18 December 2014

I met St Joseph in Manila

The Dream of St Joseph,  Georges De La Tour, c.1640
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France [Web Gallery of Art]

Gospel for 18 December: Matthew 1:18-24
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.

Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo, Spain [Web Gallery of Art]

Today's beautiful gospel, which I read at the third of the novena of pre-dawn Masses celebrated here in the Philippines to honour our Blessed Mother and to ask for the grace of perseverance in the faith, reminds me of Mang Pepe and his daughter Ligaya whom I met in Manila just over 12 years ago. Columba Chang, a Columban lay missionary from Korea who worked for some years in the Archdiocese of Manila with families affected by HIV/AIDS, tells the story of Pepe, his wife Maria and her daughter Ligaya, one that is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Columba is currently based in Hong Kong and will be assigned to Myanmar/Burma in 2015.

Mang and Aling are Tagalog terms of respect used when one is speaking to or about a man or woman older than oneself. Tatay means 'Papa' or 'Daddy' and is used throughout the Philippines. The names have been changed. 'Ligaya' is the Tagalog word for 'joy' and is a common name for girls in the Philippines. The real name of 'Ligaya' was equally beautiful. When I met her we got along famously and from time to time after that I was able to speak to her through Columba's mobile phone. Sadly, 'Ligaya' died less than a year, as I recall, after we met.

'TNT' is from the Tagalog term 'tago ng tago', meaning more or less to hide, and is used for Filipinos who are living illegally in other countries. 'OFW' is the common term for 'Overseas Filipino Worker', of whom there may be as many as nine million now. The article was first published in MISYON, the Columban magazine I edit here in the Philippines, in the November-December 2003 issue.

National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, 'Baclaran Church'

I met St Joseph in Manila

by Columba Chang
There may be as many as 7 million Filipino overseas workers spread all over the world.  They greatly help our country’s economy by the money they send home.  However sometimes we seem to take them for granted, thinking that they have an easy life abroad.  Read Aling Maria’s story below and find out the dangers our OFWs face and the abuses they experience.  We thank ‘Mang Pepe’ for his help in writing this article in which we’ve changed the names.
I met Mang Pepe and his daughter Ligaya through my work with Caritas Manila.  I visit the family regularly.  They live in a poor part of the city and Mang Pepe makes a living by doing odd jobs.  My work takes me to families affected by HIV/AIDS.  I knew Mang Pepe’s story before he shared it with the congregation at the Saturday evening Mass in Baclaran Church on 7 December 2002 at the end of a celebration organized by Caritas Manila for World AIDS Day.
A Greener Pasture
Mang Pepe and his wife Aling Maria were having difficulties putting their five children through school.  This sometimes led to arguments.  Eventually Aling Maria decided to work in the Middle East. She felt happy when accepted as a nursing aide with a two-year contract in the UAE. She prepared her documents. She and Pepe sold their house and lot for her fare and placement fee.  She flew out on 5 February 1989, full of hope for her family’s future financial stability.
Aling Maria soon discovered that her contract as a nursing aid was terminated just a few months after she arrived, without any hope of renewal. But she didn’t want to go back to the Philippines with an empty pocket.  She decided to take the ‘TNT’ route.  She managed to find a series of jobs as a saleslady, cashier and office worker.
Hope turns into a nightmare
As an illegal worker, she was often subjected to different abuses like underpayment, long hours of working without a day off and so on. But the worst thing was when one of Aling Maria’s employers took advantage of her and made her pregnant. When she came home to the Philippines in October 1993 Mang Pepe and the family were very shocked to learn that Aling Maria carried a child in her womb.  She hadn’t mentioned anything about this before.  However, despite this they still welcomed her and the child with joy . . . but deep in their hearts there was a shadow of sadness, fear and uncertainty.
After a few days the tabloids reported that three Filipino overseas workers had been sent home because of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS – and that one of them was Aling Maria. These stories, and the rumors they spawned, continued for a month. Some relatives, neighbors and friends rejected Aling Maria. The children of Mang Pepe and Aling Maria were torn apart. Some wanted to quit school and leave the area. The family suffered greatly because of the stigma.
Confirmed HIV
Aling Maria and Mang Pepe went to the Department of Health for a series of blood tests.  The tests confirmed what Aling Maria knew already, that she and her ‘little mercy child,’ as Mang Pepe called his wife’s daughter had HIV. The doctor gave them counseling and advice and information about HIV/AIDS.
Ligaya is born
Aling Maria decided not to stay in the hospital and continued to work as a pension plan insurance agent. In time she gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Ligaya. Gradually, however, Mang Pepe saw his dear wife turning into a picture of misery as she suffered from constant headaches and flu. Aling Maria was hoping for a miracle that would ease her agony. It was not to be. The HIV developed into full-blown AIDS. Her appetite disappeared until she couldn’t eat anymore. Mang Pepe and the children saw Aling Maria slowly dying.  He prepared the family to accept her death as the will of God. She died on 15 December 1997, aged 46.
Like everyone else in Baclaran Church, I was deeply touched by Mang Pepe’s story, even though he had told it to me many times.  I was touched by the great love of this simple man who accepted as his own a daughter who was the fruit of the brutal violation of his wife. Mang Pepe is ‘Tatay’  to Ligaya. Her schoolmates sometimes tease her because her features clearly show her Middle Eastern origins. But herTatay stands by her, as do her brothers and sisters.
Proud to be her Tatay
Tatay Pepe is proud of Ligaya’s singing ability and smiled as she sang at the celebration in Baclaran. Ligaya is very proud of her Tatay and knows the depth of his love as a father.  She has very uncertain health and is often in the hospital. The shadow of AIDS hangs over her.
St Joseph named Jesus, the Son of Mary, and thereby became his legal father. He loved Mary, his wife, and raised Jesus as his own son. Mang Pepe has gone through the agony of knowing that his wife was violated overseas, after dishonest employers had taken advantage of her in other ways. When she brought home a child who was not his, he made her his own.  This latter-day St Joseph in Manila has given much joy to his daughter Ligaya as she has given much joy to him and others, like myself, who have come to know and love her.

17 December 2014

'Merry Christmas' from Japan

Musée Ingres, Montauban, France  [Web Gallery of Art]

 A priest-friend in Canada expressed his thoughts about the present and coming liturgical seasons in a recent email: It’s Advent again. It’s too bad that the beauty of Advent is lost in the Christmas hype. Sometimes I think that we should give Christmas back to the pagans (from whom we hijacked it) and join the Oriental Churches in celebrating the birth of Jesus on January 6.

I'm not quite sure that it would be practical to attempt that, though the Church should consider restoring the Epiphany as a mandatory holyday of obligation throughout the Church. It is such on the universal calendar of the Church but the reality is that in so many countries the bishops have opted for a Sunday celebration of the feast, thereby, I think, diminishing its importance.

For as long as I can remember I've heard people each year lamenting the 'commercial aspect' of Christmas. But when I was in kindergarten I knew why we celebrated Christmas. Santa Claus and Christmas shopping didn't distract me from that. Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer came on the scene in 1949, when I was six and I can't imagine the season without him. And Santa Claus was part of the whole excitement of the celebration, not in the least undermining for me the celebration of the birth of our Saviour.

My Columban confrere from New Zealand, Fr Barry Cairns, went to Japan in 1956 as a young priest and is still there. In the current issue of MISYONonline.com, the Columban magazine in the Philippines of which I am editor, has a couple of Christmas reflections which I'll share here.

Two Reflections by Fr Barry Cairns

The author is from New Zealand and was ordained in 1955. He has been in Japan since 1956.Christmas: on looking at the crib first appeared in the November-December 2013 issue of The Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand. Christmas in Japanwas first published in the November-December 2012 issue.

Christmas: on looking at the crib

Some time ago I was travelling by train from Yokohama to Odawara. In the carriage sitting opposite me I watched a young mother cuddling her baby. The baby was so tiny, so vulnerable, so dependent on its mother.
I wonder if any of us, given the choice, would come into this world in such a fragile condition. I doubt it.
But that is exactly what Jesus was willing to do for us. The Son, the second Person of the Trinity, chose to put aside the power and glory of God and become a weak, fragile human just like us. Jesus was a baby and like the baby in the train was completely dependent on his mother, Mary.
Let us look at the Christmas Crib and ponder this: our God deliberately took on our human weakness and consequent reliance on another. Jesus did this because he loves each one of us in our human frailty. That frailty which Jesus willingly accepted made him one of us and also made him our human representative before God.
This is what led him to offer his life for us, his brothers and sisters, on the Cross. The Crib and the Cross are intimately connected.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Japan!
Jesus says to each of us: ‘Unless you become as a little child you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Matt: 18:3). Jesus does not mean that we become childish. He means that as adults we acknowledge our human weakness and become completely dependent on God. He calls on us in our powerlessness to rely on God's strength.
But we humans like to be in control. Christmas is a time when we look at the human infant Jesus in the crib. He is asking us to give up control and put ourselves into the hands of God. ‘Into your hands, Abba, Father-God, I give my life’ (cfLk 23:46).
Our Abba-God is gentle and understanding towards us his children. He wants our happiness. We can trust him when we put our lives in his hands. Let us look at the infant Jesus in the crib and realize how utterly dependent and weak he was.
If we ourselves acknowledge our human powerlessness and hand ourselves over to God we will become free, and more truly human. When God chose to become a weak human like us, he chose to be very close to us.
Our God has experienced the human condition. He accepts as we are in our human frailty.
That is love. That is the meaning of Christmas.
Silent Night sung in Japanese by a choir of Japanese children with André Rieu and his Orchestra

Christmas in Japan

How Japan has put meaning into Christmas for me.

The author in seasonal dress, with some young friends!
Christmas in Japan has caused me to dive into depths of pondering into which I would never have plunged had I not left my own culture.
A Japanese Christmas is so 'Jingle Bellie' so 'Santa Clausie.' Many would not even connect the festivities with Christ. My first reaction as a young priest was to become critical at the gross commercialization. In reaction I emphasized a spiritual Christmas.
But just a minute. This is where I started to ponder. This is when, I feel, a spot of wisdom came with age. There is no such thing as a purely spiritual Christmas.
Our God took on real human flesh. He did not become a pure spirit angel. The birth of Jesus in a drafty stable is not a purely spiritual event. That is the meaning of John 1:14, ‘The word was made flesh’ isniku, which is the common word for meat. Now that is thought-provoking.
In the third century the Gnostics said that the spirit and soul are good, but the body and material things are bad. Threads of this insidious heresy were revived in 18th century Jansenism, traces of which still persist today. We should not belittle the body and material things as if they distract us from the spiritual.
On the contrary the material is the normal gateway to the spirit. The Incarnation means that we humans meet God through the human Jesus. His human heart shows us divine love.
Jesus came for the whole human person. Christmas shows us that there is a mysterious but real unity between the human and the divine, between the spiritual and the secular, between the body and the soul. So let us rejoice in our humanity and in the material. That is the hidden message of Christmas.
I live in Yokohama, a city of 3.7 million people. Even in the suburbs private houses are bedecked with blinking colored lights. Santa Claus too is everywhere. For example a half marathon is run with all wearing red Santa hats. Railing against the absence of Christ in Christmas gets nowhere. I can't beat them, so I join them. I, too, have lights around the Church - they surround a life-size crib, made and painted by three of the parishioners.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town, in Japanese. Karuizawa Junior Chorus
After Christmas Masses I take off the vestments and don a Santa Claus outfit. (From October my white beard is untrimmed and is a genuine Santa length by 25 December). Crowds of children from the local kindergartens and grade schools line up and receive a small gift from Santa Claus Barry Cairns. I tell them about the real Saint Nicholas who was noted for his kindness. I ask the children to do one act of kindness to others. Kindness is essential to Christmas.
I see the surface celebration of Christmas as a modern expression of 'there was no room at the inn.' Two thousand years ago people did not receive Jesus, but he still came. He still comes today. We know the true meaning of Christmas so let us prepare the manger for him in the stable of our hearts.
Let us really share with others the material joys of Christmas. Our warmth can transmit the true message of Christmas to the world.
Angels We Have Heard on High, in Japanese. Karuizawa Junior Chorus
A final thought of my own. Each time we say Merry Christmas to someone we are expressing a wish that the Mass on the occasion of the celebration of the birth of Christ may be a source of joy and happiness to the other. What other greeting in English mentions both Christ and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Each time we listen to White Christmas or to The Christmas Song or many other secular songs connected with the Season we are reminded of both Christ and the Mass.

12 December 2014

'O felix culpa; O happy fault.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B

St John the Baptist, Donatello, 1438
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, 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) 

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,  the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Mary, Queen of Heaven, Master of the Legend of St Lucy, c.1485-1500
National Gallery of Art, Washington [Web Gallery of Art]

Here in the Philippines we will begin the the Misas de Gallo, also known as Simbang Gabi or Aguinaldo Masses, the novena of pre-dawn Masses leading up to Christmas, or Tuesday the 16th. These are votive Masses in honour of our Blessed Mother and in thanksgiving for the gift of our faith. The Spanish word 'Aguinaldo' means 'gift' and in this context refers to the gift of faith.

The Church over the centuries has reflected on gifts we have received from God that we could not have received had our First Parents never sinned. A song included among poems for Advent and Christmas in the Breviary published by the hierarchies of Australia, England & Wales, and Ireland is one of those reflections, Adam lay y-bounden. In the Breviary it is given the title O Felix Culpa, 'O Happy Fault'.

This particular song, written in England in the 15th century, marvels at the fact that but for the reality of the sin of Adam we would have had Our Lady as Queen of Heaven.

The poem reflects part of the Exultet, the Easter Proclamation: O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, /quod Christo morte deletum est! O truly necessary sin of Adam,/destroyed completely by the Death of Christ. O felix culpa,/quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptionem! O happy fault/that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer.

At Easter we proclaim the great reality that God has given us a Redeemer and that he is now risen from the dead.

Coming up to Christmas we reflect on the birth of our Redeemer through the consent of Mary, his and our Mother. Mary is part of God's eternal plan and if we sideline her we distort that reality, as we also do if we put her in the centre and sideline her Son. In the painting above Mary, while being honoured as Queen of Heaven by the angels and saints is adoring God with her whole being, inviting us to do the same. The song too invites us to sing Deo gratias! Thanks be to God!

That is what the Church invites us to do every time we celebrate the Eucharist, the Thanksgiving. It invites Filipinos in particular at this time of the Aguinaldo Masses to thank God for the great gift of faith and to share it with others. One way n which Filipinos have been doing that is introducing this centuries-old practice to other countries, adapting the custom to local circumstances.

O Felix Culpa (O Happy Fault)

Adam lay y-bounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter,
Thought he not too long.
And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took.
As clerkes finden written
 In theiré book.
Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne hadde never our Lady,
A been heaven’s queen.
Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we may singen.
Deo gratias!

This song from England dates from the 15th century. The text here is an adaptation of the original Middle English and the musical setting is by Boris Ord.

Scottish poet Edwin Muir's One Foot in Eden, included in the Breviary for Lent and Easter, also reflects on the theme of felix culpa. 

What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love
Until was buried all its day
And memory found its treasure trove?
Strange blessings never in Paradise.

Antiphona at introitum  Entrance Antiphon (Philippians 4:4-6)
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. 
Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus:
Let your gentleness be known to everyone: 
Dominus enim prope est. 
for the Lord is near.
Nihil solliciti sitis:
Do not worry about anything 
sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrre innotescant apud Deum.
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be maked known to God.

Ps. 84 [85]:2 Benedixisti, Domine, terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.
Lord, you were faorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. 
Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus:
Let your gentleness be known to everyone: 
Dominus enim prope est. 
for the Lord is near.
Nihil solliciti sitis:
Do not worry about anything 
sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrre innotescant apud Deum.
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be maked known to God.

The text in bold above is the Entrance Antiphon in the Ordinary Form of the Mass (the 'New Mass'). The longer text is the Entrance Antiphon in the Extraordinary Form (the 'Old Mass').

10 December 2014

Columban Fr Francis Carey RIP

Fr Francis Carey
(19 August 1937 - 6 December 2014)

‘He had a gentle presence and a kind heart.’ That is how Fr Dan O’Malley, Regional Director of the Columbans in the Philippines, described Fr Francis Carey when he informed the membership of his death on Saturday 6 December. Father Frank was diagnosed with a form of cancer late in October. His death has been a great shock to all who knew him.

Father Frank was the son of Paul and Marion Carey and was born in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. He attended a secondary school there run by the Christian Brothers. He received his formation as a Columban in Sassafras, Victoria, and in Wahroonga and Turramurra, New South Wales. He was ordained in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, on 13 December 1962 by Archbishop Ernest Victor Tweedy, at the time the Archbishop Emeritus of Hobart, Tasmania. 

St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne [Wikipedia]

Father Frank often recounted the difficulty in finding a bishop and setting a date for his ordination, since all the active bishops in Australia were at the first session of the Second Vatican Council, which ended on 8 December. His father, a solicitor (lawyer), phoned the Columban superior at the time in Australia telling him that he understood the difficulty but that he, Paul, was responsible for arranging the family celebration and needed to know the date as soon as possible. The date was set very quickly!

A Columban who knew Father Frank very well wrote, ‘He had a great relationship with his father.  When he’d arrive home on holidays from the seminary Frank and his Dad would spend the whole night catching up. He got many of his priorities and values from his Dad. He hated to see people bossing others around.

St Michael's Cathedral, Iligan City [Wikipedia]

Father Frank arrived in the Philippines in September 1963 and was assigned to Mindanao. After language studies he spent more than five years in parish work, He served for relatively short periods in Oroquieta City and Bonifacio in Misamis Occidental, Kinoguitan, Balingaon and Linugos, Misamais Oriental, and Malabang, Lanao del Sur. He then spent almost four years in St Michael’s, Iligan City, now the cathedral of the Diocese of Iligan. There he formed a great friendship with the late Fr Peter Steen who was parish priest at the time.

Father Peter had a very sharp wit and once remarked at the breakfast table in Manila when we got news of the death of a Columban priest in Ireland who had been in the Philippines for many years and who tended to be on the strict side, ‘He’ll probably find that God is a lot kinder than he thought he was’. When told of this in an email some years later Father Frank responded, ‘The statement about X was the ultimate Steen. He certainly believed in a God of understanding.

Father Frank might have been speaking about himself. One who knew him very well described him as ‘unflappable, calm and non-judgmental. He was balanced, weighed things up and saw both sides. He allowed people to have their point of view and could sit with ambiguities and opposites. But he had great courage and always made up his own mind.’

Christ healing the blind, El Greco, 1570-75
Galleria Nozionale, Parma, Italy [Web Gallery of Art]

Fr Carey’s life as a priest was guided especially by Luke 4:18-19: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”’ A friend noted, 'Even with the ecology it was about healing, reconciling and liberating.’  Luke 4:14-19 was the gospel read at his request at the funeral Mass in Our Lady of Remedies Church, Malate, Manila, on 11 December, with the passage Jesus read, Isaiah 61:1-3, as the First Reading.

This is what guided him when he spent nearly seven years, from 1969 till 1976, in Australia, working as a chaplain to overseas students, promoting the work of Columbans throughout the world and seeking vocations to the missionary priesthood. He could be creatively practical. He once spent a month in an outback parish in Australia and told the people on his first Sunday there that he couldn’t cook and would appreciate it if each day of his stay a different family would invite him to their home for a hot meal. The people were delighted to do so and around 30 families by welcoming this friendly missionary priest learned quite a bit about the work of the Columbans in the Philippines.

Shearing the Rams, Tom Roberts, 1890
National Gallery of Victoria [Wikipedia]

On his return to the Philippines in 1976 Father Frank spent nearly a year in the parish of Tambulig, Zamboanga del Sur, before moving to Manila where he was to spend most of the rest of his life, apart from a stint on mission promotion in Australia from 1991 to 1996 in Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales. From 1981 until 1991 he worked with third-level students in Manila, with periods as chaplain in Philippine Women’s University, Far Eastern University, and with Student Catholic Action, which was founded by Columban Fr Edward J. McCarthy in the 1930s.

Sanctuary, Our Lady of Remedies Church, Malate [Wikipedia]

From 1996 till 2002 Father Frank was an assistant priest at Our Lady of Remedies Parish, Malate, Manila. The Center for Ecozoic Living and Learning (CELL) and the Eco-Farm Retreat Centre in Silang, Cavite, south of Manila, the brainchild of Columban Fr John Leydon whose vision was shared by Elin Mondejar, the owner of the land where CELL is located. Father Frank was part of this from its early days.  This Center demonstrates permaculture and organic farming and zero waste management in place of landfill. Malate Parish was also involved in this project. Fr Dominic Nolan, also from Melbourne and deeply involved in the project for many years, described Father Frank as ‘the glue that kept CELL together.’

A Columban employee who visited CELL in 2009 wrote in an online tribute, ‘Thank you for giving me inspiration in advocating and living a life dedicated to nourishing the earth and everything that God put in it. I remember my short time at CELL, feeling the earth, inhaling the freshness of the surroundings, enjoying the meals that were served to us straight from the lush garden, everything. I will never forget the excitement I saw in your eyes when you munched on some mint leaves just to convince us that these things are actually good and can nourish our bodies.’ This same person, a young married woman, said to me on hearing of his death, ‘I would have loved to have asked him to adopt me!’ This echoes what St Athanasius wrote in his life of St Anthony the Abbot: ‘And so all the people of the village, and the good men with whom he associated saw what kind of man he was, and they called him “The friend of God”. Some loved him as a son, and others as though he were a brother.’

Our Lady of Atonement Cathedral, Baguio City [Wikipedia]

Father Frank, who over the years quietly helped raise a considerable amount of money for the education of students, continued to be involved in CELL even though in recent years he was in charge of the Columban house in Baguio City, in the mountains of northern Luzon. It was there that he began to feel ill in October and returned to Manila.

Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, ‘When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s great and most beautiful gifts (No 272).’ May the gentle heart of Fr Francis Carey be opened wide to the gift of eternal life.

Father Frank loved jazz music. In the video above Stéphane Grappelli (on the left), one of the greatest jazz violinists, plays with Yehudi Menuhin, one of the great classical violinists. Yehudi Menuhin once lived in the house in Sassafras, Victoria, where Father Frank began his formation as a Columban seminarian.

05 December 2014

'Prepare the way of the Lord.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B

St John the Baptist, El Greco, c.1600
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco [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) 

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Old Road to Auvers, Norbert Goenuette, 1892
Private Collection [Web Gallery of Art]

Charles Kuralt was a reporter with CBS TV in the USA whose On the Road stories were a regular part of the Evening News for 25 years. These were offbeat stories about real persons and were often uplifting. I remember one in particular from about 1970 when I, then a young priest, was studying in the USA. It featured an elderly man in a small town in one of the Midwestern states. His town was about 10 kms from the next town but in order to go from one to the other you had to travel 20 or 30 kms. The authorities in both towns were unwilling to build a road to connect them.

So this man started to build a road himself, using logs as a foundation, as I recall.

In 1982 Charles Kuralt gave a lunchtime talk in an auditorium in Minneapolis where I was on a pastoral programme in a hospital for three months, working as a chaplain. I went to hear the broadcaster. Someone in the audience asked him what had become of the road that the old man had begun to build. It turned out that the man had since died. But after his death the authorities completed the road.

This man was engaged in a form of what the Legion of Mary Handbook calls 'Symbolic Action', described in these terms: Observe the stress is set on action. No matter what may be the degree of the difficulty, a step must be taken. Of course, the step should be as effective as it can be. But if an effective step is not in view, then we must take a less effective one. And if the latter be not available, then some active gesture (that is, not merely a prayer) must be made which, though of no apparent practical value, at least tends towards or has some relation to the objective. This final challenging gesture is what the Legion has been calling 'Symbolic Action'. Recourse to it will explode the impossibility which is of our own imagining. And, on the other hand, it enters in the spirit of faith into dramatic conflict with the genuine impossibility.

The sequel may be the collapse of the walls of that Jericho.

The old man featured on TV wasn't thinking of himself but of those coming after him. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

St Mark is repeating the words of Isaiah used in today's First Reading: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Isaiah 40: 3).

Fr Alfred Delp SJ 
(15 September 1907 - 2 February 1945) [Wikipedia]

Fr Alfred Delp SJ, hanged by the Nazis in Berlin on 2 February 1945, is in many ways an Advent figure. Advent of the Heart is a collection of 'Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings - 1941-1944'. The People of Advent is one of his prison meditations, written exactly 70 years ago. I have highlighted some parts.

The herald angel
Never have I entered on Advent so vitally and intensely alert as I am now. When I pace my cell, up and down, three paces one way and three the other, my hands manacled, an unknown fate in front of me, then the tidings of our Lord's coming to redeem the world and deliver it have a different and much more vivid meaning.

And my mind keeps going back to the angel someone gave me as a present during Advent two or three years ago. It bore the inscription: Be of good cheer. The Lord is near. A bomb destroyed it. The same bomb killed the donor and I often have the feeling that he is rendering me some heavenly aid.

Promises given and fulfilled
It would be impossible to endure the horror of these times - like the horror of life itself, could we only see it clearly enough - if there were not this other knowledge which constantly buoys us up and gives us strength: the knowledge of the promises that have been given and fulfilled. And the awareness of the angels of good tidings, uttering their blessed messages in the midst of all this trouble and sowing seed of blessing where it will sprout in the middle of the night.

Then angels of Advent are not the bright jubilant beings who trumpet the tidings of fulfillment to a waiting world. Quiet and unseen they enter our shabby rooms and our hearts as they did of old. In the silence of the night they pose God's questions and proclaim the wonders of him with whom all things are possible.

Footsteps of the herald angel 
Advent, even when things are going wrong, is a period from which a message can be drawn. May the time never come when men forget about the good tidings and promises, when, so immured within the four walls of their prison that their very eyes are dimmed, they see nothing but grey days through barred windows placed too high to see out of.

May the time never come when mankind no longer hears the soft footsteps of the herald angel, or his cheering words that penetrate the soul. Should such a time come all will be lost. Then indeed we shall be living in bankruptcy and hope will die in our hearts.

Golden seeds waiting to be sowed 
For the first thing man must do if he wants to raise himself out of this sterile life is to open his heart to the golden seed which God's angels are waiting to sow in it.

And one other thing; he must himself throughout these grey days go forth as a bringer of good tidings. There is so much despair that cries out for comfort; there is so much faint courage that needs to be reinforced; there is so much perplexity that yearns for reasons and meanings.

Reaping the fruits of divine seeds 
God's messengers, who have themselves reaped the fruits of divine seeds sown even in the darkest hours, know how to wait for the fullness of harvest. Patience and faith are needed, not because we believe in the earth, or in our stars, or our temperament or our good disposition, but because we have received the message of God's herald angel and have our selves encountered him.

Trial of Fr Alfred Delp SJ

The example of the life and death of Fr Alfred Delp SJ and his writings continue to help many Prepare the way of the Lord.

Handel's Messiah begins with the the opening verses of today's First Reading (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11), adapted from the Authorized (King James) Version:

Tenor Recitative. — Isaiah 40:1-3
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Tenor Air — Isaiah 40:4
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

Chorus — Isaiah 40:5
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

The first video above features Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez. The second features Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, based in Toronto.