20 April 2017

'My Lord and my God!' Sunday Reflections, Second Sunday of Easter (or Sunday of Divine Mercy), Year A

The Apostle St Thomas, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]


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


When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, 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 the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, 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. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt 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 come to believe.’
John 20:19-31 from The Gospel of John
We can read the words of Jesus to Thomas as a gentle rebuke that has led to the nickname he may carry for all eternity: 'Doubting Thomas'. But I prefer to see him as the one who understood that the Risen Lord must carry the scars of his crucifixion and who made the most explicit act of faith in the whole of Sacred Scripture: My Lord and my God!

The First Reading today (Ats 2:42-47) opens with the words They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 'The breaking of the bread' is an expression used for the celebration of the Eucharist. We can see in this sentence the essence of the Mass as we celebrate it today: listening to God's word, praying and sharing in the Sacrifice of Jesus and sharing his Body and Blood.

Some commentators say that the failure of Thomas was not to listen to God's word as related by his companions. Maybe he did fail here but did the others have the same awareness as Thomas had that the Risen Lord must carry his scars for all eternity?
In Evangelii Gaudium No 7 Pope Francis writes: I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: 'Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction'.

Thomas had been a companion of Jesus for two to three years but what he experienced in today's gospel was precisely what Pope Benedict describes as the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

Servant of God, Fr Emil Joseph Kapaun (20 April 1916 - 23 May 1951) celebrating Mass with American soldiers during the Korean War [Wikipedia]

In his general audience in St Peter's Square on 31 October 2012 Pope Benedict said: I cannot build my personal faith in a private dialogue with Jesus, because faith is given to me by God through a community of believers that is the Church and projects me into the multitude of believers, into a kind of communion that is not only sociological but rooted in the eternal love of God who is in himself the communion of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, it is Trinitarian Love. Our faith is truly personal, only if it is also communal: it can be my faith only if it dwells in and moves with the 'we' of the Church, only if it is our faith, the common faith of the one Church.

Pope Francis re-echoes this in Evangelii Gaudium Nos 264 - 268: We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence . . . Sometimes we lose our enthusiasm for mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters . . . The word of God also invites us to recognise that we are a people . . . Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. When we stand before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.

What both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are saying is that while our faith is in a person, Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, it can never be a question of 'Jesus and me'. Pope Benedict says, faith is given to me by God through a community of believers that is the Church and projects me into the multitude of believers and Pope Francis emphasises that He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.

In other words, I can only know myself as a brother or sister of Jesus, as a son or daughter of God the Father when I know myself as a member of their family, which I have become through my baptism.

And that awareness of who I am is strengthened when I join other members of God's family every Sunday as they devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

British soldiers at Mass in the Netherlands during World War II [Wikipedia]

Many Irish Columbans served as chaplains in the British Forces during World War II. One, Fr Patrick McMahon, died in action in Normandy, France, after rescuing a Canadian soldier on 14 August 1944.

In the Office of Readings, prayed by priests, monks, nuns and others as part of the Prayer of the Church, there are two readings. The first is from the Bible and the second usually from writers in the early centuries of the Church. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Easter Week the second reading is from Instructions to the Newly Baptized in Jerusalem also known as The Jerusalem Catechesis, written, as far as I know, by St Cyril of Jerusalem. The author says, Just as the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is no longer just bread, but the body of Christ, so when the Holy Spirit has been invoked on the holy chrism it is no longer mere or ordinary ointment; it is the gift of Christ, which through the presence of the Holy Spirit instils his divinity into us [Friday].

For the Saturday reading the author tells the newly-baptized: Do not, then, regard the bread and wine as nothing but bread and wine, for they are the body and blood of Christ as the master himself has proclaimed. Though your senses suggest otherwise, let faith reassure you. You have been taught and fully instructed that what seems to be bread is not bread, though it appears to be such to the sense of taste, but the body of Christ; that what seems to be wine is not wine, though the taste would have it so, but the blood of Christ

When I celebrate Mass with the Deaf here in Bacolod City, a group whose needs the late Columban Fr Joseph Coyle was the first priest to respond to and whose vision is being carried on now by many others, both Deaf and hearing, after the consecration of the bread and again of the wine, I hear from speaking people who are present the words of St Thomas, My Lord and my God. Just like St Thomas, they recognise the presence of the Risen Lord in the bread and the winde that have no become his Body and Blood.

Fr Emil Kapaun and Fr Patrick McMahon recognised the presence of Jesus in the bread and wine that became the Body and Blood of Christ each time they celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They also recognised the presence of Jesus in the wounds of the soldiers they tended and in whose service they sacrificed their lives - following the example of St Thomas who, according to tradition, was martyred in India.

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Regina caeli is sung during the Easter Season at the end of the Church's Night Prayer (Compline).

The Coronation of the Virgin, Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]


Regina cæli, lætare, alleluia:
R. Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia,
R. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
Gaude et lætare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.
R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.
Oremus.
Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi,
mundum lætificare dignatus es:
præsta, quæsumus, ut per eius Genitricem Virginem Mariam,
perpetuæ capiamus gaudia vitæ.
Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. R. Amen.
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
The Son whom you merited to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Let us pray.
O God, who through the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
gave rejoicing to the world,
grant, we pray, that through his Mother, the Virgin Mary,
we may obtain the joy of everlasting life.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.








14 April 2017

'For as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.' Sunday Reflections, Easter Sunday


ResurrectionLéonard Limo Sin [Web Gallery of Art]


The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

At the Mass during the Day

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

Note that the above links also give alternative gospels that may be read on Easter Sunday.


Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed 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.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who 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.

John 20:1-9 from The Gospel of John

I remember as a young priest, maybe in the summer of 1968 about six months after my ordination, celebrating Sunday Mass in the chapel of the Irish Sisters of Charity (now the Religious Sisters of Charity) in Stanhope Street, Dublin, where I had made my First Holy Communion on 20 May 1950. The beautiful chapel is no longer there.

I remember clearly that my mother was at the Mass and that I preached about the Resurrection, probably quite eloquently and certainly with conviction.

However, it was only when my mother died suddenly less that two years later that I got any real grasp of what the Resurrection is. Within hours of receiving the news at breakfast time in New York, where I was studying, I felt its truth in my very being.

I preached again about the Resurrection in the presence of my mother's remains at her funeral Mass, again with conviction and maybe with some eloquence as before. But my conviction, my faith in the Resurrection, was now rooted in my heart, not just in my head.

After the Mass my father, a man of deep quiet faith who went to Mass every day of his life right up to the day of his own sudden death in 1987, told me that he had felt utterly desolate going into the church but now felt at peace. A cousin's husband thanked me for speaking about what really matters. Nearly 40 years later a fellow Columban, who had been present while a seminarian, told me that he still preaches in his funeral homilies in Japan whatever I had said at my mother's funeral Mass. I really have no idea what I said but I remember vividly the change in my understanding of the Resurrection during those days.

Anniversary of 1994 genocide in Rwanda

But the hope that the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is not only for us as individuals. It can bring hope and reconciliation to a whole nation. In 1994 in Rwanda, an overwhelmingly Christian nation, more than half of its then between seven and eight million people Catholics, between 500,000 and 1,000,000, mostly members of the minority Tutsi people, were slaughtered between 7 April and the middle of July.

In the video above a man who lived through it, probably as a child, says outside a church in Kigali, the country's capital, Today's Mass was about Resurrection. And I believe that one day the souls of the people we lost will resurrect. Sister Mujawayezu Marie Anastasie, a survivor of the genocide,  says, I think now that things are like before, even better than before. People are good to each other, talking. People trust each other. For what I see it seems OK but I do not know what's inside a person's heart.

Sister Mujawayezu's words express some uncertainty but trust and hope win out. This is a fruit of the Resurrection, that God's love has conquered evil and death. And the Rwandan Genocide was the result mainly of neighbour killing neighbour. There have been reports and photos in the media in recent years of individuals who had killed other individuals not only asking forgiveness of someone they had widowed but working with that widow to enable her to have a livelihood.

It is acts such as these that remind us of the truth of the Resurrection, of the presence of the Risen Lord among us, still carrying the scars of his Crucifixion, as the people of Rwanda who have asked for forgiveness or who have forgiven their former enemies still carry the scars of 1994.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon [Wikipedia]

The civil war in Rwanda was short and brutal. That in Lebanon lasted from 1975 to 1990 with an estimated 120,000 deaths and about a million leaving the country. Today it is affected by the ongoing civil war in neighbouring Syria.

The people of Lebanon are Arabs, nearly 40 percent of them Christian. Most of those are Maronite Catholics who have always been in full communion with Rome. The vast majority of Christians in the Middle East are Arabs, in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria. They are descended from the very earliest Christians. Islam originated nearly six centuries after the death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Like the people of Rwanda, the people of Lebanon carry the scars of their civil war. But the Christians there also carry the living grace of the Resurrection of Jesus. I have used the video below a number of times before but I know of no more joyful proclamation of the Resurrection than Jesus is Risen, sung here in Arabic in a shopping mall in Beirut three years ago at Eastertime.

No translation is necessary, though you can switch on the English captions. You can see the look of surprise on the face of a Filipina taking caring of a child and the look of delight on the face of a young Muslim woman.

The truth and joy of the Resurrection being proclaimed in Arabic by professional singers in a mall in Beirut, Lebanon

Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia!

He is risen as he said, Alleluia!

Happy Easter!

05 April 2017

‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’ Sunday Reflections, Palm Sunday, Year A


Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, Melozzo da Forli [Web Gallery of Art]

The Commemoration of the Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem


When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
        and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’


The following Hymn to Christ the King may be sung during the procession.


Chorus:

Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit,
     rex Christe redemptor,
cui puerile decus prompsit
     Hosanna pium.

Glory and honour and praise be to you,
     Christ, Kind and Redeemer,
to whom young children cried out
     loving Hosannas with joy.


Readings during Mass

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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


The response for today's Responsorial Psalm is My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? ('forsaken me' in the Jerusalem Bible Lectionary), the last words of Jesus according to St Matthew, whose version of the Passion is read today. The readings carry that theme, explicitly or implicitly. The Prophet Isaiah says, I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The church applies these words to the sufferings of Jesus. Yet there isn't total abandonment: The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Psalm 21 (22) is fulfilled in the Passion and Death of Jesus. St Paul in the reading from his Letter to the Philippians speaks of the self-emptying of Jesus who:  though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

The Agony in the Garden, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

An tAthair Pádraig Ó Crolaigh (Fr Patrick Crilly) of the Diocese of Derry, Ireland, reflects on this in his poem in Irish, An Crióst Tréigthe (The Abandoned Christ). I have added my own English translation.


An raibh sé ina aonar ar feadh a shaoil,
Was he alone throughout his life,
An Críost seo scartha ón Trionóid naofa?
This Christ separated from the holy Trinity?
Ar chrothnaigh sé an dá phearsa eile,
Did he notice the absence of the two other persons,
Nó an raibh sé in aineolas orthu?
Or was he unaware of them?

Agus i ndiaidh fhás na spioradáltachta ann,
And after the growth of spirituality in him,
I ndiaidh greim a fháil ar a cheangal le Dia,
After he grasped his connection with God,
Ar fágadh in aonar arís é ar an chrois
Was he left alone again on the cross
Gan a fhios aige cén fáth ar tréigeadh é?
Not knowing why he had been abandoned?

Nuair a fhuair sé bás ar an chrois,
When he died on the cross
Ar ócáid cheiliúrtha é filleadh abhaile?
Was going home an occasion of celebration?
Nó ar bhraith sé tréigean a dhaonnachta
Or did he feel the abandonment of his humanity
I gcumha a shaoil abhus mar dhuine?
In the loneliness of his life here as a human being?

Ag leanúint Chríost dúinn i mbeocht an tsaoil
In following Christ in the living of life
An mbuailfimid lena thréigean siúd?
Will we encounter his abandonment?
An féidir linn a bheith Críostaí
Can we be Christian
Gan casadh sa saol leis an Chríost tréigthe?
Without coming across the abandoned Christ in life?

Poem taken from Brúitíní Creidimhpublished by Foilseacháin Ábhar Spioradálta, Dublin, 2005The title could be translated as 'Mashed Potatoes of Faith'. Potatoes are the main staple in Ireland.

Father Ó Crolaigh, I think, is teasing out some of the meaning of St Paul's words in today's Second Reading: Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus wasn't acting or engaging in any kind of 'drama-drama', as we say in the Philippines. He truly suffered a sense of being forsaken, of being abandoned, in the very depths of his being. He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. We see that in the Garden of Gethsemane when the three Apostles closest to him fell asleep during his hour of greatest need. His cry from the Cross, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? comes from the innermost recesses of his heart, from a sense of even his Father having abandoned him.

One of the forms of feeling abandoned that I have come across in recent years in persons I have met and in my reading is a sense of disillusionment with the Church. In some predominantly English-speaking countries Church leadership has lost much of its moral authority because of the way it has been seen to have dealt - or not to have dealt - with the awful reality of some priests having abused children and adolescents.

Many older persons in Western countries are bewildered by the reality of the younger generations having abandoned the Church to a large degree, not a few having abandoned Christianity itself. Maybe some have abandoned the faith because they see the Church, and by extension Christ himself, as having abandoned them. That should be a fearful thought for those who see themselves as followers of Jesus with the responsibility of making him known to the world.

In more and more families spouses are abandoned by their husband or wife, children by their parents. Though it's not as great a phenomenon now as it was in the 1970s and 1980s, friends have expressed to me their sense of having been abandoned by their priests who left. I know from friends who have left the priesthood that their decision to do so was often very painful and not taken lightly but I have rarely heard one who has made that decision express any awareness of the pain it has left in others.


Pope Francis has spoken a number of times about the 'throwaway culture' that has resulted in the killing of humans considered 'unnecessary' and in the slavery of others, as he did in January 2014 when speaking to diplomats assigned to the Vatican (above).

Jesus in his experience of being abandoned, forsaken, has carried the pain of all who go through that to whatever degree and from whatever cause.

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THE DONKEY
by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

When fishes flew and forests walked 
And figs grew upon thorn, 
Some moment when the moon was blood 
Then surely I was born; 

With monstrous head and sickening cry 
And ears like errant wings, 
The devil's walking parody 
On all four-footed things. 

The tattered outlaw of the earth, 
Of ancient crooked will; 
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, 
I keep my secret still. 

Fools! For I also had my hour; 
One far fierce hour and sweet: 
There was a shout about my ears, 
And palms before my feet.