24 November 2023

'As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' Sunday Reflections, Christ the King, Year A

The Last Judgement, Michelangelo 

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 25:31-46 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

Jesus said to his disciples:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

St Elizabeth of Hungary 
Sándor Liezen-Mayer [Web Gallery of Art]

In November 1974 some members of the Praesidium of the Legion of Mary of which I was spiritual director came to me and told me of two starving children, a brother and sister, that they had come across on home visitation. The Legionaries were students in the college department of what was then Immaculate Conception College, Ozamiz City, where I was chaplain. At the time ICC was run by the Columban Sisters. It is now La Salle University, under the care of the De La Salle Brothers.

We arranged with the parents to take the two children to the local government hospital. When I saw Linda, as I will call her, I thought she was a malnourished seven-year-old. I was utterly shocked when I learned that she was twelve. Her brother, whom I'll call Nonoy, was five. His ribs were sticking out and his stomach severely bloated. The eldest in the family, a girl aged 13 or 14, showed no signs of malnutrition. This was the first time I had ever met anyone with signs of starvation. I never discovered why the children were in such a state.

After a few days Linda began to shyly smile and slowly got a little better, due to the nourishment and attention she was getting. But Nonoy showed no signs of improvement. He died two days before Christmas, without once smiling. We buried him on Christmas Eve.

Linda was able to go home and on at least one occasion we took her on a picnic. She was still very small for her age but always cheerful whenever we met her. However, the severe malnutrition had taken its toll and she died in September 1976 while I was at home in Ireland.

St Martin and the Beggar
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Today's Gospel makes me both fearful and hopeful.

Fearful, because Jesus speaks such harsh language: Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. This is not 'the Church of nice'.

Hopeful, because Linda and Nonoy will be there at the Last Judgment to speak on my behalf.

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Christus Vincit! Christus Regnat! Christus Imperat!
Christ Conquers! Christ Rules! Christ Commands!

This very ancient Latin hymn, which is a litany, is also known as Laudes Regiae. In the video above it is sung in St Mary's Cathedral, Tokyo.

Traditional Latin Mass

Twenty-fourth and Last Sunday after Pentecost

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 11-26-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: Colossians 1:9-14. Gospel: Matthew 24:13-25.

Self-portrait as St Paul the Apostle
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (Colossian 1:11; Epistle),

Death of Jordan Navor in the Philippines

Jordan Navor and Louella 'Lala' Vicente

I have used the photo above many times, especially to mark Lala's birthday on 27 September, the feast of St Vincent de Paul. It was taken in L'Arche in Cainta, Rizal, part of the Metro Manila sprawl. Jordan, born with multiple disabilities, became part of the community as a child and I met him many times over the years. Lala joined some years later. Punla, the Tagalog for seedling, is the official name of the community.

I was very saddened to learn yesterday of Jordan's death on Wednesday. But my instinctive reaction was a conviction that he is now surely in heaven with God. In the Irish language we have a beautiful expression for someone like Jordan: duine le Dia - a person with God. He was someone who was a great grace to those who knew him because he drew out their generosity and love in responding to his needs. The photo at the top shows this beautifully.

The photos above and below of Jordan, taken from the Facebook of L'Arche Punla, show him as a man, with a hint of how God sees him and how he sees himself now.

Kuya is the Tagalog form of address for an older brother, or someone who is like an older brother to you. It is a term both of respect and affection, similar to 'Uncle' and 'Auntie'.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Pray for all who are grieving for Jordan, particularly the members of his Punla L'Arche community in Cainta.

17 November 2023

'What I love most about my parents is that they are always together.' Sunday Reflections, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A


Married Couple in a Garden
Frans Hals [Web Gallery of Art]

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life (Proverbs 31:10-12; First Reading).

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 25:14-30 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India) [For the shorter form (25:14-15, 19-21), omit the text in brackets.]

Jesus told this parable to his disciples:

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

[He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.] 

Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

[And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’]

Léachtaí i nGaeilge


Syro-Malabar Catholic Wedding, India

I have been involved with Worldwide Marriage Encounter (CanadaIreland, Philippines, USA) most of the time since 1981 when I was on a study year in Toronto, Canada. About 17 years ago I was at a family day organised by the movement in Bacolod City, Philippines, where I was based at the time. One of the last activities was for the pre-teens who were asked what they loved most about their parents. One boy of about 11 shared that what he loved most about them was that they were always together.

That boy saw clearly what marriage is about: a man and a woman called by God to be one, to commit themselves to one another For better, for worse . . . till death do us part, a commitment based on God's commitment to them. In most cases of those of child-bearing age when they marry, a consequence of this is that husband and wife become father and mother, the children being the fruit of their love for one another. Their primary call from God is still to be husband and wife. That's what the young boy in Bacolod City saw so clearly. He didn't feel left out by the spousal love of his parents for one another; rather he saw himself being drawn into that love.

The First Reading, from the Book of Proverbs, opens with these words about marriage: An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.

The Responsorial Psalm, which is meant to be a response to the First Reading, picks up on this: Your wife like a fruitful vine in the heart of your house; your children like shoots of the olive, around your table.

One way we can interpret the parable of the talents in the Gospel in the context of today's readings is in the light of marriage. The gift of talents - a talent being a valuable coin - can be seen as the gift from God of the sacrament of matrimony. The one given five talents and the one given two used them fruitfully, earning five and two more respectively. The one given just one talent buried it, unwilling to take any risks.

The fruit of the responsible use by the first two of the talents they were given can be seen in a married couple who welcome children into the world and raise them to be followers of Jesus and, to echo the psalm, in the fear of the Lord, not like the fear of an abusive parent or authority figure. It is a fear that is a profound respect for God who loves us and who in the Person of Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, has died for us and has risen from the dead, offering us eternal life.

One of the blessings in my life has been the many married couples I have known or have known about who have longed to have children but have been unable to conceive. So many of these have been fruitful to an extraordinary degree, some by adopting children, some by getting deeply involved in the wider community. Part of their reward in heaven - Enter into the joy of your master - will be to meet those to whose lives they have given meaning by sharing with them the love of Jesus himself, often without being aware of it.

What I love most about my parents is that they are always together.

Miracle at Cana 
From Mary of NazarethIgnatius Press

 Traditional Latin Mass

Fifth Sunday remaining After Epiphany

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 11-19-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10Gospel: Matthew 13:31-35.

The Infant Jesus Distributing Bread to Pilgrims

The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened (Matthew 13:33; Gospel).

09 November 2023

'Christ is the Bridegroom.' Sunday Reflections, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Christ and the Wise Virgins
German Mediaeval Sculptor [Web Gallery of Art]

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 25:1-13 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

Jesus told this parable to his disciples:

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’  Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterwards the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Oxygen Masks Dropping

In the unlikely event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down from the panel above your head… Secure your own mask before helping others.

I have heard those words hundreds of times before flight takeoffs. I have never experienced having to use one of these masks and I hope that I never will. (I don't expect to be flying too often at this stage of my life). The others mentioned in the instruction are children and persons with disabilities of one kind or another who would need help. But the instruction is clear: Secure your own mask before helping others.

The introduction to today's Mass in the November 2020 issue of Magnificat, a wonderful monthly daily missal that also includes daily morning and evening prayer, reads: Why do the five wise virgins not share their oil with the five foolish ones? Because it is something that simply cannot be shared. The oil is our personal virtue. 'The wise maidens represent all those who possess the ensemble of virtues which characterise a complete Christian life. The burning oil lamps which they carry . . . symbolically portray Christian wisdom . . . This Christian wisdom empowers all those who embrace prudence and the other moral virtues to fulfil the requirements of an integral and holy life' (Fr Romanus Cessario OP). 'God, through Jesus, will bring with him those who' seek wisdom with the same ardour with which the wise virgins seek the bridegroom. For Christ is the Bridegroom.

Airlines instruct adult and able-bodied passengers to put on their own masks first. If they don't they may not be in a position to help others for whom they have a responsibility. The situation is an emergency and everything has to be done quickly. Adults are asked to behave as responsible adults.

The ten virgins in the parable are also adults, albeit young. Every one of them made a decision. The five wise virgins decided to buy the oil necessary for lighting their lamps even though they did not know when exactly they would be using them. The five foolish virgins decided not to buy the oil they needed. There was no 'emergency' as there is in a plane if the oxygen masks drop. Being ready to meet the bridegroom whenever he might arrive wasn't a priority with them. For the five wise virgins it was.

If we see the bridegroom in the parable as representing Jesus we can see that Jesus is asking us to direct our lives constantly towards him. 

I've written a number of times about 15-year-old Blessed Carlo Acutis, beatified in 2020, who used to tell his friends, The goal of my life is to always be united with Jesus

On a number of occasions I have written about Clement Shabaz Bhatti, the Catholic Pakistani politician assassinated in 2011, who wrote in his Spiritual TestimonyI want to live for Christ and it is for Him that I want to die.

These are two contemporary examples of persons ready with their lamps lit for the Bridegroom - Jesus Christ Himself - when he came.

St Charles Borromeo, the great Archbishop of Milan, whose feast day is celebrated on 4 November, said in the sermon he gave at his last synod: Or is your task the care of souls? Then do not neglect your own. Do not spend yourself so completely on other people that you have nothing left for yourself. Of course you have to look after the souls you have been put in charge of, but not to the extent that you forget your own

St Charles Borromeo Administers the Sacrament to the Plague-Infected
Caspar Franz Sambach [Web Gallery of Art]

Traditional Latin Mass

Fifth Sunday remaining After Epiphany

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 11-12-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: Colossians 3:12-17. Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30.

Parable of the Sower
Domenico Fetti [Web Gallery of Art

But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away (Matthew 13:25; Gospel).

03 November 2023

'How can I offer my life to God?' Sunday Reflections, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Washing of the Feet
Giovanni Agostino da Lodi [Web Gallery of Art]

The greatest among you shall be your servant (Matthew 23:11; Gospel).

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 23:1-12 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practise and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practise. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the market-places and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

The Kitchen Maid
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

I'm sure I've used this story before about an incident in Metro Manila 15 or 16 years ago. But today's readings, especially the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel,  remind me of it very strongly. I was visiting a home for girls run by the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family. Most of the girls were there because of the extreme poverty of their families. I had an extraordinary conversation with a girl I'll call Gloria (not her real name). 

Gloria was around 14 and I knew that she suffered from asthma. I learned later from the Sisters that she and her family had been living on the street and that her father was a blind beggar. I was astounded at the question Gloria asked me: How can I offer my life to God? This was from a young girl with nothing in life, rather like the young St Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes when the Blessed Mother appeared to her in 1848 and around the same age. St Bernadette too suffered from asthma. And at one time her family lived in what had once been a prison, in a basement room known as le cachot, 'the dungeon'. 

I remember visiting le cachot in Easter week 1991 with a group of Irish pilgrims, many of whom had physical disabilities. I cried when I recalled families in Smithfield, Dublin, now an up-market place, living in what had once been a prison. This was during my childhood, ten minutes' walk from where I lived.

St Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879)

I spoke to Gloria about another young French saint who was six when St Bernadette died, St Thérèse of Lisieux, and her Little Way that shows that we can become saints in our ordinary humdrum daily activities such as setting the table, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, when we do these things with love for those around us, in Gloria's case the girls and the Sisters in the home. I told her that God would eventually show her what He desired for the rest of her life.

St Thérèse of Lisieux aged 15 (taken April 1888)

The greatest among you shall be your servant, Jesus tells us in the Gospel. In the eyes of the world Gloria was far from being the greatest in the world. Indeed, insofar as anyone in the wider world even noticed her she was a nobody. But the desire of her heart was to serve God by offering her life to him. The words of the Responsorial Psalm could speak for her: O Lord, my heart is not too proud nor haughty my eyes. I have not gone after things too great nor marvels beyond me.

The closing words of St Paul in the Second Reading are words that I can pray when I think of Gloria: And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

Gloria didn't receive the word of God from me but from others before me. She had accepted it as what it really is, the word of God. Without being aware of it she was, by her question, inviting me to do the same.

I see such incidents as ongoing graces, in my case graces that continue to form me as a priest. I'm finishing this on Friday 3 November, here the feast of St Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland, who died on 2 November 1138 while visiting St Bernard in the Cistercian monastery of Clairvaux, France. The Entrance Antiphon for his Mass reads: I will raise up for myself a faithful priest; he will do what is in my heart and in my mind, says the Lord (1 Samuel 2:35).

God calls each of us to do what is in his heart and in his mind. Gloria, a young girl with nothing to call her own, called me to do that by her question: How can I offer my life to God?

I never saw Gloria again. The Sisters told me that she had gone to live with relatives in one of the provinces near Manila. She would be around 29 or 30 now. Please remember her in your prayers and, with St Paul, thank God that she accepted the Gospel as what it really is, the word of God.

Laudate Dominum, Psalm 116 [117]
Music by Mozart
Sung by Patricia Janečková (18 June 1998 - 1 October 2023) with The Janáček Chamber Orchestra

Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes: Laudate eum, omnes populi:
Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia eius: et veritas Domini manet in aeternum.

O praise the Lord, all you nations, acclaim him all you peoples!
Strong is his love for us; he is faithful for ever.

Traditional Latin Mass

Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 11-05-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: Philippians 3:17-21; 4:1-3Gospel: Matthew 9:18-26.

Forest Landscape with Two of Christ’s Miracles (detail)
David Vinckboons [Web Gallery of Art]

'My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live . . . 'If I only touch his garment, I shall be made well' (Matthew 9:18, 21; Gospel).