24 July 2019

'Give us this day our daily bread.' Sunday Reflections, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Man Praying, 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 Luke 11:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Give us each day our daily bread.
     And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.”  And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

Luke 11:1-13 in Filipino Sign Language

Fr Patrick Ronan, from County Kilkenny in Ireland, was one of four Columbans jailed in China in 1952 by the Communist authorities for 'subversive activities'. Another Columban, Fr Aedan McGrath, spent nearly three years in solitary confinement in China between 1950 and 1953 because of his involvement in the Legion of Mary. All five were expelled in 1953.

Fr Ronan, known to his fellow Columbans as 'Pops', and his three companions, Frs Owen O'Kane, John Casey and Patrick Reilly, were called Four Felons in a book published in 1958 that told their story. They were in the same prison but in separate cells and were often interrogated in the middle of the night, never knowing when they might be called out.

Unlike his three companions, Father 'Pops' always managed to sleep soundly, no matter how often he was awakened for an interrogation. When the four were eventually released and told to leave the People's Republic he learned why when they arrived in Hong Kong. The woman who had been principal when he was in kindergarten had been praying every day of his captivity for one specific intention: that he would sleep soundly.

Like the wonderful bargaining prayer of Abraham on behalf of his people in the First Reading today that woman's prayer was very down to earth and, like Abraham, she saw God as being down to earth too. Her prayer was also very focused, as was that of Abraham. And, like Abraham, our father in faith, she had a deep faith-filled hope that God would answer her prayer.

The 'Four Felons' have all gone to their reward now. I was blessed to have known two of them in the Philippines, Fr Ronan and Fr Reilly. I happened to be in Ireland when Father 'Pops' died there in 1991 and his great friend and fellow 'felon' Fr Patrick Reilly told us a story at the funeral Mass that reminded us of the power of the very specific prayer of Fr Ronan's former teacher, though from a somewhat humorous angle. The four travelled home by boat from Hong Kong. The other three often had difficulty trying to waken Fr Ronan in the morning and suggested that he contact his friend in Ireland and ask her to stop praying for him!

I am often deeply touched by friends in the Philippines who ask me to pray for some particular intention, very often for a family member who is sick. When that person gets better they make a point of thanking me for my prayers. There's an reminder in this that, like Abraham, I'm called to pray for the people I serve.

And Pope Francis on the evening he first spoke to use as Pope reminded us of the importance of our prayers for him.

I truly believe that it is impossible for God to refuse to listen to prayer that is in harmony with his will. So many of us older people these days have family members and friends who seem to have fallen away from the Church and, in many instances, from the Christian faith itself. There are two things we can do: live as followers of Jesus as intensely as possible, with his grace, and pray that their faith will be renewed.

St John Paul II singing the Our Father in Latin

12 July 2019

'There is need of only one thing.' Sunday Reflections, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Christ in the House of Marth and Mary, Tintoretto [Web Gallery of Art]

This is Sunday Reflections for 21 July 2019, which I am posting early because of going on retreat. You will find Sunday Reflections for 14 July here. 

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 10:38-42 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Luke 10:38-42 in Filipino Sign Language

Perhaps the poorest man I've met in my life was Billy Smith. Despite his name, he was a Filipino, though as far as we Columban priests knew his father was an American. He was known to all the Columbans in northern Mindanao where in the 1970s we had many parishes, now staffed by Filipino diocesan priests. Billy would do his rounds of the parishes over a period of months and in each would get some food, some clothing, a little money and a place to sleep. He was tall and thin and in his latter years was going blind. He had a number of illnesses. He carried a sturdy staff. Sometimes children would make fun of him and even throw stones at him.

One afternoon more than 35 years ago in a place where I had been parish priest for a couple of months, the last Columban to serve in that role, but was in charge of a spiritual pastoral formation year for seminarians from five dioceses, I heard the 'clump, clump, clump' of heavy boots coming up the stairs to the living quarters. It was Billy. At the time I had a visitor, a young friend named Patricia who was in Grade 5. She never knew her father as he had died when she was an infant. She 'adopted' me as a father and called me 'Tatay' (Dad) and often dropped by after class before heading home. (She is now a widowed grandmother and still calls me 'Tatay'.) The family lived in a small house built on stilts that looked as if it might fall over at any minute. Her mother managed to make a living. 

When Patricia saw Billy she immediately went over to him, took him by the hand, sat him down at the table and brought him something to eat and drink. I doubt if Billy had ever received such service in his life. My young friend was unaware that I was taking all of this in.

Patricia had little in life and Billy had even less. But the young girl showed respect, kindness and hospitality to this man of the roads. She did this spontaneously, from the heart. When I told her about this incident years later she couldn't remember it.

The story in the First Reading of Abraham's welcome to the three strangers and the story of the welcome Martha and Mary to Jesus in the Gospel show us how blessed we may be by hospitality. Abraham didn't know that the strangers were visitors from God, who blessed him and Sarah, childless and well beyond the normal age for having children, with a son, Isaac, within the year. It is through Isaac that we can refer to 'Abraham, our father in faith' in Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon).

God blessed Billy through the hospitality of Patricia, a child, and he gave me a lifelong blessing through that incident.

Very often what a visitor looks forward to is something to eat and drink. And in the Scriptures when it gives us stories of hospitality such as in the First Reading, there is more than enough. Vincenzo Campi's painting below emphasises the extent of Martha's hospitality and the amount of work that faces her. We can understand her frustration with her sister Mary. The painting also reflects the boundless generosity of God.

However, there are times when the hospitality needed is simply someone to listen. From what we read about Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus in the gospels of St Luke and St John it would seem that Jesus felt very much at home with them and quite possibly had many meals with them. But on this occasion he simply wants the ear of Mary and Martha. Mary senses this. 

There is need of only one thing, Jesus tells Martha. That, basically, is to know what God wants from us at a particular time and then to do that. In the last chapter of St John's Gospel Jesus is telling us the same thing in his conversation with St Peter when he asks him three times 'Do you love me?' When Peter says 'Yes' on each occasion Jesus tells him, 'feed my lambs, feed my sheep'. But the basic question is Do you love me?

There is need of only one thing.

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
Vincenzo Campi [Web Gallery of Art]

Kyrie, Missa Papae Marcelli by Palestrina

11 July 2019

‘Go and do likewise.’ Sunday Reflections, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Moses, Carlo Dolci [Web Gallery of Art]

Moses said to the people: 'No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe' (Deuteronomy 30:14, from today's First Reading).

Because I am going on retreat I have posted Sunday Reflections for both 14 July 2019 and for 21 July. You will find the latter here.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 10:25-37 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Luke 10:25-37 in Filipino Sign Language

The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix)
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Fr Kevin McHugh, a Columban confrere in Our Lady of Remedies Parish, Malate, Manila, sent me the following by the late Monsignor Thomas Waldron (1929 - 1995) of the Archdiocese of Tuam, Ireland. Father Kevin transcribed it from a cassette tape.

Instead of a homily I am going to take a risk . . . I am going to tell the story in the words of the lawyer who asked Jesus the Question that you just heard in the Gospel ‘Who is my neighbour?’

So, I am the lawyer.

We lawyers make our living by asking questions . . . especially when in the court room. Well, I was one of those standing in the crowd that day . . . and I asked a very basic question.

‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

I admired him . . . I liked him . . . but I just wanted to test him. He didn’t answer me! Like any good lawyer he shot back the question . . . two questions.

'What is written in the Law? What do you read there?'

I gave the standard answer: ‘Love God with all heart etc . . . and your neighbour as yourself.’

He said: ‘Exactly! Do this and you will live!’

I suppose I could have left it there but I wanted to show off . . . to show the others how smart I was . . . so I asked, ‘But who is my neighbour?’

He gave me a little look as if to say, ‘You are a clever one alright . . .but listen to this!’

And then he went on . . . you know the story . . . Jewish priest . . .. sacristan went down the road . . . passed the man lying at side of road. Samaritan came along and helped to save his life.

It was a beautiful answer to my question.

But he wasn’t finished with me.

‘Which of these three,’ he said to me, ‘would you think was neighbour to the man?’

Made his question personal!

Now the roles were reversed. Jesus was not my witness . . . he was my judge! I was more like a defendant!

‘The one who took pity on him,’ I said.

A few bystanders approached him so I took my leave. I had certainly met my match!
But later on that day I met Jesus in the marketplace; he came over to me and said: 'Good question!'

And I said to him, ‘Great answer!’

Lawyer: 'I presume that the part you yourself would have played in the story would have been that of the Good Samaritan?’

Jesus: ‘Well, actually, no. I think I would have been the man who was injured and beaten . . . lying on the road. It was from that point of view that I told the story: with the ears of a man who heard people pass by when I shouted out for help; with the eyes of a man who saw feet walk by him - on the other side – when he needed some one on his side; and I told the story with the thanks of a frightened man . . . thanks for the fellow who stopped. 

'The man on the ground – that’s me – is grateful for anyone that stops . . . man, woman or Samaritan. When you’re down, you don’t care what colour, class, creed or nationality is the hand that helps you up.'

And he looked at me . . . and he looked at us all gathered here this evening when he said: ‘Go . . . and do likewise.’

Antiphona ad communionem  Communion Antiphon.. 
Cf Ps 83[84]:4-5 

Passer invenit sibi domum et turtur nidum, ubi reponat pullos suos.Altaria tua, Domine virtutum, Rex meus et Deus meus!
Bea ti qui habitant in domu tua, in saeculum saeculi laudabunt te.

The sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for her young: by your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house, for ever singing your praise.

Alternative Communion Antiphon

Antiphona ad communionem  Communion Antiphon.. 
John 6:57

Qui manducat carnem meam et bibit sanguinem meum, 
in me manet et ego in eo, dicit Dominus.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him, says the Lord.

Sung by Camerata Kobe, Japan

04 July 2019

'Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.' Sunday Reflections, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Madonna and ChildFrancisco de Zurbarán [Web Gallery of Art]

For thus says the Lord:
I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
    and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
    and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
    so I will comfort you;
    you shall be comforted in Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:12-13).
From today’s First Reading.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 [or Luke 10: 1-9] (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” 
[But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”  I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’]

Note: Some translations mention 70 disciples, others, such as the Jerusalem Bible and the New American Bible, 72. 

Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 in Filipino Sign Language

St Justin Martyr [Wikipedia]

The current issue of Magnificat, a pocket-sized monthly magazine that is a prayer book and Missal that I highly recommend, has this story of St Justin Martyr who died c.165. He was a philosopher who attached himself to philosophical schools in different places. 

One day, while walking along the beach in Ephesus, Justin met an old man who told him of the teachings of the Hebrew prophets and their fufilment in the person of Jesus Christ. 'My spirit was immediately set on fire,' Justin wrote later.

I remember the late Columban Fr Cyril Hally, a New Zealander, pointing out to us in the seminary that when the Apostles went to their different mission fields they found some Christians there before them. Christians who travelled, such as merchants, spoke about Jesus Christ to those they met and many a spirit was immediately set on fire.

The Legion of Mary: Its Global Mission Part 1

Columban Fr Joseph Hogan from Dublin, where the Legion of Mary was born, introduced the movement to China, where it later produced many martyrs. He died in Shanghai on 6 July 1946. And Columban Fr Seán Savage who died on 7 July 1994 is credited with introducing the Legion to Korea. May they both rest in peace.

During some summer vacations in my seminary years I went on Peregrinatio Pro Christo  - Pilgrimage For Christ - with the Legion of Mary. 'PPC', as Legionaries usually call it, was partly inspired by the spirit of Irish monks such as St Columbanus (Columban) and St Columcille (Columba) who left Ireland for other countries, Columban to the European mainland and Columba to Iona, Scotland, in the modern Diocese of Argyll and the Isles where I spent two months in parish work during the summer of 2013. I also spent two short periods working there in the summer of 1997.

Legionaries go to another country or to another region in their own country for at least a week, usually at the invitation of a particular parish. In 1963 I was in a parish near the centre of Liverpool, St Anthony's, I think, around the time The Beatles, from that city, were becoming known throughout the world. Two years later I was in St Fergus' Parish, Ferguslie, Paisley, very near Glasgow, and in 1966 in Pewsey, a lovely village in rural Wiltshire in England's beautiful West Country. I arrived there on the day England won the World Cup in football against Germany and watched the game in a cafe in Bristol.

On PPC most of the Legionaries have never met each other before but they establish a close bond very quickly. Instead of a weekly meeting, as they have in their own praesidium, as a branch is called (the Legion takes its terminology from the ancient Roman Legions), they meet daily. Each meeting includes prayers at the beginning, the middle and the end, a reading from the Handbook, reporting on work done, a short talk or allocutio from the spiritual director, and assignments for the coming week, two hours for senior members.

On PPC this takes place every day, as does the work. And it is usually much longer than two hours. Most of those taking part give up part of their own vacations and pay their own way, though they are usually hosted by local families, just like the 72 (or 70) in the gospel.

Just like the disciples in today's Gospel, Legionaries work in pairs. They may never work alone. If one doesn't turn up the assigned work can't be done. One of the central works of the Legion of Mary is to visit homes. In Liverpool the parish priest asked us to do a parish census. This served two purposes. It helped the parish update its list but, more importantly, it was an opportunity for personal contact with parishioners, especially with those who had lapsed.

I remember one particular home that I visited with my assigned partner. The parish index card noted that the family who lived there had become quite bitter towards the Church, why, I didn't know. But I felt nervous when I pressed the doorbell. A man opened the door and one of us said that we were from the Legion of Mary and that we were visiting on behalf of the local parish.

Instead of speaking angry words or slamming the door in our faces, the man gave us a big smile and said, 'O, you're from Ireland!' He then told us of vacations that he and his family had spent there and that they had received a warm welcome wherever they went.

I took this as a cue to speak of the hospitality and friendliness of the Irish people as being an expression of their Catholic faith. We had a long chat in which the man who had, as I recall, called his wife to meet us, expressed no bitterness at all towards the Church and it was clear when we were leaving that he was very grateful for the visit. 

I don't know if he and his family went back to the Church but he had experienced a welcoming Church through our visit. In a very real way we had done what Jesus had asked the 72 (or 70) to do: Cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you'  The sickness in question wasn't a physical one but a spiritual one.

Our faith is a precious gift from God that must be shared. Otherwise it will die. In the gospel the 72 (or 70) are given a specific mission. That is what happens on PPC. But we're on mission all the time and we may never know how we can lead others to the faith. 

A few years ago when visiting Canada I was invited to give a talk to a prayer group. Afterwards over coffee I was chatting with one of the members, an immigrant from Germany. She had been a Lutheran but for years had been thinking of becoming a Catholic. However, she couldn't take the final step. One day she was passing a Catholic church and felt drawn to go in. As she was trying to share her hesitation with the Lord in prayer a group of teenage boys came in, genuflected to the Blessed Sacrament, spent a couple of minutes in silent prayer, got up, genuflected again and went on their way. This for her was the moment of grace when she let go of her hesitations. She didn't know who the boys were and they had no idea of the powerful impact their visit to the Lord had made on this woman.

The young future martyr Justin learned of Jesus Christ from an old man. The elderly woman I met in Canada, who did know Jesus Christ, found her way to becoming a Catholic Christian through the example of the teenage boys whom she didn't know nor they her.

Whether we're 'on duty' as missionaries, as the 72 (or 70) were and as I was on PPC, or 'off duty' the lives we lead can truly remind others that the kingdom of God has come near to you. The people that the Liverpool family met in Ireland, bus drivers, waiters, waitresses, newspaper vendors, so many others, probably weren't aware that they were gentle reminders of God's love to them. When we honestly try to follow Jesus despite our sinfulness and weakness we can take heart in the words he spoke to the 72 (or 70) as they reported what had happened during their mission, rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Antiphona ad introitum    

Entrance Antiphon Cf. Ps 47[48]: 10-11

Suscepimus, Deus, misericordiam tuam in medio templi tui.
Your merciful love, O God, we have recevied in the midst of your temple.
Secundum nomen tuum, Deus, ita et laus tua in fines terrae;
Your praise, O God, like your name, reaches the ends of the earth;
iustitia plena est dextera tua.
your right hand is filled with saving justice.