26 March 2015

'Yet, not what I want, but what you want.' Sunday Reflections, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) directed by Philip Saville

[John 12:12-16 runs from 0:00 to 0:56]

The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem

Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)

John 12:12-16.

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

At the Mass

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Mark 14:1 – 15:47 or 15:1-39 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)   

Chalice, Gilt Silver, 1450 - 1500, Unknown Hungarian Goldsmith
Hungarian National Museum, Budapest [Web Gallery of Art]

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mark 14:23-24).

Escuelas Pías de San Antón, Madrid [Web Gallery of Art]

“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:36).

As we enter Holy Week we can be overwhelmed by the sheer richness of the liturgy. I have always found it difficult to say anything about or during these days. American writer Flannery O'Connor in the quotation below touches on the inner suffering of some as they struggle to believe in Jesus, something she knew from personal experience. She also embraced the Cross in coming to terms with lupus, which had caused her father's early death. His death was for her when she was 15, an experience of embracing the Cross.

(25 March 1925 - 3 August 1964 [Wikipedia]

Flannery O'Connor grew up as a devout Catholic in Georgia, in the 'Bible Belt' of the USA. In 1951 she was diagnosed with lupus, from which her father had died when she was 15. She said of her writings, The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. She also wrote, Grace changes us and change is painful. The following quotation reflects this [emphasis added]:

I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.

May Holy Week be a time when each of us can embrace whatever share in the Cross God has in mind for us and may it prepare us to celebrate the Joy and Hope of Easter once again.

World Youth Day 2015
Young pilgrims from Rio de Janeiro, site if WYDRio2013, receiving the Cross during WYD in Madrid 21 August 2011 [Wikipedia]

In years when World Youth Day is not a major international gathering it is observed in Rome on Palm Sunday. The Message of Pope Francis for this year's WYD has as its theme Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt 5: 8). One quotation from it echoes the words of Flannery O'Connor above: 

The Lord’s invitation to encounter him is made to each of you, in whatever place or situation you find yourself. It suffices to have the desire for “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter you; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 3). We are all sinners, needing to be purified by the Lord. But it is enough to take a small step towards Jesus to realize that he awaits us always with open arms, particularly in the sacrament of Reconciliation, a privileged opportunity to encounter that divine mercy which purifies us and renews our hearts.

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.

Source: The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton (Dodd Mead & Company, 1927)

20 March 2015

'We wish to see Jesus.' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B

Sheaves of Wheat, August 1885, Nuenen, Van Gogh
Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Netherlands [Web Gallery of Art]

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 12:20-33 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”  The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”  Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 

El Greco, c.1588, National Gallery, Athens [Web Gallery of Art]

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:32).

Sir, we wish to see Jesus. This was the request of some Greek pilgrims to Jerusalem who spoke to Philip. Jesus when told of this said to Philip and Andrew, Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Presumably, these words were conveyed to the Greeks by the two apostles or perhaps repeated to them by Jesus himself.

St Philip, El Greco, 1610-14
Museo de El Greco, Toledo, Spain [Web Gallery of Art]

The Lord was making it very clear that there are consequences to following him. Philip himself was to end his life as a martyr.

On 12 March Pope Francis addressed the bishops of Korea during their ad limina visit. He recalled his visit to Korea last year when he beatified a group of martyrs. The Bishop of Rome said [emphasis added]: For me, one of the most beautiful moments of my visit to Korea was the beatification of the martyrs Paul Yun Ji-chung and companions.  In enrolling them among the Blessed, we praised God for the countless graces which he showered upon the Church in Korea during her infancy, and equally gave thanks for the faithful response given to these gifts of God.  Even before their faith found full expression in the sacramental life of the Church, these first Korean Christians not only fostered their personal relationship with Jesus, but brought him to others, regardless of class or social standing, and dwelt in a community of faith and charity like the first disciples of the Lord (cf. Acts 4:32).  “They were willing to make great sacrifices and let themselves be stripped of whatever kept them from Christ… Christ alone was their true treasure” (Homily in Seoul, 16 August 2014).  Their love of God and neighbor was fulfilled in the ultimate act of freely laying down their lives, thereby watering with their own blood the seedbed of the Church.

Last Sunday there were attacks on a Catholic church and a Protestant church in an area of Lahore where many Christians live as my Columban confrere Fr Liam O'Callaghan, who is based in Pakistan, reports. Pope Francis expressed his grief during his Angelus talk later in the day and noted: Our brothers' and sisters' blood is shed only because they are Christians,

When we say, We wish to see Jesus we have no idea what this might entail. But we do have the assurance of Jesus himself today where our following him will lead us: Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Let us pray for the Christians of Pakistan, the Christians of the Middle East, the Christians in those parts of Africa where they are being persecuted simply for being followers of Jesus. May the promise of Jesus, Whoever serves me, the Father will honor give them courage and honour.
Responsorial Psalm (New American Bible: Philippines, USA) 

Antiphona ad introitum  Entrance Antiphon Cf Psalm 42[43]:1-2

Iudica me, Deus,
Give me justice, O God,  
et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta; 
and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless.
ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me, 
From the deceitful and cunning you rescue me,
quia tu es Deus meus et fortitudo mea.
for you, O God, are my strength.

18 March 2015

Week of Prayer for persons with dementia, 12 - 19 March 2015

St Joseph with the Flowering Rod, Jusepe de Ribera, early 1630s [Wikipedia]

This is an edited version of a post published on 13 March 2013. May I ask anyone who reads this to check out the website of Pastoral Care Project. This wonderful ecumenical ministry, initiated by Mrs Frances Molloy in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, focuses on the spiritual needs of persons with dementia.

Though this post is somewhat late, as the week of prayer is almost over, it is never too late to care for persons with dementia, often family members or individuals we have known in their prime. God calls some to this form of loving service every day.

Long ago I used to be a young man
and dear Margaret remembers that for me.

The Dutchman is a song written by Michael Peter Smith in 1968. It's about an elderly couple living in Amsterdam, Margaret and the title character. The unnamed Dutchman has dementia and Margaret cares for him with a sadness over what has happened to him over the years. It's a story of unconditional love.

 Rijksmuseum Van Gogh, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art)]

I became involved with The Pastoral Care Project in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, while based in the Columban house in Solihull from September 2000 to April 2002 when I moved to Glasgow, Scotland, though I stayed there for only a few months before returning to the Philippines. The mission statement of the Project is above. I first got involved when the founder of the Project, Mrs Frances Molloy, invited me to celebrate Mass in a home for old people.

The mission statement of the Project is above. The focus is on the spiritual needs of those who are frail, especially mentally. The Project also works with carers, not all of whom would understand the spiritual needs of those they are looking after. And the carers themselves need some care too as their work can be very demanding.

Michael Peter Smith's song, sung with such feeling by the late Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, captures something of what is asked of those taking care of a person with dementia, who is very often a spouse or a parent, in the lines, Long ago I used to be a young man / and dear Margaret remembers that for me.

The Project's Dementia Prayer Week has been running since 12 March and ends on the 
Feast of St Joseph, 19 March. .

I studied Shakespeare's As You Like It in school. (Stratford-on-Avon is in the Archdiocese of Birmingham and not far from the office of The Pastoral Care Project.) I always liked the famous speech of Jacques, The Seven Ages of Man or All the world's a stage. But a 15-year-old cannot understand the closing lines in the way Richard Pasco does here:
Last scene of all, 
That ends this strange eventful history,  
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,  
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Portrait of an Old WomanPeter Bruegel the Elder, c.1564 
Alte Pinakothek, Munich [Web Gallery of Art]

Prayer for Healthcare Professionals © 

O Lord we pray for all those whose work is dedicated 
to the assessment and care of those who experience 
confusion and profound memory loss. 
For all who work as Healthcare Professionals in 
everyday care and research into the causes of 
Dementia of many kinds. 
May they be strengthened in their work of service 
with individuals, families and friends. 
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Written in 2009 for the Pastoral Care Project by Rev’d Canon Edward Pogmore, 
Chaplain Co-ordinator, The George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust and North Warwickshire Primary Care Trust.

At the Pastoral Care Project we are often asked how parishes can respond to  dementia.  One  example where a parish visiting team offers lunch after the regular first Friday Mass. This helps overcome isolation and also provides opportunities for parishioners to contribute; through baking, or serving.

For those whose interest is music and leading services there are also online resources. Music touches people at a very deep level and so sensitivity to the choice of music or hymns is important because of the memories evoked.

Hymns which they would have sung at Mass are helpful; times when they felt God was very close, confirmed by one carer so wisely said “People with dementia have an awareness of God – God is also aware of them.” 

Carers too need support. When a former elderly carer whose wife with dementia was hospitalised he would visit and help feed her and give her drinks and ensure she was well cared for, even though he was frail himself. He would sing songs, hymns and pray with her. After her death he found comfort  through praying and writing poetry; by donating the poems to the Pastoral Care Project he felt solidarity with people with dementia and those in similar caring situations.

The following poem was composed by him as he reflected on the painting of the Washing of the Feet by Sieger Koder during one of the Pastoral Care Projects’ Quiet Day for Carers.

The Water of your Blessing©

Do not kneel, My Lord.
It is for me to kneel
At your feet.
With your loving hands you
Touch my feet…
Loving, gentle hands
Which made those who ail and hurt
Whole and well.
You washed your feet with
Water cool and soothing…
The water of your
You dried my feet with
Linen pure; and gentleness.
But infinitely you washed
My heart…
A heart ‘oft grieved and saddened.
You drew me close and called me Son,
And filled me with your grace,
Your great Amen

The Week of Prayer and Awareness of Dementia 12-19th March involves us all – for everyone knows someone who is affected by dementia. Think about dementia?  You can’t help but get involved in some small way to make a difference to someone? Baking a few scones, sharing with a neighbour or sell to friends and raise a few desperately needed pounds for the Pastoral Care Project . You will be helping others through us to create opportunities to make the lives of people with dementia more fulfilling

Please contact Frances Molloy, Project Manager at the Pastoral Care Project, St George's House, Gerards Way, Coleshill, B46 3FG, England. telephone 01675 434035,www.pastoralcareproject.org.uk email info@pastoralcareproject.org.uk

17 March 2015

Suicide bomb attack on Churches in Lahore, Pakistan, 15 March 2015

Suicide bomb attack on Churches in Lahore

The following report was sent by Columban Fr Liam O'Callaghan in Pakistan.

On Sunday morning, March 15 there were two suicide attacks on two Churches in Yohannabad, Lahore – St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church Protestant Church, in which 15 were killed and over 70 injured. The first attack was on St John’s but it could have been much worse as the security guards stopped the attackers who detonated the bomb outside the gate. A few minutes later the second attack happened at Christ Church which is only a short distance away. People at the church claim that two of the three Government police on duty were actually at a nearby shop watching the Pakistan-Ireland World Cup cricket game and as a consequence the bomber got further into the church compound and most of the deaths and injuries were at Christ Church.

Violent protests erupted after the blasts, with a mob killing two men accused of involvement in the attacks and news reports also claimed the mob set their bodies on fire. There is deep anger in the Christian community at the Government’s failure to protect minorities, especially in the aftermath of the suicide bomb attack in All Saints Church, Peshawar on 22 September 2013 in which 83 people were killed. There were protest marches by Christians in other cities all over the country on Sunday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Mamnoon Hussain have condemned the latest bombings. The Government also announced compensation for the victims – Rupees 500,000 (US$5,000) to each of the families of those who were killed and Rupees 75,000 (US$750) each for those injured,

Nabila Ghazanfar, a spokeswoman for the Punjab police, said the deaths from the attack on Sunday included 13 worshipers, two police officers deployed for security outside the churches and the two suspects beaten to death by the mob, in addition to the two bombers. Dr Muhammad Saeed, the chief doctor at Lahore General Hospital, where scores of the wounded were brought, said that many were in critical condition.

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore [Wikipedia]

Yohannabad has the biggest concentration of Christians in Lahore with an estimated 100,000 living there. There are numerous problems facing the community – poverty, unemployment, drug use, violence - and a sense that the entire area is being neglected by the government in terms of development and infrastructure.

The militant group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, has claimed responsibility for the attack. Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, is an umbrella organisation of various militant groups, one of which is Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. In September 2014 Jamaat-ul-Ahrar split from the TTP amid leadership rivalries. The splinter group launched a series of devastating suicide attacks and later announced its allegiance to the Islamic State group, a move that was seen as signalling frustration over waning support from an embattled al-Qaeda and hope that Islamic State might send men or money. 

However, on last Thursday, 12 March, the group's spokesman announced that it was rejoining the Pakistani Taliban.Today, Monday, is a day of mourning and all missionary schools have been closed as a mark of respect. Most of the funerals are taking place today. Please keep in your prayers all those in Pakistan who suffer at the hands of extremists as well as for peace in the country.

13 March 2015

'Those who do what is true come to the light.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Lent, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) directed by Philip Saville
[Today's Gospel begins at 2:02 and ends at 3:10]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 3:14-21 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Nicodemus, Unknown Flemish Master
Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent, Belgium [Web Gallery of Art]

The Pharisees generally have a bad name and the adjective 'pharisaical' is defined in Merriam-Webster as marked by hypocritical censorious self-righteousness. Those words could certainly describe most of the Pharisees we meet in the gospels. But they do not apply to Nicodemus. He was patently a good man who said to Jesus when he met him at night, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God (John 3:2). He was also with Jesus at the end helping to prepare for the burial. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds (John 19:39).

This good Pharisee can help us come to the light, especially when that involves walking through the darkness. Physical darkness is part of the reality that God has given us and can protect us from the cosmic powers of this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12), as it did Nicodemus when he came by night to visit Jesus.

God has given us many examples of persons willing to confront the cosmic powers of this present darkness even at the risk of their lives. One such person is Patience Mollè Lobè, a 57-year-old widow and member of the Focolare Movement. An engineer, she became a very senior official in the Department of Public Works in Cameroon. She saw at first hand the powers of darkness in the corruption she encountered there. Here she relates how attempts were made three times to kill her.

[There's a transcript of the video here

Patience Mollè Lobè is yet another example of a layperson living fully the vision of Vatican II. So many have the idea that carrying out a particular kind of liturgical service, eg, being a reader, is what being a good lay Catholic is all about. It's much more than that. It is a way of life in following Jesus, living every moment according to the Gospel, bringing the values of Jesus into every human situation. In the words of St Paul in today's Second ReadingFor we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Ephesians 2:10).

Here in the Philippines many of us have known persons like Patience Mollè Lobè, some of whom have died for confronting the cosmic powers of this present darkness. Their witness to Jesus and the Gospel brings us the light of hope and proves the truth of his words today, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Antiphona ad introitum  Entrance Antiphon  Cf Isaiah 66:10-11

Laetare, Jerusalem, et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam; 
gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristis fuistis,
ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolations vestrae.

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.
Be joyful, all who were in mourning,
exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.


On 11 March it was announced that the the poem below by Irish poet Seamus Heaney (1939 - 2013) had been chosen as Ireland's best-loved poem of the last one hundred years.

When all the others were away at Mass 
by Seamus Heaney

In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.