12 February 2019

'Blessed are you who are poor.' Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Christ Pantocrator, Cefalù Cathedral, Italy [Web Gallery of Art]
'Pantocrator' may be translated as 'Almighty' or 'All-powerful'.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 6:17, 20-26 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   

Jesus came down with the twelve and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Prayer before the meal
Adriaen Jansz van Ostade [Web Gallery of Art]

Nearly 40 years ago when I was in charge of a small formation house for young men preparing for the diocesan priesthood in Mindanao, Philippines, I came to know a young girl named Patricia. She was aged 10 or 11 when we first met. I learned that her father had died when she was an infant. She 'adopted' me and called me Tatay, Dad, as she still does. She is now a widow and a grandmother.

The first time I visited her home, a small wooden structure built on stilts, I thought that it might fall over. Patricia's family, like most of the families around them, were poor, though not destitute. They struggled from day to day and managed to get by.

Very often after class in the public elementary school Patricia would drop by the formation house for a chat. One day when we were talking in the dining room upstairs we heard the 'clump-clump-clump' of somebody coming up the stairs wearing heavy boots and carrying a staff. It was a man named William Smith, probably the poorest person I have ever met. It was believed that his father had been an American soldier. William was tall and thin, never looked healthy, had very poor sight and had no home of his own. Sometimes children would tease him in a disrespectful way. He would go from parish to parish and the priests, mostly Columbans, would give him a place to sleep, food, clothes, shoes and some money. After a few days he would head off to another parish. Poor William went to his reward when struck by a truck one day. May he rest in peace.

When William arrived at the top of the stairs Patricia went over to him, took him by the hand, sat him down at a table and brought him something to eat and to drink. I asked her some years later if she remembered this incident. She had no recollection of it whatever.

The Infant Jesus Distributing Bread to Pilgrims

St Matthew's first beatitude reads, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The New English Bible translation of this is, How blest are those who know their need of God; the kingdom of heaven is theirs

St Luke's version has a different emphasis. He shows us Jesus speaking about those who are economically poor. Jesus is also, I think, giving a message of hope pointing towards eternal life where the injustice that is the cause of so much economic poverty will no longer have any force, where God's will reigns. The words of Jesus also call us to work for a world in the here and now where economic poverty caused by greed and injustice no longer exists.

Jesus has very harsh words for those whose focus is only on the present life and the ultimately shallow 'rewards' so much of it offers: But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

God reveals himself as Love in so many 'insignificant' moments. What I saw that day nearly 40 years ago was an expression of God's pure love, a child who was poor serving an adult who had absolutely nothing of his own. Patrica was blessed by God in serving William and he was blessed by God in being served by a child. I have been blessed by this little incident ever since. The kingdom of God broke through that afternoon. 

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Antiphona ad introitum   Entrance Antiphon Cf Ps 30[31]:3-4

Esto mihi in Deum protectionem
Be my protector, O God,
et in locum refugii, ut salvum me facias.
a mighty stronghold to save me.
Quoniam firmamentum meum et refugium meum es tu,
For you are my rock, my stronghold!
et propter nomen tuum dux mihi eris, et enutries me.
Lead me, guide me, for the sake of your name.

Ps. In te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in aeternum: in iustitia tua libera me (et eripe me).
In you, 0 Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your justice rescue me and deliver me. 
v. Gloria Patri et filio et Spiritui Sancto.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Esto mihi in Deum protectionem
Be my protector, O God,
et in locum refugii, ut salvum me facias.
a mighty stronghold to save me.
Quoniam firmamentum meum et refugium meum es tu,
For you are my rock, my stronghold!
et propter nomen tuum dux mihi eris, et enutries me.
Lead me, guide me, for the sake of your name.

The complete text above is sung or said in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the 'Old Mass') while the text in bold is that used in the Ordinary Form (the 'New Mass').

06 February 2019

‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Raphael [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 Luke 5:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
The Gospel in Filipino Sign Language: Video.

The painter Raphael captures something of the awe of St Peter when he saw how much fish he and his companions had caught, despite their misgivings as experienced fishermen in following the advice of someone they knew to be a carpenter from the mountains of Galilee. St Peter, who had a long way to go in his formation as a follower of Jesus, recognised the utter generosity of God's providence.
Columban Fr John Griffin, a New Zealander who worked for many years both in the Philippines and Chile tells a story about St Alberto Hurtado SJ (1901 - 1952) - still known and loved in Chile as 'Padre Hurtado' - and his trust in God's providence in A priest, I bless you - Alberto

Providence was always on his side. At a meeting one night his board of directors was unwilling, for lack of funds, to approve a new project. In the midst of discussions there was an unexpected call for Fr Hurtado to attend to someone at his front door. He had a brief conversation with the caller who said she wanted to leave a gift to help the great work he was doing.

He gratefully put her envelope in his pocket, wished her a good evening and returned to his meeting. He looked at the contents of the envelope as he sat down. Then he tossed a check onto the table saying, ‘There you are, ye of little faith!’ It was for one million pesos – worth about US$30,000 at that time. 

Benedict XVI canonized San Alberto on 23 October 2005

God's providence is something I have experienced many times. One example is when I was asked to write an article for the Columban magazine in the USA, Columban Mission. So I wrote The MiracleGirls! and it was published in October 2012 (pages 17-19) and later in The Far East, the Columban magazine in Australia and New Zealand.

I got the title from one of the girls at Holy Family Home for Girls, Bacolod City,after the release of kidnapped Columban Fr Michael Sinnott in the Philippines in 2009. I had asked the girls to pray for Fr Sinnott's safe release. When I told them that God had heard their fervent prayers - and fervent they were - one of them came up to me and said, 'Father, we are the miracle girls!' (They were actually part of an international 'prayer brigade').

She was expressing something like St Alberto, a total trust in God's providence.

I was happy when my article was published but had no idea how many readers would respond with generosity, a generosity that enables the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family to continue to take care of the girls whom God sends their way just as God continues, more than 60 years after his death, to provide for the Hogar deCristo (Home of Christ) movement that San Alberto started and that has spread to other countries.

Like many of 'The Miracle Girls' Father Alberto came from a background of poverty and of violence. But that didn't stop him from hearing God's call. He wanted to be a lawyer in order to help the poor. God answered his desire to help the poor of Chile, not as a lawyer but as a Jesuit priest. God called Peter and his companions to let go of their fears and of their workDo not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.

St Luke tells us directly and simply how Peter and Andrew, James and John, responded to the words of Jesus: When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him

They didn't become saints overnight. They failed Jesus many times and Peter even betrayed him. But Jesus never abandoned them and their hope and trust in him never vanished.

St Peter's words can encourage us when we can't see things clearly, when we are disheartened, when we've nowhere to turn to: Yet if you say so . . .



Columban Fr Chris Saenz in Chile threw a chronic alcoholic named Ronnie out of his church twice because he was disrupting Mass. In Interview with Ronnie he allows this man to tell the story of the extraordinary change in his life and the part Padre Hurtado played in that. And Ronnie experienced God's providence in being able to attend the canonization of this remarkable saint in 2005: There was a national lottery for Hogar de Cristo to send 36 persons from around the country.  There were seven spots for volunteers/workers of Hogar de Cristo and 29 for those who, like me, received aid. Different names were submitted from around the country, including mine and a few others from the Ninth Region. When the first ticket was drawn at the lottery my name was on it. I knew than it was Padre Hurtado’s hand again. In fact, I was the only one from our Region to go.

A Hymn to Alberto Hurtado SJ
 Written by Pablo Coloma for the beatification of Blessed Alberto on 16 October 1994, Sung by Pablo Coloma and Ximena Concha 

Alberto, hoy resuena tu nombre
Se escucha tu palabra encendida
Tu rostro hoy recorre las calles
Tu huella marca un nuevo camino
Profeta que anunciaste el Reino
Supiste denunciar el dolor
Reíste con un canto a la vida
Mostraste un camino mejor.

Alberto, your name resounds today,
your enlightening word is heard,  
your face is seen today on the streets,
your footprints mark a new path.
A prophet who proclaimed the Kingdom,
who knew about pain,
who laughed with a song to life,
who showed a better way.

Alberto contemplé tu figura
incendiando las calles de una oscura ciudad.
Y vi que mil rostros reían
y otros más comprendían que era el paso de Dios.
Alberto has tocado nuestra alma
y ya siento que enciende ese fuego de Dios.
Tu vida fue un regalo divino,
una historia que hizo de este Chile un hogar.

Alberto, I watched you
lighting up the streets of a dark city.
And I saw a thousand faces laughing
and others who understood that that was the way of God.
Alberto, you have touched our soul
and I feel that I am lit by the fire of God.
Your life was a divine gift,
a story that made this Chile a home

Maestro que enseñaste a vivir
la vida como lo hizo Jesús,
mirando en los hombres que sufren
su cuerpo castigado en la cruz.

A teacher who taught how to live
as Jesus did,
looking at those who suffer,
his body punished on the cross.

Apóstol, compañero de pobres,
viviste en tu carne el dolor
de tantos que viván despreciados,
tus manos fueron pan y un hogar.

Apostle, companion of the poor,  
you lived in your flesh the pain
of the many who are despised,
your hands were bread and a home.

Alberto contemplé tu figura
incendiando las calles de una oscura ciudad.
Y vi que mil rostros reían
y otros más comprendían que era el paso de Dios.
Alberto has tocado nuestra alma
y ya siento que enciende ese fuego de Dios.
Tu vida derramada en las calles
se alsa inmensa hasta el cielo en las manos de todos.

Alberto, I watched you
lighting up the streets of a dark city.
And I saw a thousand faces laughing and others who understood
that that was the way of God.
Alberto, you have touched our soul
and I feel that I am lit by the fire of God.
Your life poured out on the streets
is infinitely raised to heaven in the hands of all.

30 January 2019

'Joseph's son.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath
Bartholomeus Breenbergh [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 Luke 4:21-40 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   

Jesus began to speak in the synagogue: ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. 

They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.”’ 

And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Léachtaí Gaeilge 

The Gospel in Filipino Sign Language: Video.

Traditional Irish thatched cottage
Indreabhán, County Galway [Vicipéid]

I left home for the first time when I was 11, though only for a month. It was during the summer of 1954 and I spent the four weeks in an Irish-speaking part of County Galway in the west of Ireland, just beyond An Spidéal (Spiddal) on the northern shore of Galway Bay. There were many houses like the one above in the area.

I was one of around 100 children aged between 10 and 14, all sons and daughters of members of trade (labour) unions in Dublin which sponsored a summer-school / holiday each year so that the youngsters involved could become more fluent in the Irish language (Gaelic), which we all studied at school. We used to have outdoor classes in the mornings, unless it rained, and were free in the afternoon. We all stayed in groups of three or four boys or girls with local families. We were excused from class if we went to the bog with our hosts when they were cutting turf (peat).

A family from Dublin came down for their annual holiday and stayed in the same house where I was with two other boys. I had never met them before and they didn't know me. The husband/father, Paddy O'Neill, asked me the first time we met if I was the son of John Coyle. At that time I knew nothing about where we come from, though I knew that children often looked like one or other of their parents but had no idea why. I felt a surge of pride as I said 'Yes' to Mr O'Neill. 

He had seen my father's face in mine. Then he told me that he had worked as a young carpenter with my father, who was older than he was, and that he had found my Dad very helpful to him. Over the years others were to tell me the same thing, how my father was such a great mentor to young men learning their trade. Dad was a carpenter too and became a foreman of the carpenters and later a general foreman on the building/construction sites where he worked for 54 years.

My father in turn often spoke with great respect and affection of foremen he had worked under and who had helped him. I remember Ned Boyle, who lived near us. He had a big moustache, as I recall, and his wife had beautiful white hair and a lovely smile. They looked like every child's favourite grandparents. My mother often described them as a real 'Darby and Joan' couple. In the song The Folks Who Live on the Hill Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics to Jerome Kern's music include these lines:

We'll sit and look at the same old view,

Just we two.
Darby and Joan who used to be Jack and Jill,
The folks who like to be called,
What they have always been called,
'The folks who live on the hill'.

I remember Dad talking about John Grace, another foreman under whom he worked. I never knew him, though I had some contact with some of his sons, all of whom were older than me. Two of them, Fr Ronald and Fr John, became Capuchin priests and were assigned to what is now Zambia. Both have gone to their reward. Another, Mick, died in an accident while building a church in Dublin. He, a married man, was very active in the Legion of Mary. Three sisters of theirs became Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary in Tarrytown, New York, USA. I got the impression from my father that Mr Grace was a man of great integrity, of nobility of character. I could see something of that in his sons.

I could see it in my father and how foremen such as Mr Boyle and Mr Grace had helped to form him as a person, without even being aware of it. 

Christ in the Carpenter's Shop
Georges de La Tour [Web Gallery of Art]

As I grow older I see more clearly how my parents and others formed me. Very often when I'm writing I think of John Galligan, my teacher in Fourth Class (Grade Four) who gave us a great grounding in the grammar of both Irish and English, encouraged us to read the newspaper critically and gave us many opportunities to write. But above all, he shared his faith as he prepared us for confirmation and as he spoke so often about his wife Mary. Indeed, he brought her to the school one day so that we could meet her. I came to know them years later as friends and saw in them a real 'Darby and Joan' couple.

Is not this Joseph's son? the people in the synagogue asked in wonder before they turned against Jesus and tried to kill him. There's a gap of 18 years between the time when Mary and Joseph, sick with worry, went back to Jerusalem to try to find the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple, where in his humanity his sense of his vocation was beginning to awake. The First Reading, from Jeremiah, has the word of the Lord saying to the prophet, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations (Jer 1:5). Further on the Lord tells Jeremiah, They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you (Jer 1:19).

God the Father had the mission of his Son Jesus, God who became Man, in mind from from all eternity. He knew that many would fight against Jesus, but they shall not prevail against you . . . And the Father called two human beings to prepare Jesus for his mission, Mary to be his very mother and Joseph, her husband, to be like a father to him.

Jesus in his humanity learned from St Joseph how to be a responsible man. The years when Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them and increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour (Luke 2:51, 52) were the years when Joseph and Mary were preparing Jesus for his mission, Mary treasured all these things in her heart. I wonder to what extent St Joseph realised the importance of daily life in the house, in the carpenter's shop, in that preparation.

Mr Boyle and Mr Grace were among those who formed my father as an upright man of deep faith. I doubt if any of them ever spoke to each other about their faith, just as my father rarely spoke about it to me. They simply lived it. I'm prouder now, more than 31 years after his death, to be known as 'John Coyle's son' because I can see how much he has influenced me as a priest.

Our influence on each other is for good and for bad. Those who hear someone ask as a compliment about them,  Isn't this the son/daughter of . . .? are blessed. Those of whom it is said that they are saintly, not because they are 'pious' but because there is something Christ-like about their lives, are blessed and are a blessing to others.

When Jesus heard the people in the synagogue ask Is not this Joseph's son? I'm certain that in his humanity he felt deeply blessed because the love and care of Joseph had been central to the loving plan of God the Father for his Son, God who became Man. 

Setting by contemporary Japanese composer Nobuaki Izawa

Communion Antiphon Cf Psalm 30[31]:17-18. 

Illúmina fáciem tuam super servum tuum, 
et salvum me fac in tua misericórdia. 
Dómine, non confúndar, quóniam invocávi te.

Let your face shine on your servant. 
Save me in your merciful love.
O Lord, let me never be put to shame, for I call on you.


I mentioned above the song The Folks Who Live on the Hill. I came across this version by Liverpool-born singer Michael Holliday who took his own life at the age of 38 in 1963, a couple of years after he had a nervous breakdown. It seems he suffered badly from stage fright. Remember him in your prayers. Remember too all who have taken their own lives.