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.

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