29 October 2021

'Let us go in the peace of Christ to serve God in man for the love of God.' Sunday Reflections, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B




Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). [First Reading; quoted by Jesus in the Gospel].

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 12:28-34 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

One of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbour as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Solemnity of All Saints [England and Wales]

This year the Solemnity of All Saints is observed in England and Wales on Sunday. Elsewhere it is observed on Monday on its traditional date, the First of November.

Readings for England and Wales

The readings for All Saints's Day are the same every year. Last Year's Sunday Reflections for the solemnity are here.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Shema Yisrael, Knesset Menorah, Jerusalem 

The first reading today is one the most important in the whole Bible for people of the Jewish faith. There is only one God. Only the Hebrews in the ancient Mediterranean world believed that. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-6 in his response to the scribe. These words are at the heart of Jewish prayer and are prayed by or spoken to a Jew when he is dying, reminding him of the most important reality of all, that God is God. The Hebrew for Hear, O Israel is Shema Yisraelשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵלin Hebrew. Believing Jews pray or sing the Shema Yisrael, or Shema, just as Christians pray or sing the Our Father, the opening words giving their name to the whole prayer. Jews pray it twice a day and before sleeping.

The setting of the Shema in the video above is modern and joyful. Jesus would have prayed the Shema everyday and perhaps chanted it first as a child when St Joseph took him to the Temple and later when he went there as an adult.

And at the wedding in Cana Jesus would have danced with the other men in a style like that of the man in the video. The Shema is a profoundly joyful proclamation of faith in the one God.

Often enough I've heard people creating a gap between the two great commandments, which are a summary of the Ten Commandments. There is no such gap. You shall love your neighbor as yourself is a consequence of you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . just as in God’s plan being a father or mother is a consequence of being first of all a husband or wife.

In his homily at the opening of the Year of Faith on 11 October 2012 Pope Benedict said, Jesus is the centre of the Christian faith. The Christian believes in God whose face was revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the fulfilment of the Scriptures and their definitive interpreter. 

The testimony of the saints shows us men and women, young and old, even children, whose lives were focused on Jesus the Lord, God who became Man, and because of this gave themselves in the service of others. It is impossible to live the first great commandment without wanting to live the second. It is impossible to live the second without wanting to live the first.

On 21 October 2012 when he canonised seven new saints including St Pedro Calungsod, the young catechist-martyr from the central Philippines and St Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native North American saint, Pope Benedict underlined the mission of the saintsThe tenacious profession of faith of these seven generous disciples of Christ, their configuration to the Son of Man shines out brightly today in the whole Church. He used a term that St John Paul used many times in his apostolic exhortation of 1992, Pastores Dabo vobisconfiguration to the Son of Man.

St John Paul's document was about the ordained priesthood and he reminded priests in it a number of times that they were called to be configured to Christ. But here Pope Benedict is calling all of us to be such, that is to become, with God's grace, so like Jesus Christ that others will see him in us.

Jesus, as he quotes the Shema Yisrael in today's gospel, is not calling us to be 'nice' to others, but to be configured to him. He is calling us to be able to say with St Paul in Philippians 1:18, What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

The Holy Family
Four Jews: Jesus, Mary, St Joseph and St Anne

Go in Peace
Written and sung by Jude Nnam

This song from Nigeria echoes the words of the Shema in today's First Reading and quoted by Jesus in today's Gospel: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.



22 October 2021

'We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard.' Sunday Reflections, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B


Christ Healing the Blind (detail)
Lucas van Leyden [Web Gallery of Art]

Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind . . .  (Jeremiah 31:8; First Reading).

World Mission Sunday

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 10:46-52 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Christ Healing the Blind
Nicolas Colombel [Web Gallery of Art]

World Mission Sunday is observed on the second-last Sunday in October. This year's theme is We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).

Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in today's gospel, is an example of someone who cannot but speak about what he has heard, though not seen. He proclaims to the crowd who Jesus is: And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Clearly, Bartimaeus had heard from others about Jesus, individuals who lived by the words yet to be writtine in the Actos of the Apostles, We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard. Bartimaeus was a person on the fringes of society but with a determined streak in him. Though initially rebuffed by some who were following Jesus, he was encouraged by others when Jesus said Call him. They encouraged him: Take heart. Get up; he is calling you. Then Jesus showed Bartimaeus the exquisite courtesy of asking him, What do you want me to do for you? Jesus didn't say, I will restore your sight. He invited the blind man to articulate his need.

This tells us something about prayer of petition. God invites us to express our need, even though He knows what it is. And, as in a number of other healing stories where someone approached him Jesus said to Bartimaeus, Go your way; your faith has made you well. But St Mark indicates that he didn't 'go his way'. Rather, he followed him on the way.

In this incident Bartimaeus, without being aware of it, is a missionary. Having heard about Jesus from other 'anonymous missionaries', he cannot but speak about what he has seen and heard.

In 2005 I had an experience something like this, not from a blind beggar but from a 14-year-old girl whom I will call 'Gloria' - not her real name - who was the daughter of a blind beggar. I met her in a home for girls in Metro Manila run by the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family. Most of the 25 or 30 girls there had been living on the streets with their families.

I knew from the Sisters that Gloria suffered from asthma and that her family had been living on the streets. Later, after my conversation with her, they told me that her father was a blind beggar, like Bartimaeus. 

I was totally unprepared for the question Gloria asked me expressing her need: How can I offer my life to God? It is a question that still stuns me more than 16 years later. Not the question itself but the fact that it came from a young girl with absolutely nothing in life.

I tried to tell her that in time God would show her what He wanted her to do with her whole life but that right now He was asking her to do everything she did out of love for others. When she was cleaning or setting the table or washing the dishes or sweeping the floor she could do this with love for the other girls and the Sisters. I was trying to share with her the 'Little Way' of St Thérèse of Lisieux as I understood it. These were ways in which she could offer her life to God right now.

I also told Gloria that by taking care of herself, of her body, she would be doing what God wanted her to do right now. 'Even in the bathroom?' she asked. 'Even in the bathroom', I responded.

I have told the story of Gloria in places as far from each other as the Cathedral of Mary Immaculate Parish in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, to parishes in Melbourne, Australia, and Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. God granted me the grace to experience His presence in Gloria and in her question. The words We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard were spoken by St Peter and St John when they were brought before the religious authorities for healing a lame beggar in the name of Jesus at the gate of the Temple. Acts 4:13 shows how the religious authorities perceived the two apostles: Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

These men were hostile to the apostles but they saw the truth, though they rejected it. I too saw the reality of Gloria's background of utter poverty. And in my astonishment at her question I recognized that she had been with Jesus. Through her question she was sharing with me her faith in Jesus. And I, in trying to respond, was sharing my faith in Jesus with her.

I've no idea where Gloria is now. I know that a year or two after our conversation she went to live with relatives in one of the provinces near Manila. She is about 30 now. I often pray for her and invite you to do the same.

Fr Sean Brazil, a Columban who died on 8 October at the age of 89, tells a lovely story from his time in Korea starting at 2:43 in the video here.

Father Sean started fundraising for a new church. The first donation he received was a piggy-bank from a girl of about ten. He asked her why she had brought this gift for the new church. She answered, When I'm a grandmother and we walk by that church with my grandchildren, I can say I put the first brick in that church.

Each of us can make the same request of Jesus that Bartimaeus did: Rabbi, let me recover my sight - and we might add 'my hearing'. I mean the grace to see and hear God's presence in the fabric of our daily life. This is the life that Jesus lived for thirty years before beginning his public mission. So many around us, like Gloria and the little girl in Korea, without being aware of it, are living the words of the Acts of the Apostles and the theme of this year's World Mission Sunday, We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard.

African Credo - I Believe
Composed by Jude Nnam
Catholic Television Nigeria

Thanks again to The Catholic Thing for drawing this to my attention to this video filled with the joy of our faith.

14 October 2021

I thank God for the 'Yes' of my parents. Sunday Reflections, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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

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

Readings(New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 10:35-45 or 10:42-45 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

[James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.] 

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Christ in the Carpenter's Shop
Georges de la Tour [Web Gallery of Art]

In May 2008 I unexpectedly received an email from Michael in Australia whom I hadn't met or heard from since the summer of 1967 when we were working together on a building (construction) site in Dublin. I had just been ordained subdeacon and was to be ordained priest in December of that year. The general foreman on the site was my father, John.

In a later email Michael said, Your father was a great role model for me to try and emulate. I remember the first job that I met your father on, as he was the general foreman. It was the first job for me as a journeyman carpenter and it was a pleasant experience coming to work with such a pleasant gentleman giving the instructions.

My father a week before his sudden death on 11 August 1987

I wasn't at all surprised at Michael's words as I had heard others who had worked with my father say similar things. And when I worked under him myself that summer I could see what I had known before: he led by example. He never swore, never shouted at anyone and was most helpful to young workers and to young architects. He sometimes would laugh at home at the lack of experience of the latter in practical matters. But he also knew that you can only learn through experience - and with the help of mentors. And he was a real mentor to the same young architects. 
Many times before I took an important examination or was about to do something for the first time Dad would say, The experience will be good for you. There was never the hint of a demanding expectation. And I still find his words to be true.
But I often heard him speak with gratitude, respect and affection of general foremen under whom he had worked as an apprentice and as a young carpenter. One was Mr Grace, whom I never met. Two of his sons became Capuchin priests and three of his daughters religious sisters. Another was Mr Boyle, whom I did know. He and his wife in their old age were a handsome couple.
Dad was the same at home as he was on the construction site. He never raised his voice to his two sons or to our mother. He was courteous with everyone he met and was just himself in every situation.
His authority came from within. He was responsible and loving in everything he did. Every morning, after returning from a very early Mass, he prepared my mother's breakfast before heading for work. He started work on time and ended on time. But he wasn't a slave to the clock.

With my parents John and Mary and my brother Paddy after my ordination in St Mary's Pro-Cathedral Dublin, 20 December 1967

October os Mission Month in the Church  and next Sunday, 24  October, is Mission Sunday with the theme We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). In 2018, when the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, fell on Mission Sunday the theme was Christian Families are Missionary Families

I don't think that my parents, or any of their contemporaries in Ireland, saw themselves as missionaries. But they passed on the faith without being aware of it. When I was a child it was my father who took me to Sunday Mass. My mother went to a later Mass as she had to take care of my brother when he was still very young. My Dad used to take me to Solemn High Masses on days such as Easter Monday and Whit (Pentecost) Monday in the churches of the Dominicans and the Capuchins in Dublin. I didn't appreciate this at the time.
My mother used to take my brother and me to visit seven churches on the afternoon of Holy Thursday before the changes in Holy Week ceremonies in 1955 when they were moved from the morning to the afternoon/evening. There was solemn adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in each church or chapel we visited. Again, I didn't appreciate this at the time.
When I went to the Philippines in 1971 I was astonished to discover that this same practice, known there as Visita Iglesia, was very much alive in the larger cities, on the night of Holy Thursday, with many young people walking from one church to the next. Again, I thanked God for what my mother had invited me to do every Holy Thursday up to 1954 when I very reluctantly joined her.
Among the gifts I received from God through my parents was the living out of the words in today's gospel, whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. They served each other and they served us their two sons. They did this day in and day out, whatever their feelings might have been at any particular moment. As I grow old I just marvel at this as I marvel at newly-married couples willing to take on the same responsibilities with the children God will grant them.
I can see clearly now that my parents and so many others like then were missionaries in a very real sense, living out the promises they made when my brother and I were baptised. (Our Dad wasn't present at my brother's baptism because he was attending his mother's funeral that same day. In those days baptisms took place within a few days of birth, a commendable practice.)

In the current rite of the baptism of a child the priest asks the parents: You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

In responding with Yes, we do, parents undertake to be missionaries to their own children. I thank God for the Yes of my parents.

Bishop Edward Galvin, Columban Co-founder, baptising an infant in China

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
Played by Daniil Trifonov

Thanks to The Catholic Thing for drawing this to my attention.

07 October 2021

It is only St Mark who writes, 'Jesus, looking at him, loved him.' Sunday Reflections, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B


Jesus and the Rich Young Man
Beijiing, 1879 [Wikipedia

He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mark 1o:22).

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 10:17-30 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life".


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

This Sunday's Gospel in Filipino Sign Language

This incident is also recounted in the gospels of St Matthew and St Luke. It is St Matthew who tells us that the man who approached Jesus was young. Luke describes him as a ruler or aristocrat, depending on the translation. But it is only St Mark who writes, Jesus, looking at him, loved him . . .

John Profumo in 1960
(1915-2006) [Wikipedia]

During my summer vacation in 1963, my second since enering the the seminary, the biggest story in Britain and Ireland was that of a senior member of the Conservative Party and of the British government, John ProfumoHe had served with distinction in the British army in World War II, reaching the rank of Brigadier (General). He was independently wealthy. He became involved with a prostitute, Christine Keeler, who also had relations with  the senior Soviet naval attaché in London. Profumo denied in parliament that he had an improper relationship with Keeler. This was later shown to be untrue. He was later forced to resign for having lied to parliament. Before resigning from all his positions he confessed to his wife, Valerie Hobson, and she stood by him.

John Profumo disappeared from public life and spent many years as a volunteer washing dishes and cleaning toilets in a place called Toynbee Hall, a charity in the East End of London. As time went by he was able to use his skills to raise funds for the charity. I do not know anything about the faith of John Profumo, whose paternal ancestors were Italian aristocrats. He had the inherited title 'Fifth Baron Profumo', though he didn't use it. But Lord Longford (1905 - 2001), a Labour politician and social reform campaigner whose Catholic faith - he was a convert from Anglicanism - was the bedrock of everything he did, was quoted as saying that he, felt more admiration [for Profumo] than [for] all the men I've known in my lifetime'.

Unlike the man in the gospel, John Profumo had sinned. He lost his reputation but regained it as  people came to know what he had been doing after his downfall.

(1858-1916) [Wikipedia]

Last May Pope Francis approved the canonisation of Blessed Charles, usually referred to as 'Brother Charles' by those with a devotion to him. However, the date hasn't yet been set.

Fr Charles de Foucauld, was assassinated in the Sahara on 1 December 1916 when John Profumo was almost two. Like Profumo, he was born into wealth. Unlike the man in the gospel, he became a notorious playboy and was thrown out of the French army because of his behaviour. He went through a conversion experience at 28 and, again unlike the man in today's gospel, gave up everything. His subsequent journey in the Catholic faith led him to the priesthood and to the Sahara to live the life of Nazareth as he understood it.

Brother Charles, as he was known, died alone. He had drawn up a rule for a religious congregation to live the life of Nazareth in the desert. I once read that one person joined him for a short while. But in the 1920s his life and writings led to the founding of two religious congregations, the Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little Sisters of Jesus, both of which have communities in the Philippines. The Little Sisters have a community in Northern Ireland. Here is a lovely story about a Polish sister in that community: Sister Asia, the nun who closed an Irish pub.

There are a number of other congregations that have adapted the rule that Brother Charles wrote.

Little Sister Goneswary Subramaniam LSJ

The Little Brothers and the Little Sisters live among the poor, support themselves by taking manual jobs. The January-February 2005 issue of Misyon, the Columban magazine in the Philippines of which I was then editor, carried an article, Working Sisters, in which Little Sister Goneswary Subramaniam LSJ from Sri Lanka writes about her job sewing in a garment factory in Quezon City, Metro Manila, and Little Sister Annarita Zamboni LSJ from Italy about working as a lavandera, a laundry woman. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is at the heart of the life of each community of the Little Brothers, some of whom are priests, and of the Little Sisters and neighbours are invited to join.

Blessed Charles was a diocesan priest, though definitely not a conventional one. But a more conventional diocesan priest, played a central role in his conversion, Fr Henri Huvelin.

Fr Henri Huvelin
(1830-1910) [Wikipedia]

Among the groups inspired by Blessed Charles is the Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests, a movement that adapts his spirituality to the lives of pastoral priests, mainly diocesan, though not exclusively. [That website has links to other branches of the De Foucauld family, including the Little Brothers and the Little Sisters.]

Troubled by the words of Jesus, Peter said, See, we have left everything and followed you. Jesus replied, Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

Charles de Foucauld experienced the joy of doing God's will, with persecutions in his violent death, but the houses and brothers and sisters . . . didn't come till some years after his death. And when Cardinal José Saraiva Martins beatified Brother Charles in Rome on 13 November 2005 the Church confirmed that he had indeed attained eternal life from the moment of his death and that he was a model of holiness who could guide us as we try to follow Jesus.

Blessed Charles saw clearly what the young man in the gospel, who didn't sin but had no idea of the riches he was spurning, didn't see: that Jesus was looking upon him and loved him

Prayer of Abandonment of Blessed Charles de Foucauld

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures -
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

This prayer is recited in the Charles de Foucauld video above beginning at 3:38. 



The Rosary with the Great Artists

October is the month of the Holy Rosary. The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is celebrated on 7 October. Here are the links to the four sets of mysteries.

The Virgin Mary

Virgin and Child with a Rosary

The Virgin Showing the Man of Sorrows
Hans Memling [Web Gallery of Art]

Madonna of the Rosary
Lorenzo Lotto [Web Gallery of Art]