04 November 2009

4 November, Day 24: update on kidnapping of Fr Michael Sinnott

Still of Fr Michael Sinnott from video of 24 October, released 31 October

4 November 2009, 10:30pm Philippine time, 2:30pm GMT

Fr Patrick O’Donoghue, Columban Superior, Philippines

We are in Day 24 of Father Mick’s on-going captivity. It is the feast day of St Charles Borromeo(1538-1584), who was bishop of Milan in the latter half of the sixteenth century. He was a true ‘evangelist’, who spent his life and energies in renewing the spiritual life of priests and people in his diocese by keeping them centered on Jesus. His advice to preachers is timeless: ‘Make sure in the first place that your life and conduct are sermons in themselves . . . Let all you do be done in love.’.

Father Mick’s life and, in particular, his present ‘moment of witness’ is, perhaps, his greatest sermon. I might be wrong, but I think that he will find all the publicity surrounding him these weeks difficult to deal with. Today’s Gospel [Luke 14] calls us once more to the radical dependency that is at the heart of discipleship. Jesus uses the simple analogy of building a tower or entering a battle to call his disciples to whole-heartedness, which involves knowing what that means. Jesus loves us too much to settle for ‘second best’. He wants us to see who we are called to be and so there is no lessening of the uncompromising demands: We are not to prefer any other relationship to that of being Jesus’ disciple. Even our very lives are subordinate to this relationship. ‘None of you can be my disciple unless you give up all your possessions’ and are willing to take up your cross and follow me. These are not easy words to hear or to take to heart. By nature we will try to ‘reduce’ them to a more manageable interpretation.

The greatest obstacle for us, of course, is when we think we have to do this on our own, with our own resources. To think that is to be defeated before we begin. What we are called to is the journey of ‘following’ Jesus and each day allow the Spirit to lead us, in God’s loving way for that day, to an ever deepening letting go. For that to become truly effective, we need to attend to Jesus and our ‘daily life’ so that we might better see how we are being led. We then lean on the love of God and his strength, and not on our own meager resources, and become the ‘wise builder of the tower’. In effect we are letting God transform us as God knows best.

Sometimes, that transformation has an ‘intense moment’ with deep and lasting effects. Father Mick was taken from the house here on the night of October 11. In that moment he was forced to ‘give up all his possessions’, including his needed medications and his glasses. He had only the clothes he was wearing. [Even as I write this I am acutely aware that this is also the situation of those who lost everything as a result of the recent typhoons that devastated much of Luzon. It is also the experience of those who are victims of the fires that periodically raze many houses.] He did not do this by choice. It ‘happened’ to him. But I feel sure that within his heart he has begun to see this moment for what it really is and he will also see what God is doing through it. I also believe that, by grace, he has surrendered to it in radical trust. He is carrying his cross and following Jesus as he leads in this unexpected way, taking even his ‘privacy’ from him now. As I have said before this is also a ‘transformative moment’ for all of us if we attend to it well in the light of faith.

I find the waiting today particularly difficult. I know that efforts continue at many levels to try to have Father Mick released as soon as possible. I am part of some of those efforts. I also know that this cannot be rushed. But I find myself thinking of Father Mick and wondering how he is, how is his health holding up (there have been heavy rains here for the past two hours; I hope they’re localized) and I grow ‘impatient’. I have been ‘here’ before. In whatever way it is possible, I try to accept this in the hope that somehow it may relieve whatever weariness or impatience Father Mick may feel. I am sure many of you are doing the same and I thank you for your prayers for Father Mick as well as for those of us on the ground here. Believe me, they are effective. They make possible what Paul said yesterday: ‘Do not give up when trials come; and keep on praying’ [Romans 12]. The strength and the hope we have come from your prayers.

The editorial in the Philippine Daily Inquirer today gave a good outline of the complexity of the context in which Father Mick’s abduction and the efforts to release are happening. Another element of that complexity was the person who phoned one of the local radio stations here in Pagadian yesterday morning claiming to be the ‘Abu Jandal’ mentioned by Father Mick in the statement he read out. He was angry and said that he had nothing to do with this, even if he had been involved in some other things during the Marcos era. He said that he knew who was behind it and made several insinuations. I do not know if he is who he says he is or just someone with a political agenda. Whichever, it only serves to confuse people and give rise to even more speculation.

In the midst of all this, the people who have kept their focus on Father Mick and his safe release continue to pray. Among them are the children at the Holy Family Home in Cabug, Bacolod City. Fr Seán Coyle, who has pastoral care of the home, told me that every time he goes there the children ask him about Father Mick. They assure him that they are praying for him. So many are.

Father Mick is now into his 25th night. How I pray that it is his last. But even if it is not, may the words of God to David [Ps 89] encourage him and us to persevere in hope: ‘I will keep my love for him always; with him my covenant shall last.’

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