28 August 2020

'There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones . . .' Sunday Reflections, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Landscape with Christ and St Peter
Goffried Wals [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 16:21-27 (English Standard Version Anglicised)

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

A Man for All Seasons is a movie made in 1966, written by Robert Bolt and based on his stage play with the same title. It is based on the life of St Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England during the time of King Henry VIII. His position would be similar to that of Prime Minister today. More refuses to  sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage of the King to Catherine of Aragon who had not borne him a son. Eventually More is found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death.

During his trial Sir Thomas More discovers that Richard Rich, who had given perjured testimony against him, had been made Attorney General for Wales as a reward for this. The laws of England were about to be extended to Wales, a country of 20,779 square kilometres in the west of the island of Britain which also includes England and Scotland. More says to Rich, Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world - but for Wales? [3:30 - 4:20 in the video above].

On Sundays in Ordinary Time the First Reading and the Gospel are linked thematically whereas the Second Reading is from on the Letters of St Paul read over the course of a number of Sundays. But this Sunday it is closely related to the other two readings in that it reminds us that as followers of Jesus we are called to be living sacrifices:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

The Prophet Jeremiah discovers the cost of doing God's will: I have become a laughing-stock all the day; everyone mocks me . . . For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long (Jeremiah 20:7,8).

St Peter cannot abide the thought of any such thing happening to Jesus: God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you. He receives an extraordinary rebuke from Jesus: Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on the things of man.

The Crucifixion of St Peter
Caravaggio [Web Gallery of Art]

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 

St Peter in giving unwanted and unhelpful 'advice' to Jesus had no idea of the price he himself would pay for following in the footsteps of the Lord. He was following human thinking, not God's. This incident shows that our thinking has consequences. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, says St Paul in Philippians 2:5. This is what our baptism calls us to. Everything we do is meant to be in accordance with God's thinking, with God's will.

Last year here in the Republic of Ireland which has a population of almost five million, 6,666 children were legally killed before birth. The law allowing this came into effect on New Year's Day 2019, the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. The law was the foreseen consequence of a referendum in May 2018 when two-thirds of those who voted chose to 'repeal' Article 8 of the Constitution that protected the life of the unborn child and of the mother. Based on the census of 2016 nearly eighty per-cent of the voters identified themselves as Catholic. The majority of legislators who legalised abortion-on-demand were Catholics by background, one of them a regular lector at Sunday Mass in her parish.

This is a glaring example of what the late Fr Jaime Bulatao SJ, a Filipino, labelled in 1966 Split-level Christianity. (I took some classes under Fr Bulatao in the summer of 1974). Promoting or supporting abortion is incompatible with the Catholic Christian faith. 

In his encyclical Laudato si' No 120, Pope Francis states: Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? 'If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away'.

Some politicians who identify themselves as Catholics are now promoting abortion as a 'right'. And many people who work for the dignity of every human life from conception to death are condemned as persons with no interest in the welfare of children and others after birth, a total lie.

Mary Wagner is a Canadian woman who has spent much time in prison for peacefully proclaiming the humanity of the unborn child and for trying to offer mothers an alternative to abortion. Another Canadian who has spent much time in prison for totally silent witness outside abortion centres is Linda Gibbons. I am sure that these two extraordinary witnesses to our Christian faith must have experienced what the Prophet Jeremiah expresses in today's First Reading: If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name”, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. Please pray for them.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

The Visitation
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy (Luke 1:44).

Miserere mihi, Domine
Setting by William Byrd

Sung by Cardinall's Musick

Miserere mihi, Domine, et exaudi orationem meam.
Have mercy on me, Lord, and listen to my prayer.

Extraordinary Form of the Mass
Traditional Latin Mass (TLM)

This Sunday, 30 August, is the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost in the calendar that uses the TLM. The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 8-30-2020, if necessary).


Where'er You Walk
George Frederic Handel
Oboist, Leo Duarte and The Academy of Ancient Music, directed by Richard Egarr

It may have happened on some occasion that you paused before a sculpture, a picture, a few verses of a poem or a piece of music that you found deeply moving, that gave you a sense of joy, a clear perception, that is, that what you beheld was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a collection of letters or an accumulation of sounds, but something greater, something that 'speaks', that can touch the heart, communicate a message, uplift the mind (Pope Benedict XVI).

19 August 2020

'So that, faithful to Christ, we may proclaim and bear witness together to his presence in our time.' Sunday Reflections, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Saint Peter
El Greco [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 16:13-20 (English Standard Version Anglicised)

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Pope Benedict XVI

This week again I fall back on Pope Benedict XVI. This is the Angelus talk on today's gospel that he gave on 24 August 2008 in Castel Gandolfo. I have highlighted parts of it, something I found difficult to do as it is so deep and rich - and yet so clear and simple.

Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday's liturgy addresses to us Christians but also at the same time to every man and every woman the double question that one day Jesus put to his disciples. He first asked them: ‘Who do men say that the Son of man is?’ They answered him saying that some of the people said John the Baptist restored to life, others Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. The Lord then directly questioned the Twelve: ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter spoke enthusiastically and authoritatively on behalf of them all: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’. This solemn profession of faith the Church continues to repeat since then. Today too, we long to proclaim with an innermost conviction: ‘Yes, Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God!’ Let us do so in the awareness that Christ is the true ‘treasure’ for whom it is worth sacrificing everything; he is the friend who never abandons us for he knows the most intimate expectations of our hearts. Jesus is the ‘Son of the living God’, the promised Messiah who came down to earth to offer humanity salvation and to satisfy the thirst for life and love that dwells in every human being. What an advantage humanity would have in welcoming this proclamation which brings with it joy and peace!

‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’. Jesus answers Peter's inspired profession of faith: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven’. This is the first time that Jesus speaks of the Church, whose mission is the actuation of God's great design to gather the whole of humanity into a single family in Christ. Peter's mission, and that of his Successors, is precisely to serve this unity of the one Church of God formed of Jews and pagans of all peoples; his indispensable ministry is to ensure that she is never identified with a single nation, with a single culture, but is the Church of all peoples - to make present among men and women, scarred by innumerable divisions and conflicts, God's peace and the renewing power of his loveThis, then, is the special mission of the Pope, Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter: to serve the inner unity that comes from God's peace, the unity of those who have become brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

In the face of the enormous responsibility of this task, I am increasingly aware of the commitment and importance of the service to the Church and the world that the Lord has entrusted to me. I therefore ask you, dear brothers and sisters, to support me with your prayers so that, faithful to Christ, we may proclaim and bear witness together to his presence in our time. May Mary, whom we invoke with trust as Mother of the Church and Star of Evangelization, obtain this grace for us.

Young Jew as Christ
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

Pope Benedict's short reflection touches on so many fundamental things. Our faith as Christians is in the Person of Jesus Christ, God who became Man. Jesus calls us into a personal relationship with him, not in an exclusive 'You and I only' sense but in an intimate 'You, I and all of us' sense as members of the Church with a common mission given by Jesus to the Church.

As members of the Church we share in the mission given us by Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict says, I therefore ask you, dear brothers and sisters, to support me with your prayers so that, faithful to Christ, we may proclaim and bear witness together to his presence in our time. 

Our common mission is to proclaim and bear witness together to his presence in our time. That means that Jesus calls each of us to realise that every person we meet is meant to meet Jesus in us - in every aspect of our lives, private and public. 

Yet so many politicians, for example, who announce to the world that they are faithful Catholics promote the evil of abortion. Many voters who see themselves as faithful Catholics support them in this. This, in effect, is saying that Jesus Christ our Saviour promotes the killing of unborn children. 

Pope Benedict by addressing us as Dear brothers and sisters, reminds us of our deepest identity: we are sons and daughters of God the Father through our baptism. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus through our baptism. As such, we are brothers and sisters of one another through baptism.

Our baptism, through which we have received our Christian faith, is pure gift from God. Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. We are called by baptism to proclaim the presence of Jesus in the world so that others may come to know Him. Pope Benedict doesn't mention baptism specifically but everything he says makes sense only in the context of our having been baptised.

Jesus through his Church does not identify himself with any particular nation or with any particular ethnic group. Yet he speaks to each nation, to each group, to each individual within their own culture. Some years ago in the Philippines when celebrating Sunday Mass in a home for girls most of whom had been abused before going there, I showed during my homily a very poor black-and-white reproduction of Rembrandt's painting above. One girl, aged about 14, asked me if she could have the picture. (I later had a proper copy made and framed for her). I asked her what had attracted her in the painting. He is so human, she said. This painting done in Amsterdam nearly 400 years before spoke to her heart. Rembrandt, through his painting in which he had a Jewish refugee from Spain as a model, was able to proclaim and bear witness to the presence of Jesus in our time to a young girl in the Philippines in the 21st century who had suffered greatly.

These are some random thoughts. Pope Benedict's Angelus message has so much in it and can be a source of prayer and contemplation in trying to answer the question Jesus puts before us today: But who do you say that I am?

Collect from the Mass for the Pope

O God, who in your providential design 
willed that your Church be built 
upon blessed Peter, whom you set over the other Apostles, look with favour, we pray, on Francis our Pope 
and grant that he, whom you have made Peter's successor, may be for your people a visible source and foundation 
of unity in faith and of communion.
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.

Tu es Petrus
Setting by Palestrina
Sung by The Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips

Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam.

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). 

11 August 2020

'Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' tables.' Sunday Reflections, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. The Assumption

The Canaanite Woman
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry [Wikipedia]

The Solemnity of the Assumption, 15 August, is a Holy Day of Obligation in Aotearoa New Zealand, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland, USA. However, this year it is not a Holy Day of Obligation in the USA. In Aotearoa New Zealand, in England & Wales and in Scotland when 15 August falls on Saturday or Monday the Assumption is celebrated on Sunday, this year 16 August.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 15:21-28 (English Standard Version Anglicised)

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

Vegetable Seller
Joachim Beuckelaer [Web Gallery of Art]

My late mother, whose name was Mary, loved to bargain, when buying clothes and when buying fruit and vegetables. She usually bought the latter at the store of a woman named Chrissie Caffrey, whose sister Maggie had a similar store across the road in Stoneybatter, then just a short street but now the name of the district in Dublin where I grew up. There were usually a few cats around but the vegetables and fruit on sale were fresh. Sometimes as a child, listening to my mother, I would think that she was insulting Chrissie the way she spoke to her. But they both would end up happy, my mother having got a bargain - or thinking that she had - and Chrissie having got a sale.

What my mother and Chrissie did a couple of times a week was a form of banter with a serious purpose. My mother wasn't insulting Chrissie; she was simply looking for a good price. Chrissie didn't take any offence at my mother's words, gave as good as she got - and sold her produce.

One commentary I read on this gospel suggests that Jesus and the Canaanite woman were engaged in something similar to Chrissie and my mother, a form of banter, but with a serious purpose. The words of Jesus comparing the Canaanites, non-Jews, to dogs were insulting at their face value. But the woman didn't take offence, She wanted her daughter healed and that's all that mattered to her. She probably hadn't been among those who heard Jesus' Sermon on the Mount when he said, among many other things, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you (Mt 7:7). But clearly she had heard something about Jesus, of his love for the poor, for the sick, for the tormented. Because she persisted, giving as good as she got: Yes, Lord,
 but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' tables. She then heard the astounding words of Jesus, 
Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.

It wasn't the first time Jesus responded to a non-Jew and remarked on that person's faith. Before we receive Holy Communion we pray the words of the Roman centurion who had come to Jesus with a similar plea to that of the Canaanite woman, not on behalf of his daughter but of his servant, 'Lord, I am not worthy . . .'

For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened (Mt 7:8).

Chris and the Canaanite Woman
Juan de Flandes [Web Gallery of Art]

There is something very down-to-earth about the meeting of Jesus and the Canaanite woman. The Assumption too is a down-to-earth celebration. Pope Benedict reminds usThe Solemnity of the Assumption, so dear to popular tradition, serves as a useful occasion for all believers to meditate on the true sense and value of human existence in view of eternity.

Dear brothers and sisters, Heaven is our final dwelling place; from there, Mary encourages us by her example to welcome God's will, so as not to allow ourselves to be seduced by the deceptive attraction to what is transitory and fleeting, and not to give in to the temptations of selfishness and evil which extinguish the joy of life in the heart.

In the Nicene Creed, which pray at Mass on Sundays and Solemnities, we say, and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The equivalent in the Apostles' Creed is, I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting

Part of the humanity of Jesus, God who became Man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and of Mary herself is their Jewishness. They remain Jewish for all eternity.

Theme from Schindler's List
Composed by John Williams
Violin soloist: Csongor Korossy-Khayll
Budapest 2017 in the largest synagogue in Europe
This video can be played only on the YouTube website. Click here.

Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist, and his wife Emilie saved the lives of more than a thousand Jewish refugees, most of them from Poland, from the Holocaust during World War II when the Nazis tried to eliminate the people from whom Jesus and Mary sprung. Each face in this beautiful video is an image of God and a reminder of the dignity of our humanity and of God's desire for us, expressed in the words at the top of this blog: Since we are travellers and pilgrims in the world, let us ever ponder on the end of the road, that is of our life, for the end of our roadway is our home (St Columban, 8th sermon).

Solemnity of the Assumption

The Assumption of the Virgin
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings [Mass of the Day] (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings [Vigil Mass and Mass of the Day] (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel [Mass of the Day] Luke 1:39-56 (English Standard Version Anglicised)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
And Mary remained with her for about three months and            then returned to her home.

From the Angelus address of Pope Benedict in Castel Gandolfo, 15 August 2008:

Mary assumed into Heaven points out to us the final destination of our earthly pilgrimage. She reminds us that our whole being - spirit, soul and body - is destined for fullness of life; that those who live and die in love of God and of their neighbour will be transfigured in the image of the glorious Body of the Risen Christ; that the Lord will cast down the proud and exalt the humble (cf. Lk 1: 51-52). With the mystery of her Assumption Our Lady proclaims this eternally. May you be praised for ever, O Virgin Mary! Pray the Lord for us.

Rouen Cathedral in Full Sunlight
Claude Monet [Web Gallery of Art]
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Rouen, France

Who is she ascends so high
Words by Sir John Beaumont (1582 - 1628)
Music by Leo Nestor who here conducts the American Repertory Singers.

This hymn is used in the Breviary for Evening Prayer on the Solemnity of the Assumption.

Who is she ascends so high,
Next the heav'nly King,
Round about whom angels fly,
And her praises sing?

Who is she adorned with light,
Makes the sun her robe,
At whose feet the queen of night
Lays her changing globe?

This is she in whose pure womb
Heaven's Prince remained;
Wherefore in no earthly tomb
Could she be contained.

Heav'n she was, which held that fire,
Whence the world took light,
And to heav'n doth now aspire:
Flames with flames t’unite.

She that did so clearly shine,
When our day begun,
See how bright her beams decline:
Now she sits with the Sun.


The Assumption
Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

Today, the Solemnity of the Assumption, The Catholic Thing features Blessed Fra Angelico's painting above with a commentary/reflection by Brian G. Svoboda.