29 January 2020

'My eyes have seen your salvation.' Sunday Reflections, The Presentation of the Lord

The Presentation of the Lord, as a Feast of the Lord, takes precedence over the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 2:22-40 [or 2-32] (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.’

[And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.]

The late Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-Hwan, Archbishop of Seoul, with a young friend. The cardinal's paternal grandparents were sentenced to death during the last persecution of Catholics in Korea, in 1869. His grandfather was killed but the persecutors spared his grandmother because she was pregnant. The child in her womb was the Cardinal's father.

Front cover, Misyon, November-December 2007
Renante and Christine Alejo-Uy  with Kiefer Thomas, their first born

About ten years ago while celebrating Sunday Mass in St Brigid's Parish, Blanchardstown, just north-west of Dublin city, where my brother and his wife live, I saw a young couple coming in at the back of the church a few minutes after Mass had begun. I smiled inwardly when I realised they were Filipinos. But then they came right up to the front pew and I was really touched to see the husband/father carrying their little child.

In the video of the Presentation in the Temple, produced by 'Rosary Priest' Fr Patrick Peyton's Family Theater, it is St Joseph who carries Jesus. St Luke doesn't specify this. But he does tell us that Simeon took him in his arms. The photo of the late Cardinal Kim above evokes this scene for me. What fills me with awe is the fact that his grandmother was spared by the persecutors in 1869 because she was pregnant, while his grandfather wasn't.

In Jewish law the man who named a child was considered his legal father. When I was a child I always heard St Joseph spoken of as the foster-father of Jesus. But St Matthew tells us: Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins' (Matt1:19-21). 

You are to name him Jesus
 means that St Joseph is being called by God to be a true father to the Son of his wife Mary. And the Church honours St Joseph above all as the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And it is through Joseph, son of David being his legal father that Jesus is of the line of David as God had promised.

Pope Francis has spoken a number of times about the faith of one of his grandmothers and how she helped to form him. The God-fearing mother, facing all kinds of adversity as she brings up her children in the faith has become almost a cliché. I don't mean any disrespect whatever to such mothers or to any mothers. But the emphasis on the role of the mother and grandmother in the raising of children in the faith tends, I think, to take away from the equally important role of the father and of the grandfather.

When I was a small child it was my father who brought me to Sunday Mass while my mother would stay at home with my brother, three years younger, when he was an infant. She would go to another Mass. I saw my father, who spent his working life on building (construction) sites, where he was a highly respected general foreman, get up very early every morning, go to Mass, come home and prepare my mother's breakfast and bring it to her in bed. (For many, breakfast in bed is a treat. I hate the idea!) 

I saw how deeply he respected my mother, even when they had disagreements, never raising his voice to her or to anyone else, including us his two sons. I saw the same when I worked with him on a building site the summer before I was ordained. He never raised his voice there either and he never swore. He led by example and the men had profound respect for him. Some of those told me how great a mentor he was when they were still young and learning their trade. He had been blessed in a similar way when he started as an apprentice carpenter at 15.

My father taught me how to swim and how to ride a bicycle, letting go when he judged that I could go solo. I can still recall the joy in each instance when I realised that I was indeed going solo.

As I said above, St Luke doesn't specify that it was St Joseph who carried Jesus into the Temple. But the director of the video of the Presentation gives us an insight into the role of St Joseph. He was, as her husband, to be the protector of Mary and of her Son and he was, as his legal father, to be the mentor/teacher of Jesus in how to grow into manhood and in how to be a carpenter.

There is one telling scene when Simeon reaches out to take Jesus in his arms. Joseph doesn't hand him over without looking at Mary and getting her approval. As I grew older I could see that my parents made important decisions together such as which school they should send us to.

Simeon and Anna Recognise the Lord in Jesus
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

Simeon and Anna show us the importance of older persons in the lives of young parents and of children. When we are children the most significant older persons are our grandparents. Each Sunday morning my father would bring us to meet our grandfather who was widowed a couple of days after my brother was born. And I saw my maternal grandmother, widowed when I was less than two, very often. When I was in secondary school I often dropped into our parish church on my way home in the afternoon. There were always old people, including my grandfather, praying silently in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I sometimes dropped into other churches and would find the same.

There are many things we can reflect on as we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord. But for me it stirs up once again immense gratitude to God for my late father and an appreciation of the great responsibility that the vocation to be a husband/father carries, something, I think, that we as Church need to emphasise more.

The young Filipino husband/father carrying his child right up to the front of the church in Dublin, even though he and his wife were a little late, reminded me of the wonder of that vocation. And when we were choosing a photo of the Uy Family for the cover of Misyon,of which I was editor from 2002 until 2017, I simply had to go for the one above.

Nunc dimittis (Canticle of Simeon)
Setting by Palestrina, Sung by The Tallis Scholars

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel (Luke 2:29-32, Latin Vulgate).

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles 
and for glory to your people Israel (NRSVCE).

23 January 2020

'For those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Caspar David Friedrich [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 Mathew 4:12-23 [or 12-17] (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.’
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
[As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.]

Matthew 4:12-23 in Filipino Sign Language

Last Sunday in the Philippines was the Feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child). The gospel was Matthew 18:1-5, 10 in which Jesus tells us, Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I saw his words come to life six years ago at the end of Mass in Holy FamilyHome for Girls in Bacolod City. I lived in that city from 2002 until 2017.

In January 2014 four new girls arrived at the home. One, whom I'll call 'Josie', was aged 14 and was profoundly deaf. Her main way of communicating was Sign Language. The Sisters, staff and some of the girls began to learn some Sign Language. The other three new girls included two aged ten and one aged six.

At the end of Mass I saw 'Josie' sitting and quietly crying. I wasn't quite sure why. One of the ten-year-old new girls, rather small for her age but very lively and whom I'll call 'Grace', went over to 'Josie' and put her arms around her to comfort her. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The majority of the girls in Holy Family Home have had horrific experiences, in most cases within their own family circle. They truly have sat in darkness.

['Josie' was able to go home in 2016. We discovered that she had some hearing and, with hearing aids, she has improved her speech and hearing considerably. The other three girls were still at Holy Family Home when I left the Philippines in 2017].

The Virgin and Child with St Martina and St Agnes
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

In my latter years in Bacolod City I used to celebrate Mass again in Holy Family Home on to mark the feast of St Agnes, 21 January. Each year we combined a celebration of St Agnes the Martyr (c.291 - c.304), patron saint of chastity, of young girls and of rape victims, and Blessed Laura Vicuña (1891 - 1904), a patron of abuse victims who offered her life for the conversion of her mother and whose feast day is 22 January.

Each year I told the girls that the life of Blessed Laura, whose father died when she was young, was so like their own and that she became a saint in the midst of and through her sufferings, especially the cruelty of her stepfather who wasn't married to her mother. Despite her young age she had the maturity, generosity and holiness to offer her life so that her mother would return to the Lord. She told this to her mother when she, Laura, was dying. It was the physical abuse of her stepfather that led to her death. Laura's prayers were answered.

Blessed Laura Vicuña [Wikipedia]

Laura understood the stark reality of the words of Jesus in today's gospel: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. She also understood the power of God's mercy. 

Holy Family Home exists because of the sins of adults against girls, some only small children. It is a place where most of the girls have sat in the region and shadow of death. I have brought many visitors there and the one word they nearly all have used to sum up their experience is 'joy', a joy they find among the girls and among the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family and the staff. Those who live there are a testimony to the truth of the words of Isaiah that we listen to in the First Reading and the Gospel this Sunday and that we listened to at the Mass During the Night at Christmas: 

The people who sat in darkness    
   have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death   
   light has dawned.

Call of the Sons of Zebedee
Marco Basaiti [Web Gallery of Art]

The second part of today's gospel tells us of the call of the first disciples who were later called to be apostles, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. Immediately they left their nets . . . Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Yet we know from the gospels that they continued to fish from time to time and to encounter stormy weather.

In the Philippines most fishermen are poor and go to sea in very small boats. In some countries larger boats go far from land and often encounter very dangerous weather. And a very large percentage of international seafarers are Filipinos.

In our prayers to day let us remember our fishermen, our seafarers and those involved in rescue work at sea. Let us also remember the members of a number of European navies who have saved countless refugees in the last couple of years travelling in unsafe boats from north Africa to southern Europe. Tragically, many refugees never make it.

Mass for Four Voices, Sanctus
Composed by William Byrd
Sung by The Tallis Scholars

For those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.

16 January 2020

'I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. [In the Philippines, The Feast of the Santo Niño]

Directed by Philip Saville

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 1:29-34 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

John 1:29-34 in Filipino Sign Language

In the First Reading the Prophet Isaiah says, And now the  Lord who formed me in the womb to be his servant. In the last line of the Gospel St John the Evangelist writes: And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.

The readings for me point towards our basic vocation or call from God arising from our baptism  to testify that this is the Son of God. In other words to be living gospels.

Fr Barry Cairns and Mr  Dismas Shigeru Kato 

Fr Barry Cairns, an 88-year-old Columban from New Zealand who is still enthusiastically  testifying in Japan that this is the Son of God tells a story in a number of our Columban magazines of one of his parishioners, Mr Dismas Shigeru Kato, who is doing the same in his 90s.He became a Catholic as an adult. Only about one person out of 200 in Japan is a Catholic.  Father Barry tells us about his parishioner when they were both younger.

I would like to introduce Mr Dismas Shigeru Kato. He was born 91 years ago in a small fishing village called Kushimoto in Wakayama Province of Japan. In his youth and when drafted into the wartime army he built up a massive debt for alcohol at different bars.

Then he got married. His wife was very patient with him. Mr Kato worked for the Kansai Electric Power Company. He cared for external power lines. He was paying off his debts bit by bit.

Then Mr Kato became a Christian, first with the local Protestant Church and later the Catholic Church where he was baptized. He chose as his baptismal name ‘Dismas which is the traditional name of the penitent brigand on a cross beside Jesus at his crucifixion.

At this time I was pastor of Kushimoto which was one of the smallest parishes in Japan. It was definitely a mission of primary contact to the un-evangelized! At Sunday Mass we had 5-10 people attending. However after Mass, 50 non-Christian children from the village came for Sunday school. Mr Kato's daughter, Majimi, was the only Christian.

It was here that Mr Dismas Shigeru Kato really shone in the darkness. For the children we used a projector showing a film strip about a small Catholic boy in Africa. Remember this was before TV came into the village. The film strip was in colour and most extensive with many episodes. Mr Kato would study each episode during the week and in the darkness needed for the projector could tell the story without looking at the script. Each character in the story was given in its own distinctive voice. It was a masterful and captivating presentation. I often heard the children discussing both the developing story and its Christian message.

At this time too Mr Kato was giving witness in another field. The Kansai Electric Company had a trade union seminar. The subject was traffic safety. During the open discussion Mr Kato stood up and said: ‘As many of you know I am a Christian. You have probably heard that Christ 2,000 years ago was strong on love of others. A modern aspect of love of neighbour is safe driving. Let the driver be concerned and respectful for others who use the road. Aggressive, dangerous driving can be a form of self-centredness. Careful, considerate driving is a form of love of neighbor. Let this be our motive for safe driving.’

A moment of spontaneous reflective silence was followed by massive applause. This was a new, different, and appealing approach.

The provincial section of the newspaper featured Mr Kato and his talk emphasising motivation for safe driving instead of just keeping rules for their own sake.

At 91 Shigeru Kato has moved into a Catholic-run retirement home. Here he is a leader of a group who pray the Rosary together.

I pray for more like Mr Kato to evangelize this nation of Japan.


Mr Kato's life, where his Catholic Christian faith permeates everything he does, reflects the spirit of the Letter to Diognetus, written in the second century, which speaks of how we Christians are meant to live in the world. We can get a flavour of it here.

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe . . . They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.

People in many countries, and many here in Ireland itself, were utterly shocked and disheartened at the many voters here in recent referendums,  - one that re-defined marriage as no longer necessarily involving a man and a woman, the other to do with the sacredness of the life of the unborn child - who saw no connection between their faith and the way they voted. We can never separate the reality that, through our baptism we become the beloved sons and daughters of God the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and of one another, from the reality of our daily lives and our lives as citizens. Everything is meant to be permeated by that marvellous truth in which we find our deepest identity, the truth that by baptism we are the beloved sons and daughters of God the Father.

Take and Receive
Words and music by Fr Manuel V. Francisco SJ

Take and receive, O Lord, my liberty;
Take all my will, my mind, my memory.
All things I hold and all I own are Thine.
Thine was the gift, to Thee I all resign.

Do Thou direct and govern all and sway.
Do what Thou wilt, command, and I obey.
Only Thy grace, Thy love on me bestow.
These make me rich, all else will I forego.

A contemporary setting of the Suscipe prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola by a Filipino Jesuit and  sung by a Filipino choir in Singapore. 

Feast of the Santo Niño (Philippines)

Señor Santo Niño de Cebú
You will find Sunday Reflections for the Feast of the Santo Niño, observed this year on 19 January, here.

07 January 2020

'Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.' Sunday Reflections, The Baptism of the Lord, Year A

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 3:13-17 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Baptism of Christ, 1596-1600
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

El Greco painted the Baptism of Christ a number of times. In the painting above he shows Jesus kneeling before his cousin St John the Baptist, as does Pasolini in his film The Gospel According to Matthew, with nothing, just as John had nothing. Both were totally open to the will of God the Father.

For me one of the most astonishing realities in the baptism of Jesus is that he lined up with everyone else, all of whom were sinners. All those present, except John, would have presumed that Jesus was just another sinner like themselves. This shows the extent of God’s love for us as sinners, that God who became Man, Jesus, allowed himself to be seen as a sinner.

It is here that God the Father proclaims, This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. The Father uses the very same words at the Transfiguration, with the words listen to him added (Mt 17:5). In the latter Peter, James and John the Apostle had caught a glimpse of the reality that Jesus is God. At the baptism the people saw someone they presumed to be a sinner.

Lawrence Wren
(1922 - 2016) [Photo: RTÉ]

Lawrence Wren, a former head of the Irish police who died in 2016, lived near my brother in Dublin. I remember when he held that position he used to stand outside the parish church after all the Masses on one Sunday of the month with other members of the St Vincent de Paul Society collecting money to help the poor. There was nothing to indicate who he was or the very important position he held. I was always struck by that and that he and his family lived in an ordinary house just like everyone else.

The fact that Jesus identified himself, in effect, as a sinner, shows that God is not ashamed of us despite our sins. He identifies himself with us even though he is pure love, utter sinlessness.

And just as God the Father proclaims Jesus as my Son, the Beloved, at his baptism, he does the same with us at our baptism which, unlike the baptism of John, makes us God’s very own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of Jesus and therefore brothers and sisters of one another. This is our deepest identity.

Mass for Four Voices: Kyrie
Composed by William Byrd, sung by The Tallis Scholars

Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.

Baptism of Christ, 1568
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]