28 April 2023

'But in the end, my life is a grace, filled with surprises.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Easter, Year A


The Good Shepherd
Marten van Cleve the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel: John 10:1-10 (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

Jesus said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Brother Richie Fernando SJ
27 February 1970 - 17 October 1996

I remember vividly reading of the death in Cambodia on 17 October 1996 of Brother Richard Michael R. Fernando SJ, known as ‘Richie’. As a missionary priest in the Philippines I felt both pride and sorrow that a young Filipino preparing for the priesthood had given his life for others without a moment’s hesitation at the Jesuit-run Banteay Prieb, 'Centre of the Dove', in Phnom Penh where the residents were young Cambodians who had lost limbs from the many landmines scattered around the country.

A young man named Sarom, who had been asked to leave the Centre, came that day to a meeting. He entered a classroom where there were many young people and took a hand-grenade out of his bag, intending to throw it. Brother Richie, who had been assigned to Cambodia for two years as part of his preparation for the priesthood, grabbed Sarom from behind. But the grenade fell on the floor. Brother Richie covering it with his body. He died instantly but nobody else was even injured.

The one word used by those who knew Brother Richie well was ‘joy’, the joy that Jesus spoke about the night before he died: I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete (John 15:11). These words echo those at the end of today’s Gospel: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

On 12 October, five days before his death, BrotherRichie wrote this letter to his friend, Fr Totet Banaynal SJ, who was then a brother:

I only have the will to cause things to happen. Maybe my will is powerful enough. I know where my heart is...it is with Jesus Christ, Jesus who gave His all for the poor, the sick, the orphan. I feel as if I’m beginning to understand more when I say: I want to be like Christ; I will follow Jesus; I’m Jesus’ friend and companion; I am a Jesuit; I know where my heart is.

I remember you shared before that ‘I can die for Cambodia.’ I honestly believe that to die for our poor friends here will be the greatest gift that God can give us. And I continually pray for that grace every day.

I discovered my life is not a project nor a programme. I know I can choose and will things to happen. But in the end, my life is a grace, filled with surprises. It becomes sweeter when I accept and appreciate my life as it is... and our friendship... it wasn’t a project. It was grace and we build on that grace.

Brother Richie wrote in his retreat diary on 3 January 1996: I wish, when I die people remember Not how great, powerful, or talented I was But that I served and spoke for the truth, I gave witness to what is right, I was sincere with all my works and actions, in other words I loved and I followed Christ. Amen.

The Jesuits in the Philippines have now initiated the process that may lead to the beatification and canonisation of Brother Richie. There is quite an amount of material about Brother Richie on the internet.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

This Sunday is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Nico Lariosa SJ, the young Filipino in the video above who entered the Jesuits in Australia, gave an interview some time after he was ordained deacon. He spoke of learning about Brother Richie when he was 15: When I was 15 and in the seminary, during a retreat, the retreat director spoke to us about the young Jesuit missionary (Richie Fernando SJ) who had died in Cambodia. The story, his humanity, really spoke to me. He was a jokester, he liked to tease people and pull pranks on people. That spoke to me, because I’m that type of personality too.

I just remember saying to myself after hearing his story and later reading a book about his life, ‘Whatever this guy had that enabled him to give up his life like that I want for myself, too’.

Another young Jesuit martyr who was a 'jokester' was Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, executed in 1927 in Mexico. Another Jesuit who liked to play pranks was Fr Willie Doyle SJ who was killed in the Great War in 1917 in Flanders, Belgium, where he was serving as chaplain to Irish soldiers in the British army. His cause for canonisation was officially launched last year. He wrote a book on the vocation of the priesthood which led many to answer God's call after the 1914-18 war. Another Irishman who liked to play gentle pranks was the Servant of God Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary. (Father Willie and Frank Duff both had a life-long struggle with their tempers, a struggle that with God's grace was part of their becoming saintly persons.)

Fr Christopher F. Amoroso MSP, who grew up in a Columban parish in the Philippines, tells how an article about Brother Richie in Misyon, the Columban magazine that I edited in the Philippines from 2002 until 2017, was one of the signs that led him to the priesthood. He joined the Mission Society of the Philippines and was assigned to Japan after his ordination. Father Christopher's story illustrates what Brother Richie wrote: But in the end, my life is a grace, filled with surprises.

Alleluia from Exsultate Jubilate
Composed by Mozart
Sung by Leontyne Price
Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan

Traditional Latin Mass

Third Sunday After Easter

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 04-30-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 Peter 2:11-19Gospel: John 16:16-22.

Apostle St John the Evangelist

22 April 2023

The Road to Emmaus can be anywhere. Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A


Supper at Emmaus
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35 (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

That very day two of the disciples were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 1and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is towards evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Cliffview, Lancaster, Kentucky

Today's gospel reminds me of a 'casual' meeting during Lent of 1969. The previous September I had begun a three-year course in music at Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY, north of New York City. (In 1966 the trustees of the college, run by the Religious of the Sacred Heart, had dropped 'of the Sacred Heart' from the name of the school - a sign of things to come in the Church.)

I was on my way to class one morning and met a student named Betty coming from class. We stopped for a brief chat. I asked her what she planned to do for the Easter vacation. She told me that she and a few other students were going to work in a parish in eastern Kentucky for the week. I had no pastoral obligations after the Holy Week ceremonies - I was one of the chaplains at the college while a student - and asked Betty if there was room for one more. There was.

We drove the 1,500 or so kms to Lancaster, Kentucky, one of four towns in a very large rural parish where there were only a handful of Catholics, where there was widespread poverty and the remnants of an anti-Catholicism that was based mainly on ignorance. The parish priest was Fr Ralph Beiting, then in his mid-40s, whom I mentioned last week. We met some college students from other parts of the USA.

Our work that week was not what you would call exciting. We spent most of our time cleaning out parish buildings, scrubbing and polishing floors. This was in preparation for summer programmes that included a Bible school for young people, summer camps from Monday to Friday in nearby Cliffview (see photo above) for children, boys one week, girls another, black and white children together at a time when there was very little social interaction between the two groups. There was house-to-house visitation in pairs, and similar activities in the other three towns in the parish and in the four counties where they were located.

Fr Ralph Beiting
1 January 1934 – 9 August 2012 [photo]

The six weeks I spent in Kentucky in the summer of 1969 is the only extended experience in my life that I would like to re-live, if that were possible. (A glorious winter’s day skiing in January of the same year in Toggenburg Ski Resort, near Syracuse, NY, my only time to try it, is the only short-term experience I’d love to re-live!) The Kentucky experience was one of discovery. I discovered that I had the ability to sit and listen to individuals. That is because a number of the college students I was working with, and one or two older persons, approached me and opened up to me. I had been totally unaware before that of this quality that others saw in me.

I also saw the different gifts that people have. Fr Beiting was a wonderful organiser, a man who inspired young people, who expected all the volunteers to attend our daily Mass. He responded to the spiritual and corporal needs of the people he served, his own people. He went preaching from town to town with seminarians to accompany him, setting up his microphone at a crossroads or other places where people might congregate. On one occasion he was driven out at gunpoint but showed up next day, not to preach, but to let the people know he was there. Eventually people saw that he was carrying on an old tradition in that part of the USA of travelling preachers, rather like Jesus himself. But the Protestant preachers seldom moved around anymore. Fr Beiting preached basic Christianity and was a 'man's man' in the best sense of that expression.

But if you wanted to talk about a problem, Fr Beiting wasn't the best person to sit and listen to you. Another priest I met was wonderful with children but found adolescents and young adults difficult to relate to. Each of us has our own specific gifts from God, all of which are needed. Fr Beiting made it possible for people to discover their gifts and use them in the service of others. 

This was a like a liberating revelation to me, a sense of realising what St Thérèse of Lisieux said about holiness: it is becoming what God wants us to be. It was for me something like the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

For a very long time after that summer 54 years ago I felt something like what one of the two disciples in today's gospel said: Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?

Another grace I experienced was the importance of friendship in our lives. I made some life-long friends that summer. In one instance God used me many years later to pull back one of those friends from suicide.

My 'casual' meeting with Betty on campus that Lenten morning wasn't, as I look back, the beginning of a conversion like that of Saul experiencing the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. It was rather like the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, a growth in awareness of who I was as one called by God to the priesthood. And it was an experience of the joy of being a priest, a grace reinforced while working with joyful, dedicated priests that summer and for part of the following summer. And much of that joy came from the Lord through the generous, idealistic young people I was working with in Kentucky.

The road to Emmaus can be anywhere and the Lord can meet us through others we meet on that road. The two disciples who met Jesus, who invited him to dine with them, experienced the truth of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11).

I Can See (The Emmaus Song)
Written and sung by Steve Green

Traditional Latin Mass

Second Sunday After Easter

Good Shepherd Sunday

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 04-23-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 Peter 2:21-25. Gospel: John 10:11-16.

The Good Shepherd
Early Italian Christian Painter [Web Gallery of Art]

Communion Antiphon (John 10:14)

I am the good Shepherd, alleluia, alleluia. I know My sheep and Mine know me, alleluia, alleluia.

14 April 2023

'Our time needs Christians who have been grasped by Christ.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A


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

Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

Divine Mercy Sunday

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel: John 20:19-31 (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

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

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

The closing words of today’s Gospel give us the reason why the four gospels were written: these [signs] 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.

In his general audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday 24 October 2012 Pope Benedict asked The Year of Faith: What is Faith? 

In trying to answer that question the Pope said [emphases added]:  Indeed, God has revealed that his love for man, for each one of us, is boundless: on the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man, shows us in the clearest possible way how far this love reaches, even to the gift of himself, even to the supreme sacrifice. With the mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection, God plumbs to the depths of our humanity to bring it back to him, to uplift it to his heights. Faith is believing in this love of God that is never lacking in the face of human wickedness, in the face of evil and death, but is capable of transforming every kind of slavery, giving us the possibility of salvation. Having faith, then, is meeting this 'You', God, who supports me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity but gives it.

Benedict points out to us the painful reality that we can reject God's love: However, we see around us every day that many remain indifferent or refuse to accept this proclamation. At the end of Mark’s Gospel we heard harsh words from the Risen One who says: 'He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned' (Mk 16:16), loses himself. I would like to invite you to reflect on this.

This side of Jesus and of his Gospel has been largely sidelined, forgotten, in our times. Jesus is not a fuzzy teddy bear and following him is not like cuddling one, as the families of nearly 100 Christians killed in Nigeria last week can tell us.

The closing words of Pope Benedict in his talk are both challenging and uplifting: Dear friends, our time needs Christians who have been grasped by Christ, who grow in faith through their familiarity with Sacred Scripture and the sacraments. People who are, as it were, an open book that tells of the experience of new life in the Spirit, of the presence of that God who supports us on our way and opens us to everlasting life. Many thanks.

The Pope may well have had in mind today's First Reading (Acts 2:42-47): And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need . . . And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people.

That passage from the Acts of the Apostles probably gives an idealised description of the early Christians, but it shows us what we are called to as followers of Jesus Christ, what we can be by the grace of the Holy Spirit. 

Fr Ralph Beiting
1 January 1924 – 9 August 2012 [photo]

I remember while spending a good part of the summer of 1969 in a large rural parish in eastern Kentucky where there were few Catholics but where the parish priest, the late Fr Ralph Beiting had many projects involving mainly college and some high school students from all over the USA, along with some adult volunteers. A college student who has remained a friend ever since remarked to me before he went back home to New York that we had had a wonderful experience of Christian community, something like that in the First Reading. This particular group may never have this experience together again - but we know that such an experience is possible, said my friend Brendan.

The yearly observance of Lent, Holy Week and Easter, ending with Pentecost, is what renews our hope and enables us, with the grace of God, to build and experience Christian community throughout our lives if we are, to use the words of Pope Benedict, People who are, as it were, an open book that tells of the experience of new life in the Spirit.

Regina Caeli / Queen of Heaven

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia. / For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia. / Has risen, as he said, alleluia. / Pray for us to God, alleluia.

The ancient Latin hymn Regina caeli replaces the Angelus during the Easter Season and is sung at the end of Compline (Night Prayer). Above it is sung by the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain.

Below is a setting by Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548 - 1611) sung by Voces8 from England.

Traditional Latin Mass

The Octave Day of Easter

Low Sunday

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 04-16-2023 if necessary).

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

Apostle St Thomas

08 April 2023

'Jesus is risen from the dead, defeating death by death, and giving life to those in the grave.' Sunday Reflections, Easter Sunday


The Resurrection of Christ

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

At the Mass during the Day

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel John 20:1-9  (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

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.


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Angono, Rizal, Philippines

Regina Caeli / Queen of Heaven 

V. Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.

R. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.

V. Has risen, as he said, alleluia.

R. Pray for us to God, alleluia.

V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.

R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

Salubong is a Tagalog word meaning 'Welcome' or 'Greeting'. It is the name of the ceremony that takes place at dawn, or shortly before dawn, on Easter Sunday morning in the Philippines. In Visayan-speaking areas - in the central Philippines and Mindanao - the term Sugat is used. Sometimes the ceremony is known by its Spanish name, Encuentro. Women carry an image of the grieving Blessed Mother wearing a black veil of mourning in one direction while the men carry an image of the Risen Christ in another.  

They meet under an arch erected outside the parish church or sometimes inside the church. An 'angel', usually a young girl dressed in white, is lowered from a height and takes off the mourning veil of Mary and replaces it with a white one. She or another 'angel' intones the Easter Hymn Regina Caeli while dropping flower petals on the Risen Lord and his Blessed Mother. Sometimes a group of 'angels' does the same. There are variations in the ceremony from place to place. After the ceremony the Easter morning Mass begins in the church.

This ceremony for me shows the faith of the people in the words of the Prologue of St John's Gospel: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus, God and Man now risen from the dead, reveals his glory to his Mother and to us.

The ceremony shows the faith of the people in the humanity of Jesus and that of the Blessed Virgin. It shows their faith in the Resurrection of Jesus and the hope that on the Last Day we will be called to share that for all eternity. It shows the faith of the people as expressed in the last words of the Nicene Creed: And I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen; and of the Apostles' Creed: I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.

If we didn't believe those words the celebration of Easter would be meaningless. As St Paul wrote:  if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:4).

At Easter we begin to experience the truth of the promises Jesus gave to the Apostles and, through them, to us in his Last Supper Discourse: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27). A little later he says: These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11).

Those words are immediately followed by the central point in the mission that Jesus gives the Apostles and, through baptism and confirmation, to us: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12). Jesus repeats these words almost immediately when he sends the Apostles - and us - forth: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another (John 15:16-17).

May our joy be full this Easter and may we live the peace and joy of Easter, given to us by the Risen Lord Jesus, every day. The reason for our joy is wonderfully expressed in the refrain of the Easter hymn in Arabic below : 

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 here by professional singers.

Traditional Latin Mass

Easter Sunday

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 04-09-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 5:7-8. Gospel: Mark 16:1-7.

The Resurrection of Christ
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]