30 December 2020

'Vidimus stellam - We have seen his star.' Sunday Reflections, The Epiphany, 2021


Adoration of the Magi
Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

In most countries where English is widely used The Epiphany is celebrated on this Sunday, 3 January 2021. However, in Ireland, where it is a holy day of obligation, the feast is observed on its traditional date, 6 January, Wednesday.

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings(New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 2:1-12 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Matthew 2:1-12 in Filipino Sign Language

I have used the story below quite a few times for the feast of the Epiphany. It is one that continues to move me, probably for two reasons. One is that I spent most of my adult life in the Philippines. The other is that the nurse from the Philippines proclaiming the Gospel was totally unaware that she was doing so - as are so many 'ordinary' Catholics and other Christians.

While based in Britain from 2000 till 2002 I was able to spend Christmas with my brother and his family in Dublin, a short flight from England, in 2000 and 2001. During the holiday in 2001 I saw a documentary on RTÉ, Ireland's national broadcasting service, about Filipino nurses in Ireland. These began to arrive in 2000, initially at the invitation of the Irish government to work in government hospitals. Very quickly there was an 'invasion' of Filipino nurses and carers, now to be found in hospitals and nursing homes in every part of the country. 

One of the nurses interviewed told how many Filipinos, knowing that the Irish celebrate Christmas on the 25th, unlike the Philippines where the culmination of the feast is on the night of the 24th, offered to work on Christmas Day so that their Irish companions could be with their families. This also helped to dull the pain of being away from their own families.

I was moved to tears at the testimony of one nurse, from Mindanao as I recall, speaking about her job and her first Christmas in Ireland in 2000. She spoke very highly of her employers, of her working conditions and of her accommodation, which she contrasted with that of the Holy Family on the first Christmas night. She spoke of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in this situation as if they were members of her own family, as in a very deep sense they are, or we of their family.

Here was a young woman from the East powerfully proclaiming, without being aware of it, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The fact that she wasn't aware of it, that she was speaking about her 'next door neighbours', made her proclamation of faith all the more powerful. She would have known many in her own place, and very likely knew from her own experience, something of what Joseph and Mary went through in Bethlehem. Her faith in the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us wasn't something in her head but part of her very being.

For much of the last century thousands of Catholic priests, religious Sisters and Brothers left Europe and North America to preach and live the Gospel in the nations of Africa, Asia and South America. Some of the countries and regions from which they left, eg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Quebec, have to a great extent lost or even rejected the Catholic Christian faith. The Jewish people had, in faith, awaited the coming of the Messiah for many centuries. But when He came it was uneducated shepherds who first recognised him and later Simeon and Anna, two devout and elderly Jews who spent lengthy periods in prayer in the Temple.

Today's feast highlights wise men from the east, not 'believers' in the Jewish sense, led by God's special grace to Bethlehem to bring gifts in response to that grace, explaining, We . . . have come to worship him.They reveal to us that God calls people from every part of the world to do the same and to bring others with them.

Will nurses from the Philippines and from Kerala in India, migrants from Korea and Vietnam, from the east, bring the gift of faith in Jesus Christ once again to the many people in Western Europe and North America who no longer know him in any real sense? Will they by the lives they lead as working immigrants gently invite those in the West who have lost the precious gift of our Catholic Christian faith to once again come to worship him?

Vidimus stellam
St Peter's Basilica, Rome, Epiphany 2020

Antiphona ad Communionem  Communion Antiphon Cf Matthew 2:2
Vidimus stellam eius in Oriente,
et venimus cum muneribus adorare Dominum.

We have seen his star in the East,
and have come with gifts to adore the Lord.

Extraordinary Form of the Mass

Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) 

The Epiphany of Our Lord.

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 1-6-2021 if necessary).

Lesson: Isaiah 60:1-6. Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12.  

Authentic Beauty

Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.

Pope Benedict XVI meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel, 21 November 2009.

The Enniscorthy Carol (The Wexford Carol)

Sung by Aileen Lambert in St Aidan's Cathedral, Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland.

In recent years this very old Irish Christmas carol has become better known not only in Ireland but internationally.

28 December 2020

Sunday Reflections, Mary, the Holy Mother of God; Years ABC; 2nd Sunday After the Nativity, Years ABC


Altar of Our Lady
Jörg Zurn [Web Gallery of Art]

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

The Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord

This is a Holyday of Obligation in the Philippines, the USA and some other countries.

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Luke 2:16-21 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

The shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Adoration of the Shepherds
Murillo, painted 1650-55 [Web Gallery of Art]

54th World Day of Peace

1 January 2021

Here is the message of Pope Francis for World Day of Peace 2021, the them of which is A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace.

Extraordinary Form of the Mass

Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) 

Octave Day of the Nativity 

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 1-1-2021, if necessary).

Epistle: Titus 2:11-15. Gospel: Luke 2:21.

In this first Angelus of the new year, let us ask Mary Most Holy, the Mother of God, to bless us, just as the mother blesses her children who must leave on a journey. A new year is like a journey: with the light and grace of God, may it be a path of peace for every person and for every family, for every country and for the entire world (Benedict XVI, 1 January 2013).

Second Sunday After the Nativity, Years ABC

The Virgin with the Child Jesus and the Child St John the Baptist 
Francisco de Zurbarán [Web Gallery of Art]
You can learn more about the painting here.

In Ireland the Solemnity of the Epiphany is a Holy Day of Obligation and is celebrated this year on Wednesday 6 January. In many countries the Epiphany is celebrated on this Sunday, 3 January. The readings below are those for the Second Sunday After the Nativity, observed in Ireland.

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

Gospel John 1:1-18. Shorter form: John 1:1-5, 9-14 [omitted] (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition )  

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
[There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.]
The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. [(John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”) And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.]

Madonna and Child

In The Ascent of Mount Carmel St John of the Cross writes: When [God] gave us, as he did, his Son, who is his one Word, he spoke everything to us, once and for all in that one Word. There is nothing further for him to say . . .

Consequently, anyone who today would want to ask God questions or desire some vision or revelation, would not only be acting foolishly but would commit an offence against God by not fixing his eyes entirely on Christ, without wanting something new or something besides him.

God might give him this answer, '"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." I have already told you all things in my Word. Fix your eyes on him alone, becuse in him I have spoken and revealed all. Moreover, in him you will find more than you ask or desire.'

This passage is used in the Office of Readings, Advent, Week 2, Monday.

Extraordinary Form of the Mass

Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) 

Sunday After th Octave Day of the Nativity

Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 1-1-2021, if necessary).

Lesson: Acts 4:8-12. Gospel: Luke 2:21.

Authentic Beauty

Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.

Pope Benedict XVI meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel, 21 November 2009.

Verbum caro factum est
Composer: Fr Marco Frisina
Sung by Choir of the Diocese of Rome directed Fr Frisina

RefrainVerbum caro factum est. Alleluia.

The Word was made flesh. Alleluia.

Hodie Christus natus est et laetantur Angeli.
Hodie Christus, Salvator mundi, in terra apparuit.
Today Christ is born and the angesl rejoice.
Today Christ, the Saviour of the world, has appeared on earth.

RefrainVerbum caro factum est. Alleluia.
The Word was made flesh. Alleluia.

Lux fulgebit hodie, quia Dominus natus est.
Exulta, Filia Sion; lauda, Filia Jerusalem.
Light shines today, because the Lord is born.
Rejoice, Daughter Zion, rejoice Daughter Jerusalem.

RefrainVerbum caro factum est. Alleluia.
The Word was made flesh. Alleluia.

Revelavit iustitiam ante cospectum gentium,
et nos vidimus gloriam eius, gloria quasi Unigeniti.
He has revealed his justice to all peoples
and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son.

RefrainVerbum caro factum est. Alleluia.
The Word was made flesh. Alleluia.

26 December 2020

'WITH A FATHER’S HEART: that is how Joseph loved Jesus.' Sunday Reflections, The Holy Family of Jesus,Mary and Joseph, Year B


St Joseph and the Christ Child

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Luke 2:22-40 [or 22, 39-40] (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they [the parents of Jesus] brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said 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, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;

    for my eyes have seen your salvation
    that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
    a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marvelled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.] 

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

The Census at Bethlehem
Pieter Bruegel the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

My late father visited me in the Philippines for six weeks in 1981, arriving on 16 February, one day before St John Paul II made his first visit as Pope. My Dad spent most of the time with me in a small seminary for diocesan seminarians that I was in charge of for two years in Tangub City, Misamis Occidental. Before that I had spent less than three months as parish priest of Tangub, the last Columban priest to hold that position.

One evening a family invited my father and myself to visit their home. We went with some other parishioners. When we were walking home slowly someone commented that my father and I were walking in exactly the same way, with our hands behind our backs. I had never been conscious of that before. I recalled Sunday mornings when I was a child when my father would take my brother and myself for a walk in the Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed park in any capital city in Europe, which was about ten minutes' walk from where we lived. Our walks in the Park were usually more of an amble or a mosey rather than the determined 'keep fit' type of walk that so many engage in today.

Pheonix Park in the summer

But my friend's comment in Tangub City made me realise that I had unconsciously picked up this kind of ambling from my Dad.

I learned a lot more from him without being aware of it. When my brother Paddy, who is three years younger than me, was very young my Dad would take me to Sunday Mass while my Mam stayed at home withe the baby and went to a later Mass. I gradually became aware that my father went to an early Mass every day of his working life before going to work on construction sites. (Like St Joseph he was a carpenter and was named 'John Joseph'.) I noticed that after Mass he prepared my mother's breakfast and I often saw him during winter cleaning the grate from the fire the day before, taking away the ashes, and preparing it for the fire that would be lit later in the day. All of this before going to work.

I saw how he deeply respected my mother, and everyone else he met, most especially the men who worked under him on construction sites. I worked with him on one of those during the summer of 1967 when I was a subdeacon. I was ordained the following December. I saw at first hand what I already knew. He never swore, never raised his voice, was a real mentor to young workers, and led by example. He was a quiet man, with a sense of responsibility that he carried lightly and with a quiet sense of humour.

The Census at Bethlehem (detail)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

In a number of places Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that St Joseph is the legal father of Jesus: Therefore let us venerate the legal father of Jesus (cfCatechism of the Catholic Church, n. 532), because the new man is outlined in him, who looks with trust and courage to the future. He does not follow his own plans but entrusts himself without reserve to the infinite mercy of the One who will fulfil the prophecies and open the time of salvation. This is because he named Jesus, as the angel had instructed him in Matthew 1:21 - She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sinsOn 19 March the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Today's gospel refers to Joseph and Mary as his father and mother. Jesus in his humanity learned how to behave as boy and as an adolescent from St Joseph. He learned  the trade of a carpenter from St Joseph. Most likely he walked like St Joseph. And we can be sure that St Joseph took him to the synagogue on the sabbath. In today's gospel St Joseph and Mary take the infant Jesus to the Temple to present him to the Lord. They took him again to the Temple when he was twelve. These two events are marked in the fourth and fifth Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

It was Joseph as husband of Mary who led the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem as shown in Pieter Bruegel the Elder's painting above, The Census at Bethlehem. The artist shows the Holy Family coming into a 16th-century Netherlands village in the depths of winter, nobody noticing them. This shows on the one hand that He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him (John 1:10-11). It shows on the other hand that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). God who became Man threw in his lot with us. He came into our townland, our village, our town, our city. The villagers in Bruegel's painting haven't rejected Jesus but they haven't yet recognised him.

St Joseph is central to all of this. He exemplifies the vocation of the husband and its consequence for most husbands, the vocation of the father, to an extent that no one else has done. He was the man whom Mary honoured as her husband and whom Jesus called Dad / Papa / Tatay.

Pope Francis, who has a great devotion to St Joseph, has declared 8 December 2020 - 8 December 2021 a Year of St Joseph. In his apostolic letter proclaiming this, Patris corde [With a Father’s Heart), he begins with this sentence: WITH A FATHER’S HEART: that is how Joseph loved Jesus, whom all four Gospels refer to as ‘the son of Joseph’.

Pope Francis writes: The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, ‘at the service of the entire plan of salvation’.

The letter of Pope Francis has much to say about fatherhood. One example reminds me of my own father: Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Whenever I would have an important examination or was doing something for the first time he would never put pressure on me. He would simply say, The experience will be good for you. I still find that to be true and to be encouraging.

There is much food for reflection and prayer in Patris corde.

Pope Francis and the Sleeping St Joseph

Extraordinary Form of the Mass

Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) 

Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity of Our Lord.

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 12-27-2020, if necessary).

Epistle: Galatians 4:1-7. Gospel: Luke 2 1:33-40.

Authentic Beauty

Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.

Pope Benedict XVI meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel, 21 November 2009.

Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil
(To That Night in Bethlehem)
The Chieftains
English translation recited by Burgess Meredith
Original Irish sung by Kevin Conneff

This is a very old Irish Christmas carol.