04 March 2015

'Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) 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) 

Gospel John 2:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

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 marketplace!” 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.

Rembrandt, c.1626. Pushkin Museum, Moscow [Web Gallery of Art]

In 1990 I went to renew my driving licence in Dublin. It took about twenty minutes, as I had to go to three or four different persons. But everything was orderly. Now you only have to go to one and the procedure, apart from filling up the form, takes less than a minute.

When I reached the last official he told me that I'd get my licence in the post (mail) in a day or two. I told him that I was leaving for Iceland the following day. (I was going on a pastoral visit to the Filipinos living there and was to drive around the whole country).

The clerk looked at me. And while he didn't swear at me, he said something to the effect, 'You stupid idiot. Why didn't you say so before?' I had no reason to do that since on previous occasions I had received my licence then and there. Now there was a new system. 

On the face of it, the clerk was insulting me. But in a very 'Dublin way' he was being most helpful. He got up from his desk and came back a minute or two later with my new licence.

I had met an official with common sense, a person with a sense of public service.

Over the years here in the Philippines I have heard far too many stories of officials in situations like that 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.

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.

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 here in the Philippines who was never promoted. The reason? He used all the money allotted to build an excellent road nearly 50 years ago between two towns, by far the best in his own and in the neighbouring provinces. No 'brown envelopes'. No kickbacks. Every centavo allotted went into the road. Many Columbans 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 Reading: We 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. Some God calls, 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, 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 and in parts of Africa. 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. 

Another such is Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani politician assassinated on 2 March 2011 because he saw his life as a politician as his vocation in following Christ:

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 only a few days 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).

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

Antiphona ad introitum  Entrance Antiphon Cf Ps 24 [25]:15-16
[The shorter version is used in the 'New Mass', the longer in the 'Old Mass']
Oculi mei semper ad Dominum,
My eyes are always on the Lord,
quia ipse evellet de laqueo pedes meos.
for he rescues my feet from the snare.
Respice in me et miserere mei, 
Turn to me and have mercy on me, 
quoniam unicus et pauper sum ego.
for I am alone and poor.

Ad te Domine levavi animam meam:
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
Deus meus, in te confido, non erubescam.
O my God, in you I trust;do not let me be put to shame.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, 
As it was in the beginning, is now, 
et in saecula saecolum. Amen.
and will be for ever. Amen.

Oculi mei semper ad Dominum,
My eyes are always on the Lord,
quia ipse evellet de laqueo pedes meos.
for he rescues my feet from the snare.
Respice in me et miserere mei, 
Turn to me and have mercy on me, 
quoniam unicus et pauper sum ego.
for I am alone and poor.

27 February 2015

'I have tried to follow when you called.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Transfiguration of Christ, Paolo Veronese, 1555-56
Cathedral of Santa Maria, Montagnana, Italy [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 9:2-10 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)   

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

Responsorial Psalm (Philippines, USA)

Bishop Edward Galvin (1882 - 1956)

After his ordination in 1909 for his native Diocese of Cork in the south of Ireland Fr Edward J. Galvin, born on 23 November, the feast of St Columban, 1882, was sent on loan by his bishop to the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. In those days it was common for young Irish diocesan priests to be sent to English-speaking countries until there was a vacancy at home, a situation that certainly doesn't exist any more in Ireland.

God's providence led the young priest in 1912 to head for China with Canadian Fr John Mary Fraser who later founded the Scarboro Missions. Fr Galvin's decision was to lead him to co-found with Fr John Blowick what was in 1918 to become the Missionary Society of St Columban but that began in 1916 in Ireland as 'The Maynooth Mission to China'.

Fr Galvin and Fr Blowick

Fr Galvin's decision was for him something like that of Abraham in today's First Reading. He wrote many years later, I still remember the pain of parting on that grey, dreary morning,When the train got underway for Toronto, I crumpled up in the coach and cried as if my heart would break. 

Fr Blowick said of that moment in Fr Galvin's life, He supported his head in his hands, and for two hours his mind was a blank. He had of his own election become a wanderer for Christ’s sake. For all he knew he was going to China to die.

Another of the first Columbans, Bishop Patrick Cleary who, like Bishop Galvin, served in China, wrote, It is no easy matter to part from home and friends under any circumstances: it was particularly trying in Father Galvin’s case. He was facing an unknown world; trials and hardship were before him – but these he regarded as nothing. The thought that almost unnerved him was the fact that never again, perhaps, would he see one of those faces he held so dear, never again get a glimpse of the land he loved. Was it any wonder then that as the train sped across the continent to Vancouver he flung himself into the corner of a carriage and wept like a child?

That was the reality a century ago for most missionaries.

The Sacrifice of Abraham, Joseph Bergler the Elder, 1753
Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna [Web Gallery of Art]
First Reading

We can only imagine the turmoil within the heart of Abraham as he walked that morning with Isaac to sacrifice him. The letter the young Fr Galvin wrote to his mother about his decision echoes the turmoil of Abraham. The greatest pain, perhaps, that Edward Galvin suffered was his awareness that his mother would suffer too. The full text of his letter is on page 3 here. Below is an edited version.

Feb 21st, 1912

My dear Mother,

I am sorry, dear Mother, to have to write this letter, but God’s will be done. Everything is in His hands. Mother, don’t grieve, don’t cry. It is God’s will. God has called and I had to obey.

I am not going back to Ireland. I am going as a missionary to China. May God’s will be done. God knows my heart is broken, not for myself but for you whom I love above all the world.

Mother, you know how this has always been on my mind. But I thought it was a foolish thought – a boyish thought; that it would pass away as I grew older. But it never passed, never, never, never.

Why should God ask me to do this thing that is breaking my heart to do? I don’t know. God knows best. May His will be done. 'If any man will come after me let him take up his cross and follow me.' Oh yes, but oh my God I never thought that it was so hard to follow. I have tried to follow when you called. I ask you in return to console my poor mother, to comfort her, to help her to make the Sacrifice I am making and spare her until we meet again.’

Though he did not understand why God was asking him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son by his wife Sarah, Abraham submitted to God's will. Doing God's will was at the heart of the life of Edward Galvin, as his letter to his mother shows: God’s will be done . . . May God's will be done . . . May his will be done. 

When in 1927 he was ordained bishop of the prefecture that was to become the Diocese of Hanyang in 1946, though he had little or no interest in the trappings of the office of bishop, Edward Galvin was insistent that his episcopal motto was to be the words of Mary to the Angel Gabriel, Fiat Voluntas Tua, Thy Will be Done.

Bishop Edward J. Galvin in 1927

Though he had co-founded the Missionary Society of St Columban to preach the Gospel in China, Bishop Galvin said there to his fellow Columbans on one occasion when everything seemed to be going against them, We're not here to convert China but to do God's will.

The Columbans in China lived through wars, terrible floods, banditry and then the Communist takeover in 1949 and all were eventually expelled, some after spending time in prison. Bishop Galvin was forced to leave in 1952. He died in Ireland on 23 February 1956.

Bishop Galvin's experience of the Transfiguration of Christ wasn't quite like that of Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor. They caught a brief glance of the divinity of Jesus. That was to strengthen them in years to come. He expressed it in his letter to his mother: Mother, you know how this has always been on my mind. But I thought it was a foolish thought – a boyish thought; that it would pass away as I grew older. But it never passed, never, never, never.

Jesus revealed himself quietly but persistently to Edward Galvin from his adolescent years until he was already a priest until the young Irishman could see clearly that his call was to be a missionary.

Like the 'Yes' of Abraham, our father in faith, the 'Yes' of Fr Edward John Galvin was to be the channel of enormous blessings to countless people, not only in China, but in many other countries. 

The experience of the Transfiguration that Peter, James and John had was to lead countless persons to be followers of Jesus Christ, many of them to martyrdom. So also did the 'drip, drip, drip' persistence of God's call to Edward Galvin, a quieter 'Transfiguration', lead countless persons to be followers of Jesus, many of them to martyrdom, including some of his Columban companions.

May each of us be able to say wholeheartedly to Jesus in whatever circumstances we find ourselves what Fr Galvin expressed as an aside to him in his letter to his mother: I have tried to follow when you called.

Fr Galvin's letter to his mother

Antiphona ad introitum  Entrance Antiphon Cf Ps 26 [27]: 8-9
[The shorter version is used in the 'New Mass', the longer in the 'Old Mass']

Tibi dixit cor meum quaesivi vultum tuum,
Of you my heart has spoken: Seek his face.
vultum tuum, Domine, requiram.
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek,
Ne avertas faciem tuam a me.
hide not your face from me.

Dominus illuminatio mea, et salus mea: quem timebo?
The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom should I fear?
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Tibi dixit cor meum quaesivi vultum tuum,
Of you my heart has spoken: Seek his face.
vultum tuum, Domine, requiram.
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek,
Ne avertas faciem tuam a me.
hide not your face from me.

18 February 2015

'Repent, and believe in the good news.' Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B

The Temptation of Christ, Tintoretto, 1579-81
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

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

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

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

Responsorial Psalm (Philippines, USA)

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

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

We have daily examples of the power of evil. The recent murder of 21 Coptic Christians, Egyptian men working in neighbouring Libya - like the countless OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) - working abroad. They were murdered simply because they were Christians.

In a meeting last Monday with a delegation from the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, Pope Francis said the following.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, help me!

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

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, First Movement
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel of Venezuela