14 March 2018

'Sir, we wish to see Jesus.' Sunday Reflections, Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

Sheaves of Wheat, Van Gogh [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, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

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 honour.

 ‘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 judgement 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.

The readings for Year A may be used instead of those above.

Christ in Agony on the Cross, El Greco [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 the Apostle, El Greco [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 2015 Pope Francis addressed the bishops of Korea during their ad limina visit. He recalled his visit to Korea the previous 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.

The previous Sunday, 9 March 2015, 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 honour.

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 (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

12 March 2018

Week of Prayer for persons with dementia, 12 - 19 March 2018

Painting owned by Pastoral Care Project
Pastoral Care Project © Charity No. 1094766.  All rights reserved.

There is more on this painting by Sr Annie Bromhan IBVM along with reflections on the Pastoral Care Project website here.

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.

This is the tenth annual Dementia Prayer Week initiated by Pastoral Care Project.

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.

Portrait of an Old Man with Beard, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Pastoral Care Project logo

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 runs from 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 fully understand these closing lines:

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.

(28 October 1939 - 5 March 2018)

Last Friday, on a beautiful early spring day, we Columbans buried one of our confreres, Fr Michael McCarthy, in our cemetery at St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland. In his funeral homily his classmate and great friend Fr Noel Daly said, But surely, the biggest challenge he faced was to do all this while fighting bouts of illness and to keep going to the end despite the onset of dementia. And that’s what he did and he did it in style.

Father Noel then told us what Fr Ji Kwang-kyu Peter, a young Korean Columban working in the Philippines who was in Ireland recently to study English, had told him. Father Peter had been a seminarian in Korea when Father Michael was a member of the formation team.

At one of his first meals with the students in the Formation House where people were introducing themselves, the one thing that they remembered Father Michael saying was that he was really looking forward to learning about young people and the new Korea.

Father Noel went on to say, Just a few months ago when Kwang-kyu (Father Peter) came to meet again with Father Michael here in Dalgan, Michael could not remember him. All he said was, ‘I am sorry I cannot remember you now but thank you – I received so much love from people in Korea – I was very happy there’. Father Peter could only say that he hoped he’d be able to say that after a life on mission.


The contact details of Pastoral Care Project are here.

09 March 2018

Columban Fr Michael McCarthy RIP

Fr Michael McCarthy
(28 October 1939 - 5 March 2018)

Fr Michael McCarthy was born on 28 October 1939 in Bealnadeega, County Kerry, Ireland, and attended Meentogues National School before going to St Brendan's College, Killarney, and joined the Columbans from there in 1958. 

St Mary's Cathedral, Killarney [Wikipedia]

Ordained in 1964, he was appointed to Korea and after language studies was stationed in the southern Diocese of Gwangju. Within a short time he became diocesan chaplain to the Young Christian Workers (YCW). It was the beginning of a life-long involvement with people on the margins of society.

Heuksando Island [Wikipedia]

Before a home vacation in 1970 Father Michael moved from the city to the island parish of Heuksando, eight hours out into the Yellow Sea. So by the time he took charge of his first parish in Sadangdong, Seoul, in 1975 he was well acquainted with Korea, its culture and language as well as the skills required for ministry there at an anxious time. These were years of agitation and political strife as the Church responded to the needs of the workers and the poor in the expanding urban areas.

St Joseph's Church, Balcurris [Source]

As a committed Kerryman his cultural adaptibility was further enhanced by a four-year appointment to the then Columban parish of St Joseph, Balcurris, Ballymun, Dublin, in 1980. He relished that experience for its opportunity to 'dialogue with the Dubs' and to discover the new Ireland in whose politics and progress he always maintained a keen interest. [Note: Between 1975 and 1979 Kerry and Dublin had played each other in the All-Ireland Gaelic Football Final four times, each winning twice!]

By 1984 Father Michael was back in Korea, in Tobong parish, Seoul, before being asked to develop a new parish in Unamdong in Gwangju. From 1993 he was drawn more into the Columban effort to develop Korea as an independent Region of the Society with its own support base and training programmes for overseas mission. He made lasting friends with supporters all over the country and always kept in touch over the following years. Appointed Vice-Director of the Region of Korea in 2004 he helped to ensure that Korean Columbans would become an essential part or our mission teams around the world.

Myeongdong Cathedral, Seoul [Wikipedia]

Father Mick had the temperament to contribute to mission in a myriad of ways, not least in sitting down to chat and share stories into the night. Ill health began to curtail his ministry in latter years and he returned to Ireland diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2014. Even as his memory deteriorated he never let go of the determination to keep in touch with friends and neighbours even if he could only smile in recognition at the end.

Father Michael died in St Columban's, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland, on 5 March 2018. He was a friend for life to so many people who were blessed by his care and companionship.

May he rest in peace.                                    [Fr Noel Daly]

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park

One very poignant moment at the end of the burial, after we sang the Salve Regina was when three Korean women, Columban lay missionaries Lee Kyung-ja, Noh Hye-in and Columban Sister Kim Mihwa sang Arirang, a very old Korean folk song that has many versions in terms of lyrics. The themes of sorrow, separation, reunion, and love appear in most versions. The song has become, in a very real sense, an expression of the 'Koreanness' of the people in both parts of Korea. 

At the removal service (vigil) in the chapel the evening before the burial Fr Anthony O'Brien told us how Father Michael loved to walk in the mountains of Korea. An English translation of one of the many versions of the song contains these lines:

There, over there, that mountain is Baekdu Mountain,
Where, even in the middle of winter days, flowers bloom.

Father Michael loved Korea and its people. May the flowers bloom for him in heaven.

07 March 2018

'For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works . . .' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Lent, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) directed by Philip Saville
[Today's Gospel ends at 3:10]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 3:14-21 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

The readings for Year A may be used instead of those above.
Nicodemus, Unknown Flemish Master [Web Gallery of Art]

The Pharisees generally have a bad name and the adjective 'pharisaical' is defined in Merriam-Webster as marked by hypocritical censorious self-righteousness. Those words could certainly describe most of the Pharisees we meet in the gospels. But they do not apply to Nicodemus. He was patently a good man who said to Jesus when he met him at night, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God (John 3:2). He was also with Jesus at the end helping to prepare for the burial. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds (John 19:39).

This good Pharisee can help us come to the light, especially when that involves walking through the darkness. Physical darkness is part of the reality that God has given us and can protect us from the cosmic powers of this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12), as it did Nicodemus when he came by night to visit Jesus.

God has given us many examples of persons willing to confront the cosmic powers of this present darkness even at the risk of their lives. One such person is Patience Mollè Lobè, a widow now aged 60 and member of the Focolare Movement. An engineer, she became a very senior official in the Department of Public Works in Cameroon. She saw at first hand the powers of darkness in the corruption she encountered there. Here she relates how attempts were made three times to kill her.

Patience Mollè Lobè is yet another example of a layperson living fully the vision of Vatican II. So many have the idea that carrying out a particular kind of liturgical service, eg, being a reader, is what being a good lay Catholic is all about. It's much more than that. It is a way of life in following Jesus, living every moment according to the Gospel, bringing the values of Jesus into every human situation. In the words of St Paul in today's Second ReadingFor we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Ephesians 2:10).

Many of us have known persons like Patience Mollè Lobè, some of whom have died for confronting the cosmic powers of this present darkness. Their witness to Jesus and the Gospel brings us the light of hope and proves the truth of his words today, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Antiphona ad introitum
Entrance Antiphon (Cf Isaiah 60:10-11)

Laetare, Jerusalem, et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam;
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.
gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis,
Be joyful, all who were in mourning;
ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae.
exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.

28 February 2018

'I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple 
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 John 2:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

The readings for Year A may be used instead of those above.

Bus Éireann buses [Wikipedia]

Last Sunday afternoon I took the Bus Éireann bus from Dublin Airport to St Columban's, Dalgan Park, where I'm living, a journey of about one hour and twenty minutes. As I was getting off I told the driver that I love travelling by bus because I see so many acts of kindness and humanity and that he himself was a good example of that. Almost everyone in Ireland says 'Thank you' to the driver as they get off, an act of kindness and gratitude, but I could see that the driver I spoke to was surprised and delighted at my compliment.

One of his acts of thoughtfulness and kindness was at Dunshaughlin, a small town near our place. Nobody was waiting at the stop there and nobody on the bus had rung the bell to indicate that they wished to get off there. However, when we had to stop at the traffic lights about 100 metres ahead two young men approached the driver and sheepishly told him that they had missed the stop and asked him if he could let them off there. 'I think we can manage that', he said, and opened the door.

It was a simple act of kindness and the driver wasn't causing any danger to anyone or holding up traffic. But he could easily have said to the young men that he would let them off at the next stop about 400 metres away. After all, it was their mistake, not his. 

However, he was a man with a sense of service, with a sense of humour and with a sense of decency. In Ashbourne, another town we passed through, when an elderly man got on the driver had a brief chat with him making the man feel that he was a 'fellow pilgrim on the journey through life', as it were, not just an anonymous passenger travelling to Navan.

Over my years in the Philippines I heard far too many stories of officials who make it extremely difficult for members of the public, especially poorer ones, and who use delaying tactics unless something is passed across the counter. Sometimes it may be that an official is over-strict or just officious. Today's media in Ireland and Britain (27 February) carry a story about a five-year-old girl who was turned away at a doctor's office in Britain, despite it being an emergency, because she was late. The girl died later in hospital.

In today's Gospel Jesus uses physical force to show his utter disgust at the Temple being used as a market. He knew that some of these people took advantage of those who were poor. There are such persons in every community, some who are corrupt, some who are over-officious, with a sense of power.

Jesus was emphasising the sacredness of the Temple, the only place where Jews offered sacrifices to God. 

But the First Reading links worship with daily life. It gives us the Ten Commandments, which spell out how our relationship with God and our relationship with those around us are intertwined. When the connection is not made evil follows, as the death of Floribert Bwana Chui in the video above shows.

I knew of a provincial engineer in the Philippines who was never promoted. The reason? He used all the money allotted to build an excellent road about 50 years ago between two towns, by far the best at the time in his own and in the neighbouring provinces. No 'brown envelopes'. No kickbacks. Every centavo allotted went into the road. Many of my fellow Columban priests knew this man and told me of his deep faith and integrity.

When we truly worship God at Mass and on other occasions in the church or other designated sacred places, we come to see that every place, every situation, is meant to be sacred also. My mother more than once in scolding me said, House devil, street angel! In effect she was calling me to integrity, the kind of integrity I saw, for example, in my father's life.

St Paul, so to speak, nails the life of the follower of Jesus to the Cross in today's Second ReadingWe proclaim Christ crucified. The sacrifices offered in the Temple foreshadowed the Sacrifice of Jesus in which all of us share each time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God calls some, after strengthening their faith especially through the Eucharist and his Word, to share literally in the Sacrifice of Jesus. Floribert Bwana Chui was one of those. 

Pope Francis has spoken frequently about the martyrs of our time. On 6 February 2015, the feast day of the Martyrs of Japan, he saidI think of our martyrs, the martyrs of our times, men, women, children who are being persecuted, hated, driven out of their homes, tortured, massacred.  And this is not a thing of the past: this is happening right now. It would do us good to think of our martyrs. Today, we remember Paolo Miki, but that happened in 1600. Think of our present-day ones! Of 2015.

We can see clearly the martyrdom of someone killed simply for being a Christian. There have been many such martyrs in recent years in the Middle East, in parts of Africa and Latin America. What we don't see so clearly, perhaps, is that a person who is killed for refusing to give a bribe, for refusing to tell a lie, for refusing to cooperate in crime, for demanding and working for justice, is also a martyr. There are many such persons such as Floribert Bwana Chui. 

Clement Shahbaz Bhatti [Wikipedia]
(9 September 1968 - 2 March 2011)

Another such is Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani politician assassinated on 2 March 2011. I wrote about him last week but on the occasion of his death anniversary I wish to highlight his life and death again because he saw his life as a politician as his vocation in following Christ, a vocation he discovered on a Good Friday when he was 13:

My name is Shahbaz Bhatti. I was born into a Catholic family. My father, a retired teacher, and my mother, a housewife, raised me according to Christian values and the teachings of the Bible, which influenced my childhood. Since I was a child, I was accustomed to going to church and finding profound inspiration in the teachings, the sacrifice, and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was his love that led me to offer my service to the Church.

The frightening conditions into which the Christians of Pakistan had fallen disturbed me. I remember one Good Friday when I was just thirteen years old: I heard a homily on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to his love by giving love to my brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially of the poor, the needy, and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country.
I have been asked to put an end to my battle, but I have always refused, even at the risk of my own life. My response has always been the same. I do not want popularity, I do not want positions of power. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.
Floribert Bwan Chui, whom I learned about three years ago, and Shahbaz Bhatti, whom I have written about many times, understood how the Temple and the 'Marketplace' - the latter in its proper 'location' - are related in terms of following Jesus. And they both embodied fully the vision of Vatican II for the lay person:
For man, created to God's image, received a mandate to subject to himself the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness; a mandate to relate himself and the totality of things to Him Who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and Creator of all. Thus, by the subjection of all things to man, the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth.
This mandate concerns the whole of everyday activity as well. For while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society. They can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the Creator's work, consulting the advantages of their brother men, and are contributing by their personal industry to the realization in history of the divine plan (Gaudium et Spes, 34).

The poem in the video above, with the text below, is in the edition of The Divine Office (The Breviary) used in Australia, England & Wales and Ireland.

Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

Is this a fast,—to keep
    The larder lean,      
        And clean     
From fat of veals and sheep?    

Is it to quit the dish              
    Of flesh, yet still      
        To fill     
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,    
    Or ragg’d to go,               
        Or show
A downcast look, and sour?     

No! ’t is a fast to dole  
    Thy sheaf of wheat,
        And meat,              
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,       
    From old debate      
        And hate,—  
To circumcise thy life.         

To show a heart grief-rent;      
    To starve thy sin,    
        Not bin,—     
And that ’s to keep thy Lent.