19 May 2015

'Receive the Holy Spirit.' Sunday Reflections, Pentecost, Year B

Pentecost El Greco, painted 1596-1600
Museo del Prado, Madrid [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) [This page gives the readings for both the Vigil Mass and the Mass during the Day]

Liturgical Note. Pentecost, like Easter and some other solemnities, has a Vigil, properly so-called. This is not an ‘anticipated Mass’ but a Vigil Mass in its own right, with its own set of prayers and readings. It fulfils our Sunday obligation. There may be an extended Liturgy of the Word,er similar to the Easter Vigil, with all the Old Testament readings used. 

The prayers and readings of the Mass During the Day should not be used for the Vigil Mass, nor those of the Vigil Mass for the Mass During the Day. 

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.”

Alternative Gospel

Gospel John 15:26-27; 16:12-15 (New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition, Canada)

Jesus said to his disciples:

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

Fr Ralph W. Beiting (1 January 1924 - 24 August 2012) street preaching in July 2011

I'm quite happy to live in the present and to look forward to the future without worrying too much. That is all grace from God. There is, however, one event in my life that I would, perhaps, like to relive, if that were possible, which it's not. It was the summer of 1969, less than two years after my ordination in Ireland, when I was studying in a college north of New York City where I was also one of the chaplains.

One day during Lent of that year while walking across the campus to class I met Betty, a student who was in some classes with me, and asked her what she was doing for Easter. I was just making small talk. But when she told me that she and some other students were going to work in a parish in rural Kentucky as volunteers for that week I got interested - and ended up going with them. I spent most of Easter week in Lancaster, Kentucky, cleaning up buildings, getting them ready for summer programmes such as Bible classes and summer camps for local children. The parish priest, Fr Ralph Beiting, had many projects and invited students, most at college level bu some still in high school, to come during the summer for a week, two weeks, a month or longer, to help run the Bible schools in the four towns in his parish, to staff the two camps for children to spend a five-day vacation in, to do house-to-house visitation in pairs, and some other things. He had also founded the Christian Appalachian Project to help the development of this predominantly poor corner of the USA, and an area where there was only a handful of Catholics. There were still remnants of anti-Catholicism.

Fr Beiting used to go around preaching in towns during the summer, accompanied by seminarians and other male college students. They'd park their truck at a place where people could gather and he'd preach basic Christian truths from the back of the lorry. He was following an old Protestant tradition in the area but one that was dying out. On one occasion he was driven out at gunpoint but next day turned up again, not to preach but simply to show himself.

This great diocesan priest had the great gift of organising and inspiring young people in the service of the Gospel. These gifts of his helped me to discover a gift I was unaware of - the ability to listen to people. When I went back to Kentucky for six weeks in the summer of 1969 he asked me to divide my time between the activities in Lancaster and those in Cliffview Camp, where each week a group of local youngsters went on Monday morning and went home on Friday afternoon, with lots of activities to keep them, and the student volunteers, occupied. Cliffview is now a retreat and conference centre for the Diocese of Lexington.

Father Beiting wasn't a person you would go to if you had a problem or wanted to talk about something. He was an 'action man', though a prayerful one. However, I discovered that many of the young volunteers I was working with, and some persons older than me, found in me somebody who could listen to them. I had never been aware of that ability but it was to become very important in my life as a priest. Indeed, in the case of one young volunteer who became a close friend and to whom I was to be a mentor, that ability that God gave me became helped, 12 years later, to draw her back from the brink of suicide. And in that episode I discovered that sometimes a person of deep and generous faith can also be very fragile. My friend died the following year, aged only 29, peacefully and from natural causes. Some months before her death she told me that she thought she didn't have long to live. I had the good sense to listen to her and we spoke to each other as persons of faith as to what her death would mean. There was nothing morbid about our conversation and we went for an Italian lunch afterwards - my friend was pure Italian - and had a joyful time together.It was to be our last time to meet.

But what I still marvel at, and thank God for, is that 'casual' meeting with another student and a conversation that I didn't see as having any importance at all. A question that expressed friendliness rather than curiosity was to receive a profound and life-long answer, not from Betty, but from the Holy Spirit.

Receive the Holy Spirit . . . as the Father has sent me, even so I send you.

Veni Sancte Spiritus (Sequence for Mass on Pentecost Sunday)

Veni, Sancte Spiritus,
et emitte caelitus
lucis tuae radium.

Come, Holy Spirit,
send forth the heavenly
radiance of your light.

Veni, pater pauperum,
veni, dator munerum
veni, lumen cordium.

Come, father of the poor,
come giver of gifts,
come, light of the heart

Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.

Greatest comforter,
sweet guest of the soul,
sweet consolation.

In labore requies,
in aestu temperies
in fletu solatium.

In labor, rest,
in heat, temperance,
in tears, solace.

O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.

O most blessed light,
fill the inmost heart
of your faithful.

Sine tuo numine,
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.

Without your grace,
there is nothing in us,
nothing that is not harmful.

Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.

Cleanse that which is unclean,
water that which is dry,
heal that which is wounded.

Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.

Bend that which is inflexible,
fire that which is chilled,
correct what goes astray.

a tuis fidelibus,
in te confidentibus,
sacrum septenarium.

Give to your faithful,
those who trust in you,
the sevenfold gifts.

Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,
da perenne gaudium,

Grant the reward of virtue,
grant the deliverence of salvation,
grant eternal joy.

15 May 2015

'Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.' Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Year B

The Ascension of Christ, Rembrandt, 1636
Alte Pinakothek, Munich  [Web Gallery of Art]
These are the readings used on the Solemnity whether it is observed on Ascension Thursday or on the Sunday after it.
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus said to his disciples: 
“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

In Regions where the Solemnity is observed on Ascension Thursday the following Sunday is the Seventh Sunday of Easter
Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 17:11-19 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem [Wikipedia]

As far as I can recall I was ten when my father taught me how to ride a bicycle. I borrowed the child's bicycle of my cousin Deirdre who was - and happily still is! - a year older than me. I can't remember whether I needed a number of lessons or whether everything fitted in to one summer's evening. But what I remember was my father's encouraging patience and his holding on to the back of the saddle so that I wouldn't fall. After a few efforts I managed to keep more or less straight for a few metres before getting wobbly. But Dad was still there holding on to the saddle.

Then the glorious moment when I went beyond a few metres, wasn't in danger of losing my balance - and realized that Dad wasn't holding on to the saddle any more. I was on my own! And quickly the street with the garden in the middle became my racetrack.

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you (John 14:25-27). 

Jesus spoke these words to the Apostles at the Last Supper and he has been speaking them to us again during the Easter Season. He had to leave them so that they and we could carry out the command he gives us in today's gospel: Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.

My father's teaching me how to ride a bicycle meant that I had the freedom to cycle to school each day, to go for a 'spin' from time to time just for the sheer pleasure of it. It was also a great expression of the trust that both my parents put in me to use this new ability responsibly - something I didn't always do. Even when I didn't, they still showed their trust in me. I can only imagine the worry they felt at times, particularly the occasion when I arrived home very late from a dance when I was 17, long after my regular time, not because I was rebelling, not because I was being deliberately disobedient, but simply because I was enjoying myself rather thoughtlessly. We had no telephone. The mobile phone wasn't even an inventor's dream 55 years ago. My parents could only imagine the worst.

But they continued to trust me, encouraged me in my studies and fully supported my decision to become a missionary priest.

All of this gives me some idea of why Jesus went back to the Father. He wanted the Apostles to grow in faith and in responsibility through the gift of the Holy Spirit that he promised them. He didn't try to control them or to protect them in a way that would stunt their growth. He entrusted them with the enormous task of proclaiming the good news to the whole creation. He entrusted them to call all believers to share in that task.

One thing that has always struck me in the Acts of the Apostles is that there isn't the slightest trace of nostalgia for the Jesus who walked the roads of Galilee, Judea and Samaria. Through the Holy Spirit he was present to them in a far more intimate and personal way: Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them (John 14:23).

But we are anticipating the great feast of Pentecost here!

Let us be content with and encouraged by the closing words of today's gospel and look around us to see the signs that they mention: And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Museum of Art, Cleveland [Web Gallery of Art]

Communicating the Family:
A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love

The Sunday after Ascension Thursday for many years now has also been World Communications Day in the Church. The annual messages of popes in recent years have focused on the modern media as instruments to be used to proclaim the good news to the whole creation. Pope Benedict used the term this digital continent while Pope Francis in a previous message wrote about the digital highway.

But this year Pope Francis, while mentioning the modern media, focuses on the family as the place where we basically learn how to communicate:  'After all, it is in the context of the family that we first learn how to communicate. Focusing on this context can help to make our communication more authentic and humane, while helping us to view the family in a new perspective.'

The message of Pope Francis is particularly relevant to the people of the Republic of Ireland who are being asked on Friday to change the definition of marriage in the Constitution as involving a man and a woman to something 'genderless', in the name of 'equality'. 

Pope Francis in his message writes: 'The family, in conclusion, is not a subject of debate or a terrain for ideological skirmishes.' His closing paragraph speaks clearly about the true meaning of marriage and the family: 'Families should be seen as a resource rather than as a problem for society. Families at their best actively communicate by their witness the beauty and the richness of the relationship between man and woman, and between parents and children. We are not fighting to defend the past. Rather, with patience and trust, we are working to build a better future for the world in which we live.'

El Greco's painting above points towards the Extraordinary Jubilee Jubilee of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed and that will begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception this year.


Setting by Palestrina

Viri Galilaei, quid statis aspicientes in coelum? 

Hic Jesus, qui assumptus est a vobis in coelum, 

sic veniet, quemadmodum vidistis eum euntem in coelum. Alleluja

Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, et Dominus in voce tubae. Alleluja. 
Dominus in coelo paravit sedem suam. Alleluja. 


Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? 
This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, 
shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven. 

God is ascended with jubilee, and the Lord with the sound of trumpet. Alleluia. 
The Lord hath prepared his throne in heaven. Alleluia. 

Performed : Ensemble Vocal Europeén de la Chapelle Royale
Dir : Philippe Herreweghe.

The words highlighted above are those of the Entrance Antiphon at the Mass during the Day. The Vigil Mass has different antiphons and prayers but the same readings.

13 May 2015

Marriage Referendum in Republic of Ireland; pre-referendum novena

Peasant Wedding, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c.1567
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna [Web Gallery of Art]

On Friday 22 May voters in the Republic of Ireland will go to polling stations to decided whether or not to amend the Constitution by re-defining marriage: Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.

This is a consequence of the passing of The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015.

Anyone in the Republic of Ireland is free to marry in accordance with law - anyone. Some choose not to marry, for different reasons. Some who would like to marry don't because perhaps no one has asked them to be a partner in life until death do us part.

This referendum is allegedly about 'equality' but is in reality an attempt to re-define marriage to make it something that has never existed in any society from the beginning of time.

Though I will be in Ireland on 22 May having arrived there the day before, carrying my Irish passport, the only one I have, I will not be eligible to vote on this attempt to radically change society in my country, despite being a natural-born citizen. Because I live outside Ireland I am not considered equal to citizens who live there. This is not an election for a new parliament. I can understand why I cannot vote in that. This is an attempt to re-define the society to which I belong, to change the Constitution of my country.

So much for 'equality'.

In today's Irish Independent Ger Brennan, who plays for the Dublin Gaelic Football team, explains Why I'm voting No. Some of his points:

  • For a start, this isn't a referendum on whether we like gay people or whether they should be equal citizens according to the Constitution. They already are equal citizens. Article 40.1, which deals with equality, declares that all citizens shall be held equal before the law. We are not being asked to amend Article 40. We are instead being asked to amend Article 41, which deals with the family and with marriage.
  • All legislation is derived from the Constitution and its principles. So it seems pretty clear that if we redefine marriage and the family by making marriage genderless we will be denying that there is any special value in a child having both a mother and a father. We will be denying that children have any kind of a legal right to a mother and father where possible, like when it comes to laws relating to adoption and surrogacy.
  • I very nearly decided not to write this piece. I know I'll be targeted for it and labeled for it. It would have been easier to keep my mouth shut and not rock the boat. But I'm sick of the accusations being flung around that if you vote 'No' you are homophobic. I know I'm not homophobic; my gay friends and family can attest to that. I am voting 'No' because I don't want our Constitution to deny that it is a good thing for a child to have a mother and a father.
  • The Universal Declaration on Human Rights proclaims that everybody is equal in dignity and it holds that marriage is a male-female union. I don't think the Declaration of Human Rights is homophobic. I'm voting 'No'.
Many of those who are pushing for 'Yes', ie for change, try to make this a 'Catholic' issue in the sense that they make out the old-fashioned, 'conservative' Catholic Church to be holding back progress. Nowhere in his article does Ger Brennan indicate his faith or religion, if any. Nowhere does he refer to the Catholic Church. No society in history has ever seen marriage as other than a union between man and woman, in some societies with polygamous or polyandrous variations on this but always male and female, with the probability of their producing children. The wider society has always been seen as having some responsibility in enabling parents to raise their children, have them educated and so on. That is the only reason the State should have any interest in the union of husband and wife and their children, the family.

Bruce Arnold is an English journalist who has lived and worked in Ireland since 1957. He has argued strongly on his blog against the proposed change. In anything I have read there I don't find any reference to faith or religion or to the sacrament of marriage. Catholics give a special meaning to the sacrament but what we believe is in full harmony with what every society in history until now has believed: that marriage involves man and woman and, as nature teaches us, it is only a man and a woman together who can bring another human being into existence.. And any of the artificial/unnatural means used today to produce a child still need a man and a woman. 

The Holy Family, Sisto Badalocchio, c.1610
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, USA [Web Gallery of Art]

Today, Wednesday 13 May, a novena has begun for the people of the Republic of Ireland as they prepare for this important vote. One does not need to be a Christian to understand that family has always meant husband and wife and, in most cases, children. But Christians have a great responsibility to work for justice. Justice includes working to ensure that children should never be commodities, as so many are in today's world.

Novena Prayer
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Holy Family of Nazareth,
we bless and venerate you.
We commend to your care and protection
the cause of marriage and family life.
May the peace which reigned in your home
take possession of all hearts and abide in all families.
Confirm all men and women in the truth
so we may recognise what is good and right
and reject all that hinders life
and the true flourishing of humanity.
Guide the hearts of all citizens
that we may witness to the truth
in forming the laws governing our society.
Bless those who work for the protection
of marriage, family and life.
O Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Holy Family of Nazareth,
We entrust our hearts and our lives to you.

09 May 2015

'In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.' Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday of Easter, Year B

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

Today's Gospel, John 15:9-17 [1:22 - 2:34]

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

Jesus said to his disciples:

"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolaes Maes, 1652-53
National Gallery, London [Web Gallery of Art]

Since last Monday morning until noon today, Saturday, I was giving a retreat to the Missionary Sisters of the Catechism in Lipa City, south of Manila. The Sisters have a house dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe where they take care of elderly and sick women whom they refer to as the lolas, the grandmas. In another part of the compound they have a group of orphans, five young boys and six young girls. Four of the boys served Mass every morning, including 'Zacchaeus', as the Sisters call him, the youngest of the boys and small, proudly wearing his white cassock like the others. 'Zacchaeus' is not yet old enough to make his First Holy Communion or First Confession. His role as a server is to hold up the small white towel - and he really has to stretch to do so - when the priest washes his hands during the Offertory.

The youngest of the girls is Chiara, aged four or five. The children were present at lunch today, which had a celebratory air to it. I noticed after I had said Grace Before Meals that Chiara was somewhat tearful. Then I discovered that on such occasions she led the community in a Hail Mary as part of Grace. so the Sisters encouraged her to do so today even though the visiting priest had pre-empted her. After a little hesitation and the drying of her tears she prayerfully led us all in the Hail Mary and then invoked the protectors of the Congregation - Mother of Good Counsel, St Joseph, St Veronica Giuliani, St Gemma Galgani and St Bernadette Soubirous.

During the retreat I told a number of stories of seemingly insignificant events where God had revealed himself to me through the actions of children and of older persons without their being aware of it. Then on the way back to Manila this afternoon Sister Evelyn, whose family I have I have known since she was in high school in Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, and Sister Eppie told me a story about Chiara where she showed an understanding of what today's Second Reading is all about, without being aware of it.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:7-10).

Some time ago a missionary priest visited the Sisters and celebrated Mass for them. Little Chiara saw him as being very severe in his demeanour. After Mass she tugged on his cassock and asked him, Father, are you angry with God? It seems that the following morning he wasn't quite as severe looking!

Some may be angry with God. I don't think that God is too perturbed about that when he knows that the source of our anger may be bewilderment over tragedies in our lives, for example, just as we allow those whom we love to vent their anger on us because basically they trust us and we have some idea of the source of their anger.

Perhaps a more common experience, especially among persons who are serious about following Jesus faithfully but who try to live as if God's love had to be earned, as if it could be earned, is the idea that God is angry with us.

St John tells us so beautifully what the situation really is: In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Most of the Gospel readings on the Sundays and weekdays of Easter are taken from John 13-17, the Last Supper Discourse in which Jesus speaks to each of us with intense love about the intimacy into which he calls each of us through our baptism. In today's Gospel Jesus says to each of us, speaking from his heart to ours - Cor ad cor loquiter, 'Heart speaks to heart', as Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman emphasised on his coat-of-arms - As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love . . . this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you . . . you are my friends . . . you did not choose me but I chose you . . .

The initiative comes from God. Love comes from God and our loving response to that love is itself a gift from God. We do not and cannot earn God's love. God who is love gives us himself as pure gift.

How can such a God be angry with us and how can we be angry with such a God?

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).

For the LORD takes delight in his people; 

he crowns the poor with salvation (Psalm 149:4, Grail translation).

Antiphona ad communionem  Communion Antiphon
John 14:15-16

Si diligitis me, mandate mea servate, dicit Dominus.
If you love me, keep my commandments, says the Lord,
Et ego rigabo Patrem, et alium Paraclitum dabit vobis,
and I will ask the Father and he will send you another Paraclete,
ut maneat vobiscum in aeternum, alleluia.
to abide with you for ever, alleluia.

The setting above by Thomas Tallis (c.15015 - 1585) uses the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible, John 14:15-17a:

If ye love me, keep my commandments. 
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, 
that he may abide with you for ever;
e'en the Spirit of truth.

The singers are The Cantate Boys' Choir.