian Chant setting

St Thomas the ApostleJusepe Martínez [Web Gallery of Art

My Lord and my God!


19 April 2019

'Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope!' Sunday Reflections, Easter Sunday, Year C

The Resurrection of Christ, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

ReadingsEaster Vigil (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings, Easter Sunday (New American Bible)

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

ReadingsEaster Sunday (Jerusalem Bible)

Gospel, Easter Vigil Luke 24:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The Resurrection of Christ, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Gospel Easter Sunday John 20:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,  and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
The Gospel of the Easter Vigil may also be used.
Léachtaí i nGaeilge Aifreann an Domhnaigh

Regina Coeli
Sung at a Vigil for Life in Notre-Dame de Paris
22 May 2012

Queen of heaven rejoice, alleluia!
for he whom you were worthy to bear, alleluia!
has risen as he said, alleluia!
Pray for us to God, alleluia!

Dear brothers and sisters! The risen Christ is journeying ahead of us towards the new heavens and the new earth (cf. Rev 21:1), in which we shall all finally live as one family, as sons and daughters of the same Father. He is with us until the end of time. Let us walk behind him, in this wounded world, singing Alleluia. In our hearts there is joy and sorrow, on our faces there are smiles and tears. Such is our earthly reality. But Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us. For this reason we sing and we walk, faithfully carrying out our task in this world with our gaze fixed on heaven.

Happy Easter to all of you! (Pope Benedict, Easter Sunday 2011).

I have told the following story before here and on many other occasions, especially giving retreats. Each time I share it or recall it I experience the truth of Pope Benedict's words, Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us. I have also learned that persons with a deep, committed faith can sometimes be very fragile.

Nearly 40 years ago I spent part of a summer working in a suburban parish in the USA. One night at around 11 I did something I rarely did: make a late night phone call, and for no other reason than to say 'Hi'. I phoned a friend who was a teacher whom I had first met eleven years earlier when I was a young priest and she a generous, idealistic but confused 16-year-old. Over the years I saw 'Lily' - I'll call her that since that flower is often associated with Easter in northern climes and this is an Easter story – very rarely as I was in the Philippines.

I was shocked when 'Lily' answered. Her speech was slurred. She told me she had taken an overdose of a drug prescribed for a serious illness she had. I told her I would come over immediately but she said she would not let me in. She lived on her own but near her parents, about thirty minutes from where I was. I took another priest with me.

'Lily', of course, let us in. We spent about three hours with her. I was satisfied that what she had taken wasn't enough to kill her and that she wouldn't do anything drastic in the meantime. I promised to return in the morning.

I spent most of the next two days with 'Lily'. I called her doctor and also phoned a helpline for those dealing with or attempting suicide. 

I had seen 'Lily' grow in her faith over the years. After qualifying as a teacher she chose to teach in a parochial elementary school rather than in a public school, even though the salary was lower. She had a sense of mission. She came from a Catholic family but was aware since her childhood of her father's infidelity. But when she had attempted suicide when about 17 she saw her parents' great love for her, despite everything.

Yet it was something her mother said to her that had triggered off this latter attempt at suicide. 'Lily' felt that she wasn't living up to her mother's expectations. I think it was during the second morning I was with 'Lily' that she asked me, 'What are your expectations of me?' I answered, 'I don't have any expectations, only hopes'.

Hearing the word 'only hopes' was the turning point. That was when 'Lily' decided to live.

A few days later ‘Lily’ came to the parish where I was for confession and Mass and she was truly filled with the joy that only the Lord can give. She also wrote me a long letter - she was a wonderful letter-writer - about her experience. 

Woman Writing  Letter, Gerard Terborch [Web Gallery of Art]

In her letter 'Lily' said: I have come to learn more about myself - as a 'vulnerable' yet 'hopeful' person, and yet even more important - I feel that my relationship with the Lord has deepened. I have a deeper hunger to be united with Him on a more intimate and dependent level.

Further on 'Lily' wrote: Most times we need to see and hear and feel Christ through another, to be able to believe in Him more faithfully and securely . . . I realize that years and years of therapy can amount to nothing unless the Lord is a very central part of it. I was able to share my fears, hurts, confusion, pain and - thank God - tears with you in and through the anointing of your priesthood . . .

I find 'Lily's' words echoed in those of Pope Francis when he celebrated Mass on Holy Thursday 2013 in Casal del Marmo Prison for Minors. He ended his homily with these words: Now we will perform this ceremony of washing feet, and let us think, let each one of us think: 'Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?'. Let us think about this, just this. And let us think that this sign is a caress of Jesus, which Jesus gives, because this is the real reason why Jesus came: to serve, to help us.

After the Mass Pope Francis met with the prisoners and said, Go forward, alright? And do not let yourselves be robbed of hope, do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Understood? Always with hope. Go forward! Thank you

In his final greetings as he was leaving Pope Francis said, Now I leave. Thank you so much for your welcome. Pray for me and do not let yourselves be robbed of hope. Always go forward! Thank you so much! [Emphases mine.]

The following summer, at the end of a sabbatical, I was in that same parish again. I met up with 'Lily'. She told me that she didn't think she had long to live. Knowing something of her medical history I took her seriously and we had a very deep and faith-filled conversation about that. There was nothing morbid about it. We were facing a reality but with faith and hope in the Resurrection. Afterwards we had lunch together in a restaurant and our conversation was totally lighthearted.

That was the last time we met. 'Lily' died peacefully a few months later at the age of 29. I know from those who were with her at the time that she did so as one who had faithfully carried out her task in this world with her gaze fixed on heaven, to use the words of Pope Benedict above.

I learned from that experience that there are persons of deep faith who can be very fragile. I have seen that in others subsequently.

I also saw God's utter love. Why did I make that late night phone call? I can see the Lord's hand in that visit. And I know that I was the only person whom 'Lily' could totally confide in at that time. Somehow it has been easier to share the past month's conflicts, feelings, tears and hopes with you which have built up over the years than with anyone else.

Lent and Easter is a prolonged moment every year when Jesus the Risen Lord says to each of us what Pope Francis said three times to the young prisoners last Thursday: Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope.

Through God's mercy nearly 40 years ago the same Risen Lord said to my friend 'Lily', Do not let yourself be robbed of hope - and she took him at his word.

'Lily' died peacefully the following year having received the Last Sacraments and ready to accept death at the age of 29. May she enjoy the fulness of the Resurrection.

The Bells of Notre-Dame de Paris, Easter 2017

18 April 2019

The priest who saved the Blessed Sacrament in the Notre-Dame de Paris fire

On 17 April Fr John Zuhlsdorf posted on Fr.Z's Blog a video interview with Fr Jean-Marc Fournier, a chaplain to the firefighters of Paris. Fr Fournier told of how he rescued the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament. Fr Zuhlsdorf translated what Fr Fournier said in French.

Here is an extract, with my emphasis added.

Everybody understands that the Crown of Thorns is an absolutely unique and extraordinary relic, but the Blessed Sacrament is Our Lord, really present in his body, soul, divinity and humanity and you understand that it is hard to see someone you love perish in the blaze. As firefighters we often see casualties from fire and we know its effects, this is why I sought to preserve above all the real presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Fr Fournier was telling clearly what the Church has always taught: in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by the power of the Holy Spirit acting through the priest, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of the Risen Lord. 

John Lambert R. Minimo

This story reminded me of an article I edited and published in the July-August 2016 issue of MISYONonline.com, the Columban magazine in the Philippines of which I was editor from 2002 until 2017, Saving the Blessed Sacrament. This was written by a graduating student in the University of the East, Manila, John Lambert R. Minimo, when a fire destroyed the university chapel.

First Holy Communion in Croatia [Wikipedia]

10 April 2019

'It is part of following Christ that we allow ourselves to be roped together.' Sunday Reflections, Palm Sunday, Year C

Entry into Jerusalem, Lorenzo Ghiberti [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

The gospel for the procession with palms is included here.
The shorter form of the Passion according to St Luke is Luke 23:1-49.
Readings(Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

The gospel for the procession with palms is included here as is the Passon according to St Luke arranged for reading by  N. Narrator.  Jesus. O. Other single speaker. C. Crowd, or more than one speaker.

Gospel for Procession with Palms Luke 19:28-40 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   

After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.”’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’  They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

The Gospel in Filipino Sign Language

Pope Benedict on Palm Sunday

In years when World Youth Day isn't celebrated overseas, as it was this year in Panama, 22-27 January, it is observed in Rome. That's where it took place in 2007. Here are extracts from Pope Benedict's homily that day, emphases added.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Dear Young People,

The Gospel of the blessing of the palms that we have heard gathered here in St Peter's Square, begins with the sentence: '[Jesus] went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem' (Lk 19: 28). At the very beginning of today's Liturgy, the Church anticipates her response to the Gospel saying: "Let us follow the Lord". This clearly expresses the theme of Palm Sunday. It is the sequela (consequence). Being Christian means considering the way of Jesus Christ as the right way for being human as that way which leads to our destination, to a completely fulfilled and authentic humanity. In a special way I would like to repeat to all young people on this 25th World Youth Day that being Christian is a path or, better, a pilgrimage; it is to travel with Jesus Christ, to journey in the direction he has pointed out and is pointing out to us.

But what direction is this? How do we find it? Our Gospel passage offers two clues in this regard. In the first place it says that it is an ascent. This has first of all a very concrete meaning. Jericho, where the last part of Jesus' pilgrimage began, is 250 metres below sea-level, whereas Jerusalem the destination is located at 740 to 780 metres above sea level: a climb of almost 1,000 metres. But this external route is above all an image of the internal movement of existence that occurs in the following of Christ: it is an ascent to the true heights of being human. Man can choose an easy path and avoid every effort. He can also sink to the low and the vulgar. He can flounder in the swamps of falsehood and dishonesty. Jesus walks before us and towards the heights. He leads us to what is great, pure. He leads us to that healthy air of the heights: to life in accordance with the truth; to courage that does not let itself be intimidated by the gossip of prevalent opinions; to patience that bears with and sustains the other. He guides people to be open towards the suffering, to those who are neglected. He leads us to stand loyally by the other, even when the situation becomes difficult. He leads us to the readiness to give help; to the goodness that does not let itself be disarmed, even by ingratitude. He leads us to love; he leads us to God.

. . . Jesus knows that his way goes further: the Cross will not be his end. He knows that his journey will rend the veil between this world and God's world; that he will ascend to the throne of God and reconcile God and man in his Body . . .  
. . . Since the way to true life, to being people in conformity with the model of the Son of God Jesus Christ, surpasses our own strength, this journey always means being carried. We find ourselves, so to speak, roped to Jesus Christ together with him on the ascent towards God's heights. He pulls and supports us. It is part of following Christ that we allow ourselves to be roped together; that we acknowledge we cannot do it aloneThis act of humility, entering into the 'we' of the Church is part of it; holding tight to the rope, the responsibility of communion not breaking the rope through stubbornness or self-importance. Humbly believing, with the Church, like being a roped-party on the ascent towards God, is an essential condition for the following of Christ. This being roped together also entails not behaving as masters of the Word of God, not running after a mistaken idea of emancipation. The humility of 'being with' is essential for the ascent . . . 

. . . Let us sum up: the following of Christ requires, as a first step, a reawakening of the desire to be authentic human beings and thus the reawakening of oneself for God. It then requires us to join the climbing party, in the communion of the Church. In the 'we' of the Church we enter into communion with the 'you' of Jesus Christ and thus reach the path to God. We are also asked to listen to the Word of Jesus Christ and to live it: in faith, hope and love. Thus we are on the way toward the definitive Jerusalem and, from this moment, in a certain way, we already find ourselves there, in the communion of all God's Saints.

Our pilgrimage following Christ is not therefore bound for an earthly city, but for the new City of God that develops in the midst of this world . . . 

Pope Benedict, 2013 [Wikipedia]

Antiphon for The Procession   Matthew 21:9

Hosanna to the son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel. Hosanna in the highest.

Setting by Thomas Weelkes (1576 - 1623)
University of the Philippines Manila Chorale

Text used in the video:

Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna, thou that sittest in the highest heavens!
Hosanna in excelsis Deo!