31 March 2016

'If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.' Sunday Reflections, Second Sunday of Easter (or of Divine Mercy)

Pushkin Museum, Moscow [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.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The Gospel of John (2003) Directed by Philip Saville
Narrator: Christopher Plummer

To embrace, to embrace – we all have to learn to embrace the one in need, as Saint Francis did. There are so many situations in Brazil, and throughout the world, that require attention, care and love, like the fight against chemical dependency. (PopeFrancis, St Francis of the Providence of God Hospital, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 24 July 2103). [Photo: Wikipedia]

On Holy Thursday 2013 Pope Francis 'gatecrashed' a lunch for seven priests hosted by Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State. Most of the priests work with the poor and under-privileged in the suburbs of Rome, according to Vatican Radio.

Monsignor Enrico Feroci, the Director of Caritas Rome and one of the guests quoted Pope Francis: Open the doors of the Church, and then the people will come in . . . if you keep the light on in the confessional and are available, then you will see what kind of line there is for confession. Msgr Feroci added that he (Pope Francis) was confident of the need of the people of God for priests to open the doors and allow the people to meet God.

St John Paul named the Second Sunday of Easter - still its primary name - as 'Divine Mercy Sunday'. Pope Francis has spoken about God's mercy a number of times since he was elected. [Emphases added below.] 

In his very first homily as Pope, in St Anne's church, the parish church of the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke about confession and God's mercy: It is not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must! "Oh, Father, if you knew my life, you would not say that to me!" "Why, what have you done?" "Oh, I am a great sinner!" "All the better! Go to Jesus: he likes you to tell him these things!" He forgets, he has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, he kisses you, he embraces you and he simply says to you: "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more" (Jn 8:11). That is the only advice he gives you. After a month, if we are in the same situation ... Let us go back to the Lord. The Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace not to tire of asking forgiveness, because he never tires of forgiving. Let us ask for this grace

In his general audience on Wednesday of Holy Week 2013 Pope Francis spoke again about God's mercy: God came out of himself to come among us, he pitched his tent among us to bring to us his mercy that saves and gives hope. The Pope said that Jesus brought God’s mercy and forgiveness; he healed, he comforted, he understood; he gave hope; he brought to all the presence of God who cares for every man and every woman, just as a good father and a good mother care for each one of their children.

God does not wait for us to go to him but it is he who moves towards us, without calculation, without quantification. That is what God is like. He always takes the first step, he comes towards us . . . There is such a great need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!

The Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia [Web Gallery of Art]

During that same audience Pope Francis speaks of the father of the Prodigal Son: God always thinks with mercy: do not forget this. God always thinks mercifully. He is the merciful Father! God thinks like the father waiting for the son and goes to meet him, he spots him coming when he is still far off . . .

What does this mean? That he went every day to see if his son was coming home: this is our merciful Father. It indicates that he was waiting for him with longing on the terrace of his house.

Pope Francis emphasised the mercy of God again in his Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday 2013: Most of all, I would like it to enter every heart, for it is there that God wants to sow this Good News: Jesus is risen, there is hope for you, you are no longer in the power of sin, of evil!  Love has triumphed, mercy has been victorious! The mercy of God always triumphs!

The Holy Father returned to the theme of 'that beautiful mercy of God' next day at the Regina Coeli on Easter Monday: And with the grace of Baptism and of Eucharistic Communion I can become an instrument of God’s mercy, of that beautiful mercy of God.

It would seem that the mercy of God is a central theme of Pope Francis, echoing what Jesus says to the Apostles in today's gospel: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.

Our loving Father shows his mercy to us as sinners above all in the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Penance/Confession. Here Cardinal) Luis Antonio G. Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, answers some questions about this sacrament. 

The setting is by James MacMillan, a contemporary Scottish composer.

 Antiphona ad communionem   

Communion antiphon Cf. John 20:27

Mitte manum tuam, et cognoxce loca clavorum,
Bring your hand and feel the place of the nails,
et noli esse incredulus, sed fidelis, alleluia.
and do not be unbelieving, alleluia.

29 March 2016

Easter Sunday killings in Lahore, Pakistan

The following report was emailed yesterday, 28 March 2016, by Columban priests in Pakistan. The Columbans have been in Pakistan since 1979. Columban Sisters serve there and Columban Lay Missionaries have been assigned there.

On Easter Sunday at about 6.30pm, there was a suicide bomb attack at a popular park in Lahore, Gulshan-i-Iqbal park in Allama Iqbal Town. The park is about one kilometer from the Columban house. The park was particularly crowded, due in part to many Christians out celebrating Easter. Many feel that Christians were the main target of the attack though the District coordination Officer (DCO) of the district government has denied that Christians were the target of the attack.

As of now, the official death toll is given at 70 with about 250 injured, the majority being women and children. The city hospitals were completely over-stretched and an emergency was declared at all government hospitals in the city; there were urgent appeals for people to donate blood.

The attack has been claimed by a group calling themselves Jaamat ul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistan Taliban, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This is the same group which claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attacks on two churches in Lahore on March 15, 2015.

The Punjab government announced three days of mourning. The Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif, chaired a high-level meeting late Sunday night with intelligence and military agents to begin the process of apprehending those responsible, saying these “inhumane savages will not be allowed to overrun our life and liberty”. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also chaired a meeting at the PM house, Islamabad, where he was briefed on the Lahore situation by his security staff.

A separate incident earlier in the day in Islamabad, which is likely not unconnected to this attack, is also very worrying. About 10,000 gathered to attend the chelum (40th day after the death) of Mumtaz Qadri, the former Punjab police commando who was hanged last month for assassinating the man he was assigned to protect, Governor Salman Taseer of Punjab on Jan 4, 2011. He shot him because of the Governor’s call for reform of the so-called ‘blasphemy law’. About 2,000 of the crowd took the law into their own hands by staging a sit-in within the Capitals Red Zone, near to Parliament house and presented a charter of demands to the government. These include: -the implementation of Shariah law in the country, the unconditional release of all Sunni clerics and leaders booked on various charges including murder and terrorism, the declaring of Qadri as a martyr and the execution of blasphemy accused Christian woman, Asia Bibi, the woman Governor Salman Taseer was killed for defending.

This is another dark day for Pakistan, where the security situation now seems out of control and people are forced to live in an atmosphere of fear, with no real hope of any change. The message of Easter is hard to keep alive in such a situation.

This request came with the report: 

We also feel it is important not just to focus on the Christian victims, as there are many other innocent victims of violence, the majority of whom are Muslim, so we need to keep them all in mind and prayer. The majority of the victims were women and children. It might be enough to ask Columbans to keep all here in prayer.

Governor Salman Taseer
(31 May 1944 - assassinated 4 January 2011) [Wikipedia]

Shahbaz Bhatti
(9 September 1968 - assassinated 2 March 2011) [Wikipedia]

Governor Taseer was a Muslim. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, was the first ever Christian to be appointed to the cabinet in Pakistan and the first Federal Minister for Minority Affairs. Both were opposed to Pakistan's Blasphemy Law.

UCANews (Union of Catholic Asian News) has a report dated 27 March, Church condemns Easter bomb attack in Lahore, here and one dated 28 March, Pakistan mourns Lahore park massacre victimshere. The first report notes that Dr Attiya Mehboob of Sheik Zaid Hospital said that they had received both Christian and Muslim bomb victims.

26 March 2016

'But Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us.' Sunday Reflections, Easter Sunday 2016.

The Resurrection of Christ, Rembrandt, c.1639
Alte Pinakothek, Munich [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)

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 toward 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.

Dear brothers and sisters! The risen Christ is journeying ahead of us towards the new heavens and the new earth (cf. Rev 21:1), in which we shall all finally live as one family, as sons and daughters of the same Father. He is with us until the end of time. Let us walk behind him, in this wounded world, singing Alleluia. In our hearts there is joy and sorrow, on our faces there are smiles and tears. Such is our earthly reality. But Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us. For this reason we sing and we walk, faithfully carrying out our task in this world with our gaze fixed on heaven.

Happy Easter to all of you! (Pope Benedict, Easter Sunday 2011).

I have told the following story before here and on many other occasions, especially giving retreats. Each time I share it or recall it I experience the truth of Pope Benedict's words, Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us. I have also learned that persons with a deep, committed faith can sometimes be very fragile.

More than 30 years ago I spent part of a summer working in a suburban parish in the USA. One night at around 11 I did something I rarely did: make a late night phone call, and for no other reason than to say 'Hi'. I phoned a friend who was a teacher whom I had first met eleven years earlier when I was a young priest and she a generous, idealistic but confused 16-year-old. Over the years I saw 'Lily' - I'll call her that since that flower is often associated with Easter in northern climes and this is an Easter story – very rarely as I was here in the Philippines.

Lily [Wikipedia]

I was shocked when 'Lily' answered. Her speech was slurred. She told me she had taken an overdose of a drug prescribed for a serious illness she had. I told her I would come over immediately but she said she would not let me in. She lived on her own but near her parents, about thirty minutes from where I was. I took another priest with me.

'Lily', of course, let us in. We spent about three hours with her. I was satisfied that what she had taken wasn't enough to kill her and that she wouldn't do anything drastic in the meantime. I promised to return in the morning.

I spent most of the next two days with 'Lily'. I called her doctor and also phoned a helpline for those dealing with or attempting suicide. 

I had seen 'Lily' grow in her faith over the years. After qualifying as a teacher she chose to teach in a parochial elementary school rather than in a public school, even though the salary was lower. She had a sense of mission. She came from a Catholic family but was aware since her childhood of her father's infidelity. But when she had attempted suicide when about 17 she saw her parents' great love for her, despite everything.

Yet it was something her mother said to her that had triggered off this latter attempt at suicide. 'Lily' felt that she wasn't living up to her mother's expectations. I think it was during the second morning I was with 'Lily' that she asked me, 'What are your expectations of me?' I answered, 'I don't have any expectations, only hopes'.

Hearing the word 'only hopes' was the turning point. That was when 'Lily' decided to live.

A few days later ‘Lily’ came to the parish where I was for confession and Mass and she was truly filled with the joy that only the Lord can give. She also wrote me a long letter - she was a wonderful letter-writer - about her experience. 

Woman writing a letter, Gerard Terborch, c.1655 
Mauritshuis, The Hague [Web Gallery of Art]

In her letter 'Lily' said: I have come to learn more about myself - as a 'vulnerable' yet 'hopeful' person, and yet even more important - I feel that my relationship with the Lord has deepened. I have a deeper hunger to be united with Him on a more intimate and dependent level.

Further on 'Lily' wrote: Most times we need to see and hear and feel Christ through another, to be able to believe in Him more faithfully and securely . . . I realize that years and years of therapy can amount to nothing unless the Lord is a very central part of it. I was able to share my fears, hurts, confusion, pain and - thank God - tears with you in and through the anointing of your priesthood . . .

I find 'Lily's' words echoed in those of Pope Francis when he celebrated Mass on Holy Thursday in Casal del Marmo Prison for Minors. He ended his homily with these words: Now we will perform this ceremony of washing feet, and let us think, let each one of us think: 'Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?'. Let us think about this, just this. And let us think that this sign is a caress of Jesus, which Jesus gives, because this is the real reason why Jesus came: to serve, to help us.

After the Mass Pope Francis met with the prisoners and said, Go forward, alright? And do not let yourselves be robbed of hope, do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Understood? Always with hopeGo forward! Thank you

In his final greetings as he was leaving Pope Francis said, Now I leave. Thank you so much for your welcome. Pray for me and do not let yourselves be robbed of hope. Always go forward! Thank you so much! [Emphases mine.]

The following summer, at the end of a sabbatical, I was in that same parish again. I met up with 'Lily'. She told me that she didn't think she had long to live. Knowing something of her medical history I took her seriously and we had a very deep and faith-filled conversation about that. There was nothing morbid about it. We were facing a reality but with faith and hope in the Resurrection. Afterwards we had lunch together in a restaurant and our conversation was totally lighthearted.

That was the last time we met. 'Lily' died peacefully a few months later at the age of 29. I know from those who were with her at the time that she did so as one who had faithfully carried out her task in this world with her gaze fixed on heaven, to use the words of Pope Benedict above.

I learned from that experience that there are persons of deep faith who can be very fragile. I have seen that in others subsequently.

I also saw God's utter love. Why did I make that late night phone call? I can see the Lord's hand in that visit. And I know that I was the only person whom 'Lily' could totally confide in at that time. Somehow it has been easier to share the past month's conflicts, feelings, tears and hopes with you which have built up over the years than with anyone else.

Lent and Easter is a prolonged moment every year when Jesus the Risen Lord says to each of us what Pope Francis said three times to the young prisoners last Thursday: Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope.

Through God's mercy more than thirty years ago the same Risen Lord said to my friend 'Lily', Do not let yourself be robbed of hope - and she took him at his word.

The meditations for the Via Crucis led by Pope Francis in the Colosseum on the night of Good Friday 2013, just after he was elected Pope, were prepared by young people from Lebanon, as Zenit reportsThe youth of Lebanon received the invitation from Pope Benedict XVI to take part in this year's Stations of the Cross – or Via Crucis – following the Holy Father's apostolic visit to Lebanon, and were invited to compose meditations for the event. A delegation of 45 Lebanese youth have come to Rome on pilgrimage for this evening's Via Crucis with Pope Francis.

The video above is that of a proclamation of Easter in Arabic in a mall in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2011. I have used it many times and it never fails to remind me that He is risen as he said, Alleluia; Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia. 

24 March 2016

Holy Thursday, Jesus said, 'I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.'

Tintoretto, c.1547. Museo del Prado, Madrid [Web Gallery of Art]

Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) [Readings for morning Mass of the Chrism included.]

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Antiphona ad introitum Cf. Galatians 6:14

Nos autem gloriári opórtet in cruce Dómini nostri Iesu Christi, 
in quo est salus, vita et resurréctio nostra, 
per quem salváti et liberáti sumus.

Entrance Antiphon Cf. Galatians 6:14

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, 
through whom we are saved and delivered.

The Last Supper (detail)Tintoretto, 1579-81
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice [Web Gallery of Art]

Antiphona ad Communionem 1 Cor 11:24-25

Hoc Corpus, quod pro vobis tradétur: 
hic calix novi testaménti est in meo Sánguine, dicit Dóminus;
 hoc fácite, quotiescúmque súmitis, in meam commemoratiónem.

Communion Antiphon 1 Corinthians 11:24-25

This is the body that will be given up for you; 
this is the Chalice of the new covenant in my blood, says the Lord; 
do this, whenever you receive it, in memory of me.

Pange Lingua Gloriosi

This hymn, written by St Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi, is sung at the end of the Mass of the Lord's Supper as the Blessed Sacrament is taken in procession from the altar where the Mass has been celebrated to the Altar of Repose.