26 January 2023

'God chose what is low and despised in the world . . .' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A


Jesus gives the Beatitudes

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 5:1-12a [or 4:12-17] (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on.”

Léachtaí i nGaeilge 


The Beatitudes

Down Syndrome Abortion Rate

study of abortions in the United States from 1995-2011 found that 67% of women who were told their baby would have Down syndrome decided to abort. This number is much higher in other countries. BBC reports that 90% of women in England whose babies are diagnosed with Down syndrome choose to abort . . . We see that trend in other countries as well. For instance, the Life Institute reports that in Iceland, nearly 100% of babies with Down syndrome are aborted. And in Germany, more than 90% of babies with Down syndrome are aborted.

Pope Francis

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” (Laudato Si’, No 120).

Lala with Jordan
L'Arche, Cainta, near Manila. I have known both for many years.

Second Reading. 1Corinthians 1:26-31

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Lala and Hachiko, each looking more content than the other!

Sadly, this beautiful dog died not long afterwards, choking on a chicken bone.

Traditional Latin Mass

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 1-29-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: Romans 13:8-10Gospel: Matthew 8:23-27.

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

20 January 2023

'The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A


San Giorgio Maggiore at Dawn
Joseph Mallord William Turner [Web Gallery of Art]

For those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned (Mt 4:16, Gospel; see Isaiah 9:2, First Reading).

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA) 

Gospel Matthew 4:12-23 [or 4:12-17] (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,

    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

[While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.]

Léachtaí i nGaeilge 

Matthew 4:12-23 in Filipino Sign Language

Last Sunday in the Philippines was the Feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child). The gospel was Matthew 18:1-5, 10 in which Jesus tells us, Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I saw his words come to life nine years ago at the end of Mass in Holy FamilyHome for Girls in Bacolod City. I lived in that city from 2002 until 2017.

In January 2014 four new girls arrived at the home. One, whom I'll call 'Josie', was aged 14 and was profoundly deaf. Her main way of communicating was Sign Language. The Sisters, staff and some of the girls began to learn some Sign Language. The other three new girls included two aged ten and one aged six.

At the end of Mass I saw 'Josie' sitting and quietly crying. I wasn't quite sure why. One of the ten-year-old new girls, rather small for her age but very lively and whom I'll call 'Grace', went over to 'Josie' and put her arms around her to comfort her. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The majority of the girls in Holy Family Home have had horrific experiences, in most cases within their own wider family circle. They truly know what it is to be dwelling in darkness.

['Josie' was able to go home in 2016. We discovered that she had some hearing and, with hearing aids, she has improved her speech and hearing considerably. The other three girls were still at Holy Family Home when I left the Philippines in June 2017].

The Virgin and Child with St Martina and St Agnes

In my latter years in Bacolod City I used to celebrate Mass again in Holy Family Home on to mark the feast of St Agnes, 21 January. Each year we combined a celebration of St Agnes the Martyr (c.291 - c.304), patron saint of chastity, of young girls and of rape victims, and Blessed Laura Vicuña (1891 - 1904), a patron of abuse victims who offered her life for the conversion of her mother and whose feast day is 22 January.

Each year I told the girls that the life of Blessed Laura, whose father died when she was young, was so like their own and that she became a saint in the midst of and through her sufferings, especially the cruelty of her stepfather who wasn't married to her mother. Despite her young age she had the maturity, generosity and holiness to offer her life so that her mother would return to the Lord. She told this to her mother when she, Laura, was dying. It was the physical abuse of her stepfather that led to her death. Laura's prayers were answered.

Blessed Laura Vicuña [Wikipedia]

Laura understood the stark reality of the words of Jesus in today's gospel: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. She also understood the power of God's mercy. In Holy Family Home I frequently made myself available for confession and many of the girls would come. Sometimes I girl would ask me if I could hear her confession.

Holy Family Home exists because of the sins of adults against girls, some only small children. It is a place where most of the girls have been among those who are dwelling in the region and shadow of death. I have brought many visitors there and the one word they nearly all have used to sum up their experience is 'joy', a joy they find among the girls and among the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family and the staff. Those who live there are a testimony to the truth of the words of Isaiah that we listen to in the First Reading and the Gospel this Sunday and that we listened to at the Mass During the Night at Christmas: 

The people who walked in darkness    
   have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,   
   on them has light shined.

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

The second part of today's gospel tells us of the call of the first disciples who were later called to be apostles, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. Immediately they left their nets . . . Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Yet we know from the gospels that they continued to fish from time to time and to encounter stormy weather.

In the Philippines most fishermen are poor and go to sea in very small boats. In some countries larger boats go far from land and often encounter very dangerous weather. And a very large percentage of international seafarers are Filipinos.

In our prayers to day let us remember our fishermen, our seafarers and those involved in rescue work at sea. Let us also remember the members of a number of European navies who in recent years have saved countless refugees travelling in unsafe boats from north Africa to southern Europe. Tragically, many refugees never make it.

Traditional Latin Mass

Third Sunday After the Epiphany

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 1-22-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: Romans 12:16-21. Gospel: Matthew 8:1-13.

Book Cover
Unknown French Master [Web Gallery of Art]
Below left: Jesus healing a leper (Matthew 8:1-4; today's Gospel).

13 January 2023

Our deepest identity. Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A


Directed by Philip Saville

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


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel John 1:29-34 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Léachtaí i nGaeilge 

Fr Barry Cairns and Mr  Dismas Shigeru Kato 

Fr Barry Cairns, a Columban priest born in New Zealand in 1931 who is still enthusiastically  testifying in Japan that this is the Son of God tells a story in a number of our Columban magazines of one of his parishioners, Mr Dismas Shigeru Kato, who is doing the same in his 90s.He became a Catholic as an adult. Only about one person out of 200 in Japan is a Catholic.  Father Barry tells us about his parishioner when they were both younger.

I would like to introduce Mr Dismas Shigeru Kato. He was born 91 years ago in a small fishing village called Kushimoto in Wakayama Province of Japan. In his youth and when drafted into the wartime army he built up a massive debt for alcohol at different bars.

Then he got married. His wife was very patient with him. Mr Kato worked for the Kansai Electric Power Company. He cared for external power lines. He was paying off his debts bit by bit.

Then Mr Kato became a Christian, first with the local Protestant Church and later the Catholic Church where he was baptized. He chose as his baptismal name Dismas, which is the traditional name of the penitent brigand on a cross beside Jesus at his crucifixion.

At this time I was pastor of Kushimoto which was one of the smallest parishes in Japan. It was definitely a mission of primary contact to the un-evangelized! At Sunday Mass we had 5-10 people attending. However after Mass, 50 non-Christian children from the village came for Sunday school. Mr Kato's daughter, Majimi, was the only Christian.

It was here that Mr Dismas Shigeru Kato really shone in the darkness. For the children we used a projector showing a film strip about a small Catholic boy in Africa. Remember this was before TV came into the village. The film strip was in colour and most extensive with many episodes. Mr Kato would study each episode during the week and in the darkness needed for the projector could tell the story without looking at the script. Each character in the story was given in its own distinctive voice. It was a masterful and captivating presentation. I often heard the children discussing both the developing story and its Christian message.

At this time too Mr Kato was giving witness in another field. The Kansai Electric Company had a trade union seminar. The subject was traffic safety. During the open discussion Mr Kato stood up and said: ‘As many of you know I am a Christian. You have probably heard that Christ 2,000 years ago was strong on love of others. A modern aspect of love of neighbour is safe driving. Let the driver be concerned and respectful for others who use the road. Aggressive, dangerous driving can be a form of self-centredness. Careful, considerate driving is a form of love of neighbor. Let this be our motive for safe driving.’

A moment of spontaneous reflective silence was followed by massive applause. This was a new, different, and appealing approach.

The provincial section of the newspaper featured Mr Kato and his talk emphasising motivation for safe driving instead of just keeping rules for their own sake.

At 91 Shigeru Kato has moved into a Catholic-run retirement home. Here he is a leader of a group who pray the Rosary together.

I pray for more like Mr Kato to evangelize this nation of Japan.


Mr Kato's life, where his Catholic Christian faith permeates everything he does, reflects the spirit of the Letter to Diognetus, written in the second century, which speaks of how we Christians are meant to live in the world. We can get a flavour of it here.

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe . . . They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.

People in many countries, and many here in Ireland itself, were utterly shocked and disheartened at the many voters here in recent referendums  - one in 2015 that re-defined marriage as no longer necessarily involving a man and a woman, the other in 2018 to do with the sacredness of the life of the unborn child - who saw no connection between their faith and the way they voted. We can never separate the reality that through our baptism we become the beloved sons and daughters of God the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and of one another, from the reality of our daily lives and our lives as citizens. Everything is meant to be permeated by that marvellous truth in which we find our deepest identity, the truth that by baptism we are the beloved sons and daughters of God the Father.

Composed by Saburo Takada

This Japanese hymn is based on Matthew 11:28-30. Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Feast of the Santo Niño (Philippines)

Señor Santo Niño de Cebú
You will find Sunday Reflections for the Feast of the Santo Niño, observed this year on 15 January, here.

Traditional Latin Mass

Second Sunday After the Epiphany

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 1-15-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: Romans 12:6-16. Gospel: John 2:1-11.

Marriage at Cana (detail)

Paolo Veronese [Web Gallery of Art]

11 January 2023

'A Christian disciple': Cardinal George Pell on Pope Benedict XVI


Cardinal George Pell
19 June 1941 - 10 January 2023

I woke up around 3:30 this morning and before going back to sleep I checked the news on my phone. I was shocked to read of the death in Rome just a few hours earlier of Cardinal George Pell. Beside me on the bed was the third and last volume of his Prison Journal, which has been my night time reading recently.


Though I never met Cardinal Pell, I had come to know him through his prison writings. One thing he mentioned frequently was his hope that he would be released having been found innocent of charges of the abuse of two altar-servers for which he had been jailed, not only for his own sake as an innocent man but more for the sake of the Church.


I came to know a man who in his daily diary could be reflecting on the readings in the Office of Readings in the Breviary, the praying of which each day sustained him, and then going on to comment on a cricket match or an Australian Rules football match, which he could watch on TV. He frequently quoted extracts from letters he received from all over the world, letters which gave him hope and courage. He mentioned a letter from a 'carpenter and historian' in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic where I have spent short periods as a priest in 2000, 2017 and 2019. I think that that is a person who regularly reads Sunday Reflections on this blog.


The Cardinal mentioned the Columbans a number of times and wrote about his friend Fr Robert McCulloch, a Columban in Rome who was a good friend of his.

Among Cardinal Pell's regular correspondents were some other prisoners whom he was never able to meet. He tried to answer their letters. In other words, he was ministering to these, just as St Paul ministered to the early Christians while he was a prisoner, and as two Columbans, Fr Brian Gore, an Australian, and the late Fr Niall O'Brien from Ireland, ministered to their fellow prisoners in Bacolod City nearly 40 years ago. They were part of the Negros Nine, three priests and six lay leaders falsely charged with murder in the Philippines. Like Cardinal Pell they were eventually acquitted.

In his Prison Journal Cardinal Pell comes across as a prayerful man of solid faith with a quiet, manly piety. He speaks well of his fellow prisoners and of the prison staff, while mentioning incidents that seemed to show at times either incompetence or pettiness. But he frequently writes about acts of real kindness by staff and by prisoners.  In the second jail where he spent time  he was able to share some facilities with a small group of other prisoners.

Even before his ordeal I admired Cardinal Pell for his clarity while speaking of some Church teachings that many find unpalatable. He was quite aware that he was a divisive figure in some ways. When asked by Pope Francis to go to the Vatican to clean up many financial anomalies there he met considerable resistance.

In either Volume One or Volume Two of his Prison Journal Cardinal Pell suggested that there are certain hymns that men or boys won't sing. He was really saying that they need manly hymns and gave two examples that his contemporaries in St Patrick's, Ballarat, Victoria, a boys' school, enjoyed singing.  One was Faith of Our Fathers, written by Father Frederick Faber, an Englishman who lived in the Oratory in Birmingham when Cardinal Newman was there. There are two different tunes to this hymn. I suspect that the tune used in St Patrick's was the one used in Ireland rather than the one that is popular in the USA. It used to be sung before major Gaelic Football and Hurling matches in Ireland 

In the early 1950s when I was a child our parish in Dublin introduced the other hymn that Cardinal Pell mentioned, We Stand for God. It was the one hymn I loved to sing with all my heart because it had a rousing quality to it. I discovered recently that the melody was that of the anthem of the Papal States and that was a hymn to the Blessed Mother.

At the end of the interview above by Colm Flynn of EWTN, an Irish journalist, Cardinal Pell was asked to summarize Benedict XVI in one word. He offered two words: Christian disciple. Neither the interviewer nor the interviewee could have imagined that the Cardinal would be dead just over a week later. May he and Benedict XVI, both faithful Christian disciples, rest in peace.

05 January 2023

Jesus identifies himself with us even though he is pure love. Sunday Reflections, The Baptism of the Lord, Year A


Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Where the Epiphany is celebrated this year on its proper date, Friday 6 January, e.g.,England & Wales and in Ireland, the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on Sunday 8 January this year, bringing the Christmas Season to an end, with the First Week of Ordinary Time beginning on Monday 9 January.

In countries where the celebration of the Epiphany is transferred to Sunday 8 January this year the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on Monday 9 January and Ordinary Time begins on Tuesday 9 January. These countries include Australia, Philippines, Scotland and the USA

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 3:13-17 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Léachtaí i nGaeilge 

Baptism of Christ, 1596-1600

El Greco painted the Baptism of Christ a number of times. In the painting above he shows Jesus kneeling before his cousin St John the Baptist, as does Pasolini in his film The Gospel According to Matthew, with nothing, just as John had nothing. Both were totally open to the will of God the Father.

For me one of the most astonishing realities in the baptism of Jesus is that he lined up with everyone else, all of whom were sinners. All those present, except John, would have presumed that Jesus was just another sinner like themselves. This shows the extent of God’s love for us as sinners, that God who became Man, Jesus, allowed himself to be seen as a sinner.

It is here that God the Father proclaims, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. The Father uses the very same words at the Transfiguration, with the words listen to him added (Mt 17:5). In the latter Peter, James and John the Apostle had caught a glimpse of the reality that Jesus is God. At the baptism the people saw someone they presumed to be a sinner.

Lawrence Wren
(1922 - 2016) [Photo: RTÉ]

Lawrence Wren, a former head of the Irish police who died in 2016, lived near my brother in Dublin. I remember when he held that position he used to stand outside the parish church after all the Masses on one Sunday of the month with other members of the St Vincent de Paul Society collecting money to help the poor. There was nothing to indicate who he was or the very important position he held. I was always struck by that and that he and his family lived in an ordinary house just like everyone else.

The fact that Jesus identified himself, in effect, as a sinner, shows that God is not ashamed of us despite our sins. He identifies himself with us even though he is pure love, utter sinlessness.

And just as God the Father proclaims Jesus as my Son, the Beloved, at his baptism, he does the same with us at our baptism which, unlike the baptism of John, makes us God’s very own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of Jesus and therefore brothers and sisters of one another. This is our deepest identity.

Mass for Four Voices: Kyrie
Composed by William Byrd, sung by The Tallis Scholars

Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy

Traditional Latin Mass

Feast of the Holy Family

First Sunday After the Epiphany

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 1-8-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: Colossians 3:12-17Gospel: Luke 2:42-52.

Christ Among the Doctors
Abraham Danielsz Hondius [Web Gallery of Art]