24 April 2015

'I know my own and my own know me.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Easter, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) directed by Philip Saville

Today's Gospel, John 10:11-18 [1:19 - 2:30]

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

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Fr Barry Cairns with a First Communicant in Japan

Fr Barry Cairns is a Columban priest from New Zealand who was ordained in 1955 and went to Japan in 1956 where he still is. He writes frequently for our various Columban magazines. I met him only once but I know him to be the kind of joyful proclaimer of the Gospel that Pope Francis so often speaks about. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and I thought that this article of Father Barry, published inthe April issue
of The Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand, was very appropriate.

I do think it necessary that we pray for our priests, for those preparing for the priesthood and for those being called by God to the priesthood.

We priests have taken a battering in recent years because of wrongdoing by some. There is no excuse for that. But since Vatican Two it seems that the vocation of the priest has been 'downgraded' by many in an effort to highlight the dignity of the vocation of lay persons to be fully involved in the mission of the Church. Father Barry gets the balance right below: It happened that I was hijacked into doing a Marriage Encounter with another priest. In an open-sharing session a married man said, It is seeing you priests living a celibate life that helps me remain faithful in my married life. It is this prayerful solidarity with married couples which I believe is important for priests in their vocations. We share a journey.

Fr Barry Cairns

50 Years of Holy Disquiet

Being a Missionary Priest at 80 years of age

Fifty years ago when I was a very young priest, I read a prayer composed by Romano Guardini that went like this, O Lord give me the gift of holy disquiet…take my hand; help me to cross over to you. This is a healthy disquiet because it leads not to discouragement but to reliance on the Lord. I still value this prayer.

I ask the reader (of this article) these questions:
  • Do you somehow feel dissatisfied with life at the moment?
  • Do you have an unfulfilled yearning in your heart?
  • Do you feel there is something missing in your life?
  • Do you want for something in life, more than what you have?
At various times in my 50 years as a Columban missionary priest, I have answered yes to all of these questions. There are various strategies to escape from facing the disquiet. It is so easy for a priest to get very busy. Among other escapes, I used to flee to the wide open spaces of the Arizona desert with a Louis L’Amour western!

As a young priest

When I was a young priest, full of first fervor, I prayed that I would 'stay on the rails'. Then came the stark realisation that I could leave the priesthood tomorrow, especially when faced with the loneliness of living in another culture. I had realized that to be a faithful, celibate priest was absolutely impossible on my effort alone. It was a total gift from God, I was just called to cooperate. I became free! I was called to rely on Christ’s strength.

In my 50s

In my 50s, as time wore on, I was doing the priestly thing every day – Mass, Sacraments, Homily, instructions for Baptism and so on. It happened that I was hijacked into doing a Marriage Encounter with another priest. In an open-sharing session a married man said, It is seeing you priests living a celibate life that helps me remain faithful in my married life. It is this prayerful solidarity with married couples which I believe is important for priests in their vocations. We share a journey.

This Holy Disquiet seems to hit me every 10 years! 

In my 60s

It was in my 60s that I was asking myself, Is my enthusiasm for overseas mission waning? It is my personal experience, that it is not the actual work of the missionary priest that leads to stress, burn out and early retirement. Rather it is the mistaken notion that the priest has to do everything himself. That kind of responsibility is draining.
Fr Barry Cairns with Izumi and Mina, two 20-year-old parishioners celebrating Coming of Age Day.

In my 70s
My turning point came at 70. I had just been appointed by my Bishop to an inner city parish in Yokohama, Japan. Our bishop in a pastoral letter had used the difficult word "subsidiarity" (even more difficult in Japanese!). I was asked to explain what this word meant during a meeting with Japanese priests, in our inner city deanery. I said that 'subsidiarity' means delegating authority and various jobs to others and trusting them to do the job given. The parish priest gives me encouragement from the sideline, "and it is very much a team effort". The parish priest is the symbol and source of unity for all the various jobs, especially in the liturgy.

Having studied this theory, I decided to consciously put it into practice. Within two years, in a deeper way, our community became missionaries in their own milieu. They became more united, more welcoming to the stranger and more concerned for the poor. They became just plain happy, and our liturgy became vibrant.

In my 80s

A lovely side effect of all this, is that at 80 I felt free from stress. I feel that I am a far more effective missionary than the days of my 'do-it-yourself' youthful vigor! My prayer is still, O Lord keep causing holy disquiet and keep giving me the courage to face it.

(23 January 1876 - 1 November 1945)

This German Jesuit priest was another Good Shepherd. He volunteered to be a chaplain in the German Army during the Great War (1914-18) during which he lost a leg. He was highly critical of Hitler and the Nazi regime and for that he spent time in a concentration camp.

He died of a stroke while celebrating Mass.

The song below is based on a prayer of Blessed Rupert.

Music by Fr Manoling Francisco SJ, performed  by Bukas Palad

Lord, what You will let it be so
Where You will there we will go
What is Your will help us to know

Lord, when You will the time is right
In You there's joy in strife
For Your will I'll give my life

To ease Your burden brings no pain
To forego all for You is gain
As long as I in You remain

Because You will it, it is best
Because You will it, we are blest
Till in Your hands our hearts find rest
Till in Your hands our hearts find rest

The lyrics of this song are by Blessed Rupert Mayer, S.J. a contemporary Jesuit recently beatified. Moved by the text, Father Manoling wrote the music during a retreat in Baguio.

Lyrics Blessed Rupert Mayer, SJ
Music Manuel V. Francisco, SJ
Arrangement Arnel d C. Aquino, SJ

These are but two of countless Good Shepherds whom God has called to serve his people as priests.

Pope Benedict XVI [Wikipedia]

Collect, Mass for Priests

Lord our God, who in governing your people 
make use of the ministry of Priests, 
grant to these men 
a persevering obedience to your will, 
so that by their ministry and life 
they may gain glory for you in Christ, 
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.

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