18 October 2017

'I die His Majesty's good servant - but God's first.' Sunday Reflections, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

'I die His Majesty's good servant - but God's first.' St Thomas More

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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


Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

A denarius from 44 BC showing the head of Julius Caesar and the goddess Venus [Wikipedia]
In the time of Jesus a denarius was a day's wage for an ordinary working man.

I spent three months in the latter part of 1982 working in a hospital in Minneapolis as a chaplain. I was one of seven doing a 'quarter' of Clinical Pastoral Education. One day I had to go to a bank and got chatting with an employee at the information desk. When he heard I was based in the Philippines he told me that in the previous elections in the USA he had considered, among other things, what impact his vote would have on the lives of Filipinos and others outside the USA.

I was very struck by his attitude. We never got into partisan politics nor did we discuss religion. The man was almost certainly a Christian, probably a Lutheran if he was from Minneapolis or a Catholic if from St Paul, the other 'Twin City'. I saw in him a person reflecting the teaching of Vatican II.

One of the major documents of that Council, Gaudium et Spes, addresses the political life of society. No 75 says: All citizens, therefore, should be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good. The Church praises and esteems the work of those who for the good of men devote themselves to the service of the state and take on the burdens of this office . . . 

All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community. It is for them to give an example by their sense of responsibility and their service of the common good. In this way they are to demonstrate concretely how authority can be compatible with freedom, personal initiative with the solidarity of the whole social organism, and the advantages of unity with fruitful diversity. They must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions with regard to temporal solutions, and respect citizens, who, even as a group, defend their points of view by honest methods. Political parties, for their part, must promote those things which in their judgement are required for the common good; it is never allowable to give their interests priority over the common good.

Robert Schuman [Wikipedia]


A politician of the last century who may be beatified one day is the Servant of God Robert Schuman, one of the founders of what is now the European Union. His politics of reconciliation in post-World War II Europe flowed from his deep Catholic Christian faith. Yet he was never an 'agent' of the Catholic Church. He was an embodiment of the vision of Gaudium et Spes, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in December 1965.

Incidentally, Robert Schuman, when Foreign Minister of France - he had been Prime Minister in 1947-48 despite having been born a German citizen in Luxembourg - said at a congress in 1950 to mark the 1,400th anniversary of the birth of Ireland's greatest missionary saint: St Columban, this illustrious Irishman who left his own country for voluntary exile, willed and achieved a spiritual union between the principal European countries of his time. He is the patron saint of all those who now seek to build a United Europe.


Robert Schuman's deepest identity was as a Christian. It was as such that he became a patriotic Frenchman and a visionary European. St Thomas More was one of the greatest Englishmen in the history of his country. However, he was His Majesty's good servant - but God's first. In 2000 St John Paul II proclaimed him patron saint of politicians and statesmen.



Jesus doesn't give us any detailed way of being involved in the political life of whatever country we belong to. But he gives us the values to live by. We cannot leave those values at the entrance to the polling booth or at the entrance to the legislative chamber if we happen to be elected to public office. Nor can we leave them at the door of the church after Mass on Sunday.


As voters and politicians Catholic Christians may have very different views on most matters of policy. But there are certain issues on which we must all take a Gospel stand. We may never advocate abortion or support the very new idea of 'marriage' between two persons of the same sex. 

In 2013 a member of the Irish parliament who voted in favour of legalising abortion in certain circumstances was aggrieved when his parish priest told him that he could no longer be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. It is far more important to try to live as Gaudium et Spes teaches - All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community - than to be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion or a lector, important though these roles may sometimes be. But they are simply roles. No one has a 'vocation' to be either of these or to take on similar roles. But the Council tells us that each of us has a specific vocation within the political community.

Robert Schuman lived that vocation to the full. St Thomas More was martyred because he lived that vocation to the full.

St Thomas More, Hans Holbein the Younger [Web Gallery of Art]


The words of today's alternative Communion Antiphon were sung as the Alleluia verse at the canonisation of St Pedro Calungsod and others, 21 October 2012.

Antiphona ad communionem  Communion Antiphon Mt10:45

Ritus hominis venit,
ut daret animan suam redemptionem pro multis.

The Son of Man has come
to give his life as a ransom for many.

World Mission Day



This Sunday is World Mission Day. You may wish to read the Message of Pope Francis for World Mission Day 2017The Pope quotes his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI: Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.







12 October 2017

'Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables.' Sunday Reflections, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Supper at Emmaus (detail), Caravaggio [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)


Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

[‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’]


Swing made of tyres, East Timor [Wikipedia]

A friend of mine who has four young children and who now lives in California posted on her Facebook that the authorities in some school are removing the swings from its playground because they are 'dangerous' for children. I wonder if the committee in the Vatican who drew up the Lectionary we have been using since 1969 thought that some of the words of Jesus might be 'dangerous' for us since they have given us the option today of leaving out the last four verses of the Gospel [in square brackets above].
In Matthew 3:7 Jesus addresses some Pharisees and Sadducees with the words, You brood of vipers!, which he repeats in 12:34 and in 23:34 he's even more scathing: You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?
The words of Jesus aren't always 'nice'. And not all the words in the homily of Pope Francis on 5 October 2014 at the Holy Mass for the opening of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family were 'nice'. Addressing the assembled participants, mostly bishops, he said, And to satisfy this greed, evil pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others . . . We are all sinners and can also be tempted to 'take over' the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings. God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants. We can 'thwart' God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit
Laid Table with Cheeses and Fruit (detail) 
Floris Claesz van Dijk [Web Gallery of Art]
The First Reading and the Gospel speak clearly of God's desire for all of us to be with him, sharing in the abundance of his riches, symbolized in both readings by a lavish banquet.

President Ramon Magsaysay of the Philippines (died 1957) wearing a barong Tagalog [Wikipedia]


More than 30 years ago I officiated at a wedding in Sacred Heart Church, Cebu City. The reception was held next door at a centre attached to the church, which belongs to the Jesuits. At the reception I noticed an elderly man wearing a barong Tagalog, which is formal dress for men in the Philippines, especially at weddings. But it turned out that nobody knew him. He wasn't a guest, but had invited himself along. As there were weddings almost every day at Sacred Heart Church I figured that maybe he invited himself along whenever the reception was held at the adjacent centre.

But nobody minded. Filipinos are hospitable and nobody is ever turned away. Many of us were amused and I had noticed the man at Mass. In other words, he wasn't a freeloader but participated in the wedding ceremony, something that many invited to weddings an baptisms don't do. They just turn up for the meal.

The harsh words of Jesus, which I suspect many priests won't read at Mass, jolt us out of our complacency. The man who turned up at the banquet without bothering to dress for the occasion clearly thought that cultural norms and good manners didn't apply to him. It's not a crime to turn up at a wedding or some similar event dressed casually but to do so shows a lack of respect for the celebrants and for oneself.

However, in the parable, Jesus isn't telling us to be 'nice' and well-mannered. He's telling us forcefully that in order to share in the 'dream' that he and our heavenly Father have for us we have to do the Father's will. Pope Francis referred to this in the closing words of his homily: My Synod brothers, to do a good job of nurturing and tending the vineyard, our hearts and our minds must be kept in Jesus Christ by 'the peace of God which passes all understanding' (Phil 4:7). In this way our thoughts and plans will correspond to God’s dream: to form a holy people who are his own and produce the fruits of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 21:43).

We have to make choices. We often choose to sin. God is merciful, bending down to welcome us back, to acknowledge our sins and to ask for and receive his forgiveness. Jesus has given the Church the wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession/Penance, precisely so that he can meet us in our sinfulness, forgive and heal us. And the Church teaches us clearly that when we have committed a grave sin we must avail of that sacrament. By the same token, he wants us priests to be available for penitents and to go to confession  regularly ourselves.

When God gave us the gift of freedom he also placed some 'swings' in our 'playground', knowing that we would sometimes fall and 'graze our knees' or even hurt ourselves more seriously. He didn't protect us from all possible eventualities. Had he done so he would have made prisoners of us. He invites us to his heavenly banquet, paid for by the sacrifice of his Son on Calvary.

In the parable the king's servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. Both good and bad had a sense of being blessed and honoured by the invitation, except for one - we don't know if he was one of the 'good' or one of the 'bad' - with an insolent sense of entitlement rather than a wondrous sense of being graced.

Vase with Cornflowers and Poppies, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]



07 October 2017

The Twenty Mysteries of the Rosary

Madonna of the Rosary, Lorenzo Lotto [Web Gallery of Art]

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers (Acts 1:12-14).

First Reading, Mass of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

Still-Life with Symbols of the Virgin Mary, Dirck de Bray [Web Gallery of Art]

In October 2014 I published here a series of posts on the Rosary under the general title The Rosary with the Great Painters, each post featuring five mysteries. Here I give links to each of those posts.


The Virgin Mary, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Continue here.



Virgin and Child with Rosary, Murillo [Web Gallery of Art]

Continue here.


Mater Dolorosa, Jusepe de Ribera [Web Gallery of Art]

Continue here.


The Coronation of the Virgin, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Continue here.


The Virgin in Prayer, Sassoferatto [Web Gallery of Art]





05 October 2017

'You are the heirs of a great testimony, a precious witness to Christ.' Sunday Reflections, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The Virgin of the Grapes, Pierre Mignard [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 the chief priests and elders of the people:
 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is amazing in our eyes”?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.
First Reading, Isaiah 5:1-7 [English Standard Version]
The young Fr Edward Galvin in China

Just over a century ago the young Fr Edward Galvin of the Diocese of Cork, Ireland, was sent by his bishop to work for some years in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, because he had no place to put him. This was common at the time and many young Irish diocesan priests spent their early years on loan to English-speaking dioceses in other countries. While in Brooklyn Father Galvin found himself answering God's call to go to China. This was to lead eventually to the formal founding of the Missionary Society of St Columban, to which I belong, in 1918 with Fr Galvin and Fr John Blowick, another young Irish diocesan priest, as the co-founders. Later Fr Galvin became Bishop of Hanyang, China, and was expelled by the Communist authorities.

When I was growing up in Ireland people who were critical of the Church, sometimes with good reason, often used the term 'priest-ridden' to describe the country. Today there are parishes without priests and the average age of priests is, according to reports, approaching 70. In twenty years or so it could well happen that priests will be a relative rarity in the country.

When I was young almost every Catholic in Ireland went to Sunday Mass and the seminaries were full. Today only a minority take part in Sunday Mass, the seminaries have nearly all closed and only a handful of young men are preparing for ordination in the two or three that still remain open. More and more young people are choosing not to get married and not to have their children baptised.

In 1961, the year I entered the seminary, Ireland celebrated the 1,500th anniversary of the death of St Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. Very few could have foreseen the falling away, not only from the Church, but from the Christian faith, within two generations.

St Paul tells us in the Second Reading today: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

I sometimes get disheartened at the situation of the Church in my native land and in other Western countries. The First Reading and the Gospel remind us that many have rejected God's love, God's gift, especially the gift of faith. Through the Prophet Isaiah God poignantly asks, What more was there to do for my vineyard  that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

St Andrew Kim Tae-gon
Myeongdong Cathedral, Seoul [Wikipedia]

But in the readings the Lord is really asking us to see what he has given us, to treasure it and to pass it on. In his homily at the beatification of 124 martyrs in Korea on 16 August 2014 Pope Francis said: The victory of the martyrs, their witness to the power of God’s love, continues to bear fruit today in Korea, in the Church which received growth from their sacrifice. Our celebration of Blessed Paul and Companions provides us with the opportunity to return to the first moments, the infancy as it were, of the Church in Korea. It invites you, the Catholics of Korea, to remember the great things which God has wrought in this land and to treasure the legacy of faith and charity entrusted to you by your forebears.

The following day in the opening sentence in his homily at the concluding Mass of Asian Youth Day Pope Francis said, The glory of the martyrs shines upon you! These words – a part of the theme of the Sixth Asian Youth Day – console and strengthen us all. Young people of Asia: you are the heirs of a great testimony, a precious witness to Christ

The Pope was reminding the young people, and all of us, of the legacy of the Christian faith that we have received.

Beatifications, Seoul [Wikipedia]

The Bishop of Rome touched on this again on 21 September 2014 when he celebrated Mass in Mother Teresa Square, Tirana, very conscious of the persecution that had ended less than 30 years ago. He concluded his homily with these stirring words: To the Church which is alive in this land of Albania, I say 'thank you' for the example of fidelity to the Gospel. Do not forget the nest, your long history, or your trials. Do not forget the wounds, but also do not be vengeful. Go forward to work with hope for a great future. So many of the sons and daughters of Albania have suffered, even to the point of sacrificing their lives. May their witness sustain your steps today and tomorrow as you journey along the way of love, of freedom, of justice and, above all, of peace. So may it be.

The Lord is calling each of us today to look back with gratitude for the gift of faith we have received individually and as community so that we can live that faith fully in the present as we move in hope and love into the future.

But the readings also remind us of the reality that the precious gift of the Christian faith has been lost, not only by individuals but in large areas of the world such as North Africa not that long after the time of such giants as St Augustine.