29 April 2022

'Do you love me? Follow me'. Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C


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

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. (John 21:18, today's Gospel).

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

Readings(New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

GospelJohn 21:1-19 [1-14] (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

[When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”]

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Director: Philip Saville; Narrator: Christopher Plummer 
[Today's Gospel ends at 5:00]

Fr Keith Gorman
(21 January 1920 - 19 December 2016)

Fr Keith Gorman was a Columban priest from Australia who worked for many years in Japan. I met him a number of times and was always struck by his delightful sense of humour and how he grew old gracefully. In one of the articles he wrote for Columban magazines he stated that his idea of heaven was having breakfast with Jesus on the shores of eternity. He clearly had today's gospel in mind. 

This is a gospel I often return to. Imagine being served breakfast by Jesus himself, as the seven apostles were on that blessed morning! And the second part, which will surely and unfortunately be omitted by many priests who will choose the shorter gospel, is for me one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. Jesus is calling us into a deep intimacy with him. He addresses his question Do you love me? not only to St Peter but to each one of us today.

It is in that context that he tells Peter Feed my lambs . . . Tend my sheep . . . Feed my sheep. Jesus emphasises the relationship of intimacy with him as being fundamental, not the mission on which he sends us. Being sent on mission is a consequence of being invited into a deep, personal and intimate relationship with him.

For me as a priest today's gospel tells me that I must put prayer at the very centre of my life, not only the official prayer of the Church - the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Breviary, the Sacraments - but personal prayer.  The same applies to all who are called by God to the single life as priests, as religious, as lay persons.

Today's gospel is a call to married persons to put their spousal relationship at the centre of their lives. Through the Sacrament of Matrimony Jesus himself is the foundation of that relationship. And it is the bride and groom who confer that sacrament on each other, not the priest. He is a witness on behalf of the Church to their exchange of vows.

The first question Jesus puts to Peter is, Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? I understand this to mean 'Do you love me more than the others love me?' Husbands and wives are called by God to love each other more than anyone else loves them - including their children and their parents. And I take it to mean also that God calls them to love each other more than they love their children and their parents.

This does not mean loving anyone less, but rather drawing their children, especially, into their love for each other, a love that is based on God's love for them as a couple.

I truly believe that when their children become more important for spouses than they do for each other their marriage is heading for trouble. The same applies, I believe, to priests and religious who place their work, no matter how important and good in itself it may be, above their personal relationship with the Lord Jesus.

I once heard a boy of around 11 in the Philippines say, What I love most about my parents is that they are always together. He felt drawn into their love for each other, the same love that led to his being born. 

A teenage girl in the Philippines who had been abused told me how she was drawn to Jesus by a very poor black-and-white copy of Rembrandt's painting below.

Young Jew as Christ 
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

My young friend said to me, He looks so human. She was basically expressing a desire to be close to Jesus, which is the desire Jesus has for her and for each of us.

For married couples, if God grants them children, Feed my lambs means primarily taking care of their children until they are ready to take on the responsibility of being adults. My mother often reminded me that when I'd be 21 - the then legal age of majority in Ireland, now 18 - I would be responsible for myself. I never took this to be an admonishment but rather as her giving me something valuable to aspire to. This, along with how I saw her and my father carrying out their responsibilities, was also a way in which they carried out the words of Jesus, Feed my lambs

Countless single individuals, never married or widowed, with a deep sense of the love of Jesus for them have 'fed the lambs and sheep' because of that relationship. Many of us have been strengthened in our faith or have grown in our awareness of God's love for us through such persons. Often enough I have written here about Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati. St John Paul II, who beatified him, said of him, I, too, in my youth, felt the beneficial influence of his example and, as a student, I was impressed by the force of his Christian testimony.

The First Reading expresses in a different way the centrality of our invitation from Jesus to enter into an intimate relationship with him: But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men'. In other words, as Christians we are meant to live the values of Our Lord Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives.

As it happens, there are elections in Northern Ireland on Thursday 5 May and in the Philippines on Monday 9 May. Will those involved in these elections allow the values of the gospel to determine how they vote? How we vote is also a way to Feed my lambs . . . Tend my sheep . . . Feed my sheep. How we vote is meant to be a consequence of the intimate relationship into which Jesus calls us within the Church. And when it comes to legislators making laws that are contrary to God's will, as some laws are, we must make the words of St Peter our own: We must obey God rather than men.

How do we do this? By accepting the invitation of Jesus: Follow me.

Worthy is the Lamb
from Messiah by Handel
Performed by Academy of Ancient Music with Voces8
Conducted by Barnaby Smith

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by his blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever (from Apocalypse/Revelation 5:12-13, today’s Second Reading).

[Handel used the King James translation, slightly adapted.]

Traditional Latin Mass

St Joseph the Worker

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 05-01-2022 if necessary).

EpistleColossians. 3:14-15, 17, 23-24Gospel: Matthew 13:54-58.

The Childhood of Christ
Gerrit van Honthorst [Web Gallery of Art]

There is an essay on this painting and on the feast on the website of Magnificat here.

28 April 2022

Death of Columban Fr Patrick Clarke


Fr Patrick Clarke

22 March 1931 - 26 April 2022

Remember in your prayers the soul of Columban Fr Patrick 'Paddy' Clarke who died peacefully in the early hours of Tuesday 26 April.

Father Paddy worked for thirty years in Japan and when he came back to Ireland spent eleven years in St Jude's Parish, Templeogue, Dublin, not far from where he grew up. He was much loved there  for his gentleness and kindness and many of the parishioners attended his funeral here in St Columban's, Dalgan Park, this morning.

A unique experience for me at Father Paddy's funeral Mass was that he had written the homily himself, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-7, the First Reading, and Mark 12:28-34, the Gospel, both of which he had chosen for his funeral Mass. 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.

Father Paddy's obituary is on the website of the Columbans in Ireland here. May he rest in peace.

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
Composed by JS Bach, transcribed for piano by Myra Hess
played by Daniil Trifonov

Father Paddy loved classical music, piano music in particular.

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park, Ireland

21 April 2022

'So that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ . . .' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)


The Incredulity of St Thomas
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

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

Readings(New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

GospelJohn 20:19-31 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

John 20:19-31 from The Gospel of John (2003) 
Directed by Philip SavilleNarrator: Christopher Plummer

In 2007, during a visit to Canada I was asked to give a talk to a prayer group. Afterwards, over coffee, I was chatting with one of the members, an elderly immigrant from Germany, who told me how she had become a Catholic. She had been raised as a Lutheran and had been on the verge of joining the Catholic Church for a long time but could not take the final step.

One weekday afternoon, feeling somewhat down because of this she went for a walk. She was perhaps somewhat like St Thomas when he said, Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. She happened to pass by a Catholic church and decided to go in. While she was there a group of teenage boys came in, went up to the front of the church, genuflected before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, knelt down for a couple of minutes, stood up, genuflected again and went on their way.

These boys were expressing what the Church has always taught: Do not, then, regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.

You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ. You know also how David referred to this long ago when he sang: Bread gives strength to man’s heart and makes his face shine with the oil of gladness. Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul. (From The Jerusalem Catecheses, used in the Office of Readings for Saturday within the Octave of Easter.) 

This is the reason that Fr Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain to the Paris Fire Brigade, rescued the Blessed Sacrament from the burning Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Holy Week of 2019.

The visit of those Canadian teenage boys to the Blessed Sacrament was the German woman's My Lord and my God! moment. She became a Catholic shortly afterwards. Those boys had no idea of how their simple expression of their faith had so profoundly touched the life of a person whom they may not have even noticed.

The moment that St Thomas said My Lord and my God! was truly an 'eternal' moment. It led to his martyrdom and to his living with God for all eternity. 

My German-Canadian friend's moment is 'eternal' in the same way. It led her into a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus and with all the members of the Church and pointing towards an eternity with God himself.

Every such moment in our lives is meant to be eternal, a moment when we experience the presence of God's love so clearly, a moment that we continue to carry with us, sometimes consciously but perhaps more often not being aware of it, a moment that leads us to eternal life.

I think that we may legitimately think of those many moments in the way St John in his gospel writes of the many other signs [miracles] that Jesus did, which are not written in this book. These moments are graces given by God so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The Mar Thoma Sliva or Saint Thomas Cross, the symbol of the Syro-Malabar Church [Wikipedia]

As of December 2018 nearly nine per cent of nurses in the Republic of Ireland were from India. Most of these nurses are Catholics from Kerala who belong to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church that traces its origins back to St Thomas the Apostle. These, as well as the Syro-Malankara Catholics in Kerala, are in full communion with Rome. 

I have met many Keralite Catholics here in Ireland and also in Britain and know how fervent they are in living their faith.There are Masses in the Syro-Malabar Rite every Sunday in the Archdiocese of Dublin and in some other places, including the parish of Johnstown-Walterstown, which includes St Columban's, Dalgan Park, where I live.

May St Thomas the Apostle, whose My Lord and my God! is the most explicit expression of faith in Jesus Christ in the whole of the New Testament, continue to watch over them. 

Syro-Malabar Hallelujah

Traditional Latin Mass

Low Sunday

The Octave Day of Easter

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 04-24-2022 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 John 5:4-10.  Gospel: John 20:19-31.

St Thomas the Apostle 
Jusepe Martínez [Web Gallery of Art]

My Lord and my God!

19 April 2022

Death of Columban Fr Noel Doyle


Fr Noel Doyle
24 September 1935 - 15 April 2022

Please remember in your prayers the soul of Columban Father Noel Doyle who died peacefully in the early hours of Good Friday and was buried here in St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park, Ireland, yesterday, Easter Monday.

Father Noel spent most of his life as a missionary priest in Japan. His obituary is here.

Hamabe no Uta - Song of the Seashore
Composer: Tamezō Narita
[The instrument in the middle is an erhu]

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park, Ireland

14 April 2022

'We need to see and hear and feel Christ through another . . .' Sunday Reflections, Easter, Year C


The Resurrection of Christ

Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

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

 ReadingsEaster Sunday (Jerusalem Bible)

ReadingsEaster Vigil (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

ReadingsEaster Sunday (New American Bible)

GospelEaster Vigil Luke 24:1-12 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marvelling at what had happened.

The Resurrection

Gospel Easter Sunday John 20:1-9 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going towards the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

The Gospel of the Easter Vigil may also be used.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge Aifreann an Domhnaigh

Regina Coeli
Sung at a Vigil for Life in Notre-Dame de Paris
22 May 2012

Queen of heaven rejoice, alleluia!
for he whom you were worthy to bear, alleluia!
has risen as he said, alleluia!
Pray for us to God, alleluia!

Dear brothers and sisters! The risen Christ is journeying ahead of us towards the new heavens and the new earth (cf. Rev 21:1), in which we shall all finally live as one family, as sons and daughters of the same Father. He is with us until the end of time. Let us walk behind him, in this wounded world, singing Alleluia. In our hearts there is joy and sorrow, on our faces there are smiles and tears. Such is our earthly reality. But Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us. For this reason we sing and we walk, faithfully carrying out our task in this world with our gaze fixed on heaven.

Happy Easter to all of you! (Pope Benedict, Easter Sunday 2011).

I have told the following story before here and on many other occasions, especially giving retreats. Each time I share it or recall it I experience the truth of Pope Benedict's words, Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us. I have also learned that persons with a deep, committed faith can sometimes be very fragile.

Forty-one years ago I spent part of a summer working in a suburban parish in the USA. One night at around 11 I did something I rarely did: make a late night phone call, and for no other reason than to say 'Hi'. I phoned a friend who was a teacher whom I had first met twelve years earlier when I was a young priest and she a generous, idealistic but confused 16-year-old. I'll call her 'Lily' since that flower is often associated with Easter in northern climes. Over the years I saw 'Lily' very rarely as I was in the Philippines.


I was shocked when 'Lily' answered. Her speech was slurred. She told me she had taken an overdose of a drug prescribed for a serious illness she had. I told her I would come over immediately but she said she would not let me in. She lived on her own but near her parents, about thirty minutes from where I was. I took another priest with me.

'Lily', of course, let us in. We spent about three hours with her. I was satisfied that what she had taken wasn't enough to kill her and that she wouldn't do anything drastic in the meantime. I promised to return in the morning.

I spent most of the next two days with 'Lily'. I called her doctor and also phoned a helpline for those dealing with or attempting suicide. 

I had seen 'Lily' grow in her faith over the years. After qualifying as a teacher she chose to teach in a parochial elementary school rather than in a public school, even though the salary was lower. She had a sense of mission. She came from a Catholic family but was aware since her childhood of her father's infidelity. But when she had attempted suicide when about 17 she saw her parents' great love for her, despite everything.

Yet it was something her mother said to her that had triggered off this latter attempt at suicide. 'Lily' felt that she wasn't living up to her mother's expectations. I think it was during the second morning I was with 'Lily' that she asked me, 'What are your expectations of me?' I answered, 'I don't have any expectations, only hopes'.

Hearing the word 'only hopes' was the turning point. That was when 'Lily' decided to live.

A few days later ‘Lily’ came to the parish where I was working for confession and Mass and she was truly filled with the joy that only the Lord can give. She also wrote me a long letter - she was a wonderful letter-writer - about her experience. 

Woman Writing a Letter
Gerard Terborch [Web Gallery of Art]

In her letter 'Lily' said: I have come to learn more about myself - as a 'vulnerable' yet 'hopeful' person, and yet even more important - I feel that my relationship with the Lord has deepened. I have a deeper hunger to be united with Him on a more intimate and dependent level.

Further on 'Lily' wrote: Most times we need to see and hear and feel Christ through another, to be able to believe in Him more faithfully and securely . . . I realize that years and years of therapy can amount to nothing unless the Lord is a very central part of it. I was able to share my fears, hurts, confusion, pain and - thank God - tears with you in and through the anointing of your priesthood . . .

I find 'Lily's' words echoed in those of Pope Francis when he celebrated Mass on Holy Thursday 2013 in Casal del Marmo Prison for Minors. He ended his homily with these words: Now we will perform this ceremony of washing feet, and let us think, let each one of us think: 'Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?' Let us think about this, just this. And let us think that this sign is a caress of Jesus, which Jesus gives, because this is the real reason why Jesus came: to serve, to help us.

After the Mass Pope Francis met with the prisoners and said, Go forward, alright? And do not let yourselves be robbed of hope, do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Understood? Always with hope. Go forward! Thank you

In his final greetings as he was leaving Pope Francis said, Now I leave. Thank you so much for your welcome. Pray for me and do not let yourselves be robbed of hope. Always go forward! Thank you so much! [Emphases mine.]

The following summer, at the end of a sabbatical, I was in that same parish again. I met up with 'Lily'. She told me that she didn't think she had long to live. Knowing something of her medical history I took her seriously and we had a very deep and faith-filled conversation about that. There was nothing morbid about it. We were facing a reality but with faith and hope in the Resurrection. Afterwards we had lunch together in a restaurant and our conversation was totally lighthearted.

That was the last time we met. 'Lily' died peacefully a few months later at the age of 29. I know from those who were with her at the time that she did so as one who had faithfully carried out her task in this world with her gaze fixed on heaven, to use the words of Pope Benedict above.

I learned from that experience that there are persons of deep faith who can be very fragile. I have seen that in others subsequently. 

I also saw God's utter love. Why did I make that late night phone call? I can see the Lord's hand in that visit. And I know that I was the only person whom 'Lily' could totally confide in at that time. Somehow it has been easier to share the past month's conflicts, feelings, tears and hopes with you which have built up over the years than with anyone else.

Lent and Easter is a prolonged moment every year when Jesus the Risen Lord says to each of us what Pope Francis said three times to the young prisoners last Thursday: Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope.

Through God's mercy nearly 40 years ago the same Risen Lord said to my friend 'Lily', Do not let yourself be robbed of hope - and she took him at his word.

'Lily' died peacefully the following year having received the Last Sacraments and ready to accept death at the age of 29. May she enjoy the fulness of the Resurrection.

Jesus is Risen
Flashmob, Beirut, Lebanon

This is one of the most joyful proclamations of the Resurrection I have ever come across. It is also a reminder to us that most Christians in the Middle East, including Lebanon, are Arabs whose language is Arabic, the language in which this Easter hymn is sung by professional singers.