24 September 2019

Jesus gives a name to Lazarus but not to the rich man. Sunday Reflections, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Dives and Lazarus, Leandro Bassano [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 16:19-31 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”’

Luke 16:19-31 in Filipino Sign Language

Missionaries of Charity [Wikipedia]
An Indian Missionary of Charity who was based in Hong Kong for some years told me of something that happened there shortly before Christmas 2009. Yang was what Sister called a ‘street-sleeper’, ie, someone living on the streets. Strictly speaking he wasn’t, as he had a little place where he lived with his mother. Both were Buddhists. Yang was in poor health and couldn’t get a job. He mixed mostly with those who were ‘street-sleepers’.

He first came across the Missionaries of Charity when they were distributing lunch-boxes to very poor people in the street. He began to come to their place regularly for a meal and made a point of coming to the annual Advent celebration when gifts would be distributed and a meal provided. Yang’s mother often wondered where he got his regular meals. ‘From Sister’ was his answer to her queries but she didn’t know who ‘Sister’ was.
Yang didn’t attend the Advent celebration in 2009 because he was in hospital but he asked his mother to go in his place. When she arrived the celebration was over but the Sisters had kept one meal in case someone would arrive late. So they gave it to her.

A day or two later, around 19 0r 20 December, Yang died. Some time after that his mother came to the Sisters to express her profound gratitude to them for their kindness and hospitality to her son and to herself.

Yang and his mother experienced the personal love of Jesus for them through the Missionaries of Charity who took care of the many Lazaruses outside their door. And Sister told me that food never ran out. It was constantly supplied by hotels and restaurants.

Syrian refugees in Slovenia, 2015 [Wikipedia]

Jesus gives a name to Lazarus but not to the rich man, though 'Dives', the Latin for 'rich', is often used as a name for him, such as in the ballad below. It is difficult to give a name to each person in a refugee camp where there may be tens of thousands, a sight we are all too familiar with. Yet people are extraordinarily generous when a calamity occurs, whether caused by nature or by man. And there are many who leave the comfort of their own home and homeland to take care of those in such places who have nothing.

This Sunday is the 105th World Day of Immigrants and Refugees. The message of Pope Francis for the day is here. A quotation from the document: Dear brothers and sisters, our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate. Yet these verbs do not apply only to migrants and refugees. They describe the Church’s mission to all those living in the existential peripheries, who need to be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated.

Lazarus also lives in Dublin

Each person in a refugee camp has a name, a family, a history, hopes, God-given talents, an invitation to live with God for ever in heaven. And even in the relatively affluent West many are in need because of the economic situation. The Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin, for example, which initially helped individuals really down on their luck, as we say in Ireland, is now helping families that in the past didn't experience hardship. Pope Francis visited the Centre in August 2018.

There is much to be done to bring the Gospel to change the lives of the many Lazaruses throughout the world - working for peace, working for justice at the level of legislation and so on. God calls some to serve Lazarus in this way. But while the slow work of peace-building and the rest goes on, Lazarus is outside our door each day in need of sustenance to help him survive till the following day.

‘Dives' is the Latin word for 'rich'. Though Jesus gave a name only to the beggar in the parable, Lazarus, 'Dives' is often used as a name for the rich man. Above is an old English ballad based on the parable. Some of you may recognise the melody as the same one used for the Irish song The Star of the County Down. I found the lyrics of the song here but adjusted them in places. Ballads have variations'Divès' becomes 'Diverus' at times.

As it fell out upon a day,
Rich Divès made a feast,
And he invited all his friends,
And gentry of the best.

Then Lazarus laid him down and down
And down at Divès' door:
'Some meat, some drink, brother, Diverus,
To bestow upon the poor.'

'Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus,
Lie begging at my door;
No meat, no drink will I give to you,
Nor bestow upon the poor.'

Then Divès sent to his merry men,
To whip poor Lazarus away;
They had no power to strike one stroke,
But flung their whips away.

Then Lazarus laid him down and down
Even down at Divès' gate:
'Some meat, some drink, brother, Diverus,
For Jesus Christ’s sake."

"Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus,
Lies begging at my gate;
No meat, no drink will I give to you,
For Jesus Christ’s sake.'

Then Divès sent his hungry dogs,
To bite him as he lay;
They had no power to bite at all.
They licked his sores away.

As it fell out all on a day,
Poor Lazarus sickened and died;
There came an angel out of heaven,
His soul therein to guide.

'Rise up! rise up! brother Lazarus,
And go along with me;
For you've a place prepared in heaven,
To sit on an angel's knee.'

As it fell out all on a day,
Rich Divès sickened and died;
There came two serpents out of hell,
His soul therein to guide.

'Rise up! rise up! brother Diverus,
And go with us and see;
A dismal place prepared in hell
From which thou canst not flee.'

Then Divès looked up with his eyes
And saw poor Lazarus blest;
'Give me one drink, brother Lazarus,
To quench my flaming thirst.

'O, was I now but alive again
In the space of one half hour!
O, then my peace would be secure
The devil should have no power.'


Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus
Composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams

This tune has been used for ballads in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the USA.

18 September 2019

'You cannot serve God and wealth.’ Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Vermeer [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 16:1-13 [or 16:10-13] (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Jesus said to the disciples,
[‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.]
‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’

Luke 16:1-13 in Filipino Sign Language

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

Woman Sewing, van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Six years ago while on vacation in Ireland from the Philippines I dropped by the house of Brian, a childhood friend in Dublin. Over coffee we chatted about many things, ranging from the current situation of the Church in Ireland to the days when we were growing up.

In the course of our conversation the small Jewish community in Dublin came up. It has never quite reached 4,000 in Ireland and the majority of the now fewer than 2,000 live in Dublin. I told Brian that my father, who spent all his working life as a carpenter on building/construction sites, most of those years as a highly respected general foreman, had built a house for a wealthy Jewish couple in the late 1950s. 

Our House was the one on the right, 44 Finn St, Dublin

Shortly after the house was finished a very expensive car stopped outside our house, in a street of terraced houses, exactly like those in the photo above, where nobody had a telephone and very few had cars. The driver knocked on our door and turned out to be the owner of the new house my father had built. He came to invite our family to dinner the following week in his new home. My father had helped build many new homes over the 54 years of his working life but this was the only occasion when he had been thanked in such a way.

We enjoyed the gracious hospitality of the family and it was the only time I ever visited a Jewish home in Ireland.

Brian then told me a story about his father Jimmy, whom I had known well, a house painter and decorator. He had painted and decorated the houses of many Jewish families in Dublin over the years. This was mainly due to an incident the first time he was asked to work in a Jewish home. While scraping the old paint from the stairs he found a diamond ring stuck in a corner. He immediately brought it to the owner and said 'I found this on the stairs'. 'I know', said the owner, 'I put it there!' 

The word spread through the Jewish community that Jimmy was trustworthy. Over the years he had many Jewish clients. 

Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.

Jewish Museum, Dublin [Wikipedia]

When I told the story of Jimmy and the diamond ring to my sister-in-law Gladys she told me that her engagement ring had been stolen while she and my brother Paddy were having renovations done to their home a few years ago.

I remember too how upset my father was when he was renovating a Georgian house in Dublin. He discovered that the knocker on the front door had disappeared and it could only have been one of his workmates who took it. He was unable to trace the knocker or find out who the thief was.

Whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

Georgian Doorways, Dublin [Wikipedia]

When I wrote these reflections six years ago the major story in the Philippines was the 'pork barrel scam'. PHP10 billion - roughly US$200,000,000 or €200,000,000 - of taxes paid by the people had disappeared. Some senators and members of Congress were alleged to have been beneficiaries of this along with others.

Today's gospel speaks to situations like this. Corruption on such a vast scale begins in the classroom when a child learns that though cheating isn't right the main thing is not to be caught. The man who stole my sister-in-law's engagement ring and my father's workmate who walked away with the valuable knocker from the front door of the Georgian house were earning salaries. What values were they passing on to their families?

One thing that both my parents instilled in me was that I must not keep anything that isn't mine. When I was a toddler I came home from a park up the road from where we lived at the time with a leather football. This was in the mid-1940s, around the time World War II ended when such things would have been very scarce and expensive. They asked around the neighbourhood and it was only when nobody claimed the ball that our family kept it.

Honesty and trustworthiness at such basic levels are  a foundation for justice. I've known of individuals 'working for justice' who weren't paying their own workers a proper wage. I've known many others such as my father, such as Jimmy, who didn't talk much about justice. They simply behaved in a just and honest manner and treated others with respect.

God invites every single one of us to share for ever in the riches of eternal life. Eternal life begins in the here and now. We make our choices in the here and now.

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Antiphona ad Communionem / Communion Antiphon (John 10:14)

Ego sum pastor bonus, dicit Dóminus;
et cognósco oves meas, et cognóscunt me meae.

I am the Good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.

Wedding and Engagement Rings [Wikipedia]

I mentioned two diamond rings above. I couldn't find a painting with a diamond ring but Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring is a work of such extraordinary beauty that I used it instead.

09 September 2019

'This brother of yours was dead and has come to life.' Sunday Reflections, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

The Return of the Prodigal Son, 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 Luke 15:1-32 [or 15:1-10] (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
[Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”’]

Luke 15:1-10 in Filipino Sign Language

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 in Filipino Sign Language

The Return of the Prodigal Son (detail)Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

This week I'm going to borrow from others. The late Fr Paul Andrews SJ was a regular contributor to TheSacred Heart Messenger, a monthly publication of the Irish Jesuits. The general title of his column was One Page Wisdom and the specific title of his column in the September 2016 issue is Messy Families. I'm quoting it in full.
We know about families. We have all survived them, more or less. You remember the Gospel parable about the father of the prodigal son - and here Jesus is talking about God. the boy made a fool of him by squandering the family fortune and reputation. His older son was so envious of the kid brother that he would not attend the homecoming party. 
God knows about troubled families. They are nothing out of the ordinary. In that lovely parable, the father enjoys the being of his son even when he is in every way a thorn in the father's heart. Scanning the horizon from his window he sees a forlorn, debauched figure slouching towards home, and runs out to meet him, speechless with joy. 

The Return of the Prodigal Son (detail), Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

We may dream of an ideal family with lively, intelligent, obedient children - who line up with their parents for Church on Sunday, pass their exams, compete in community sports, and visit their granny. 
Move away from such rosy pictures. There is no such thing as perfect parents, or perfect children. God is not the presenter of prizes at a high-powered graduation, but the one who helps us clean up the mess or live with it, and then approach the future as a friend, without a wardrobe (closet) of excuses.
The Return of the Prodigal Son (detail), Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art] 

Fr Andrews writes: His older son was so envious of the kid brother that he would not attend the homecoming party. I would not totally agree with him on that. Part of the genius of this parable is that it's open-ended. We don't know if the older son reflected on the matter and decided to join the celebration. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. But the story that Jesus told invites each of us to ask ourselves a number of questions. In what way do I resemble the father? Which of the two sons am I more like? If there's more of the older brother in me do I rejoice when my younger brother comes home? Do I thank God for his daily blessings? If there's more of the younger brother in me do I trust in God's mercy and decide to come home?

Christ on the Cross, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

My other 'guest' this week is the late Swiss theologian Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905 - 1988). Here is part of his reflection on the Sunday readings from his book Light of the Word, published by Ignatius Press, San Francisco, USA.

In the third parable the father does not wait at home for the lost son, rather, he hurries to meet him and throws his arms around his neck. God's search for the lost does not mean that he does not know where the lost one is. Instead, it tells us that he searches to find which paths will be effective, which paths will permit the sinner to find his way back. This is God's 'exertion', which expresses itself in the culminating risk of giving his Son for the lost world. If the Son descends into the most profound abandonment of sin, to the point of losing the Father, then this is God exerting himself to the uttermost in his search for the lost. 'when we were still sinners, God had mercy on us through the sacrifice of his Son' (Romans 5:8).

The Descent from the Cross, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

Plaque of St Mother Teresa of Kolkata
Olomouc, Czech Republic [Wikipedia]

Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that 'the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable'. She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created. For Mother Teresa, mercy was the 'salt' which gave flavour to her work, it was the 'light' which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering. [Pope Francis, homily at canonisation of St Mother Teresa of Kolkata, 4 September 2016].

Misa Criolla, Kyrie

Señor ten piedad de nosotros. Lord, have mercy on us.
Cristo ten piedad de nosotros. Christ, have mercy on us.
Señor ten piedad de nosotros. Lord, have mercy on us.

A setting in Spanish of the Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) from Misa Criolla by Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez (1921 - 2010).