06 May 2020

‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A

Apostle St Philip
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.' (John 14:8).

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

Gospel John 14:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe[a] in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
Apostle St Thomas
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]
Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ (John 14:5).

About 45 or 46 years ago I gave a live-in weekend retreat to students graduating from a high school for girls in the Philippines run by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. Most of the girls were aged around 16. As the weekend went on I noticed one girl  - I'll call her ‘Lucy’ - who was small in stature and behaving rather immaturely, though not misbehaving. At times she would be running around like a child in kindergarten. The retreatants had an opportunity, insofar as time allowed, to meet me individually in the home economics building. As is usual on such occasions tears would be shed. When Lucy noticed tear-stains on some of her classmates she laughed at them

But then she came to see me. There was a life-size inflatable doll in the room. She clung on to it and cried her heart out for five or ten minutes before I could get her to calm down. Then she said to me, Father, my parents give me everything I want. But they never ask me 'How did you do in school today?' And they never even scold me.

Lucy could see clearly, because of its absence in her life, what perhaps most of her companions at their age didn't: the daily reality of the love of their parents, sometimes expressed in scolding.

Nobody likes a scolding but most of us, when we reflect on it, see it as a sign of care, of love. I've told the story of Lucy to many groups of young people over the years and have always got nods of recognition.

When Philip asked him, Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied, I wonder if Jesus felt some mild exasperation? This incident reminds me of what the father in the story of the Prodigal Son said to the elder son, Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours (Luke 15:31). The well behaved son had failed to see this, as he failed to see the wonder of this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found (Luke 15:32).

After the sudden death of Columban Fr Patrick Sheehy at the age of 80 in St Columban's, Ireland, where I have been living since 2017, in December 1999 his fellow Columbans living there, many of them retired and/or infirm, began to notice that certain little things weren't being done anymore, such as letters and newspapers being delivered to priests unable to get around easily. When Father Pat retired he took it upon himself to do such little things for others, without being asked and without being noticed too much.

It was only in its absence that many saw clearly the quiet, loving thoughtfulness of Father Pat, just as Lucy saw clearly in its absence what she longed for. Father Pat, who had experienced being expelled from China five years after going there, followed by many years of service as a priest in Japan, interrupted for a couple of years because of poor health, was able to choose to show us the Father to his brother priests, without fanfare. Lucy through her immature behaviour was crying out, without being aware of it, Show us the Father.

We are in the middle of the Easter Season when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, celebrating that fact that, in the words of St Peter in the second reading today, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9). God's mighty acts are perhaps most often seen in the 'little acts' of those around us.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to countless acts of kindness by individuals and by groups. Every loving act has its origin in that community of perfect love that we call the Holy Trinity, even if the giver or receiver is unaware of it. But Christians see Jesus present in others, especially in persons in need. Jesus has told us this specifically: Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).

The readings invite us to see the Father's presence in the daily realities of our lives, the many blessings that come to us through others and that we often don't see clearly as blessings. And the readings invite us to be aware of the many 'Lucys' around us who in one way or another are crying out, Show us the Father.

St John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptor Hominis, No 10, put it this way: Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer 'fully reveals man to himself'. If we may use the expression, this is the human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity.

'Lucy' would be in her early 60s now. I've no idea what became of her but my meeting her so many years ago in her moment of need was a blessing not only for her but remains a blessing for me. Perhaps each of us might offer a prayer for her.

The Call
Words by George Herbert, music by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Sung by the King's College Choir, Cambridge

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in love.

George Herbert (1593-1633) was born in Wales and became a priest in the Church of England, serving in a rural parish in Wiltshire where he was noted for his commitment to the spiritual and physical needs of the people, especially of the poor. His poetry reflects his deep Christian faith. A number of his poems, The Call among them, are included in The Divine Office (Breviary, Liturgy of the Hours) used in Australia, England & Wales, Ireland and Scotland. In this poem Herbert draws on the words of Jesus in today's gospel: I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

Music for the Easter Season

Regina Coeli
Setting by Palestrina, sung by The Sixteen

Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia;

Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,

Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia:
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Queen of Heaven, rejoice. Alleluia.
For He, whom thou wast worthy to bear. Alleluia.
Has risen as He said. Alleluia.
Pray for us to God. Alleluia.

Attributed to Mary E. Walsh, Sung by Frank Patterson

This popular hymn to the Blessed Mother is not an Easter song as such, but is associated with the month of May in which Catholics honour the Virgin Mary in a particular way. And a substantial part of May, sometimes the whole month, falls within the Easter Season. This recording by the late Irish tenor Frank Patterson is from the Faith of Our Fathers condert in Dublin in 1996. 

The Coronation of the Virgin
Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

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