25 June 2020

‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.' Sunday Reflections, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The Calling of Saint Matthew (detail)
Caravaggio [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 10:37-42 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to his Apostles:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

England and Wales, Scotland
Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul 
Transferred from Monday 29 June

Saints Peter and Paul 
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

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

Sunday Reflections for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

Post-World War II Japan [Source]

Whoever loves father or mother . . . son or daughter more than me . . . and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

These words of Jesus in today's Gospel speak to the hearts of missionaries who leave their homelands and who give up the right to have their own families. Up to maybe a hundred years or so ago it was not uncommon for missionaries, and emigrants, never to return home. When I entered the Columban seminary in Ireland in 1961 our priests came home only after seven years. And they travelled by ship across the Atlantic and Pacific. We were, and are, inspired by our patron saint, St Columban, whose motto was Peregrinari pro Christo, 'To be an exile/pilgrim for Christ'.

Times have changed and long-distance travel by plane has replaced journeys on ocean liners and freighters and is much cheaper. People fly across the Atlantic for weekends. And people are living much longer, which has led to many missionaries spending their latter days in the country of their birth. For some, this is a second experience of going into exile.

My Columban confrere Fr Eamonn Horgan, who died on 21 January 2019, went to Japan as a young priest in 1954 and came back to Ireland for good in 2013. He writes about these two experiences in his article Two Sorrows.

Fr Eamonn Horgan with Japanese friends

Father Eamonn writes: The months since my ordination the previous December (1953) had been pleasantly spent finishing my seminary course and visiting friends and relatives. My mission destination was to be Japan, where, God willing, I would spend the rest of my active life as a Columban missionary.  

But then: The year since ordination had slipped by without much concern on my part about facing the ordeal of leaving kin, friends and country. Exile was something I had only read about, but here I was about to embark on my own. I’m afraid that during those final months before leaving, the missionary spirit in me had noticeably faded. Any tint of glamour attached to a missionary career suddenly grew dim. I had heard many tales of missionaries who, through accident, sickness or even martyrdom, had never come home. Would I someday find myself joining that brave company?

However, his experience in Japan gradually lifted his spirits: Little by little the clouds of melancholy began to lift. It has been said that Japanese have difficulty understanding foreigners. My experience of them belies that opinion. On so many occasions I have found the Japanese understanding my peculiarities and idiosyncrasies better than I understood them myself. Their loyalty was inspiring and the virtues they displayed at every turn would match or surpass those of many ‘official’ Christians.

A farewell party

Father Eamonn gradually found that he had a new homeland: Time and again, when overseas folk came to visit me, local friends or mere acquaintances insisted that I bring them to their homes. The welcome was ever genuine, the hospitality lavish. Over the years as Japan ‘grew on me’, I learned to appreciate more and more how kind the Lord had been to me, in bringing me to so charming a land and so loving a people. Almost imperceptibly I found myself feeling more and more at home among them. They seemed to reciprocate the feeling.

Minimata Railway Station [Wikipedia]

But then came the second sorrow, 'exile' once again: Forward to April 2013: the scene, a train station in Minamata City, South Japan. A group of 40 or so Japanese, men and women, baptised and non-baptised, bidding farewell to their pastor as he departs for retirement to the land of his birth. As the train pulls out, copious tears, theirs and mine, flow freely.

This scene is similar to that in Acts 20:36-37When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him.

Another Farewell

The pain, though mixed with joy, continues: The heartbreak of separation still persists, not just on my side but on theirs too I think. Frequent letters and emails, genuinely nostalgic, continue to arrive here. January 1, 2016 brought two members of an English conversation group of mine [Father Eamonn used to teach English to adults] who had sacrificed their Japan New Year festivities, the biggest of the year, to fly all the way here to visit their departed friend.

Irish airmail stamp, 1948-9 [Wikipedia]

Richard King's set of four Irish airmail stamps published in 1948-9 feature the Angel Victor over four sacred sites bringing the 'Voice of Ireland' to St Patrick asking him to come among the Irish once again as an exile, this time freely as a missionary unlike his first six years in Ireland when he was kidnapped and brought here as a slave. The great saint let go of all the pain of his first exile and embraced the pain of his second at the call of Jesus in order to bring the Gospel to the Irish people.

Crypt of St Columban, Bobbio, Italy [Wikipedia]

St Columban for many years begged his abbot in Bangor, Ireland, to allow him to go into exile to the European continent. His abbot finally relented and twelve other monks, including St Gall went with the great missionary. St Columban was driven out of a number of places by various authorities who did not like the demands of the Gospel. But he brought a renewal of the Catholic Christian faith to much of western Europe because he had embraced the grace of the call to be an exile/pilgrim for Christ.

Father Eamonn followed the example of the patron saint of the Missionary Society of St Columban in embracing his first exile from Ireland in going to Japan and his second 59 years later when leaving Japan in order to return to the land of his birth.

Please pray for all overseas missionaries and for the millions of people who have been forced from their home places by war or by economic necessity. We missionaries have been able to make a choice and accept or reject God's invitation. For far too many refugees there has been no choice.

Calon Lân (A Pure Heart)
Words by Daniel James, music by John Hughes

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51 [50]: 12).

Wales is famous for its male choirs but choral singing is not confined to men. It is part of the 'DNA' of Welsh culture. This hymn has become associated with the Welsh Rugby Union team and the video was recorded on the occasion of a game between Scotland and Wales, hence so many of the singers wearing red shirts. The Welsh language, which is much older than and not related to English, is the mother-tongue of about one fifth of the country's population of three million or so. Wales is part of the United Kingdom. Its choral tradition largely grew from Methodist chapels and from choirs started by coal-miners.

17 June 2020

'I can still see her eyes which reached to eternity.' Sunday Reflections, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]
First Reading, Jeremiah 20: 10-13

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
Gospel Matthew 10:26-33 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)
Jesus said to the Twelve:
‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

I think it was during the summer of 1968, a few months after my ordination, that my parents and I visited the motherhouse of the Columban Sisters in Magheramore, County Wicklow, on the east coast of Ireland. We were deeply struck by the extraordinary gentle warmth of Sister Joan Sawyer from Country Antrim, Northern Ireland, who showed us around. 
In December 1983 when I was giving a retreat to Columban Sisters in their convent in San Juan, Metro Manila, we got the shocking news of her violent death in Lima, Peru.
Sister Joan with Friends in Peru
The following, in italics, is from an article on the website of the Columban Sisters, 'I was in Prison and You Vistited Me.'
Joan Sawyer was a Columban Sister who was shot dead in Lima, Peru, in December 1983. She used to go to the Lurigancho Prison in Lima three or four days a week to visit the prisoners there. The prison held over 5,000 men. Conditions were bad. Out of 5,000 prisoners only 1,000 were sentenced. The rest were pending sentence or perhaps innocent. Joan used try to bring them some relief - medicines for some, a kind word for others, news about how she was progressing with their legal papers in the ministry for Justice, etc. 
The large majority of prisoners came, in her own words, 'from the poor sectors of Lima where they never had enough to eat, didn't finish school and couldn't find decent work'. On the morning of 14 December 1983 a group of prisoners decided that at all costs they were going to escape. They took as hostages Joan Sawyer, three Marist Sisters and social workers. After all-day negotiations with the prison authorities it was agreed that the prisoners and their hostages would be allowed leave the prison in the evening in an ambulance, the most inconspicuous mode of travel for getting out unnoticed. 
They were no sooner outside the prison gate than waiting police riddled the ambulance with bullets from all sides. Four bullets struck Joan, one through the back of the neck, two through her leg and one through her finger. When removed from the ambulance she was dead. Joan Sawyer was born in Donegore, County Antrim, in 1932. She entered the Columban Sisters in 1949 having previously worked as a secretary in Belfast. Subsequently she took her BA degree in Mundelein College, Chicago. She went to Peru in 1977 and was 51 years old at the time of her death
Hilary Cross, Sr Joan's niece, visited Lima for the 30th anniversary of the death of her Aunty Joan. In an article in the English newspaper The Guardian she tells of the two great sacrifices made her grandfather, George Sawyer, Sister Joan's father. George was a Protestant who married a Catholic, Brigid Deegan, in the 1920s in the newly independent Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland. They had a mixed marriage in the 1920s, and it was hard to find their place in a free state that wasn't really so free. So they moved north; my grandfather, George, the eldest son, losing his family farm for love of a sweet girl, Brigid, from 'the other side'. They settled in Donegore, near Antrim, where George's love of the land led him to labour on another man's farm.
The article continues: Joan was the youngest of seven. Although all were much loved, it was said that 'wee Joan' held a special place in her father's heart. Gentle, slight, spirited and with a deep faith, she left at the age of 17 to join a convent in the remote west of Ireland. That day George retreated to the land, unable to say goodbye. A man of great faith himself, he must have struggled to reconcile whose sacrifice this was, his love of a Catholic girl had lost him more than just his farm.
Hilary Cross at her Aunty Joan's grave
The Story of Sister Joan Sawyer on the website of her native parish in Northern Ireland quotes from a letter written by a prisoner named Julio in Lurigancho Prison: Minutes before Sister Juanita [as she was known in Peru] was taken hostage I was speaking to her when she came with a packet sent in with her by my mother. I can still see her eyes which reached to eternity. Her love, pure and gentle, which reflected her great love for people. Her spirit of kindness and sacrifice towards us prisoners will be my most precious memory.

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
You may read more about Sister Joan on the website of the Columban Sisters here, herehere and here. The website is also the source of the photos above.

Columban Sisters carrying Sister Joan's coffin [Source]

Prisoners Exercising (after Doré)
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

I was in prison and you visited me (Matthew 25:36).

La Misa Criolla, Kyrie
Composed by Ariel Ramírez 

Señor ten piedad de nosotros.
Cristo ten piedad de nosotros.
Señor ten piedad de nosotros.

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.

Ariel Ramírez, an Argentinian, composed La Misa Criolla, one of the first Mass settings in Spanish, shortly after Vatican II. Part of his inspiration for writing it was meeting two German sisters, Elisabeth and Regina Brückner, who had fed prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp and to whom he dedicated the work.

The video was recorded in St Peter's Basilica on 12 December 2014 when Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and Minor Patroness of the Philippines. Under that title Our Blessed Mother is also Patroness of the Pro-life movement. The conductor was Facundo Ramírez, son of the composer. 

11 June 2020

'He fed them with the finest wheat.' Sunday Reflections, Corpus Christi, Year A

Supper at Emmaus (1601)
Caravaggio  [Web Gallery of Art]

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi is on the Universal Calendar of the Church for the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, this year 11 June, and is a holy day of obligation. However, in the countries where this blog is read it has been transferred to the following Sunday.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
Gospel John 6:51-58 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)
Jesus said to the crowd:
‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

Supper at Emmaus (1606)
Caravaggio [Web Gallery of Art]

The Catholic Thing on 8 June 2020 published two article on Caravaggio. One, Caravaggio: Revelation and Revolution, by Brad Miner, focuses on Caravaggio's two versions of Supper at Emmaus. The other, a very short article by Elizabeth Lev, Caravaggio: a Catholic Genius with All his Faults, looks at the painter's ability to perceive the presence of the supernatural in the midst of the ordinary, mundane and even vulgar.

Corpus Christi Procession, Bamberg, Germany

Around 26 years ago, when I was a parish priest in Mindanao, one of our volunteer catechists came to me one Saturday afternoon and said, 'My father would like to receive the Bread of Life'. She told me that though he was gravely ill he was fully conscious and so I prepared to to hear his confession, celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick with him  and to give him Holy communion.

On the way to the house I learned that the sick man had been married three times, having been widowed twice. When I arrived there were children from his three marriages and grandchildren from at least two. All who were present gathered around, except when I was hearing the man's confession. He was fully alert, knew he was near the end of his life and participated joyfully.

At the very end I asked some of the family to lay hands on him as we said a final prayer. However, the dying man turned this into something far more beautiful. He took one of his grandchildren, an infant only a few months old, and embraced it. Then he embraced each of his children and grandchildren in turn.

There was a tangible sense of joy about the house and afterwards the family served me a snack. This is not the usual practice when the priest makes a sick call.

The following morning, Sunday, the catechist came to tell me that her father had died during the night.

What really struck me was the fact that the dying man had asked for 'The Bread of Life'.

Today's feast, the Solemnity of Corpus Christ, is a celebration of the Body of Christ as the Bread of Life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. These words of Jesus caused many to walk away - because they understood what he was saying, but couldn't accept it. Others could and did.

Catholics believe, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) No 1374In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist 'the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained the Body and Blood, soul and divinity' of Christ'.

Perpetual Adoration

Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Chihuahua Cathedral, Mexico

The CCC clearly states in No 1376 what the Church teaches: The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: 'Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.'

The Catechism goes on to explain in Nos 1378 and 1379 two developments in the life of the Church: In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. 'The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.'

The tabernacle was first intended for the reservation of the Eucharist in a worthy place so that it could be brought to the sick and those absent outside of Mass. As faith in the real presence of Christ in his Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species. It is for this reason that the tabernacle should be located in an especially worthy place in the church and should be constructed in such a way that it emphasizes and manifests the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

There is an intimacy and a real 'communion' between people when they are together in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, whether they are just 'dropping in' to be in the presence of the Lord for a while or engaged in a more solemn form of adoration when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, such as in the photo above taken in Mexico. And no matter where in the world we are, we are in the presence of the same Lord, Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God who became Man.

Tabernacle, Dierfurt, Germany

I recall when I studied for a year in Toronto, Canada, in 1981-82 being inspired, when I used to visit a particular chapel of adoration, by the presence of university students, men and women, some spending long periods in prayer. I remember staying on a number of occasions in a home for children run by Sisters in Iriga City, in the Bicol Region of the Philippines, to see young boys and girls, all of them from a background of brokenness of one kind or another, praying in perfect silence before the Blessed Sacrament as they waited for Mass to begin.

So the Bread of Life is kept in the tabernacle of a church for two purposes: to enable the priest to bring the Blessed Sacrament to someone who is sick and to allow people to adore Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

It is customary for priests in parishes to bring Holy Communion to sick parishioners on the First Friday of each month. Pope Francis has spoken of the need for priests in particular to 'know the smell of the sheep'. When a priest brings Holy Communion to a sick person he often enough encounters the smell of illness, of poverty. And yet he is bringing the Saviour himself, the Bread of Life to someone who takes him at his word: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Irish poet Seán Ó Liocháin captures something of this, of the journey of the Lord from the tabernacle to the home of a sick person, using whatever transport is available, in his poem An Chéad Aoine, 'The First Friday'. [The not very poetic English translation is mine.]
An Chéad Aoine The First Friday
le/by Seán Ó Liocháin

Nuair a tháinig an sagart
When the priest came
chuig m’athair inniu,
to my father today
mar a thagann de ghnáth
as he usually comes
i dtús na míosa,
at the start of the month
le lón na beatha
with the food of life
                     a thabhairt d’fhear                    t
to give to a man
nach bhfágann an chlúid
who’s been bed-ridden
in aon chor le tamall,
for some time now,
ní hé an gnás ab ait liom féin.
It wasn't the ritual that was strange to me.
Ní hé ba mhó
What really
ba bhun le m’iontas
caused my wonder wasn't
fear dá chlú,
a man of such repute,
dá chleacht, dá éirim
of such experience, of such learning
ar cuairt na sean
visiting the old
i dtús na míosa
at the beginning of the month
le comhairle a leasa
with good counsel
a chur ar dhream
to give to those
nach bhfágfadh clúid na haithrí choíche,

who would never again leave the penance of being housebound,
ach Críost a theacht
but Christ coming
i gcarr athláimhe
in a second-hand car
a cheannaigh an sagart
the priest bought
ó fhear i Ros Comáin.
from a man in Roscommon.

Ford Escort, 1977

Christ coming in a second-hand car the priest bought from a man in Roscommon: Isn't that a wonderful image of the Incarnation? And the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). To quote Elizabeth Lev's comment on Caravaggio above, Seán Ó Liocháin too has the ability to perceive the presence of the supernatural in the midst of the ordinary, mundane.

A poem by George Herbert, Love  or Love bade welcome, can be understood as expressing the Sacred Meal aspect of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which our Lord Jesus Christ gives himself totally to us in Holy Communion.

by George Herbert, performed by Lance Pierson

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
           Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
            From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
            If I lacked anything.

'A guest,' I answered, 'worthy to be here':
            Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
            I cannot look on thee.'
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
            'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
            Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'who bore the blame?'
            'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
            So I did sit and eat.

Cibavit eos
Setting of Entrance Antiphon by Christopher Tye

Antiphona ad introitum   Entrance Antiphon   Cf. Psalm 80:17

Cibavit eos ex adipe frumenti, [alleluia],
et de petra melle saturavit eos, [alleluia, alleluia, alleluia]. 
[Exultate Deo adiutori nostro: iubilate Deo Jacob.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritu Sancto:
sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper. Amen.
Cibavit eos ex adipe frumenti, alleluia,
et de petra melle saturavit eos, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia].

He fed them with the finest wheat, [alleluia],
and satisfied them with honey from the rock, [alleluia, alleluia, alleluia].
[Sing joyfully to God our strength: acclaim the God of Jacob.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.]

The texts in [square brackets] are from the fuller version of the Entrance Antiphon used in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, ie, as in the Missal promulgated by Pope St John XXIII in 1962, an updating of the Missal used since the Council of Trent. In Summorum Pontificum, issued in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the celebration of the 'Old Mass' or 'Tridentine Mass', using the term 'Extraordinary Form' for it and 'Ordinary Form' for the Mass as it has been widely celebrated since 1969.