28 November 2019

'What, at this moment of my life, does my heart long for?' Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

Madonna del Terremoto (Our Lady of the Earthquake)
Francesco di Giorgio Martini [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 Matthew 24:37-44 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 

‘Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

Matthew 24:37-44 in Filipino Sign Language

Last Tuesday, 26 November, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Albania, not far from the capital, Tirana. More than 40 people died. Among them were members of the family of Fehmi Vata, 73. He was spared because he had taken a job as an overnight security guard. 

He rushed several kilometres home to find that his wife, two grandchildren and a daughter-in-law were trapped under the rubble of their first-floor flat in a collapsed five-storey apartment building in the town of Thumane . . . Fehmi’s 10-year-old grandson was among those pulled from the rubble alive, but his wife was not lucky. She died while cradling her [other] grandson in her arms in an unsuccessful effort to protect him. His daughter-in-law survived but was badly injured and evacuated to hospital. 'My wife always said she would die for her grandchildren, it looks like she did that,' Vata said.

The Gospel of St John (15:13) tells us: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Surely those words apply to the wife of Fehmi Vata.

Today's Gospel tells us: Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. ‘Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.'

One way we can always be prepared for whatever comes is by going to confession regularly, the sacrament given us as a gift by Jesus Christ himself so that we can approach God as sinners, trusting in his mercy, and obtain his forgiveness.

Pope Benedict XVI  [Wikipedia]

As we enter Advent we enter a time of waiting and preparation. Pope Benedict spoke about this eloquently in his Angelus talk on Sunday 28 November 2010, the First Sunday of Advent. I have highlighted parts of his talk.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, the first Sunday of Advent, the Church begins a new Liturgical Year, a new journey of faith that on the one hand commemorates the event of Jesus Christ and, on the other, opens to its ultimate fulfilment. It is precisely in this double perspective that she lives the Season of Advent, looking both to the first coming of the Son of God, when he was born of the Virgin Mary, and to his glorious return, when he will come 'to judge the living and the dead', as we say in the Creed. I would now like to focus briefly on this evocative theme of ‘waiting’, for it touches upon a profoundly human aspect in which the faith becomes, so to speak, completely one with our flesh and our heart.

Expectation or waiting is a dimension that flows through our whole personal, family and social existence. Expectation is present in thousands of situations, from the smallest and most banal to the most important that involve us completely and in our depths. Among these, let us think of waiting for a child, on the part of a husband and wife; of waiting for a relative or friend who is coming from far away to visit us; let us think, for a young person, of waiting to know his results in a crucially important examination or of the outcome of a job interview; in emotional relationships, of waiting to meet the beloved, of waiting for the answer to a letter, or for the acceptance of forgiveness . . . One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual 'stature' can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.

Every one of us, therefore, especially in this Season which prepares us for Christmas, can ask himself: What am I waiting for? What, at this moment of my life, does my heart long for? And this same question can be posed at the level of the family, of the community, of the nation. What are we waiting for together? What unites our aspirations, what brings them together? In the time before Jesus’ birth the expectation of the Messiah was very strong in Israel – that is, the expectation of an Anointed one, a descendent of King David, who would at last set the people free from every form of moral and political slavery and find the Kingdom of God. 

But no one would ever have imagined that the Messiah could be born of a humble girl like Mary, the betrothed of a righteous man, Joseph. Nor would she have ever thought of it, and yet in her heart the expectation of the Saviour was so great, her faith and hope were so ardent, that he was able to find in her a worthy mother. Moreover, God himself had prepared her before time. There is a mysterious correspondence between the waiting of God and that of Mary, the creature ‘full of grace’, totally transparent to the loving plan of the Most High. Let us learn from her, the Woman of Advent, how to live our daily actions with a new spirit, with the feeling of profound expectation that only the coming of God can fulfil.

Virgin Mary Annunciate
Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

The Incarnation reveals to us, with intense light and in a surprising way, that every human life has a very lofty and incomparable dignity (Benedict XVI).

These words were spoken by Pope Benedict in his homily at a celebration of First Vespers for the Unborn in St Peter's on 27 November 2010 to mark the beginning of Advent. In the homily Pope Benedict reminds us: God loves us deeply, totally and without making distinctions. He calls us to friendship with him, he makes us part of a reality beyond every imagination and every thought and word: his divine life itself.

He notes: The human person is a good in himself and his integral development must always be sought. Love for all, moreover, if it is sincere, tends spontaneously to become preferential attention to the weakest and poorest. This explains the Church’s concern for the unborn, the frailest, those most threatened by the selfishness of adults and the clouding of consciences.

Pope Benedict draws to our attention that the unborn baby is not an accumulation of biological material but rather of a new living being, dynamic and marvellously ordered, a new individual of the human species. This is what Jesus was in Mary’s womb; this is what we all were in our mother’s womb. We may say with Tertullian, an ancient Christian writer: 'the one who will be a man is one already' (Apologeticum IX, 8), there is no reason not to consider him a person from conception.

The full text of the Pope's homily is here.

Antiphona ad Introitum
Entrance Antiphon   Cf. Psalm 24[25]:1-3

Ad te levávi ánimam meam, Deus meus,
To you, I lift up my soul, O my God.
in te confído, non erubéscam.
In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame.
Neque irrídeant me inimíci mei,
Nor let my enemies exult over me;
étenim univérsi qui te exspéctant non confundéntur.
and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

The singers are the monks of St Benedict Monastery, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

21 November 2019

'Jesus, remember me.' Sunday Reflections, Christ the King, Year C

Christ in Majesty 
Italian Mosaic Artist [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 23:35-43 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at Jesus, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Pedro de Campaña [Web Gallery of Art]

About nine years ago Dominican friar in Dublin told me about one of his confreres who was to celebrate Mass one morning in a nearby Sisters' convent. Since it was only a short walk he decided to wear his habit. (It was the Dominican habit that first caught my imagination about the priesthood when I was six or seven, though later on I never considered joining the Dominicans.) Along the way the friar met a Sister from another convent who chided him for being so 'old-fashioned' or 'pre-Vatican 2' or words to that effect. A little further on a young man stopped him. This was the conversation that followed:

You're a priest, right?


Well I'm getting married tomorrow and I need to go to confession.

So Father heard the young man's confession on the street and went on his 'pre-Vatican 2' way to celebrate Mass.

Today's Gospel shows us Jesus hanging on the Cross under a sign that said in Greek, Hebrew and Latin 'King of the Jews'. And the Kingdom he came to establish broke through in the conversation between him and one of the two thieves crucified with him. 

The brief conversation that St Luke records shows us what the Sacrament of Confession is all about. This young man acknowledged his sinful ways and accepted the punishment he received. He recognised the innocence of Jesus and saw in him something that spoke profoundly to him of God's love and mercy. It is very unlikely that he could see that Jesus was indeed God who became Man. But he saw in him a man of God and saw in some way the true nature of the Kingdom that Jesus had established.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Christ in Agony on the Cross
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Blessed Miguel Pro SJ, 23 November 1927 [Wikipedia]

A crucifix in one hand, a rosary in the other, Blessed Miguel's last words before being shot were '¡Viva Cristo Rey!’ 'Long live Christ the King!'

Jesus Christ our King who died in agony on the Cross now reigns gloriously in heaven.

Chrystus Wodzem, Chrystus Królem, Chrystus, Chrystus Władcą nam

Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands

A setting of the Latin in Polish by Polish composer Henryk Jan Botor

14 November 2019

'But the spiritual edifice is, I think, intact.' Sunday Reflections, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

High Altar and baldachin
Archbasilica of St John Lateran [Wikipedia]
The Cathedral of Rome, the 'Mother of all Churches'

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 21:5-19 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’
They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.
‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Earthquake destroys Basilica of St Benedict on 30 October 2016
Norcia (or Nursia) is the place where St Benedict was born c.480

This Sunday falls between two celebrations of church buildings in Rome, the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica on 9 November and the Optional Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul on 18 November. When the former falls on a Sunday its celebration takes precedence over the Sunday. The official name of the Lateran Basicilica is the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist. It is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, sometimes referred to as 'Mother of all Churches'.

In the gospel Jesus speaks of the future destruction of the Temple where he had worshipped all his life, where he had been presented to the Father as an infant by Mary and Joseph, from which he threw the moneylenders because they were turning it into a market.

On 30 October 2016 the Basilica of St Benedict in his birthplace Norcia in Italy was destroyed in seconds by a powerful earthquake as if fulfilling the words of Jesus today, all will be thrown down.

Destroyed Basilica of St Benedict [Source:The Monks of Norcia]

Jesus warns us in today's gospel warns us of wars and insurrections . . . great earthquakes . . . famine and plagues . . . You will be hated by all because of my name.

We are seeing all of these things in our time. They can lead us to lose hope - if we forget the closing words of Jesus in today's gospel: But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

On 4 October 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused great destruction in southwestern Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. But Sunday Examiner, the weekly English-language newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, carried the following report in its issue for 30 October 2016.

Port-au-Prince. Survivors of Hurricane Matthew put on their Sunday finest as they picked their way through rubble and downed power lines to gather in ruined churches on October 9, just three days after the devastating storm ravaged their homes. 

Photographs posted on news websites show pews in the open air, with the rubble from the hurricane piled to one side, as a neatly clad congregation in suits and ties, smart slacks and dresses made a colourful scene in what had once been churches with roofs.

Grave of Bishop Edward Galvin
St Columban's, Dalgan Park, Ireland

'But the spiritual edifice is, I think, intact.'

After being expelled from China, September 1952

In the January/February 2006 issue of Far EastFr Dan Fitzgerald recalled the following of Bishop Edward Galvin (Co-founder of the Columbans with Fr John Blowick):

Bishop Galvin was my bishop in China for six years. Three of us Columban priests arrived in Hanyang in central Chine in July 1946. We were the first Irish priests to arrive there after the war had ended in 1945.

The man we met on that July day looked older and more worn than his 64 years would suggest. He didn't look like a bishop either. He was in an old crumpled cotton Chinese shirt and pants, with perspiration running down his face and chest. Only for the plain episcopal ring he had on his finger, he might have been the gate-man. There was something about him that suggested one who had lived through a lot, had suffered and had survived.

His exile for Christ ended in September 1952. As he arrived in Hong Kong he said, They have taken our churches, schools, hospital and mission compounds, but the spiritual edifice is, I think, intact. I blessed the compound and the cathedral, the whole diocese, its Sisters, priests and people. I put then under the protection of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, and of St Columban, the patron of the diocese and the cathedral. It was all I could do, but it was enough.

(1916 - 2016)

Prayer for the Dead for November

Choral arrangement by John Cameron to Nimrod from Enigma Variations by Sir Edward Elgar, sung by Voces8

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, 
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord,
with Thy saints forever, for Thou art kind.
Eternal rest give to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

World Day of the Poor

The first World Day of the Poor, an initiative of Pope Francis, took place in 2017. This Sunday is the third World Day of the Poor and the theme of the Pope's message for the day is The Hope of the ooor shall not perish for ever.

A concert with the poor and for the poor will take place in Paul VI Hall in the Vatican to mark the day. After the concert those present will share in a meal. Nicola Piovani will conduct the Orchestra of Italian cinema in Paul VI Hall. The musicians will play excerpts from Roberto Benigni’s film Life Is Beautiful, for which he received an Oscar in 1999 in the best film category. Here is the main theme from that film for which Nicola Piovani composed the music and received an Oscar.

07 November 2019

'He is God not of the dead, but of the living.' Sunday Reflections, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Moses Before the Burning Bush
Domenico Fetti [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 20:27-38 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’

Fr William Spicer (1949 - 2009)
Ten years ago a Columban colleague of mine, Fr Willie Spicer, died suddenly in Ireland at the age of 59. And in a very real sense he preached at his own funeral. The homilist, Columban Fr Michael Scully, a very close friend of Father Willie because of their many years in Japan, told a remarkable story of how central the Resurrection was in the late priest's preaching at funerals and of how a man was led to the faith by this. Here is part of the homily of Father Scully, who died on 29 September this year. I have highlighted  some passages. 

Over that period of eight or nine years Willie and I enjoyed a game of golf together on a regular basis even though we lived quite far apart. Willie was pastor at the Church in Chigasaki City in the Diocese of Yokohama; I was assigned to a church in the Archdiocese of Tokyo about 80 miles away from where Willie lived. Sometimes before our game of golf I would stay overnight at Willie’s house.

On one of those occasions I noticed a painting which I had not seen before on the wall of his living-room. So, I asked him where he got the painting. ‘There is a story behind that’ was his answer. I would like to tell that story as Willie told it to me. These are his words: ‘About a year ago I did a funeral Mass here in Chigasaki Church. And, as usual, during the homily I emphasized that death was not the end of everything; and then went on to talk of Christian hope in the resurrection of the dead’. At this point, Willie paused and turned towards me: ‘I think it is meaningless’ he said, ‘to preach a homily at a wake or funeral Mass if we don’t make some mention of the resurrection of Christ and our own hope in the resurrection. Isn’t that what our Christian faith is all about? It’s because of that faith that we are on mission!’

Those words of Willie were for my benefit, but, needless to say, I was in complete agreement with what he said. However, Willie’s story did not end there. ‘You know’, he said ‘after that funeral Mass an elderly man approached me and said to me “Today was the first time I ever heard a talk like the talk you gave at the Mass. Until now, I had never heard of the resurrection of the dead – and somehow, it makes a lot of sense to me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to hear that homily. If I had a chance I’d like to study the Catholic faith. Do you know if there’s a Catholic Church close to where I live?” And Willie continued, ‘That was about a year ago – something that I did not know at that time was that that man was an artist who lived about a hundred miles away. That painting came from him to me as an expression of thanks – thanks for my homily at the funeral Mass, but also as an expression of profound gratitude for the fact that he was studying the Catholic faith, and in hoping to be baptized in the not too distant future in a church close to where he lives’.

I have told this story because I believe that if Willie Spicer had a chance to speak to us today, he would say to us: ‘It’s all right to feel sad and to grieve on this occasion. I would feel the same way if I were in your place. But, don’t be carried away by sadness and grief. Today’s sadness and grief cannot compare with the joy and the happiness and the glory that will be ours if we but believe that the God who loves us, loves us so much that He gave His only Son for us’

The Resurrection
Glass painting behind the altar in Mariukirkjan (St Mary’s Catholic Church) Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
by Faroese artist, Tróndur Patursson.

Today's First Reading and the Gospel - they are always related by a common theme - look at the Resurrection. In the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers in the Second Book of Maccabees the fourth brother When he was near death, he said, ‘One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life! (2 Maccabees 7:14)

The Gospel also has a story of seven brothers, in a situation put to Jesus by some Sadducees, a group that didn't believe in the resurrection, that strains credulity. This gives Jesus the opportunity to teach about the resurrection: And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park, Ireland

I don't go along with the idea that seems to have crept in in recent years of a funeral Mass being 'a celebration of the life' of the deceased. There certainly is a place for celebrating a person's life during the wake or, in the Philippines, during the novena held  in the home of the one who has died or when the family and other mourners gather to eat after the burial. Rather I see the funeral Mass as an occasion above all to pray that the one who has died will share fully in the life that God desires for everyone.

Preface I in Masses for the Dead puts it this way:

In him [Christ] the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, 

that those saddened by the certainty of dying 
might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come. 
Indeed for your faithful, Lord, 
life is changed not ended, 
and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, 
an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.

Father Willie Spicer emphasised that belief in the Resurrection and the hope it gives when preaching at funerals. In Japan probably at every funeral Mass he celebrated there were people present who weren't Christians. To them he was proclaiming the central truth of our Christian faith. In the case of the artist he spoke about that proclamation of our faith and of the hope of the resurrection spoke to his heart and led him to Jesus the Risen Lord.

In November we remember and pray for the dead in a special way. The readings in this Sunday's Mass can lead us to reflect on the reality that one day each of us will be remembered and prayed for by others. May the Collect for the first of the three Masses on The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, 2 November, help us in this:

Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord, 

and, as our faith in your Son, 
raised from the dead, is deepened, 
so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants 
also find new strength.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.

Jesu, joy of man's desiring, Johann Sebastian Bach
Sung in Chigasaki Catholic Church where Fr Willie Spicer served.