30 January 2015

'A new teaching - with authority!' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo, Spain [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) 

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, convulsing him 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.

Remains of the 4th century synagogue, Capernaum
[Wikipedia, David Shankbone]

On Friday 9 January my brother Paddy, with many of his classmates, attended the funeral in Dublin of the man they knew in 1954-55 as 'Mr O'Donohue' when he taught them in Second Class (Grade Two) in O'Connell Schools, Dublin. At the time they saw him as very senior in age but he was only 22, starting out as a primary school teacher. Years later they were to come to know Sean Gerard O'Donohue as their friend 'Gerry' because of the enormous and formative impact he had on their lives.

Towards the end of the 1954-55 academic year, which in Ireland runs from late August or early September to the end of May or early June, depending on the level, he asked them 'What's special about today?' None of them saw anything of note until he pointed out that it was 5/5/55. Then he said, "It would be nice if you wrote to me on 6/6/66 to let me know how you're doing'.

Twenty responded to his request and out of that came a series of dinner reunions on 6/6/66, 7/7/77, 8/8/88, 9/9/99 and on 5/5/05, with some coming from overseas, including the USA. Gerry was at all of these, as he was on 12/12/12 in the new century/millennium. But this time they gathered for lunch - starting at 12:12pm. And it was given a spot on national radio for which a niece of Gerry's works.

Primary teachers had to have music classes where they would teach certain songs in Irish and in English that would, so to speak, have the approval of tradition. But that year a big hit was The Ballad of Davy Crockett.

The boys of Second Class adopted this as their class song, with the full approval of their young teacher, allowing them to 'stretch' tradition a little. (Both my brother and I have inherited a strong respect for traditions, which are living realities that create special bonds within families, within larger groups, and between generations, from our mother who wasn't, however, a doctrinaire 'traditionalist'.)

It was no big surprise when Mr O'Donohue, who spent his whole career in the one school became its principal. Though he never taught me, he always greeted me by name and on occasions when I'd visit the school while home from the Philippines he remembered me.

What this man had, and what drew such respect, loyalty and affection for him for six decades was an inner authority, the kind of authority that the people recognised in Jesus in today's gospel and that is noted in a number of gospel stories. Gerry O'Donohue respected the more than 40 youngsters with whom he spent that academic year. 

In those days the one teacher in primary school taught everything to the pupils. I don't know if Mr O'Donohue ever used the leather strap that teachers had in those days to 'biff' students - on the palm of the hand - for misdemeanours. If he did it would have been very sparingly. Another genial teacher whom my brother had in primary school, Mr Maher, known as 'Ned', took out the leather strap at the beginning of the year and said, 'You play ball with me - and I'll play ball with you.' He then put it in the drawer and the youngsters never saw it again. He too had an inner authority, with respect for the youngsters he was teaching and a desire to enable them to grow as human beings and in their faith. Our school was a Catholic school for boys, the teachers all men, and each taught catechism every day. The most effective were those in whom we saw the faith lived quietly.

In his general audience last Wednesday Pope Francis spoke about fatherhood. He acknowledged that he was emphasising the darker side of this - so that this coming Wednesday he could focus on the beauty of fatherhood. He said:

They are orphans, but within the family, because the fathers are often absent, also physically, from home but above all because, when they are home, they do not behave as fathers, they do not have a dialogue with their children. They do not fulfil their educational task; they do not give to their children – with their example accompanied by words --, those principles, those values, those rules of life that they need, just as much as they need bread. The educational quality of the paternal presence is all the more necessary the more the father is constrained by work to be far from home. At times it seems that fathers do not know well what place to occupy in the family and how to educate the children. And then, in doubt, they abstain, they withdraw and neglect their responsibility, perhaps taking refuge in an improbable relation 'on par' with the children. However, it is true that you must be a companion to your child but without forgetting that you are the father. However, if you only behave as a companion on a par with your child, you will not do the child any good.

My brother and I were blessed with parents who led by example. A regular threat from Dad was 'I'll give you a good clip in the ear if you do that again.' It was always a 'good clip' never just a 'clip'. But whether good or otherwise it was never delivered because we both saw clearly the inner authority of the deep faith that he lived quietly, not piously, and how it was integrated with every other aspect of his life, especially his family and on the building (construction) sites where he spent all his working life, most of it as a highly respected general foreman and mentor. He attended Mass every day of his life, including t12 August 1987, the day he died suddenly.

Teachers such as Gerry O'Donohue and Ned Maher, both married, though the latter had no children, deepened the sense of fatherhood for young boys whose experience with their dads was good. For those who had lost their fathers, either through death or absence, they saw in their teachers something of what fatherhood is.

In his meeting with families on his recent visit to Manila Pope Francis spoke about St Joseph: Just as the gift of the Holy Family was entrusted to Saint Joseph, so the gift of the family and its place in God’s plan is entrusted to us. Like Saint Joseph. The gift of the Holy Family was entrusted to Saint Joseph so that he could care for it. Each of you, each of us – for I too am part of a family – is charged with caring for God’s plan. He was here recognising the authority of St Joseph as the husband of Mary and the legal father of Jesus - since he was the one who named him.

And something that struck me forcibly, though I didn't read or hear any comment on it, was that Pope Francis cut short his visit to Tacloban City - the very reason he had come to the Philippines - because the pilot of his aircraft had told him that the approaching storm made it imperative that they leave at 1pm instead of 5pm. Like Jesus as a child and adolescent yielding to the proper authority of St Joseph, whose name Pope Francis has added to Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV, the Holy Father yielded to the proper authority of the pilot.

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.”

Composed by Carlo Gesualdo (1566- 1613)
Sung by the Oxford Camerata directed by Jeremy Summerly

Antiphona ad communionem   Communion Antiphon Cf. Ps 30:17-18

Illumina faciem tuam super servum tuum,
Let your face shine on your servant.
et salvum me fac in tua misericordia.
Save me in your merciful love.
Domine, non confundar, quoniam invocavi te.
O Lord, let me never be put to shame, for I call on you.

24 January 2015

'Repent . . . believe . . . follow me.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Jacob Willemsz de Wet the Elder
Private collection [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) 

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.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Speaking in Rome to members of ecclesial movements on the evening of Saturday 17 May 2013, the Vigil of Pentecost, Pope Francis told this story:

One day in particular, though, was very important to me: 21 September 1953. I was almost 17. It was 'Students’ Day', for us the first day of spring — for you the first day of autumn. Before going to the celebration I passed through the parish I normally attended, I found a priest that I did not know and I felt the need to go to confession. For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened, I can’t remember, I do not know why that particular priest was there whom I did not know, or why I felt this desire to confess, but the truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. I was convinced that I should become a priest.

In an interview with Sergio Rubin, an Argentinian journalist, in 2010 the then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ of Buenos Aires said:

In that confession, something very rare happened to me. I don’t know what it was, but it changed my life. I would say that I was caught with my guard down. … It was a surprise, the astonishment of an encounter. I realized that God was waiting for me. From that moment, for me, God has been the one who precedes [to guide me]. … We want to meet him, but he meets us first.

What is striking is that the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio experienced God's call to the priesthood unexpectedly and within the context of confession.

Drawing by Rembrandt, c.1655 [Wikipedia]

The First Reading, from the Book of Jonah, shows the people of Nineveh, from the King down, believing the reluctant prophet and then fasting and repenting.

In the Gospel Jesus preaches, Repent, and believe in the good news. It is in the context of that proclamation to the people in Galilee that Jesus invites Simon and Andrew, James and John, to follow him. Each of the four could make the words of Pope Francis their own: For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened . . . I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. That call was to lead the four of them to leave everything to follow him, a decision that was to bring three of them to martyrdom. The young Jorge Mario Bergoglio could not have had the slightest idea that listening to God's call would lead him to Rome.

Twelve or thirteen years ago I did a mission appeal in a parish in England where the then recently appointed parish priest had inherited a filthy rectory/presbytery/convento from his predecessor. He had managed by then to clean up only his own bedroom. He could not invite me to stay at his place because the guest room was filthy and so had me put up by a neighbouring parish priest.

The people of Nineveh cleaned up the the 'room' of their inner heart by turning away from sin and allowed the word of God to enter. The Gospel suggests that the two sets of fishermen-brothers had done the same and were able to hear and respond to the call of Jesus there and then.

There is nothing to suggest in the Pope's story about his encounter with the Lord at the age of 17 that he was a great sinner. But it was while confessing his sins and receiving absolution, that great act of the mercy and compassion of God, the theme of his recent visit to us in the Philippines, that he heard God's call to the priesthood very clearly.

Caravaggio, 1599-1600 [Wikipedia]

Pope Francis spoke to the young people assembled at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, about the painting above. It was on the feast of St Matthew that he had that encounter with the Lord in confession. In his impromptu speech he said:

Think of Saint Matthew. He was a good businessman. He also betrayed his country because he collected taxes from the Jews and paid them to the Romans. He was loaded with money and he collected taxes. Then Jesus comes along, looks at him and says: 'Come, follow me'. Matthew couldn’t believe it. If you have some time later, go look at the picture that Caravaggio painted about this scene. Jesus called him, like this (stretching out his hand). Those who were with Jesus were saying: '[He is calling] this man, a traitor, a scoundrel?' And Matthew hangs on to his money and doesn’t want to leave. But the surprise of being loved wins him over and he follows Jesus. That morning, when Matthew was going off to work and said goodbye to his wife, he never thought that he was going to return in a hurry, without money to tell his wife to prepare a banquet. The banquet for the one who loved him first, who surprised him with something important, more important than all the money he had.

Perhaps very few experience God's call to their vocation in life, whether it is to marriage, to the consecrated life as a religious or as a lay person, to the priesthood, to remaining single, in as clear a way as Jorge Mario Bergoglio did. But in order to hear God's call, in order to respond to God's will, in order to live out God's call till the end of our life it is necessary to have a pure and uncluttered heart.

This is expressed in the Lord's Prayer: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . . forgive us our trespasses . . .

The Our Father sung in Tagalog during the meeting of Pope Francis with young people at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, on 18 January. [There was no Mass celebrated on this occasion.]

Repent . . . believe . . . follow me.

18 January 2015

My mother's 100th birth anniversary

Mary Coyle (née Collins)
18 January 1915 – 29 April 1970

I was told by a childhood and lifelong friend of my mother, Maureen, that this studio photo was taken when my mother was 19. They both had their photos taken the same day.

On 18 January 1915 an event happened in Dublin that was to have some consequences for me. Annie Dowd presented William Patrick Collins with the third of their ten children, seven girls and three boys. T
hey named her Mary. She in turn, on 20 April 1943, presented her husband, John Coyle, with the first of their two children, both boys. The photo above was taken in a studio shortly after their honeymoon. They were married on 6 July 1942.

The video above shows scenes of the Dublin into which she was born, all in the city centre. Apart from the volume and nature of traffic not too much has changed there in the last hundred years.

From what she and others told me I know that my mother was a very lively person when young. She told me more than once, with a smile, that when she was 12 she won a Charleston contest but was afraid her father would find out. I don't know if he ever did.

As a young adult my mother appeared in a number of amateur stage productions and on at least one occasion she appeared in one of Dublin's leading theatres, The Olympia, singing Vienna, City of My Dreams. I think she would have liked this version in the original German and performed in Vienna itself.

I can say that I grew up with music, thanks to both my parents. Neither played an instrument but they had me take piano lessons from the time I was five or six. And we listened to the same popular music on the radio as there was only one station in the Republic of Ireland in those days, though we could pick up some BBC stations as well.

My mother's 'party piece' was Because and her favourite recording of it was that by Deanna Durbin, who sang it in a 1939 movie called Three Smart Girls Grow Up, a sequel to the 1936 film Three Smart Girls. She often referred to these, with a smile on her face.

There used to a video of the song on YouTube taken from the movie but it's not there anymore.

Mam hated school and left the day she turned 14, as the law allowed. However, I think she regretted that. She and my father, who left school at 15 to become an apprentice carpenter, made sure that my brother and I got a good education. The husband of a cousin once said to me, 'One of the most important decisions in your life was your parents' decision to send you to O'Connell's School.' He was right and I think my mother was the driving force in that. I think that they both hoped I would be able to get a permanent job in the civil service but they never told me what to do. When they asked me one night, not long before I did my Leaving Certificate, the state examination at the end of secondary schooling, what I wanted to do and I told them that I wanted to be a missionary priest, they gave me their full blessing.
Ordination Day with my parents and brother Paddy

When I was four or five my mother, who had been a very fit person until then, not at all bothered by pushing a pram for miles, developed bronchitis, which was to plague her for the rest of her life. She told me after my ordination on 20 December 1967 that she had prayed that she would live long enough to see that day. I was sent in 1968 to study music at Manhattanville College, Purchase, New York. I got an unexpected opportunity to spend six weeks at home over Christmas 1969 and New Year 1970. That turned out to be the last time we were to meet. She died in her sleep on 29 April 1970.

My mother, though she was quick-tempered, wasn't one who showed other emotions openly. However, someone, possibly my father, told me that after my parents saw me off on my way back to New York that last time that she cried, the only time she had ever done so when I was going away.

A photo I took of my parents in the summer of 1968

After my mother's sudden death I gradually came to see so many unexpected blessing before she died, including the long visit home at Christmas. I've seen such blessings since in my own life and in those of others. I call this the 'thoughtfulness' of God.

The last song I heard my mother sing at a party, maybe during that long Christmas break, wasn't her usual 'party piece' but a song that has been adopted by the Irish as one of their own, even though it was written in 1875 by a German-American, Thomas P. Westendorf. 'Kathleen' is an Irish form of 'Catherine'. Here is Deanna Durbin, who had a beautifully pure voice, singing it, appropriately, in a movie called For the Love of Mary, made in 1948. It was her last film, though she lived to be 91 and died two years ago in Paris.

More than once my father told me how good my mother was at budgetting. Whatever it was, food or clothing, she always bought good quality, though not the most expensive. From both my parents I learned the values of honesty, responsibility and hard work. I learned not to spend money I don't have. I also learned to be trustworthy - because of their trust in me.

Mam, may your mezzo-soprano voice add to the heavenly choir!

17 January 2015

Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B; Feast of the Santo Niño (Philippines)

From The Gospel of John, directed by Philip Saville

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,  and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Links to the readings and some reflections for the Feast of the Santo Niño  are further down.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

God calls each of us to our particular vocation in life in a unique way. Pope Francis has told us, for example, that it was on the occasion of going to confession when he was 17 that he saw clearly that God was calling him to be a priest. A couple at whose wedding I officiated some years ago were members of the same Catholic organisation in the university they attended. They became an 'item', as they say here in the Philippines, when they were the only members of the group to turn up at the appointed time for an outing. While waiting for the others to arrive they discovered that they were more than just casual friends. Now they are happily married.

I'm always amused by the Second Reading from the Office of Readings for the feast of St Anthony the Abbot, today, Saturday, as I write this. St Athanasius tells us: He went into the church. It happened that the gospel was then being read, and he heard what the Lord had said to the rich man 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'

The young man Anthony, whose parents had died about six months previously, took these words to heart and went to live in the desert. He became, without planning it, the 'Father of Monasticism' in the Church. And perhaps if he had not been late for Mass that day the Gospel might not have struck him as it did. He was to be 'later' than most in another sense in that he was 105 when he died, a remarkable age to live to now but even more remarkable in the fourth century! Unlike the married couple above whose punctuality led them to discover God's call for them, it was through being late for Mass that Anthony discovered what God had in mind for him.

Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, in 1964 invited two men with learning disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, who had been living in institutions, to live with him in a small cottage that he bought and renovated in France. Having done so he realized that he had made a commitment to these two men and that his commitment involved remaining single. He had no intention of founding a movement but, in God's plan, that's what came about.

Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar, a great theologian from Switzerland, much admired by St John Paul II, in reflecting on today's Gospel from the First Chapter of St John, links it to an incident in the last chapter, John 21: 15 ff [starting at 0:55 in the video below].

Fr von Balthasar writes: In the last chapter of the book Peter will be the foundation stone to such a degree that he will also have to undergird ecclesial love: 'Simon, do you love me more than these?'

John 21:15-17 was the gospel read at the Pope's Mass in Manila Cathedral yesterday, Friday, with priests, religious, consecrated persons and seminarians. This passage shows what is at the heart of every call from God, whether to marriage, to the priesthood, to the consecrated life, to the single life. The call is above all to an intimate relationship with Jesus. Pope Francis highlighted this in his homily yesterdayFor us priests and consecrated persons, conversion to the newness of the Gospel entails a daily encounter with the Lord in prayer. The saints teach us that this is the source of all apostolic zeal! For religious, living the newness of the Gospel also means finding ever anew in community life and community apostolates the incentive for an ever closer union with the Lord in perfect charity. For all of us, it means living lives that reflect the poverty of Christ, whose entire life was focused on doing the will of the Father and serving others.

Pope Francis also said, The poor. The poor are at the center of the Gospel, are at heart of the Gospel, if we take away the poor from the Gospel we can’t understand the whole message of Jesus Christ.

Living the Gospel within the context of a deep personal relationship with Jesus the Risen Lord involves seeing reality through the eyes of those with little. Pope Francis showed this in a beautiful way by an unplanned - at least it wasn't on the official schedule - to a group of very poor children at TNK in Manila, near the Cathedral. ('Tulay ng Kabataan' means 'A Bridge to Children').

That video can act as a bridge to the celebration in the Philippines this Sunday and the gospel that will be read.

In the Philippines the Feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child) is celebrated this Sunday. This year it coincides with the visit of Pope Francis. He will celebrate the Mass of the feast in Manila.

The original image, at the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño de Cebú. [Wikipedia]

You will find the readings for the feast, with the exception of the Gospel, and some reflections here.

Gospel: Mark 10:13-16

And people were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.