31 March 2015

Nearly 500 priests in England and Wales write letter in support of Church's teaching on matrimony

The Marriage at Cana, Marten de Vos, 1596-97
Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp [Web Gallery of Art]

Last week the Catholic Herald published this letter, signed by nearly 500 priests in England and Wales. There are around 5,000 priests in those two countries. I know that the organisers of the letter, 'a small number of concerned lay people', were unable to contact every priest.

It is surely a sign of the strange times we are living in that such a group of priests feel the need to publish such a letter. It recognises the need for the Church to reach out to those in difficult marital situations. But it also reminds us of the need to listen to the experience of those who are and have been faithful to the teaching of Jesus himself, given through his Church down through the ages, despite many difficulties and to encourage them to live out the commitment they made to each other on their wedding day when they gave the gift of Jesus himself to each other in the sacrament of matrimony, 'till death do us part'.

SIR – Following the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2014 much confusion has arisen concerning Catholic moral teaching. In this situation we wish, as Catholic priests, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia.
We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with the Lord’s compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society. Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony.
We urge all those who will participate in the second Synod in October 2015 to make a clear and firm proclamation of the Church’s unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed.
Yours faithfully,
You will find the letter and the names of the signatories on the Catholic Herald website here. Fr Tim Finigan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Southwark in the south of England, gives a background to the letter on his blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity here and here.

Some Scripture texts on marriage

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Jesus quotes this in Matthew 19:4-6: He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

We find the same in Mark 10:6-9: [Jesus said to them] But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

St Paul quotes the same text from Genesis in teaching on marriage: In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband (Ephesians 5:28-33).

'The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament' (No 1601).

A note of irony

After choosing the painting at the top I discovered that it is in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium. In late December Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp said in an interview with a Belgian newspaper, We have to look inside the church for a formal recognition of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is also present in many gay couples. Just as there are a variety of legal frameworks for partners in civil society, one must arrive at a diversity of forms in the church.

I wonder which is closer to the teaching of Jesus Christ, the statement of Bishop Bonny above or the sentiments in the song below?

I thank the priests of England and Wales who signed the letter.

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