23 February 2024

'I just want a place at the feet of Jesus.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B


The Transfiguration
Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

Fra Angelico (c.1395 - 18 February 1455) was an Italian Dominican friar. He was beatified by Pope St John Paul 11 on 3 October 1992 and his feast day is observed on 18 February.

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 9:2-10 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son;[c] listen to him. And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Assumpsit Iesus Petrum
Sebastián de Vivanco (Ávila, 1551 - Salamanca, 1622)
Música Reservata de Barcelona directed by Bruno Turner

Assumpsit Iesus Petrum, et Iacobum et Ioannem fratrem eius, et duxit eos in montem excelsum seorsum, et transfiguratus est ante eos.

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

Et ecce vox de nube dicens: His est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi bene complauci, ipsum audite.

And a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him" (Mark 10: 2,7).

Servant of God Clement Shahbaz Bhatti [Wikipedia]
(9 September 1968 - 2 March 2011) 

In today's first reading God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son 'on a height that I will point out to you'. We can only imagine the heartbreak of Abraham being asked by God to give offer his only son by Sarah his wife, born when both of them were very old. But God wasn't looking for the life of Isaac but for Abraham to submit himself to God's will, no matter the consequences. Abraham's sacrifice of his own will made him our Father in faith, as the Roman Canon says, the Father of countless Jews and Christians. Muslims also venerate him.

From the time of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, down to our own day, God has been calling certain individuals to give up everything that is precious to them, including life itself, for the sake of others.

The struggle of Abraham is a sign of the struggle that Jesus would have to go through. Last Sunday we got a glimpse of his struggle in the desert where he was tempted by Satan, basically to abandon the mission the Father had given him. During Holy Week we will see his awful struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane and his cry from the Cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Each of us in some way has to share in that struggle, to let go of our own will in something big or small for the sake of others and to do what God want us to do.

Shahbaz Bhatti was living in a situation where he knew that God might ask him to give up his own life. Less than two months before his death Governor Salmaan Taseer of Punjab, a Muslim, was murdered by one of his own security guards because of his opposition to Pakistan's Blasphemy Law.

Mr Bhatti was deeply committed to working for groups discriminated against, including the Christian minority in Pakistan. He gave as the reason for his commitment, I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and say that I am following Jesus Christ. (These words were quoted in the reflection on the Second Station of the Cross in the Colosseum in Rome led by Pope Francis on Good Friday 2015.) He was gunned down on 2 March 2011 in  Islamabad, just after leaving his mother's home.

In the video below Shahbaz Bhatti speaks about the possibility of his death. A note with the video says :Bhatti's close colleague shared the video with Al Jazeera saying that Bhatti had requested him to do so in the eventuality of his assassination because 'it is with the Muslim world I want to share the message of love. That is the only message that can bring the Muslim world out of the circle of hate and killings'.

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of this video.

[Update: Benedict Rogers, a close friend of Shahbaz Bhatti, in an article published on 2 March 2021 writes about this interview: Four months before his murder, he recorded an interview with the BBC for broadcast in the event of his death.]

Below the video is a transcript of what Mr Bhatti said.

Minister Bhatti, you forgot one question in the interview. Your life is threatened by whom and what sort of threats are you receiving?

The forces of violence, militant banned organizations, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, they want to impose their radical philosophy on Pakistan. And whoever stands against their radical philosophy that threatens them, when I’m leading this campaign against the Sharia Law, for the abolishment [abolition] of [the] Blasphemy Law, and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized, persecuted Christian and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me.

But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of [the] Cross and I am following of the Cross and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles. I will prefer to die for my principle and for the justice of my community rather [than] to compromise on these threats.

Sts Peter, James and John, as they came down the mountain after having seen the Transfigured Jesus, wondered what 'risen from the dead' meant. A few weeks after the assassination of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti the bishops of Pakistan petitioned the Holy See to declare him a martyr. Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, who drafted the petition, said, We Christians in Pakistan want to transform the death of Shahbaz Bhatti into a prophecy of the Resurrection. It was only after the Crucifixion that the Resurrection could occur and it was only after Easter Sunday that the Apostles found the answer to their question. On 2 March 2016, the fifth anniversary of his death, the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi began collecting testimonies about Shahbaz Bhatti to inquire into his martyrdom and sanctity.

May each of us pray for the grace to make these words of Shahbaz Bhatti our own: I just want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (detail)
Velázquez  [Web Gallery of Art]

Martha had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching (Luke 10:39).

I just want a place at the feet of Jesus (Shahbaz Bhatti).


On 18 February The Catholic Herald (England) posted this story on their website: Report: 8,000 Christians murdered in worst year for Islamist attacks.

Traditional Latin Mass

Second Sunday in Lent

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 2-25-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7. Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9. 

Marco Benefial [Web Gallery of Art]

After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart (Matthew 17:1; Gospel).


16 February 2024

Their only words were: 'Jesus, help me!' Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B


The Repentant Peter

'Repent and believe in the gospel' (Mark 1:16; Gospel).

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:12-15 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Cupola Decoration
Early Coptic Painter [Web Gallery of Art]

One of my teachers in the Columban seminary in the 1960s was a saintly priest, Fr Edward McCormack. Father Ted, as we knew him, spent most of his life as a priest teaching Scripture to Columban seminarians in Ireland and the USA. He also taught our class Latin.

I vividly remember one occasion when he celebrated our community Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. In the Traditional Latin Mass Matthew 4:1-11 was always read, and still is. That's now the Gospel for Year A in the New Mass. As he was preaching  it was clear that he had a deep, personal sense of the horror of Satan tempting Jesus, God who became Man, of Evil trying to prevail over Love, God himself. 

We have daily examples of the power of evil. One is the murder on 12 February 2015 of 2o Coptic Orthodox Christians, Egyptian men working in neighbouring Libya and one other man, Matthew Ayariga, probably from Ghana - like the countless OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) - working abroad. They were beheaded simply because they were Christians.

In a meeting four days later with a delegation from the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, Pope Francis said the following.

I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today, I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: 'Jesus, help me!' They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.

The vast majority of Christians in Egypt, about ten percent of the population, are Coptic Christians and according to tradition they trace their origins to St Mark preaching the Gospel in Alexandria in the very early days of the Church. Most are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Though they are not in communion with Rome, the Catholic Church recognises all their sacraments. A minority of Coptic Christians are in full communion with Rome as the Coptic Catholic Church. They number around 200,000.

These are the men who were martyred:

·                     Bishoy Adel Khalaf           

·                     Samuel Alhoam Wilson  

·                     Hany Abdel-Masih Salib

·                     Melad McCain Zaky         

·                     Abanoub Ayad Attia       

·                     Ezzat Bushra Nassif

·                     Yousef Shokry Younan   

·                     Kirillos Shukry Fawzy      

·                     Majid Suleiman Shehata

·                     Somali Stéphanos Kamel              

·                     Malak Ibrahim Siniot       

·                     Bishoy Stéphanos Kamel

·                     Mena Fayez Aziz              

·                     Girgis Melad Siniot          

·                     Tawadros Youssef Tawadros

·                     Essam Badr Samir             

·                     Luke Ngati           

·                     Jaber Mounir Adly

·                     Malak Faraj Abram          

·                     Sameh Salah Farouk       

·                     Matthew Ayariga.

A note in the Wikipedia entry says of Matthew Ayariga: It was later learned that this 21st victim was named Matthew Ayariga and that he was from Ghana. (A few sources say he was from Chad, but most say he was from Ghana) . . . His remains were finally transferred to Egypt and laid to rest with the other martyrs at the end of September 2020.

These men are now honoured as saints by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, to give it its full name. The remains of the 21 martyrs were laid to rest in the newly-built Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland in the village of Al-our where 13 of the martyrs were from.

The Roman Martyrology contains many lists of martyrs like the one above. In some monasteries these lists are read each day during the Office of Prime. The Roman Canon, also known as Eucharistic Prayer I, includes two such lists of martyrs of the early Church, one before the Consecration and one after.

May all Christian martyrs who shared in the temptations of Jesus Christ and in his Crucifixion obtain for us the courage to be fearless witnesses of our Lord Jesus Christ in our daily lives. (The Greek word from which the word 'martyr' derives means 'witness.) 

May the witness of the 21 men martyred in Libya on 12 February 2015 inspire us to take the words of Jesus in today's gospel to heart: Repent and believe in the gospel.

Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland
Al-our, Minya, Egypt

Traditional Latin Mass

First Sunday in Lent

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 2-18-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11. 

The Temptation of Christ
Tintoretto [Web Gallery of Art]

And the tempter came and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread' (Matthew 4:3; Gospel).

09 February 2024

'You died out of love and did not abandon us in our misery.' Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Yachounomori Garden,Tatebayashi, Gunma, Japan 

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:40-45 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Lilac Bush 
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

'The Impressionistic brushstrokes and Japanese style accentuated outline of the iris leaves . . .' (WGA notes).

Two things jumped out at me from the Gospel reading: And a leper came to Jesus, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean” and people were coming to him from every quarter. Jesus was moved with pity for the leper and, we can be sure, with pity for the crowds who came looking for him. The gospels are full of stories of Jesus healing individuals and of healing many.

This week I read an article by my Columban confrere Fr Joe Brooder who was two classes behind me in the seminary and who has worked in Japan since 1970, apart from some years in Britain in the 1990s when he visited many parishes there on behalf of the Columbans.

Father Joe's story is about Hiroko, a middle-aged parishioner of his some years ago whose husband was a Protestant. (Only 1.5% of the population is Christian.) They had one daughter who had left the family home. Father Joe wrote: Hiroko had the glorious habit of coming into Mass just as I was starting, sit down in the back pew and as I would be imparting the final blessing at the end of Mass she would dart out of the church with the speed of a swallow leaving her nest after feeding her young and disappear into city air. Hiroko usually went to Sunday Mass but sometimes would not be there for months.

One Monday morning Hiroko turned up at Mass wearing huge sunglasses, which Father Joe saw as some kind of fashion. However, she stayed after Mass and Father Joe approached her, thinking that she wanted to go to confession. However, she told him that her husband was a drunkard who often beat her up. She took of her glasses and the proof was there. Her long periods of absence from Sunday Mass were due to her recovering from ordeals like this. And the abuse of her mother by her father was the reason their adult daughter had left the home.

Father Joe asked Hiroko if she had remembered what the First Reading at the Mass that Monday was about. She did. It was about God's call to Abram to leave his country and to go to the land that He would show him. Hiroko found this comforting. She had already contacted her sister in another part of Japan who had invited her to come and stay. Father Joe, in his own words, 'ordered her' to do just that, as Abram had followed God's call. She said she would.

To Father Joe's astonishment Hiroko returned the following Friday. She told him that she had bought a ticket, packed her bags, called a taxi and put her bags in it. But before she got in she went back to the house and went to look at her husband for the last time. I went into his room, she told the priest. The stench of drink, urine and feces was overwhelming. I looked at him snoring away and turned around to leave the house for good. That was the moment I saw the crucifix on the wall. I could swear that Jesus on the cross was looking down directly on my husband and there was deep compassion and love in His gaze. I fell on my knees and cried out, ‘Oh Jesus, you suffered so much for me and for him here. You died out of love and did not abandon us in our misery. Here I am going to abandon him and seek my own comfort.'

Hiroko went back to the taxi, apologised to the driver, gave him some money and took her bags back into the house where she cleaned up her husband, changed him into fresh clothes and washed all the soiled linen. She spent the night watching over her husband. Now and again I would look up at the crucifix and I swear, Father, that the gaze that came out of the face of Jesus was no longer pity and compassion but that of a serene joy.

Next day her husband of 30 years asked her to take him to hospital. After unburdening herself Hiroko told Father Joe that she had to go back to the hospital as her husband needed her. The priest wrote: She left  me  in  a  daze.  I  was  ashamed  that  I  had  not  the courage to tell her to take up her cross and follow Jesus. I told her to dump her cross and seek her own comfort. At the same moment I knew I was blessed because I knew that I had just met a living saint and a living martyr called Hiroko. I knew I had met love in the flesh. I knew that Hiroko had left me with an example that was divine.

Not long after, Hiroko's estranged daughter, who had left home disgusted with 'Christianity', unexpectedly contacted her mother. When she heard that her father was in hospital she came with her daughter, the grandchild her father didn't know he had. Then something wonderful happened. Hiroko's husband, like the leper who approached Jesus, got down on his knees and apologized for all the pain that he had caused his wife and the brutal example he gave to his daughter. He asked for forgiveness and swore to never take a drop again, a vow he never broke. I was able to visit him in hospital and that brute of a husband became a reformed alcoholic, a reformed husband, a reformed father, a  reformed  Christian,  a  reformed  human  and  all  became a reformed family. The beast had become a lamb. The hot temper he once owned became a kind and gentle temper. He knew he was loved by God, by Jesus, by his wife and daughter. But his health never recovered. He died surrounded by love some months later and was buried out of his own Protestant Church. I am sure he got the surprise of his life when he got past St  Peter and  was  smothered  by  the  mother  he never knew he had - the Blessed Virgin Mary.

One of the verses in today's Responsorial Psalm sums this up: But now I have acknowledged my sins; I said: 'I will confess my offence to the Lord.' And you, Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin.'

As it happens, this Sunday is World Day of the Sick, observed each year on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, not observed this year as it falls on Sunday.

Father Joe's article, which touched me very deeply as an expression of the Gospel, the Good News, ends with these words: Time passed. One day Hiroko came to me and said, ‘I am leaving  this  area’.  I presumed she  was going  to  live  with  her daughter. I said ‘Have a good time in Tokyo with your newly-found daughter’. She looked at me and said gently, ‘Father, you once ordered me to leave my country and go like Abram to the land that God was showing me. Now I will obey you. This afternoon I am finally going off to live with my loving big sister far away from here. Goodbye’. I lost all contact with her. But I know where she lives. She lives in my heart still inspiring me, guiding and hopefully praying for me.


The impact of the story of Hiroko on me is that it points me towards Jesus and I want to be among the people coming to him from every quarter.

Hail Mary in Japanese

courage to tell her to take up her cross and follow Jesus. I
told her to dump her cross and seek her own comfort. At the
same moment I knew I was blessed because I knew that I
had just met a living saint and a living martyr called Hiroko. I
knew I had met love in the esh. I knew that Hiroko had le
me with an example that was divine
just as I was starng, sit down in the back pew and as I would
be imparng the nal blessing at the end of Mass she would
dart out of the church with the speed of a swallow leaving her nest aer feeding her young and disappear into city air.used to come to Sunday Mass just as it had begun and left just before it ended. There were long periods when she didn't attend. One Sunday she arrived wearing very large sunglasses, which Father Joe attributed to some fashion fad.

Traditional Latin Mass

Quinquagesima Sunday

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 2-11-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 Cor 13:1-13. Gospel: Luke 18:31-43. 

Christ Healing the Blind (1570-75)
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

Jesus  asked him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' He said, 'Lord, let me receive my sight' (Luke 18:40-41; Gospel).