17 July 2014

'Let both of them grow together until the harvest . . .' Sunday Reflections, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The Sower, November 1888, Arles; Vincent van Gogh
 Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam [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) 

Gospel Matthew 13:24-43 (or 13:24-30)  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
[He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
    I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,  and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!]
Burning Weeds, July 1883, The Hague; Vincent van Gogh
Bibliothèque de l'Institut national d'histoire de l'art, Paris [Web Gallery of Art]

In 1997 while on a visit to Toronto I read in a newspaper about a woman from the Philippines  who had been found guilty of embezzling about Can$250,000 over a period of time from the company for which she worked. The judge had no alternative but to send her to prison. However he was a very compassionate man. 

The judge was aware that the woman was no Al Capone. She had spent the money on surgery for her father in the Philippines, on improving her family's house there and on other family needs.

She was also pregnant.

The judge delayed the woman's imprisonment until six months after the birth of her child. She was also to serve her time in a women's prison near where she lived so that her family and friends could visit her easily.

The First Reading gives context to the parable of the good seed and the weeds: Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins (Wisdom 12:19)

The judge in this case was both righteous and kind. As one implementing justice on behalf of the state he had to punish the person before him because she had committed a serious crime. But he also filled her with good hope and, I've no doubt, gave her an opportunity to repent of her sins.

The parable shows once again God's mercy, God's desire to be merciful. He doesn't want to destroy what is good. He wants what is good to grow. He wants to cultivate the virtues in our lives by nourishing them through his grace and with our cooperation. 

But the parable also acknowledges the reality of evil. Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, the householder instructs his workers. We can choose to be 'weeds', to spurn God's mercy. The consequences are the result of our choice, not of God's. The, the author of the Book of Wisdom says to God, you give repentance for sins. God himself offers the grace of sorrow for our sins, the grace to ask God for forgiveness, won for us by Jesus on the Cross. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

The greatest expression of the God's mercy, given as a gift to the Church, is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we often call confession or penance. Last March Pope Francis said this to confessors (emphasis added): First of all, the protagonist of the ministry of reconciliation is the Holy Spirit. The forgiveness that the Sacrament confers is the new life sent by the Risen Lord by means of His Spirit: “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” (Jn 20:22-23). Therefore, you are called to always be “men of the Holy Spirit,” witnesses and heralds, joyful and strong, of the resurrection of the Lord. This testimony is read on the face, is heard in the voice of the priest who administers with faith and with “unction” the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He welcomes penitents not with the attitude of a judge, not even with that of a simple man, but with the charity of God, with the love of a father who sees the son returning and goes to meet him, [with the love] of the shepherd who has found the lost sheep. The heart of the priest is a heart that knows how to be moved, not by sentimentality or mere emotion, but to the “tender mercy” [viscere di misericordia] of the Lord! If it is true that tradition points out the dual role of doctor and judge for confessors, we must never forget that as a doctor he is called to heal and as a judge, to absolve.

The judge in Canada, though he had to be primarily a judge, also showed the charity of God, as many judges do. He showed compassion, which was expressed not only in the respect he showed the woman from the Philippines, but also in the respect he showed to her unborn child.

And Pope Francis shows us the way to avail of God's mercy so that when the reapers come there will be no 'weeds' to burn.

Lenten Penitential Service, St Peter's Basilica, Rome, 28 March 2014

The music being sung at that moment during the service was Miserere by Gregorio Allegri, a setting of the Latin translation of Psalm 51 (50). The refrain is the opening line of the psalm: Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam (Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love).

Miserere, by Gregorio Allegri
Sung by the Tallis Scholars

11 July 2014

'Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain.' Sunday Reflections, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The Sower, Vincent van Gogh
June 1888, Arles, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo [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) 

Gospel Matthew 13:1-23 (or 13:1-9)  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.  And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  Let anyone with ears listen!”
[Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,

    and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and their ears are hard of hearing,
        and they have shut their eyes;
        so that they might not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
    and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”]
June 1888, Arles. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]


In the spring of 1982 I made the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius at Loyola House, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. We spent 40 days there, a few days of preparation for the Thirty-Day Retreat proper and five days of reflection on the experience afterwards. One of the spiritual directors, though not my own, was an American Jesuit priest named George. He was probably in his 60s at the time. He had worked for some years in South America and he was a recovering alcoholic.

One evening I saw Father George come out of the Jesuit residence dressed very nattily, wearing a rather nice sports coat and hat, his pipe in one hand - and his rosary beads in the other. I said to myself, 'That man has it all together!'

He gave unusual homilies, laced with a delightfully dry and ironic humour. One was simply about a tiny bird - I think it was a species of hummingbird - that migrates each year in both directiosn between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, without stopping. All of us listening were filled with awe at God's creation, at the power and endurance of one of God's creatures, one that didn't have the power of reasoning but that knew how to get from one end of the landmass of the Americas to the other and to know where to go.

The First Reading and its Responsorial Psalm along with the Gospel invite us to reflect on how God's word takes root in our hearts. But they also invite us to reflect on God's bounty as revealed in nature itself. Isaiah tells us in the First Reading that it is impossible for the rain and snow that God sends not to bear fruit: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.

July 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise. Neue Pinakothek, Munich [Web Gallery of Art]

Psalm 64 [65] echoes this: You crown the year with your bounty;
    your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
    the hills gird themselves with joy,
 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
    the valleys deck themselves with grain,
    they shout and sing together for joy.

Jesus takes something simple in nature as an example of how God's word, God's very life, takes root in our lives. But we can see God's loving power, presence and bounty in the seed itself, without drawing any analogies or other meanings from it. Those of us who aren't from a farming background can take for granted the food that lands on our table. All the nourishment that we find in a loaf of bread or in a bowl of rice is there already in the grains the farmer sows. The seed of a husband fertilized by the egg of his wife becomes a new human being containing already in its microscopic size all that will be evident when that person is born and grows to maturity.

There is great emphasis today on the urgency of respecting nature and of not abusing it, in order to avoid possible disastrous consequences.

But the basic reason we should respect all of nature is that it is an expression of God's infinite bounty 'singing' in its own way: the hills gird themselves with joy . . .

Father George conveyed something of that to all of us on retreat in Guelph 32 years ago. Another Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins, captured that in some of his poems, including Pied Beauty, published 29 years after his death and 41 years after he wrote it rather like the seed being buried in the ground in spring and bearing fruit at harvest-time.


Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things —
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                Praise him.



Wheat Field with a Lark,Vincent van Gogh
Summer 1887, Paris. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]

03 July 2014

'I thank you, Father . . . because you have . . . revealed [these things] to infants.' Sunday Reflections, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Christ blessing the children, Nicolaes Maes, 1652-53
National Gallery, London [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) 


At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


One night about forty years ago when I was chaplain in the college department of Immaculate Conception College (ICC) - now La Salle University - I was looking out of an upstairs window of the convento (presbytery/rectory). There were only two persons to be seen in the plaza in front of Immaculate Conception Cathedral. One was a young man, a beggar. The other was a gentle, simple-minded woman known to everyone, Goria, whose baptismal name I take to be Gregoria. Sometimes Goria would ask for money. However, she wasn't a beggar and, as far as I know, spent most of her time with her family in nearby Tangub City. She would smile if you declined to give her money.

Sometimes Goria would wander into a classroom in ICC, as she would also do in St Michael's High School in Tangub City. But she would never disturb anyone, never say anything while there. She'd simply doodle with chalk on the blackboard.


As I looked out the window I saw that Goria had a small plastic bag with two pieces of pandesal, usually eaten at breakfast. She went over to the beggar and gave him one of them. 

I have been blessed on a number of occasions to have seen acts of utterly pure generosity, of utterly pure love. And those who have shown me such pure love have usually been children or persons like Goria. In the Irish language we speak of someone like her as 'duine le Dia', 'a person with God'. And they have been totally unaware of the impact of their actions, sometimes not even aware that these have been noticed. 

I inquired about Goria the other day and was happy to learn that she still walks among us, though she is far from being young.

Lala feeding Jordan, L'Arche Punla Community, Cainta, Rizal, Philippines

Goria, Lala and Jordan are all daoine le Dia, 'persons with God'. That doesn't only mean that they have a special place in God's heart, which they have, but that they are, in a very real sense, 'God-bearers'. They carry God with them. 

That is why Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium No 198 [emphases added]This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.

To repeat what Jesus tells us in the Gospel today: I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.


Entrance Antiphon  Antiphona ad introitum (Cf Ps 47 [48]:10-11)

Suscepimus, Deus, misericordiam tuam in medio templi tui. 
Your merciful love, O God, we have received in the midst of your temple.
Secundum nomen tuum, Deus, ita et laus tua in fines terrae, 
Your praise, O God, like your name, reaches the ends of the earth,
justitiam plena est dextera tua. 
your right had is filled with saving justice.

[(Ps. 47: 2) Magnus Dominus, et laudabilis nimis: in civitate Dei nostri; in monte sancto ejus. 
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in his holy mountain.
v. Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancti sicut erat in principio et nunc, et semper, et saecula saeculorum. Amen. Repeat Suscepimus . . .
v. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Repeat Your merciful love . . .]

The video contains the full Entrance Antiphon as sung or said in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.




This video ties in with today's gospel - and with the ongoing World Cup. Notice the colours of the young man's shirt, keeping in mind where Pope Francis is from. And check the name and number on the back of the shirt!

[Logo from Wikipedia]

28 June 2014

'But who do you say that I am?' Sunday Reflections, Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul

Sts Peter and Paul, Guido Reni
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan [Web Gallery of Art]


Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. Solemnities take precedence over Sundays in Ordinary Time.

At the Vigil Mass (Saturday evening)

NB: The Vigil Mass has its own prayers and readings. Those for the Mass During the Day on Sunday should not be used – though some priests seem to be unaware of this. It is incorrect to refer to the Vigil Mass as an ‘anticipated Mass’. It is a celebration proper to the evening before. The Vigil Mass also fulfills the Sunday obligation.

Readings  (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) [This link is to the readings for the Vigil Mass and for the Mass on Sunday]


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)  [This link is to the readings for the Vigil Mass and for the Mass on Sunday] [Link to readings of Vigil Mass and Mass During the Day]


Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

From Tu es Petrus (You are Peter), an oratorio by contemporary Polish composer Piotr Rubik. The composer, who conducts above, composed the work in honour of Pope John Paul II in 2005.

Jesus says to Peter in today's gospel: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Those same words are sung as the Gospel Acclamation.. The first part of that verse is sung again as part of the Communion Antiphon.

St Augustine speaks very eloquently in one of his sermons on the reasons Jesus chose this fisherman to be the first leader of his Church:

If Christ had first chosen a man skilled in public speaking, such a man might well have said: 'I have been chosen on account of my eloquence.' If he had chosen a senator, the senator might have said: 'I have been chosen because of my rank.' If his first choice had been an emperor, the emperor surely might have said: 'I have been chosen for the sake of the power I have at my disposal.' Let these worthies keep quiet and defer to others; let them hold their peace for a while. I am not saying they should be passed over or despised; I am simply asking all those who can find any ground for pride in what theya re to give way to others just a little.

Christ says: give me this fisherman, this man without education or experience, this man to whom no senator would deign to speak, not even if he were buying fish. Yes, give me him; once I have taken possession of him, it will be obvious that it is I who am at work in him. Although I meant to include senators, orators, and emperors among my recruits, even when I have won over the senator I shall still be surer of the fisherman. The senator can always take pride in what he is; so can the orator and the emperor, but the fisherman can glory in nothing except Christ alone.

I was particularly struck by St Augustine's observation that perhaps a senator mightn't bother to speak to a fisherman even when buying fish from him. I remember being at a birthday party here in the Philippines for a boy aged ten or eleven, an only child. His paternal grandmother, a wealthy woman, whom I'll call 'Lydia', whose late husband had lingered for ten years after a stroke that left him totally incapacitated. During those years Lydia joined a prayer group, most of the members of which were people who had to struggle financially from day to day. They prayed regularly with Lydia's husband and gave her great support.

At her grandson's birthday party she asked her daughter-in-law if her driver had eaten. Then she turned to me and said, Before, I wouldn't even have noticed him. She had been changed by the faith community in her parish, especially by the members of the prayer group.



Last Wednesday in his General Audience Pope Francis spoke of how our lives are intertwined by being members of the Church. Here is a summary in English of what he said in Italian:

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the Church, we have seen that God gathered a people to himself in the Old Testament and in the fullness of time sent his Son to establish the Church as the sacrament of unity for all humanity. God calls each of us to belong to this great family. None of us become Christians on our own; we owe our relationship with God to so many others who passed on the faith, who brought us for Baptism, who taught us to pray and showed us the beauty of the Christian life: our parents and grandparents, our priests, religious and teachers. But we are Christians not only because of others, but together with others. Our relationship with Christ is personal but not private; it is born of, and enriched by, the communion of the Church. Our shared pilgrimage is not always easy: at times we encounter human weakness, limitations and even scandal in the life of the Church. Yet God has called us to know him and to love him precisely by loving our brothers and sisters, by persevering in the fellowship of the Church and by seeking in all things to grow in faith and holiness as members of the one body of Christ.

One very striking statement there is: Our relationship with Christ is personal but not private; it is born of, and enriched by, the communion of the Church. Pope Benedict frequently spoke of our faith being in the person of Jesus Christ, God who became man. Pope Francis has done the same.

The gospel read at the Vigil Mass, John 21:15-19, [in the video below from 1:13 to 3:27] brings that out very clearly. Jesus calls Simon Peter into a deep intimacy with him and it is in that context that he sends him out to preach the Gospel. that is how Jesus relates to each one of us, as he did to St Peter and to St Paul. And the director of the movie from which the video is taken, The Gospel of John, Philip Saville, has Jesus asking Peter the very personal 'Do you love me?' in the presence of the other apostles. In my imagination I had always seen Jesus as having taken Peter aside. The scene in the movie illustrates the words of Pope Francis: But we are Christians not only because of others, but together with others. St Peter here, though he has been called to a special responsibility of leadership, is still a Christian with the others. That goes for each of us, no matter what our specific responsibilities may be in the community that is the Church.



In the two gospel readings used in the celebration of this Solemnity Jesus puts the same questions to each of us that he did to St Peter: But who do you say that I am? and Do you love me? Our response, to use the words of Pope Francis last Wednesday, is meant to be personal but not private.

+++


While preparing this post I came across the story of Hieu Van Le, a Catholic, who will become Governor of South Australia in September. He has been Lieutenant-Governor since 2007. Queen Elizabeth of Australia is also Queen of England and that's where she lives. But she's represented in Australia by the Governor-General and, in each state, by the Governor. Hieu Van Le arrived in Australia in 1977 at the age of 23, a 'boat person' from Vietnam, after a perilous journey in which he showed his leadership qualities.

In the video below he tells how, on the arrival of the small boat in which he and many others had been travelling for over a month, two Australian fishermen lifted the spirits of the Vietnamese by a simple greeting: G'day, mate. Welcome to Australia! I'm sure St Augustine would highly approve, not to mention the great fisherman we are celebrating this weekend!