23 November 2017

'Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Sunday Reflections, Christ the King, Year A

The Last Judgement, Michelangelo [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)

Jesus said to his disciples:

 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

St Elizabeth of HungarySándor Liezen-Mayer [Web Gallery of Art]

In November 1974 some members of the Praesidium of the Legion of Mary of which I was spiritual director came to me and told me of two starving children, a brother and sister, that they had come across on home visitation. The Legionaries were students in the college department of what was then Immaculate Conception College, Ozamiz City, where I was chaplain. At the time ICC was run by the Columban Sisters. It is now La Salle University, under the care of the De La Salle Brothers.

We arranged with the parents to take the two children to the local government hospital. When I saw Linda, as I will call her, I thought she was a malnourished eight year old. I was utterly shocked when I learned that she was twelve. Her brother, whom I'll call Nonoy, was five. His ribs were sticking out and his stomach severely bloated. The eldest in the family, a girl aged 13 or 14, showed no signs of malnutrition. This was the first time I had ever met anyone with signs of starvation. I never discovered why the children were in such a state.

After a few days Linda began to shyly smile and slowly got a little better, due to the nourishment and attention she was getting. But Nonoy showed no signs of improvement. He died two days before Christmas, without once smiling. We buried him on Christmas Eve.

Linda was able to go home and on at least once occasion we took her on an outing. She was still very small for her age but always cheerful whenever we met her. However, the severe malnutrition had taken its toll and she died in September 1975 while I was at home in Ireland.

St Martin and the Beggar, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

 Today's Gospel makes me both fearful and hopeful. 

Fearful, because Jesus speaks such harsh language: You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angelsThis is not 'the Church of nice'.

Hopeful, because Linda and Nonoy will be there at the Last Judgment to speak in my behalf.

St Martin de Porres OP [Wikipedia]

This portrait was painted during his lifetime or very soon after his death, hence it is probably the most true to his appearance.

During November the Church honours three saints noted for their extraordinary love for the poor, St Martin de Porres (1579 - 1639) on the 3rd, St Martin of Tours (316 - 397) on the 11th and St Elizabeth of Hungary (1207 - 1231) on the 17th. These three gave of their very self. These exemplified in their lives what Jesus is teaching us in today's gospel.

El Greco is one of many artists who have depicted the scene of St Martin of Tours, then a young soldier and preparing for baptism, giving half of his cloak in the depths of winter to a beggar clad only in rags. The following night, the story continues, Martin in his sleep saw Jesus Christ, surrounded by angels, and dressed in the half of the cloak he had given away. A voice bade him look at it well and say whether he knew it. He then heard Jesus say to the angels, 'Martin, as yet only a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.' Sulpicius Severus, the saint's friend and biographer, says that as a consequence of this vision Martin 'flew to be baptized'.

Sándor Liezen-Mayer in his painting of St Elizabeth of Hungary above, shows her protecting a young mother and baby with her cloak. The saint herself was a young mother. She married at 14, bore three children and was widowed at 20. The painting reminds me of a beautiful Irish blessing, Faoi bhrat Mhuire thú/sibh ('May thou/you be protected by the cloak of Mary'). The young saint, who was only 24 when she died, followed the example of St Francis, with the blessing of her husband, lived very simply and served the poor and the sick each day personally and ate with them at the same table.

Shrine of St Martin de Porres in Lima [Wikipedia]

St Martin de Porres, born outside of marriage and of mixed blood, learned some of the medical arts by working with a barber/surgeon in his young days. He devoted his life as a Dominican lay brother to caring for the sick, whether they were rich or poor. It was mostly the latter who came to him and whom he went looking for. Like St Francis he had a special closeness to animals and people brought these to him to be healed. He is often depicted carrying a broom, with a dog, a cat and a mouse at his feet eating from the same plate. 

These three saints from different social backgrounds wrestled with situations we wrestle with today. They spent themselves in bringing about the Kingdom of God by serving the very poorest. St Martin of Tours, who like St Elizabeth was born in Hungary, asked himself as a soldier if it was proper to engage in battle, where he would kill others. Wikipedia tells usRegardless of whether or not he remained in the army, academic opinion holds that just before a battle with the Gauls at Borbetomagus (now Worms, Germany), Martin determined that his faith prohibited him from fighting, saying, 'I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight.' He was charged with cowardice and jailed, but in response to the charge, he volunteered to go unarmed to the front of the troops. His superiors planned to take him up on the offer, but before they could, the invaders sued for peace, the battle never occurred, and Martin was released from military service.

Conscientious objection doesn't only concern those called to join an army. A Swedish midwife,  Ellinor Grimmark, was fired in 2014 for refusing to do abortions. This is an area where, more and more, individuals will have to make choices that may involve losing their jobs, or even worse. (This year a Swedish court ruled against Ellinor Grimmark).

The world is still overwhelmed with the needs of those trapped in poverty, victims of wars, of natural calamities. Pope Francis has spoken of the Church as being 'a field hospital'. He has asked priests and others to know 'the smell of the sheep'. St Elizabeth of Hungary and St Martin de Porres immersed themselves in that every day, seeing in each one they served Jesus Christ himself. And those they took care of, whether they were aware of it or not, were being served by Jesus himself through those saints and through the many others down the centuries who have been doing the same.

I am certain that Linda and Nonoy will hear Jesus say to them, Come, you that are blessed by my Father . . . I hope and pray that they and others like them who have crossed my path down the years will put in a good word for me so that I will hear Jesus say the same to me.

Christus Vincit! Christus Regnat! Christus Imperat!
Christ Conquers! Christ Rules! Christ Commands!

This very ancient Latin hymn, which is a litany, is also known as Laudes Regiae. In the video above it is sung in St Mary's Cathedral, Tokyo.

16 November 2017

'Enter into the joy of your master.' Sunday Reflections, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Woman Sewing, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands. 
(Proverbs 31:13, First Reading)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 25:14-30 [Shorter form, 14-15, 19-21] (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised CatholicEdition) 

Jesus told his disciples this parable:

 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. [The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.] After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” [And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”]

Jesse Robredo 
(27 May 1958 - 18 August 2012) [Wikipedia]

There was real sorrow throughout the Philippines when news broke that the small plane in which Jesse Robredo, Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines had crashed offshore while trying to make and emergency landing on Masbate Island. Secretary Robredo had been on official business in Cebu but wanted to be present at a swimming competition in which his daughter was taking part in their home town, Naga City in the heart of the Bicol Region at the southern end of Luzon. So he hired a small plane to fly from Cebu to Naga City.

Naga City, Camarines Sur [Wikipedia]

During his six terms as elected Mayor of Naga City Jesse Robredo was noted for being close to ordinary people and for working for the improvement of the lives of all Nagueños. He saw his role as one of service.

Shortly after the Secretary's death Fr Lucio Rosaroso, a chaplain to the Philippine National Police (PNP), spoke in a homily at a Mass for the soul of Jesse Robredo of the sense of service that he had:  Service is a time-honored value, however, the span of time in service does not matter — it may be long or short. What is more important is how much love one puts into his or her service.

The late Secretary Robredo, though his service to our country was cut short due to his untimely demise, but that is not what matters. What matters most is the LOVE that he put into his service. By that he gives us the best example of servant-leadership, he stressed.

Fr Rosaroso continued: Robredo’s heart was after the heart of the Good Shepherd. He was not only a good public servant but first and foremost a father to his very own family.

I remember reading at the time of his death that Jesse Robredo, who was based in Manila during his time as Secretary of the DILG, made a point of going home each weekend to Naga City to be with his family. By air this takes about 45 minutes but by road maybe six or seven hours, as I recall from going there from Manila a number of times in the 1990s when I was a vocation director of the Columbans. It's never easy for a politician or someone in public service to balance family life with public responsibilities. But Jesse Robredo made his wife and three daughters a priority.

Our Lady of Peñafrancia [Wikipedia]
The shrine of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is in Naga City.

I remember reading too that the day before his death Jesse Robredo went to confession at a church run by the Divine Word Missionaries in Quezon City, the largest component in area and size in Metro Manila. Fr Rosarosa of the PNP in his homily testified to the fact the DILG Secretary confessed regularly: The late secretary used to come here in Crame Church. In fact, every week he would go to confession. We are six priests here in Camp Crame and each one of us experienced being asked by the late secretary to administer to him the Sacrament of Reconciliation from time to time. He really believed in the sanctifying graces of the sacraments. He was a practicing and devout Catholic. He was a holy man in our midst!

Jesse Robredo's confession the day before he died is a powerful example of what St Paul speaks about in today's Second Reading: For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night . . . But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief (1 Thess 5:1-6).

The shorter version of the Gospel has a specific focus: You have been trustworthy in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master. Because President Aquino saw how well Jesse Robredo had managed Naga City he made him responsible for local government throughout the Philippines. 

The longer version shows how harshly the master dealt with the servant who simply buried what had been given to him. The investigation into the accident that killed Jesse Robredo suggests that three people lost their lives because others were not trustworthy in a few things.

The parable of the talents reminds us that whatever gifts God has given each of are not just for ourselves but are meant to be used in the service of others. What we do with them has consequences in the lives of others. Jesse Robredo, whose Catholic faith was at the centre of his life, used his talents in serving the people of Naga City from the time he was elected Mayor at the age of 29 and later in serving the people of the Philippines. He gave his wife and children first priority. The reason for his wanting to fly from Cebu to Naga, a journey that ended in his death, is a testimony to this.

The failure of some to use their talents, to carry out the responsibilities they were given, led to unnecessary deaths.

When the Lord will come like a thief in the night which words do we wish to hear from him: As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth - harsh words that call us to be responsible for what God has given us - or you have been trustworthy in a few things . . . enter into the joy of your master?

Antiphona ad communionem   Communion Antiphon  Mk 11:23-24

Amen dico vobis, quidquid orantes petitis,
credite quia accepietis, et fiet vobis.

Amen, I say to you, Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive, and it shall be given to you, says the Lord.

This is also the Communion Antiphon for Mass in the Extraordinary Form on the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost.

08 November 2017

'You know neither the day nor the hour.' Sunday Reflections, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Christ and the Wise Virgins
Mediaeval German Sculptor [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)

Jesus told his disciples this parable:

‘The kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.'

In the unlikely event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down from the panel above your head… Secure your own mask before helping others.

I have heard those words hundreds of times before a flight takes off. I have never experienced having to use one of these masks and I hope that I never will. The others mentioned in the instruction refer to children and persons with disabilities of one kind or another who would need help. But the instruction is clear: Secure your own mask before helping others.

Oxygen masks dropping [Wikipedia]

The introduction to today's Mass in Magnificat, a wonderful monthly daily missal that also includes daily morning and evening prayer, reads: Why do the five wise virgins not share their oil with the five foolish ones? Because it is something that simply cannot be shared. The oil is our personal virtue. 'The wise maidens represent all those who possess the ensemble of virtues which characterise a complete Christian life. The burning oil lamps which they carry . . . symbolically portray Christian wisdom . . . This Christian wisdom empowers all those who embrace prudence and the other moral virtues to fulfil the requirements of an integral and holy life' (Fr Romanus Cessario OP). 'God, through Jesus, will bring with him those who' seek wisdom with the same ardour with which the wise virgins seek the bridegroom. For Christ is the Bridegroom.

Airlines instruct adult and able-bodied passengers to put on their own masks first. If they don't they may not be in a position to help others for whom they have a responsibility. The situation is an emergency and everything has to be done quickly. Adults are asked to behave as responsible adults.

The ten virgins in the parable are also adults, albeit young. Every one of them made a decision. The five wise virgins decided to buy the oil necessary for lighting their lamps even though they did not know when exactly they would be using them. The five foolish virgins decided not to buy the oil they needed. There was no 'emergency' as there is in a plane if the oxygen masks drop. Being ready to meet the bridegroom whenever he might arrive wasn't a priority with them. It was for the five wise virgins.

If we see the bridegroom in the parable as representing Jesus  we can see that Jesus is asking us to direct our lives constantly towards him. 

At the vigil in Toronto during World Youth Day 2002 St John Paul II said to the young peopleI say to you this evening: let the light of Christ shine in your lives! Do not wait until you are older in order to set out on the path of holiness! Holiness is always youthful, just as eternal is the youthfulness of God.

Perhaps the heart of the parable is expressed in those words of the great pope: Do not wait until you are older in order to set out on the path of holiness! The five wise virgins did not wait.

The path of holiness is following Jesus, as the wise virgins knew. And we are never too young, or too old, to decide to 'buy the oil needed for our lamps' to decide to set out on the path of holiness by following Jesus in every aspect of our lives, strengthened especially by the Bread of Life that we are invited to receive when we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and, when we fall through sin, by the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession/Penance.

We know neither the day nor the hour when or where the path of holiness this side of death will end. But the end of that path is meant to be our eternal home as St Columban tells us in his Eighth Sermon: Since we are travellers and pilgrims in the world, let us ever ponder on the end of the road, that is of our life, for the end of our roadway is our home.

Communion Antiphon (Cf Ps 23 [22]: 1-2)

Dominus regit me, et nihil mihi deerit:
The Lord is my shepherd: there is nothing I shall want. in loco pascuae, ibi me collocavit:
Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose, super aquam refectionis educavit me.
near restful waters he leads me. Music by contemporary Japanese composer IZAWA Nobuaki (伊澤 信昭)

02 November 2017

'The greatest among you will be your servant.' Sunday Reflections, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Christ as Saviour, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Apostle St Matthew, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]
The Philippine Daily Inquirer carried a a story of extraordinary courage on 28 October: How Scout Ranger commander won hostages' release.

MARAWI CITY—He took off his helmet and bullet-proof vest, laid down his firearm and turned on the megaphone to speak to the Islamic State-inspired gunmen here on Oct. 19.

“I just wanted to get the children, the women and the injured (hostages),” Capt. Jeffrey Buada said through the megaphone.

At the risk of being shot, Buada, commander of the Army’s 15th Scout Ranger Company, slowly walked through the rubble and tried to get near the building, where hungry and thirsty hostages were anxiously waiting to be rescued.

The Battle of Marawi started on 23 May and ended on 23 October. The fighting was basically between militants connected with ISIS and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. At the beginning the militants destroyed part of St Mary's Cathedral in this city where the vast majority are Muslims. Fr Teresito 'Chito' Suganob, the parish priest, and a number of parishioners were taken hostage the day the battle began. Father Chito, whom I know, was released on 17 September.

As the battle intensified most of the residents of the city evacuated. There were stories of how Muslim students at Marawi State University protected their Christian friends and enabled them to escape and similar stories of Muslim members of the Philippine National Police protecting Christina construction workers.

On 19 October, while covering one of his men who was trying to rescue a wounded hostage, Captain Buada saw an opportunity to rescue some more and decided to negotiate with the militants. He removed all his battle gear and armour, against the advice of his men. The militants did not attack him and asked for food and water. The Captain ordered his men to bring them what they needed. The young officer, a father of two young daughters, drank some of the water to assure the enemy that it was safe.

As five hostages came out some of the soldiers removed their battle gear and armour, imitating their officer. They managed to rescue at least five hostages. But gunfire broke out again before they could rescue more. However, the soldiers and the rescued hostages were unharmed.

Captain Jeffrey Buada [PDI]

In today's Gospel Jesus recognises the authority of scribes and Pharisees as teachers of the Law of Moses. But he also says, do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. He tells us what to do: The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Captain Buada was 'the greatest' - the highest ranking - among the soldiers in his unit. But he put his own life on the line first and some of the others did the same. But my thought was if I die, at least we got the hostages, the brave soldier said later.

This man was a servant in the truest sense, ready to die for his men and for the rescue of the hostages.

I know nothing about the inner life of Captain Jeffrey Buada but I see St Paul's words in the second reading being lived out by him: We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

God's word was surely at work in him. May we constantly give thanks for this and for the many other examples we can see around us, often in the midst of horror and evil,  of God's word at work in believers.

Antiphona ad Introitum      Entrance Antiphon

Ne derelinquas me, Domine Deus meus; ne discesseris a me.
Forsake me not, O Lord, my God; be not far from me!
Intende in adjutorium meum, Domine Deus salutis meæ.
Make haste and come to my help, O Lord, my strong salvation!