14 February 2018

'Their blood confesses Christ.' Sunday Reflections, First Sunday of Lent, Year B

The Temptation of Christ, Tintoretto [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)

Gospel Mark 1:12-15 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,  and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

Ordination of Columban to the Priesthood

Please pray for the Reverend Erl Dylan J. Tabaco who will be ordained to the priesthood on Saturday 17 February in Holy Rosary Parish, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, where Columbans worked for many years. May the Lord grant him many fruitful years as a Columban missionary priest.

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

One of my teachers in the Columban seminary in the 1960s was a saintly priest, Fr Edward McCormack. Father Ted, as we knew him, spent most of his life as a priest teaching Scripture to Columban seminarians in Ireland and the USA. But he taught our class Latin.

I vividly remember one occasion when he celebrated our community Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. In the Old Mass Matthew 4:1-11 was always read. That's now the Gospel for Year A. As he was preaching  it was clear that he had a deep, personal sense of the horror of Satan tempting Jesus, God who became Man, of Evil trying to prevail over Love, God himself.

We have daily examples of the power of evil.One is the murder on 12 February 2015 of 2o Coptic Christians, Egyptian men working in neighbouring Libya and one other man, Matthew Irigia, either from Chad or Ghana - like the countless OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) - working abroad. They were beheaded simply because they were Christians.

In a meeting four days later with a delegation from the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, Pope Francis said the following.

I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today, I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: 'Jesus, help me!' They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.

Coptic icon of St Mark [Wikipedia]

The vast majority of Christians in Egypt are Coptic Christians and according to tradition they trace their origins to St Mark preaching the Gospel in Alexandria in the very early days of the Church. A minority of Coptic Christians are in full communion with Rome as the Coptic Catholic Church. They number fewer than 200,000.

These are the men who were martyred:

  • Bishoy Adel Khalaf           
  • Samuel Alhoam Wilson  
  • Hany Abdel-Masih Salib
  • Melad McCain Zaky         
  • Abanoub Ayad Attia       
  • Ezzat Bushra Nassif
  • Yousef Shokry Younan   
  • Kirillos Shukry Fawzy      
  • Majid Suleiman Shehata
  • Somali Stéphanos Kamel              
  • Malak Ibrahim Siniot       
  • Bishoy Stéphanos Kamel
  • Mena Fayez Aziz              
  • Girgis Melad Siniot          
  • Tawadros Youssef Tawadros
  • Essam Badr Samir             
  • Luke Ngati           
  • Jaber Mounir Adly
  • Malak Faraj Abram          
  • Sameh Salah Farouk       
  • Matthew Irigia.

A note in the Wikipedia entry about these martyrs says of Matthew Irigia: He was from Chad. He was not originally a Christian, but he saw the immense faith of the others, and when the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said, 'Their God is my God', knowing that he would be martyred. Other sources spell his name as Matthew Ayariga and say that he was from Ghana.

Coptic Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt, Cairo [Wikipedia]

We can easily shake our heads in disgust at actions that are clearly evil, such as the murders of these 21 men, particularly when they are done 'in the name of God'. But we can overlook our own sinfulness which adds to the culture where evil often prevails. Fr Ted McCormack in preaching to us in the seminary 50 or so years ago conveyed a sense of that. Jesus speaks to each of us individually, not 'to my neighbour' but to meRepent, and believe in the good news.

The priest may say those words when he puts the ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a personal invitation from Jesus to each one of us, and to all of us as his brothers and sisters, to let ourselves be driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness as he was, to let our hearts be transformed by the Spirit.

I remember Father Ted telling us one day that when he was young his brother was constantly playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on the gramophone - on old 78s. 'I couldn't stand it,' he told us. 'Then one day it all came together and I could experience the beauty of it. But now I can only hear the faults in it.' 

Jesus calls us in Lent to discover the beauty of our faith in him, to discover where that beauty may lead us as we carry on his mission. And just as Father Ted had let go of the majestic power and beauty of Beethoven's music, the Lord may ask us to let go of everything, even of life itself, with his name on our lips, like the 21 Coptic Christians murdered simply because they were Christians.

Their deaths were horrific. Their murders were utterly evil. But those men whose blood confesses Christ, as Pope Francis said, are a testimony to the greater power of God's love.

Jesus, help me!

A Coptic hymn, Lord Jesus, help me, sung in Arabic

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra 
Conductor:  정명훈 Chung Myung-Whun

07 February 2018

‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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)

Gospel Mark 1:40-45 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition) 

A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

(1956 - 2004) [Wikipedia]

Towards the end of February 2003 Dr Carlo Urbani, an Italian, went to Vietnam, representing the World Health Organisation, to investigate an American businessman who was showing unusual symptoms. It turned out to be severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a highly contagious virus. The man who discovered this new disease died from it himself about a month later on 29 March. In a conscious moment, while in the ICU in a hospital in Bangkok, he asked for a priest to give him the Last Rites.

Vladimir Redzioch of Inside the Vatican interviewed Giuliana Chiorrini, the widow of Dr Urbani. MISYON, the Columban magazine in the Philippines, published the interview, with permission, in its March-April 2004 issue. Here are extracts from the interview.

ITV: Your husband chose to work with the sick and poor around the world. Why?
Giuliana Chiorrini: Carlo was always involved in volunteer work and since his youth was attracted by the poor. He cultivated the desire to discover new horizons. To do this he left for Africa with the missionaries. Since his days as a young student with a backpack full of medicines, he had traveled in Africa (Mali, Niger, and Benin). Afterwards he work in solidarity camps run by the Xaverian Fathers, Catholic Action and Open Hands. He was always in contact with missionaries. As a doctor he wrote for the missionary magazine Missioni Consolata. Carlo also fulfilled his desire to help he poor during his 10 years working at the hospital in Macerata. This confirmed him in his work with Médecins Sans Frontièresof which he was the president, and in this capacity he received the Nobel Peace Prize when it was conferred on the organization in 1999.

ITV: What role did his faith play in his choice of life?
Chiorrini: Faith had an extremely important role in my husband’s life. Everything he did enriched the spiritual lives of the people who were in contact with him. He was also very sensitive to the beauty of creation - he even used to go hang-gliding to admire nature.

Dr Carlo Urbani with his wife, Giuliana, and their children, Maddalena, Luca and Tommaso [Source]

That year St John Paul II invited the family of Dr Urbani to carry the Cross during the Via Crucis on Good Friday, 18 April, in the Colosseum.
ITV: This year, during the Via Crucis at the Colosseum, you and your son carried the cross. How did you react when you heard you had been chosen by the Holy Father, and what significance did it have for your family to participate in this Good Friday liturgy?
Chiorrini: I am a believer, as was my husband, and knowing I was to carry the cross during the Via Crucis touched me a great deal, as well as giving me an enormous joy. It was a very intense moment of the interior spirituality and in all honesty it was also very moving, with the evocative atmosphere which was created that evening.

Giuliana Chiorrini, Dr Urbani's widow, carries the cross during the Via Crucis at the Colosseum, Good Friday 2003

If you choose, you can make me clean. Like Jesus, Dr Carlo Urbani chose and made many clean, sacrificing his own life in doing so.

Antiphona ad communionem
Communion Antiphon  Cf Psalm 77[78]:29-30

Manducaverunt, et saturati sunt nimis,
They ate and had their fill,
et desiderium eorum attulit eis Dominus;
and what they craved the Lord gave them;
non sunt fraudati a desiderio suo.
they were not disappointed in what they craved.

In the Ordinary Form of the Mass this is the first of two options for the Communion Antiphon. In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass it is the Communion Antiphon for Quinquagesima Sunday, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.

06 February 2018

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Lorenzo Ghiberti [Web Gallery of Art]

The first reading in tomorrow's Mass, Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, is 1 Kings 10:1-10. It tells of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. Sheba is believed to have been located in modern-day Yemen.

When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, (fame due to the name of the Lord), she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. When the queen of Sheba had observed all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his valets, and his burnt-offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit in her.
So she said to the king, ‘The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. Not even half had been told me; your wisdom and prosperity far surpass the report that I had heard. Happy are your wives! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel for ever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness.’ Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold, a great quantity of spices, and precious stones; never again did spices come in such quantity as that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.
The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Handel
Novas Brass Ensemble
This must be one of the most joyful pieces of music ever written. Handel's work has been arranged for many different groups of instruments including marimbas and for solo instruments. I rather like the version of the Novas Brass Ensemble, a German group.

31 January 2018

'They brought to him all who were sick.' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Christ Raises the Daughter of Jairus
Friedrich Overbeck [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)

As soon as they left the synagogue, Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Pope Benedict with children [Source]

This week I will simply copy Pope Benedict's words on today's gospel during his Angelus talk on this same Sunday in 2012. I will highlight what particularly strikes me. 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday’s Gospel presents to us Jesus who heals the sick: first Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who was in bed with a fever and Jesus, taking her by the hand, healed her and helped her to her feet; then all the sick in Capernaum, tried in body, mind and spirit, and he “healed many… and cast out many demons” (Mk 1:34). The four Evangelists agree in testifying that this liberation from illness and infirmity of every kind was — together with preaching — Jesus’ main activity in his public ministry.

Illness is in fact a sign of the action of Evil in the world and in people, whereas healing shows that the Kingdom of God, God himself, is at hand. Jesus Christ came to defeat Evil at the root and instances of healing are an anticipation of his triumph, obtained with his death and Resurrection.

Jesus said one day: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mk 2:17). On that occasion he was referring to sinners, whom he came to call and to save. It is nonetheless true that illness is a typically human condition in which we feel strongly that we are not self-sufficient but need others. In this regard we might say paradoxically that illness can be a salutary moment in which to experience the attention of others and to pay attention to others!

However illness is also always a trial that can even become long and difficult. When healing does not happen and suffering is prolonged, we can be as it were overwhelmed, isolated, and then our life is depressed and dehumanized. How should we react to this attack of Evil? With the appropriate treatment, certainly — medicine in these decades has taken giant strides and we are grateful for it — but the Word of God teaches us that there is a crucial basic attitude with which to face illness and it is that of faith in God, in his goodness. Jesus always repeats this to the people he heals: your faith has made you well (cf. Mk 5:34, 36).

Even in the face of death, faith can make possible what is humanly impossible. But faith in what? In the love of God. This is the real answer which radically defeats Evil. Just as Jesus confronted the Evil One with the power of the love that came to him from the Father, so we too can confront and live through the trial of illness, keeping our heart immersed in God’s love.

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano [Source]
(29 October 1971 - 7 October 1990)

We all know people who were able to bear terrible suffering because God gave them profound serenity. I am thinking of the recent example of Blessed Chiara Badano, cut off in the flower of her youth by a disease from which there was no escape: all those who went to visit her received light and confidence from her! Nonetheless, in sickness we all need human warmth: to comfort a sick person what counts more than words is serene and sincere closeness.

Dear friends, next Saturday, 11 February, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, is the World Day of the Sick. Let us too do as people did in Jesus’ day: let us present to him spiritually all the sick, confident that he wants to and can heal them. And let us invoke the intercession of Our Lady, especially for the situations of greater suffering and neglect. Mary, Health of the Sick, pray for us!

Next Sunday, 11 February, is this year's World Day of the Sick.

Blessed Chiara [Source]

On a pastoral visit to Palermo, Italy, on 3 October 2010 Pope Benedict had this to say about Blessed Chiara [emphases added]: I do not want to start with a discussion but with a testimonial, a true and very timely life story. I believe you know that last Saturday, 25 September, a young Italian girl, called Chiara, Chiara Badano, was declared Blessed in Rome. I invite you to become acquainted with her. Her life was a short one but it is a wonderful message. Chiara was born in 1971 and died in 1990 from an incurable disease. Nineteen years full of life, love and faith. Her last two years were also full of pain, yet always of love and light, a light that shone around her, that came from within: from her heart filled with God! How was this possible? How could a 17 or 18-year-old girl live her suffering in this way, humanly without hope, spreading love, serenity, peace and faith? This was obviously a grace of God, but this grace was prepared and accompanied by human collaboration as well: the collaboration of Chiara herself, of course, but also of her parents and friends.

You may read more about Blessed Chiara Luce Badano in The Saint Who Failed Math by Richelle Verdeprado  published in the September-October 2010 issue of MISYONonline.com, the magazine of the Columbans in the Philippines of which I used to be editor. 

The whole of Pope Benedict's address to the young people and families of Sicily is well worth reading and reflecting on in the context of this year's World Meeting of Families in Ireland in August.

27 January 2018

'He taught them as one having authority.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

4th-century synagogue, Capernaum [Wikipedia]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

O'Connell School's crest and motto
('Ciall agus Neart' is Irish for 'Sense and Strength')

For the last two years of my secondary education in O'Connell School, Dublin, the A and B sections had the same set of teachers. Heading that group was a member of the Irish Christian Brothers, now often known as Edmund Rice Brothers after their founder, Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, Brother Mícheál S. Ó Flaitile whom we called 'Pancho' after a character in a cartoon strip, The Cisco Kid, in the now defunct Irish Press.

'Pancho' used to take the A and B sections together for Religions, the last class in the morning. He was in his late 50s at the time while we were progressing from 16 to 18 over the course of those two years.

One day I learned a lesson for life from 'Pancho'. He apologised for having accused a student in the B section the previous day of having done something or other wrong. I don't recall the particular 'misdemeanour'. Whatever it was, it was trivial. But Brother Ó Flaitile had discovered that the student had not done what he had accused him of. Next day at the beginning of class he told us he was sorry and that the student whom he had accused had not done anything wrong. The apology was a genuine one, not of the 'If I have hurt anyone . . .' variety. He acknowledged that he had misjudged a student and that he had been wrong to do so.

Years later I mentioned this incident to Brother Ó Flaitile while on  a home visit from the Philippines. He said he didn't remember it - but he smiled.

I've always been struck in today's gospel by what St Mark highlights twice: They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes and ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority!' 

All of us had the deepest respect for 'Pancho', though we sometimes played tricks on him. And I think that we recognised his sanctity, though I don't recall any of us using that word at the time. My own respect for him went even deeper that day when he apologised to us - more than 60 teenagers who were 40 years or so younger than he was.

For me Brother Ó Flaitile taught us as one having authority, the authority of his integrity, the authority of his faith in Jesus Christ, with the authority of Jesus himself who is the way, and the truth, and the life.

Christ with a Staff, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

A Christian's inner authority does not come from being 'faultless'. It comes from being rooted in Christ. The saintly Fr Willie Doyle SJ, killed in the Great War in 1917 while trying to rescue a wounded soldier, wrote to someone who had sought his advice: I am convinced from a pretty big experience that perfection, that is sanctity, is only to be won by repeated failures. If you rise again after a fall, sorry for the pain given to our Lord, humbled by it since you see better your real weakness, and determined to make another start, far more is gained than if you had gone on without a stumble.

I have no doubt that Brother Ó Flaitile grew in sanctity when he acknowledged his mistake and when he apologised to us. His words that day were for me those of one having authority and they still speak to me with the authority of Jesus himself nearly 60 years later.

Responsorial Psalm (New American Bible Lectionary)

24 January 2018

Columban Fr Donal O'Farrell RIP

Fr Donal Gerard Patrick O’Farrell
(29 October 1928 - 22 January 2018)

Father Donal was born in Limerick on 29 October 1928 when the family lived in Dungarvan, County Waterford, Ireland. He was educated at Presentation Convent, Lismore, Christian Brothers' School, Lismore and St Joseph’s College, Ballinasloe, County Galway. He entered St Columban's College, Dalgan Park, in 1946 and was ordained priest there on 21 December 1953.

St Senan's, Cahiracon, County Clare

Father Donal suffered from tuberculosis, and while being treated for it he spent the first years after ordination in Ireland doing temporary pastoral work in Ardee, County Louth, in Clonfert, County Galway, and later serving for a four- year period as chaplain to the Columban Sisters at St Senan's, Cahiracon.

In 1965, he was appointed to the United States and served in New Jersey, and then Philadelphia, before being transferred to Los Angeles where he served as bursar, superior, and in every other role over a twenty-year period.

St Columbans, Bellevue, Nebraska, USA

In 1989 he was transferred to St Columban's, Omaha, Nebraska where he spent the following five years. In 1995 he asked for an appointment to Jamaica where he served as a gracious host in the Columban central house. However this appointment did not last very long as Central Administration soon began preparations for closing the Jamaica mission for lack of personnel.

Father Donal returned once again to Omaha where he would spend the next ten years doing as much as his fragile state of health permitted. Finally in 2010 he returned to the Dalgan Retirement Home where he was  a gentle, undemanding presence until his death.

St Columbans, Nebraska

Over the years there have always been individual Columbans who, because of ill health or because of their outstanding talents in promotion or office management, never got much of a chance to serve on overseas mission. The work they did was essential for the success of the whole Columban mission venture. The best of them, and that included Father Donal, accepted their roles wholeheartedly without complaint or bitterness. His was a quiet, gentle, affirming presence in every appointment right to the end.

May he rest in peace.

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park

Father Donal had his chair specially positioned near the window to give him a full view of the garden and various shrubs outside his room in St Columban's Retirement Home, Dalgan Park.

Flowering Garden, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]