23 Sep 2011

'Which of the two did the father's will?' Sunday Reflections, 26th Sunday Year A




Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel, Matthew 21:28-32 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa.)

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: 'What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, "My boy, you go and work in the vineyard today". He answered, "I will not go", but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, "Certainly, sir", but did not go. Which of the two did the father's will?' 'The first' they said. Jesus said to them, 'I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.

Soiscéal, Matha 21:28-32 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin dúirt Íosa le huachtaráin ne sagart agus le seanóir an phobail: “bhur mbarúil air seo: Bhí beirt mhac ag duine. D’agaill sé duine acu ar dtús: ‘A mhic,’ ar seisean, ‘téighse inniu ag obair san fhíonghort.’ D’fhreagair sé é: ‘Tá go maith, a dhuine uasail,’ ar seisean; ach ní dheachaigh. D’agaill sé an dara duine ar an gcuma chéanna, agus b’é a fhreagra seo: ‘Ní dhéanfaidh mé,’ ar seisean; ach ina dhiaidh sin tháinig aiféala air agus chuaigh. Cé acu den bheirt a rinne toil a athar?” “An dara duine,” ar siad. Dúirt Íosa leo: “Deirim libh go fírinneach, tá tosach ag na poibleacánaigh agus ag na striapacha oraibhse isteach i ríocht Dé. Óir tháinig Eoin chugaibh ar shlí na fíréantachta agus níor chreid sibh ann; na poibleacánaigh, áfach, agus na striapacha, chreid siad ann; agus cé go bhfaca sibhse é sin, níor bhuail an t aiféala mall féin sibh chun go gcreidfeadh sibh ann.”


The scene in the video is just before the end of The Scarlet and the Black, a 1983 made-for-TV movie based on the true story of Irish priest Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, based in the Vatican during World War II, and his nemesis, Col Herbert Kappler, the SS chief in Rome during the latter part of the war. Monsignor O'Flaherty saved the lives of thousands of Jews and Allied soldiers. Kappler, who knows that the Allies are approaching Rome, is worried about the safety of his own family and sends some soldiers to Fr O'Flaherty to meet him at the Coliseum at night, guaranteeing his safety.

Just after the scene above Kappler asks the priest if he could help get his wife and children to safety. The Irishman gets very angry and walks away in disgust. Kappler shouts, 'You're just like the rest of them'.

The next scene, which I couldn't locate on YouTube, shows Kappler under arrest and, while being interrogated, learning that his family have arrived safely in Switzerland. When asked how, he replies that he doesn't know. But he realises that Monsignor O'Flaherty was responsible.

As the credits are rolling we read that Fr O'Flaherty visited Kappler regularly in jail and the German eventually asked to be baptised by the priest.

The closing scenes of The Scarlet and the Black are, for me, among the most memorable in any film I've seen and came to mind as I was praying with today's gospel. O'Flaherty's immediate and clear answer to Kappler's request echoes that of the first son in the parable: 'I will not go'.

But he did go, doing his father's will, as the Irish priest did the Father's will, winning back to God a man who had devoted his life to evil. Early in 1944 Kappler had supervised the summary execution of more than 300 randomly chosen Italians in the Ardeatine Caves in retaliation for the deaths of 33 SS men. Hugh O'Flaherty, at the moment of his death in 1963 surely heard Jesus speak to him his words from Matthew 25:36, 'I was . . . in prison and you came to see me'.

I find this gospel consoling because so often my immediate reaction to a request is to say 'No'. But God gives me the grace to say 'Yes'. The priest's immediate anger and disgust at Kappler's request were perfectly understandable and normal. In Worldwide Marriage Encounter we say that feelings are neither right nor wrong. It's what comes next that is either right or wrong. We also emphasise that Love is a Decision.

Father O'Flaherty's decision to love his enemy was one with eternal consequences as had his many decisions to save the lives of others despite the danger to his own life.

The real Herbert Kappler (1907 - 1978)

The real Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty (1898 - 1863), from the website of the Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Society.

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