20 September 2018

Columban Fr Roderick Long RIP

Fr John Roderick Long
(13 November 1934 - 14 September 2018)

Fr John Roderick ('Derrick') Long was born in Dublin on 13 November 1934. He was educated at the Convent of Mercy, Loughrea, County Galway, St Brendan’s National School, Loughrea, and St Joseph’s College, Garbally Park, Ballinasloe. He entered St Columban's College, Dalgan Park, Navan, County Meath, in September 1953 and was ordained priest on 21 December 1959.

St Brendan's Cathedral, Loughrea [Wikipedia]

Father Derrick’s first appointment was to Burma (now Myanmar), but while he awaited a visa he served as temporary dean at the Templeogue house of studies in Dublin. When his visa came through, he left for Burma in October 1962. There he worked with Fr Jim Fisher as the latter ran a procure in Rangoon (now Yangon) for various Catholic groups working in Burma. However, Father Derrick was expelled from there in 1966 when the military government put further restrictions on missionaries.

Market in Downtown Yangon [Wikipedia]

His next appoinment was to the Philippines where he served from 1967 to 1995. He was part of the Columban group who served in the Dioceses of Lingayen/Alaminos. So at various times he served in Sual, Labrador and in the sub-parishes of Lingayen. A serious, determined pastor, he is remembered as a frequent visitor to all the families in his various assignments.

San Pedro Martir Parish Church, Sual [Wikipedia]

There followed an appointment to mission promotion in Australia. He served in Perth from 1995 to 1998, and then in Brisbane from 1998 to 2006. Mission promotion work involved visiting more than two hundred parishes to preach at Sunday Masses and visit Columban supporters. After 2006 he spent the next five years in semi-retirement in Brisbane while always willing to help out in neighbouring parishes.

Sandgate Town Hall [Wikipedia]
Sandgate is the suburb of Brisbane where the Columban house is located.

Father Derrick was a shy person but constantly overcame that shyness to fulfil his missionary tasks. As his health began to fail he returned to Ireland in 2011, was confined to the St Columban’s Retirement Home from early January 2015, and he died there on 13th September.

May he rest in peace.
Obituary by Fr Cyril Lovett

Crucifix, Dalgan Park Cemetery

Salve, Regína, mater misericórdiae vita, dulcédo et spes nostra, salve Ad te clamámus, éxules fílii Evae. Ad te suspirámus, geméntes et flentes in hac lacrimárum valle. Eia ergo, advocáta nostra, illos tuos misericórdes óculos ad nos convérte. Et Jesum, benedíctum frucum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsílium osténde O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo María.

19 September 2018

'We should never just scrape by, but really live'. Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(6 April 1901 - 4 July 1925)
Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Mark 9:30-37 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
Responsorial Psalm (Philippines, USA)

In the first week of June 2015 I went on a pilgrimage from Ireland to northern Italy with members of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. On our first morning there we visited the Shroud of Turin. When we entered the cathedral proper I saw on one of the side-altars to my left a portrait I was familiar with, that of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. I was probably the only one in our group who noticed it and whose heart leaped with joy on seeing it. I went over to pray, not realising at the time that under the altar was the tomb of this young man who when he died was only one-third of the age that I was then. When we were back on the bus I was happy to tell my fellow pilgrims about this most attractive of saintly people of our times.

Tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio [Wikipedia]

Thanks to St John Paul II, who beatified Pier Giorgio on 20 May 1990, the 4oth anniversary of my First Holy Communion, I had come to know something of the inspiring life of this young man, born into privilege but who had both a great zest for life and a great love for the poor, the latter something his family knew very little about, though they had seen signs of it in his childhood. One time when a woman with a young son came begging at the Frassati home Pier Giorgio noticed that the boy had no shoes. He took off his own and gave them to the boy. There is a very good summary of his life here.

St John Paul saw the importance of bringing to our attention the lives of saints of our times, from every walk of life. In his homily at the beatification Pope John Paul, who all his life as a priest had a special love for young adults, said: 

Faith and charity, the true driving forces of his existence, made him active and diligent in the milieu in which he lived, in his family and school, in the university and society; they transformed him into a joyful, enthusiastic apostle of Christ, a passionate follower of his message and charity. The secret of his apostolic zeal and holiness is to be sought in the ascetical and spiritual journey which he traveled; in prayer, in persevering adoration, even at night, of the Blessed Sacrament, in his thirst for the Word of God, which he sought in Biblical texts; in the peaceful acceptance of life’s difficulties, in family life as well; in chastity lived as a cheerful, uncompromising discipline; in his daily love of silence and life’s 'ordinariness'. It is precisely in these factors that we are given to understand the deep well-spring of his spiritual vitality. Indeed, it is through the Eucharist that Christ communicates his Spirit; it is through listening to the word that the readiness to welcome others grows, and it is also through prayerful abandonment to God’s will that life’s great decisions mature. Only by adoring God who is present in his or her own heart can the baptized Christian respond to the person who 'asks you for a reason for your hope' (1 Pt 3:15). And the young Frassati knew it, felt it, lived it. In his life, faith was fused with charity: firm in faith and active in charity, because without works, faith is dead (cf. James 2:20).

Blessed Pier Giorgio mountain climbing in 1924 [Wikipedia]

Like Pope Pius XI, Blessed Pier Giorgio loved to climb mountains and, like Pope John Paul II, he loved to ski.
Pope St John Paul gave the name 'The Man of the Eight Beatitudes' to Blessed Pier Giorgio. He said in 1989I, too, in my youth, felt the beneficial influence of his example and, as a student, I was impressed by the force of his Christian testimony. 

In a message to the youth of Turin in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI saidLike [Pier Giorgio],discover that it is worth it to commit oneself for God and with God, to respond to his call in the fundamental decisions and the daily ones, even when it is costly.

In his Message for World Youth Day 2014 Pope Francis quoted the young man from Turin: As Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati once said, 'To live without faith, to have no heritage to uphold, to fail to struggle constantly to defend the truth: this is not living. It is scraping by. We should never just scrape by, but really live'.

Blessed Pier Giorgio's last climb, 7 June 1925 [Wikipedia]

Blessed Pier Giorgio died from polio, after a week of great pain. He very probably contracted it from some of the poor whom he visited in their homes. His family were astonished at the huge numbers of poor people who lined the streets of Turin for his funeral.

This young man is such a great model of discipleship for all, not only young people, because he took the words of Jesus in today's gospel to heart: Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. He enjoyed life. He had a very strong sense of justice along with a real awareness of the person in front of him. Charity is not enough: we need social reformhe used to sayHe was, in the words of St John Paul II, a joyful, enthusiastic apostle of Christ, the kind of follower of Jesus that Pope Francis frequently calls us to be.

Blessed Pier Giorgio lived each moment. In his homily at the beatification Pope St John Paul II highlighted something very important: his daily love of silence and life’s 'ordinariness'. This is where we find God.

Antiphona ad communionem  
Communion Antiphon John 10: 14
Ego sum pastor bonus, dicit Dominus;
I am the Good Shepherd, says the Lord;
et cognosco oves meas, et cognoscunt me meae.
I know my sheep, and mine know me.

13 September 2018

'Jesus was facing a decisive turning-point in his life.' Sunday Reflections, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

St Peter in Prison, Rembrandt [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 8:27-35 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

On 13 September 2015, the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Benedict Daswa was beatified in South Africa, the first South African to be formally recognized by the Church as a martyr. He was martyred on 2 February 1990, the day that Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Blessed Benedict - he took that name when he became a Catholic in 1963 - was 43 when he died, a husband and father of eight children and a school principal. He was killed because of his opposition to witchcraft, which was widespread in his community, practised, out of fear, even by some Catholics.

The beatification ceremony took place on a day when the First Reading and the Gospel focus on the cost of being a follower of Jesus Christ. 

St George Maronite Cathedral and Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, side by side in Beirut [Wikipedia]

Pope Benedict XVI visited Lebanon six years ago, 14-16 September. The 16th was the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, the same as this Sunday.

During his time as pontiff Benedict XVI constantly emphasised that our faith as Catholic Christians is in the person of Jesus Christ, something that Pope Francis often does too.

Pope Benedict's homily at the Sunday Mass at the Beirut City Center Waterfront was based on the readings of the day, as a homily should be, and he focused mainly on the gospel. Here are some extracts from that homily, with some parts highlighted.

On this Sunday when the Gospel asks us about the true identity of Jesus, we find ourselves transported with the disciples to the road leading to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks them: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29). The moment he chose to ask this question is not insignificant. Jesus was facing a decisive turning-point in his life. He was going up to Jerusalem, to the place where the central events of our salvation would take place: his crucifixion and resurrection. In Jerusalem too, following these events, the Church would be born. 

And at this decisive moment, Jesus first asks his disciples: “Who do men say that I am?” (Mk 8:27). They give very different answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets! Today, as down the centuries, those who encounter Jesus along their own way give their own answers. These are approaches which can be helpful in finding the way to truth. But while not necessarily false, they remain insufficient, for they do not go to the heart of who Jesus is. Only those willing to follow him on his path, to live in fellowship with him in the community of his disciples, can truly know who he is

Finally, Peter, who had dwelt with Jesus for some time, gives his answer: “You are the Christ” (Mk 8:29). It is the right answer, of course, but it is still not enough, since Jesus feels the need to clarify it. He realizes that people could use this answer to advance agendas which are not his, to raise false temporal hopes in his regard.  He does not let himself be confined to the attributes of the human saviour which many were expecting.

By telling his disciples that he must suffer and be put to death, and then rise again, Jesus wants to make them understand his true identity. He is a Messiah who suffers, a Messiah who serves, and not some triumphant political saviour. He is the Servant who obeys his Father’s will, even to giving up his life. This had already been foretold by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading. Jesus thus contradicts the expectations of many. What he says is shocking and disturbing. We can understand the reaction of Peter who rebukes him, refusing to accept that his Master should suffer and die! Jesus is stern with Peter; he makes him realize that anyone who would be his disciple must become a servant, just as he became Servant

Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter, Lorenzo Veneziano 

Following Jesus means taking up one’s cross and walking in his footsteps, along a difficult path which leads not to earthly power or glory but, if necessary, to self-abandonment, to losing one’s life for Christ and the Gospel in order to save it. We are assured that this is the way to the resurrection, to true and definitive life with God.

Choosing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who made himself the Servant of all, requires drawing ever closer to him, attentively listening to his word and drawing from it the inspiration for all that we do

(16 June 1946 - 2 February 1990)

The final verse of today's Responsorial Psalm, which includes the response, has been surely fulfilled in the life of Blessed Benedict Daswa: 

For he has freed my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
(New American Bible, Philippines, USA).

Responsorial Psalm (Philippines, USA)

04 September 2018

‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ Sunday Reflections, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mark 7:31-37 in Filipino Sign Language

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Mark 7:31-37 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Then Jesus returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’

Old Man in Sorrow (At Eternity's Gate), Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]
In the Second Reading today St James asks in his blunt way, If a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

In 1982 I spent three months working in a hospital in a city in the the US Midwest. I noticed that a particular nurse always wore a pro-life badge, for which I admired her. But in the three months I was there as chaplain to patients and staff on the floor we both worked on she never spoke to me except at a weekly staff meeting. I was curious rather than hurt by this and before I finished I asked her if we could meet. I told her what I had noticed and expressed my admiration for her quiet pro-life stand. She was quite taken aback, as she had never been conscious of ignoring me. It turned out that she had once had a bad experience with a priest and had 'tuned out' on all priests. We had a very good conversation and ended up hugging each other.

The nurse had been making distinctions but was far from being a judge with evil thoughts. We can be such, by deliberately shutting out another person or group of persons from our life. But very often we are unaware of others or of their needs.

Fr Joseph Coyle 
(28 February 1937 - 18 December 1991)

One group of persons that is largely ignored in the Church, is the Deaf. Those who are profoundly deaf refer to themselves as a group as 'The Deaf', with an upper-case 'D'. One of my late Columban colleagues, Fr Joseph Coyle from the city of Derry in Northern Ireland, worked for many years in what is now the Diocese of Kabankalan, in the southern part of the province of Negros Occidental. Early in his time in remote parishes he became aware of the needs of persons who had lost limbs. He helped many to get artificial limbs. 

But later he noticed that there were persons who were more or less totally isolated, even from their own families - persons who were profoundly deaf from birth or from early childhood. They did not even have a common language with their parents or siblings. Their deafness was experienced as an affliction by themselves and their families. They all felt a sense of powerlessness.

In English the word 'dumb' has come to mean 'stupid' because of the perception in the past that those who used to be described as 'deaf and dumb' were stupid.

Fr Joe Coyle then focused his ministry on the Deaf. In the late 1980s he set up a residence in Bacolod City, Welcome Home, for out-of-town students so that they could attend schools with special education programmes for the Deaf. That particular need is now being met more and more in public schools in other cities and towns.

One of the services of Welcome Home Foundation, Inc. today is to send catechists to local public schools where there are profoundly deaf students. Some of these catechists are themselves profoundly deaf. Welcome Home also strongly encourages parents of profoundly deaf children to learn Sign Language and holds classes for them.

On the first Sunday of the month, during the academic year, the Deaf in Bacolod City are especially welcome at Sunday Mass in the public chapel of the University of Negros Occidental - Recoletos (UNO-R). On the second Sunday they have Mass in the public chapel attached to the Diocesan seminary. On the last Sunday they participate in one of the Masses at the Cathedral. On other Sundays they have Mass at Welcome Home. While based in Bacolod City from 2002 until 2017 I regularly celebrated that Mass, using my limited Sign Language and with the help of interpreters, some of them profoundly deaf.

But I know that there have been times when parishioners and priests in various places have complained that signing interpreters were a 'distraction'. In some instances the Deaf have been made clearly unwelcome at Mass. Maybe some of those who made them feel such are already in 'St James territory'.

I do not know the source of the sorrow of the old man in Van Gogh's painting, which expresses  very painful isolation. But isolation is what many profoundly deaf persons feel, especially if they are seen as 'dumb' in the modern sense. And what must deaf persons feel if some don't even want to welcome them at the celebration of Holy Mass, our most important act of worship as Catholic Christians to our loving Father?

As in so many of the healing stories in the Gospel, we see Jesus giving his full attention to the person in need. We see him engaging physically with that person, using his very spittle in the act of enabling the man to hear and to speak clearly.

Again, as in so many of the healing stories, Jesus is bringing someone back into the circle. The man's deafness and speech impediment, the latter a direct result of the former, isolated him to a large degree from his own family and community. Now he was fully part of it again.

I remember seeing the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestial with a young friend, Glenn, who is profoundly, though not totally deaf, due to Usher's Syndrome, which also affects his sight. At the time he was about the same age as Elliott, the boy in the clip above. I watched the movie through Glenn's eyes, with a deeper appreciation of what is involved when a profoundly deaf person and a hearing person are trying to communicate. It can be very hard work, but rewarding.

Twenty-five years ago I saw something very beautiful at the Home of Joy in Tayuman, Tondo, Manila, a home for children run by the Missionaries of Charity. I was looking for a particular girl who was profoundly deaf. I'll call her Maria. I found her playing with a group of other girls, all of them using Sign Language. But only Maria was deaf. Without being aware of it, she had invited her friends into her world of silence - and they, without being aware of it, had invited her into their world of sound. All were equal.

A very important detail in the gospel is that not only did the deaf man's friends bring him to Jesus but they begged him to lay his hand on him.

Many churches in the western world have what is called a 'loop system' whereby those who are hard of hearing and use hearing aids can participate fully in Mass and other services. Being hard of hearing is something that very often comes with growing old, and I am experiencing that myself now - I've been using hearing aids since last January - but it is a very different reality from profound deafness, especially if that deafness has been since birth or early childhood.

Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God; my soul is thirsting for God, the living God (Cf. Psalm 41 [42]:2-3). These are the words of the Communion Antiphon from the Old Testament in today's Mass. The soul of a profoundly deaf person yearns for the living God just as much as the soul of a hearing person. But do we, the majority who are hearing, really allow/enable the Deaf to slake that thirst by enabling them to participate fully in the Holy Mass?

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum,
Like the deer that yearns for running streams,
ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus:
so my soul is yearning for you, my God;
sitivit anima mea ad Deum fortem vivum.
my soul is thirsting for God, the living God.

Palestrina's setting is of the lines in bold above. The current Missale Romanum (Roman Missal) uses the New Vulgate Latin translation and the first line reads 'Quemadmodum desiderat cervus' instead of 'Sicut cervus desiderat'.