24 July 2014

Environment department nominated for most sickening event of the year

The men who risk their lives and livelihoods to protect the environment, (from left) Terso, Richardo, a biologist known as 'Doctor Jong', and Danilo, with Timoay Barlie Balibes and his son Gerry, both of hwom have already paid the ultimate pricne for their dedicated work with their lives.
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). We listen to those words every year in the Easter Vigil. They are the fundamental reason we should have profound respect for God's creation, irrespective of any talk about possible environmental disasters. This profound respect is expressed beautifully in God's inspired word in Psalm 104 (103) and in the Canticle of the Three Young Men (Daniel 3:46-90), used in the Church's Morning Prayer on Solemnities, Feasts and on the first Sunday of the four-week cycle.
In the story below it's difficult not to see our Creator being mocked by those who see creation simply as a source to satisfy their greed, even if it involves killing people, as has happened here in the Philippines (photo above), as well as killing part of God's creation.
Pine forest, Benguet, northern Philippines [Wikipedia]
The following article is from the the 13 July edition of Sunday Examiner, the English-language weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Hong Kong. It is featured in the Mabuhay section. Fr Sean martin, who is extensively quoted, is a Columban priest who has been in Mindanao for almost 40 years.
MIDSALIP (Mabuhay) : If there is an award for the most sickening event of the year, long term missionary to Mindanao, Father Sean Martin, says that he wants to nominate the Department for the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Fr Sean Martin (r) [A Vicious Cycle of Destruction]
He said that its decision to present awards for the National Greening Programme to the big time illegal loggers in Mindanao at a ceremony held in Oroquieta City on June 4 is one of the sickest things he has seen in decades.
“Witnessing this expression of solidarity with those who continually destroy the environment was a depressing experience for the few who continually risk their lives to protect the environment who attended the ceremony,” he told Mabuhay.
Destruction of lowland area of Sierra Madre, Philippines [Wikipedia]
Awards were presented to Nova Wood Forest Industries, Third Millennium Oil Mills Inc., Misamis Occidental Wood Processing Association, Jim Santos, Manuel Animas, Bejamin Lauron, Joy Ong and Jocilyn Capirig.
Father Martin accused each and every one of the award recipients of pretending to protect the environment that in actual fact they are destroying on a daily basis.
He said that each and every one of them is acting in contravention of Executive Order No. 23, which was issued in 2011 by the president, Noynoy Aquino, to safeguard the environment in the rainforests of Mindanao.
Fr Sean Martin with friends in Midsalip [A Vicious Cycle of Destruction]
The order explicitly bans the cutting down of any trees, yet, Father Martin says that the local offices of the DENR routinely issue logging permits for operations in forbidden areas to the very companies and people whom it is now decorating for protecting the environment.
“These people give out permits to cut logs for a huge fee to people who are involved in logging,” the feisty Columban priest says. “The scrap of paper gives a semblance of legality, which is often enough to prevent concerned citizens in rural areas from protecting the environment.”
Midsalip picket area [Hope for Midsalip]
He says that trucks heavily laden with hardwood logs can be seen on a daily basis returning from areas where logging is banned, which in its turn causes more soil erosion and more flooding, while making the dry season longer and the water supply less reliable.
“The cutting of hard wood trees continues, the floods get bigger causing more damage and the dry season gets longer making it harder for poor people to survive,” he said.
He then quoted an indigenous Subaanen person, who lives in a rural area, as saying, “The officials and loggers are blind to the destruction that they are causing.”
He said that the sickening feeling in the stomachs of all people who work to protect the environment in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur, as well as the members of the Alliance to Save the Integrity of Nature (ASIN) is on a par with those who were subjected to the farcical presentation of awards by the DENR.
Father Martin described how members of ASIN presented themselves to the department over three years ago and asked to be deputised to look after the environment. He added that several of their members gave their complete bio-data, as requested, and were told that they would be notified in the near future.
“But nothing has happened since then, except that relatives of the barangay captains in Sigapod and Matalang in Midsalip, who are involved in logging, have been nominated as the official protectors of the environment,” Father Martin said in disgust.
Sierra Madre mountain range, Philippines [Wikipedia]
He described how this effectively thwarts any attempt by honest officials from the main office in Pagadian City to respond to reports by ASIN when they come to investigate what is really going on.
He said that the barangay captains simply inform their cronies in advance that there will be an inspection and all evidence is hidden.
“The efforts of powerless people to safeguard the environment by planting trees and reporting destruction are ignored,” the Irish missionary says.
He then directly accused officials from the municipal office in Midsalip of cooperating with Nova Woods in conducting illegal logging. 
“Two saws for cutting timber are installed along the main road to Midsalip in Barangay Bakahan (five kilometres from the town) and in Eastern Sominot, about 15 kilometres from the town of Midsalip, where Nova Woods has its truck depot,” Father Martin explained.
He described officials from the DENR as scauldies (young birds in the nest with their eyes closed and their mouths open), waiting for whatever those who can plunder the environment will give them.
“It is often money, like the official from the town of Bonifacio, Misamis Occidental, who clarified during a meeting in 2013 with concerned citizens that his family had a permit to cut trees and had paid hundreds of thousands of pesos for the permit, and so their seven band-saws are operating legally,” Father Martin related.
Filing petition for writ of kalikasan at the Supreme Court [Hope for Midsalip]
The missionary priest says that the worst of the matter is that the damage being done is forever.
He quotes a detailed geological study done by an English mining engineer and a geologist, Clive Wicks and Robert Goodland, as saying, “Past willful negligence of the fundamental connection between natural resources management and food security has cost The Philippines dearly.”
In their study, The Philippines: Mining or Food? Wicks and Goodland say, “As a result of this, the country has suffered from two massive hemorrhages: the loss of most of its forests from the 1950s to the 1980s; and the loss of much of its fisheries since then.”
They point out that the loss leads to a drop in rice production and affects rainfall and water supply.
“The unnecessary and nationally unprofitable loss of forests and fisheries are akin to killing the goose that would have laid golden eggs in perpetuity,” they say, adding that they are the golden eggs that sustain the poorest people in the land.
“The structure of evil is strong,” Father Martin says.
He added that those who protect nature are highly likely to get shot or have their land and possessions destroyed, while those who destroy the environment are in line for government decorations and accolades, which he said mocks both the president and the people in one sickening handshake.
... relatives of the barangay captains in Sigapod and Matalang in Midsalip, who are involved in logging, have been nominated as the official protectors of the environment.
Outside the Supreme Court [Hope for Midsalip]
You may read more about this situation on MISYONonline.com:
Hope for Midsalip by Mary Joy Rile.

17 July 2014

'Let both of them grow together until the harvest . . .' Sunday Reflections, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The Sower, November 1888, Arles; Vincent van Gogh
 Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam [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 Matthew 13:24-43 (or 13:24-30)  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
[He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
    I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,  and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!]
Burning Weeds, July 1883, The Hague; Vincent van Gogh
Bibliothèque de l'Institut national d'histoire de l'art, Paris [Web Gallery of Art]

In 1997 while on a visit to Toronto I read in a newspaper about a woman from the Philippines  who had been found guilty of embezzling about Can$250,000 over a period of time from the company for which she worked. The judge had no alternative but to send her to prison. However he was a very compassionate man. 

The judge was aware that the woman was no Al Capone. She had spent the money on surgery for her father in the Philippines, on improving her family's house there and on other family needs.

She was also pregnant.

The judge delayed the woman's imprisonment until six months after the birth of her child. She was also to serve her time in a women's prison near where she lived so that her family and friends could visit her easily.

The First Reading gives context to the parable of the good seed and the weeds: Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins (Wisdom 12:19)

The judge in this case was both righteous and kind. As one implementing justice on behalf of the state he had to punish the person before him because she had committed a serious crime. But he also filled her with good hope and, I've no doubt, gave her an opportunity to repent of her sins.

The parable shows once again God's mercy, God's desire to be merciful. He doesn't want to destroy what is good. He wants what is good to grow. He wants to cultivate the virtues in our lives by nourishing them through his grace and with our cooperation. 

But the parable also acknowledges the reality of evil. Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, the householder instructs his workers. We can choose to be 'weeds', to spurn God's mercy. The consequences are the result of our choice, not of God's. The, the author of the Book of Wisdom says to God, you give repentance for sins. God himself offers the grace of sorrow for our sins, the grace to ask God for forgiveness, won for us by Jesus on the Cross. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

The greatest expression of the God's mercy, given as a gift to the Church, is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we often call confession or penance. Last March Pope Francis said this to confessors (emphasis added): First of all, the protagonist of the ministry of reconciliation is the Holy Spirit. The forgiveness that the Sacrament confers is the new life sent by the Risen Lord by means of His Spirit: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). Therefore, you are called to always be “men of the Holy Spirit,” witnesses and heralds, joyful and strong, of the resurrection of the Lord. This testimony is read on the face, is heard in the voice of the priest who administers with faith and with “unction” the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He welcomes penitents not with the attitude of a judge, not even with that of a simple man, but with the charity of God, with the love of a father who sees the son returning and goes to meet him, [with the love] of the shepherd who has found the lost sheep. The heart of the priest is a heart that knows how to be moved, not by sentimentality or mere emotion, but to the “tender mercy” [viscere di misericordia] of the Lord! If it is true that tradition points out the dual role of doctor and judge for confessors, we must never forget that as a doctor he is called to heal and as a judge, to absolve.

The judge in Canada, though he had to be primarily a judge, also showed the charity of God, as many judges do. He showed compassion, which was expressed not only in the respect he showed the woman from the Philippines, but also in the respect he showed to her unborn child.

And Pope Francis shows us the way to avail of God's mercy so that when the reapers come there will be no 'weeds' to burn.

Lenten Penitential Service, St Peter's Basilica, Rome, 28 March 2014

The music being sung at that moment during the service was Miserere by Gregorio Allegri, a setting of the Latin translation of Psalm 51 (50). The refrain is the opening line of the psalm: Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam (Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love).

Miserere, by Gregorio Allegri
Sung by the Tallis Scholars

11 July 2014

'Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain.' Sunday Reflections, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The Sower, Vincent van Gogh
June 1888, Arles, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo [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 Matthew 13:1-23 (or 13:1-9)  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.  And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  Let anyone with ears listen!”
[Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,

    and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and their ears are hard of hearing,
        and they have shut their eyes;
        so that they might not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
    and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”]
June 1888, Arles. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]

In the spring of 1982 I made the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius at Loyola House, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. We spent 40 days there, a few days of preparation for the Thirty-Day Retreat proper and five days of reflection on the experience afterwards. One of the spiritual directors, though not my own, was an American Jesuit priest named George. He was probably in his 60s at the time. He had worked for some years in South America and he was a recovering alcoholic.

One evening I saw Father George come out of the Jesuit residence dressed very nattily, wearing a rather nice sports coat and hat, his pipe in one hand - and his rosary beads in the other. I said to myself, 'That man has it all together!'

He gave unusual homilies, laced with a delightfully dry and ironic humour. One was simply about a tiny bird - I think it was a species of hummingbird - that migrates each year in both directiosn between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, without stopping. All of us listening were filled with awe at God's creation, at the power and endurance of one of God's creatures, one that didn't have the power of reasoning but that knew how to get from one end of the landmass of the Americas to the other and to know where to go.

The First Reading and its Responsorial Psalm along with the Gospel invite us to reflect on how God's word takes root in our hearts. But they also invite us to reflect on God's bounty as revealed in nature itself. Isaiah tells us in the First Reading that it is impossible for the rain and snow that God sends not to bear fruit: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.

July 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise. Neue Pinakothek, Munich [Web Gallery of Art]

Psalm 64 [65] echoes this: You crown the year with your bounty;
    your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
    the hills gird themselves with joy,
 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
    the valleys deck themselves with grain,
    they shout and sing together for joy.

Jesus takes something simple in nature as an example of how God's word, God's very life, takes root in our lives. But we can see God's loving power, presence and bounty in the seed itself, without drawing any analogies or other meanings from it. Those of us who aren't from a farming background can take for granted the food that lands on our table. All the nourishment that we find in a loaf of bread or in a bowl of rice is there already in the grains the farmer sows. The seed of a husband fertilized by the egg of his wife becomes a new human being containing already in its microscopic size all that will be evident when that person is born and grows to maturity.

There is great emphasis today on the urgency of respecting nature and of not abusing it, in order to avoid possible disastrous consequences.

But the basic reason we should respect all of nature is that it is an expression of God's infinite bounty 'singing' in its own way: the hills gird themselves with joy . . .

Father George conveyed something of that to all of us on retreat in Guelph 32 years ago. Another Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins, captured that in some of his poems, including Pied Beauty, published 29 years after his death and 41 years after he wrote it rather like the seed being buried in the ground in spring and bearing fruit at harvest-time.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things —
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                Praise him.

Wheat Field with a Lark,Vincent van Gogh
Summer 1887, Paris. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]

03 July 2014

'I thank you, Father . . . because you have . . . revealed [these things] to infants.' Sunday Reflections, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Christ blessing the children, Nicolaes Maes, 1652-53
National Gallery, London [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) 

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

One night about forty years ago when I was chaplain in the college department of Immaculate Conception College (ICC) - now La Salle University - I was looking out of an upstairs window of the convento (presbytery/rectory). There were only two persons to be seen in the plaza in front of Immaculate Conception Cathedral. One was a young man, a beggar. The other was a gentle, simple-minded woman known to everyone, Goria, whose baptismal name I take to be Gregoria. Sometimes Goria would ask for money. However, she wasn't a beggar and, as far as I know, spent most of her time with her family in nearby Tangub City. She would smile if you declined to give her money.

Sometimes Goria would wander into a classroom in ICC, as she would also do in St Michael's High School in Tangub City. But she would never disturb anyone, never say anything while there. She'd simply doodle with chalk on the blackboard.

As I looked out the window I saw that Goria had a small plastic bag with two pieces of pandesal, usually eaten at breakfast. She went over to the beggar and gave him one of them. 

I have been blessed on a number of occasions to have seen acts of utterly pure generosity, of utterly pure love. And those who have shown me such pure love have usually been children or persons like Goria. In the Irish language we speak of someone like her as 'duine le Dia', 'a person with God'. And they have been totally unaware of the impact of their actions, sometimes not even aware that these have been noticed. 

I inquired about Goria the other day and was happy to learn that she still walks among us, though she is far from being young.

Lala feeding Jordan, L'Arche Punla Community, Cainta, Rizal, Philippines

Goria, Lala and Jordan are all daoine le Dia, 'persons with God'. That doesn't only mean that they have a special place in God's heart, which they have, but that they are, in a very real sense, 'God-bearers'. They carry God with them. 

That is why Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium No 198 [emphases added]This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.

To repeat what Jesus tells us in the Gospel today: I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Entrance Antiphon  Antiphona ad introitum (Cf Ps 47 [48]:10-11)

Suscepimus, Deus, misericordiam tuam in medio templi tui. 
Your merciful love, O God, we have received in the midst of your temple.
Secundum nomen tuum, Deus, ita et laus tua in fines terrae, 
Your praise, O God, like your name, reaches the ends of the earth,
justitiam plena est dextera tua. 
your right had is filled with saving justice.

[(Ps. 47: 2) Magnus Dominus, et laudabilis nimis: in civitate Dei nostri; in monte sancto ejus. 
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in his holy mountain.
v. Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancti sicut erat in principio et nunc, et semper, et saecula saeculorum. Amen. Repeat Suscepimus . . .
v. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Repeat Your merciful love . . .]

The video contains the full Entrance Antiphon as sung or said in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

This video ties in with today's gospel - and with the ongoing World Cup. Notice the colours of the young man's shirt, keeping in mind where Pope Francis is from. And check the name and number on the back of the shirt!

[Logo from Wikipedia]