29 December 2008

St Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr

St Thomas Becket – ‘à Becket’ it seems is a mistake - was murdered on this date in 1170, aged 58, in Canterbury Cathedral, where he was archbishop, by followers of King Henry II of England. He is the patron saint of the pastoral clergy of England.

The office of readings for his feast has an extract from one of his letters. It is clear that he was a faithful and orthodox bishop, his martyrdom being the ultimate witness to that. He writes:
At our consecration we promised to be continuously and increasingly zealous as teachers and pastors. We repeat the promise every day. Would to God our lives made our promises more credible!

Further on we read: Still, who can doubt that the Church of Rome is the head of all the churches, the source of Catholic teaching? Who does not know that the keys of the kingdom of heavern were given to Peter? Is not the whole structure of the Church built up on Peter’s faith and teaching, so to grow until we meet Christ as one perfect man, united in faith and in our recognition of him as Son of God?

I found the picture above in Canterbury Tales , the blog of Taylor Marshall, a convert to the Catholic Church and a former Episcopal priest in Texas. He tells why he is a Catholic Christian here.

25 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

The Adoration of the Shepherds, El Greco
La Adoración de los Pastores
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Maligayang Pasko!
¡Feliz Navidad!
Nollaig shone daoibh!
Happy Christmas!

24 December 2008

Linda Gibbons: In jail in Toronto for praying

I studied in Toronto in 1981-82 and it was a grace-filled year for me. It is distressing to know that in today's Canada a grandmother is spending another Christmas in jail simply for praying silently outside a building where unborn babies are killed.

Earlier this year Canada, to the utter dismay and shame of many of its citizens, gave its highest decoration to a notorious abortionist who had frequently broken the law by killing unborn children when this was still illegal in the country. This was his way of trying to bring about a change in the law. Unfortunately, he succeeded.

The report below is from
LifeSiteNews. I've highlighted some parts. Please remember this brave woman and those she is trying to help in your Christmas prayers.

Imprisoned for Defending Unborn - Linda Gibbons Shares Her Christmas Wish

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski, LifeSiteNews

TORONTO, December 23, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Pro-life heroine Linda Gibbons will spend another Christmas in jail this year for her refusal to abide by an injunction which forbids even silent prayerful pro-life witness on the public sidewalk in front of the Scott abortion mill in Toronto.

Linda has given permission to share the thoughts she communicates in her letters in hopes that they may further the cause for life.

In a recent letter, Linda wished to convey her Christmas prayer for Canada: "That Canada could recognize the sanctity of life in its mind's eye, could rediscover a heart of affection and awe towards nascent life, could dare in its soul to embrace it boldly from conception.

"Would this not be to love God, mind, body and soul in careless abandonment to the Creator?

"Is that not a Christmas wish - a new morn, Canada reborn?"

Rosemary Connell of Show the Truth Canada has informed LifeSiteNews.com that Linda appreciates very much the letters and cards she receives from pro-lifers all over the world, and especially letters and artwork from children. She assures them of her prayers as well.

"I know she appreciates letters and cards and the effort to send them," Connell told LifeSiteNews.

"She enjoys letters and art work from children also. She is very humble about the number of letters she gets each day.

"Please consider sending a Christmas card and short letters regularly. It is great for her spirits and important that the employees of the prison know of her supporters. It reminds people of the plight of little babies being threatened by abortion."

There are some rules to follow for letters being sent to Linda so that she will receive them promptly:
- handwrite or type the address and return address on the envelope
- no stickers or stamped images etc. on envelope or in letter
- put return address on letter as well as envelope
- no plastic prayer cards or bookmarks - paper prayer cards and bookmarks are fine
- she is allowed a couple of pamphlets but not many
- no questions about day to day workings of the prison - baby saves, prayer groups, difficulties she faces. She cannot comment on the day to day workings of the prison.
- please number your letters so she can be sure she is getting all that you send
- please include a pro-life comment in each letter - facts of numbers of children being executed, loss of God's children, our prayer for everyone involved in abortion industry

Letters should be addressed to
Linda Gibbons - Vanier Women's Detention Centre
655 Martin St. - Box 1040 - Milton, ON
L9T 5E6

A 'Myrrhy' Christmas!

Matt, the resident genius at The Daily Telegraph in London, has done it again!

May I wish whoever reads this a 'Myrrhy' and Merry Christmas!

23 December 2008

Mary Full of Life

Mary Full of Life H/T to The Curt Jester

You may find photos of the sculpture at Mary Full of Life. My apologies for using a copyrighted photo of the sculpture shown on the billboard. I have just deleted it.


San Juan de la Cruz (1542-1597)

Del Verbo divino
la Virgen preñada
viene de camino:
¡si le dais posada!

With the divinest Word, the Virgin
Made pregnant, down the road
Comes walking, if you’ll grant her
A room in your abode. Translated by Roy Campbell

22 December 2008

St Joseph's place in the Christmas story

St Joseph's Dream, Rembrandt

St Joseph's Site is a website dedicated to the Husband of Mary a Filipina in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Babes Tan-Magkalas.

Babes has prepared a power-point presentation on St Joseph's place in the Advent-Christmas story. You may listen to it and read it here.

'One vast substantial smile'

Every year at this time I read Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and each time I find new delight in doing so. Only a master storyteller could come up with two successive sentences such as these:

In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile.

The ‘vast substantial smile’ above is Annette Badland in a 1999 stage production of the work.

"But if they had been twice as many -- ah, four times -- old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that's not high praise, tell me higher, and I'll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig's calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn't have predicted, at any given time, what would have become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig cut -- cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger."

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

21 December 2008

Behold the handmaid of the Lord

Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.

The Annunciation, El Greco, 1597

The Incarnation
St John of the Cross

Then He summoned an archangel,
Saint Gabriel: and when he came,
Sent him forth to find a maiden,
Mary was her name.

Only through her consenting love
Could the mystery be preferred
That the Trinity in human
Flesh might clothe the Word.

Though the three Persons worked the wonder
It only happened in the One.
So was the Word made incarnation
In Mary’s womb, a son.

So He who only had a Father
Now had a Mother undefiled,
Though not as ordinary maids
Had she conceived the Child.

By Mary, and with her own flesh
He was clothed in His own frame
Both Son of God and Son of Man
Together had one name. Translated by Roy Campbell.

The Annunciation, El Greco, 1569

San Juan de la Cruz (1542-1697)

Entonces llamó a un arcángel
que san Gabriel se decía,
y enviólo a una doncella
que se llamaba María,

de cuyo consentimiento
el misterio se hacía;
en la cual la Trinidad
de carne al Verbo vestía;

y aunque tres hacen la obra,
en el uno se hacía;
y quedó el Verbo encarnado
en el vientre de María.

Y el que tenia sólo Padre,
ya también Madre tenía,
aunque no como cualquiera
que de varón concebía,

que de las entrañas de ella
él su carne recibía;
por lo cual Hijo de Dios
y del hombre se decía.

20 December 2008

The 'Foot-and-Mouth' Columban Ordination Class

Forty-one years ago today, 20 December, Bishop Patrick Cleary of Nancheng, China, ordained 14 of us in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin. He was one of the earliest priests to join the newly-founded Society of St Columban in 1918, resigning his professorship in St Patrick’s National Seminary, Maynooth. He became Bishop of Nancheng in 1939 but was expelled 13 years later.

We were blessed to have Bishop Cleary as a substitute teacher of English and Latin in our first year in the seminary. We also got tonsure, the ceremony used before to admit a man to the clerical state, our four minor orders and the major orders of subdiaconate and diaconate from this wonderful man.

Four of our class were ordained the same day in Derry Cathedral by Bishop Neil Farren of that diocese and another the following day in Glasgow.
We were due to be ordained together on 20 December in our seminary, St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, within sight of Tara, where the high kings of Ireland ruled in days of old. There was a farm attached to our seminary and, at the time, there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain. Because of very strict quarantine regulations brought in, rightfully, by the Irish government, a decision was made about three days before our ordination to transfer the venue so that relatives of some of my class form Britain could attend.

As I’m from Dublin, the switch meant that more than the officially-invited ten guests could be present at the ordination ceremony.

The traditional day of Columban ordinations in Ireland and the USA was the old feast of St Thomas the Apostle, 21 December. However, as a newly-ordained priest in Ireland in those days didn’t celebrate his First Mass on a Sunday, the date could be brought forward or put back by a day. So I celebrated my First Mass on the feast of the apostle in Holy Family Church, Aughrim St, Dublin, where I had grown up.
With my father John (+1987), my mother Mary (+1970) and my brother Paddy

We had a six-day retreat that ended the night before our ordination, though those heading for Derry left earlier. Our retreat director was Fr Dan Conneely, witty and wise, one of three brothers who were Columban priests. Fathers Joe, Dan and Paul between them served as joyful priests for 184 years. Today is the 22nd death anniversary of Father Dan and the 14th of Father Paul. May they all rest in peace.

Blessing my cousin Mai Dowling

Our retreat was ‘low-key’ and prayerful. The only thing I can remember that Father Dan said, in the middle of one of his talks and with no connection whatever to the topic, was one of the shortest poems in the English language, by Ogden Nash: No MacTavish / was ever lavish. (For Filipino readers: ‘MacTavish’ is a Scottish apelledo and the Scots, like the Ilocanos, are reputed to be kuripot, hence many jokes about them.) But it was the kind of retreat that prepared us well.

Father Dan was editor of the Irish Far East, the Columban magazine, for nearly 30 years. He never served overseas but was a true missionary.

A Home for Jesus

A Home for Jesus
It’s that time of the year again when we decorate the Christmas tree and the house takes on a winter wonderland feel.

At Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, the seminarians did their best to decorate hallways and public rooms and get into the Christmas spirit. One hallway even put up stockings for each faculty member. Guess who had the small stocking?

Luke and Jason went the extra mile and made a ginger bread cathedral from scratch.

This edible cathedral was a real work of art. It made me think about how Christmas decorations can be helpful in putting us in a “Holy day” mood. At the same time, it made me realize that if we lose focus of the religious nature of this Advent season, the decorations become a distraction to the purpose of Christ’s coming. I don’t want to dampen the holiday spirit by cautioning against decorating. I want to highlight the focus of all we’re doing, so that even decorating your family’s home can become a prayer.

Did you know the Christmas tree (the ever green) was used to encourage pagans to see how the pointy tree top gives us a direction to the truth – God in Heaven. The Christmas star, tinsel, and Christmas cards all have deep spiritual and religious significance.

Despite the expensive, and at times frustrating, task of putting up decorations, the best way that we can prepare for Christmas is by making sure we are preparing our home for Jesus as the guest of honor. Preparing our homes for Christ requires us to prepare our hearts for Him. These Mount St. Mary’s students, despite their busy exam week, made sure to take time for prayer, receiving Christ, and preparing for Christmas in the chapel; not the shopping mall!
In this holiday season, we have to ask ourselves if we let church and personal prayer take a back seat to Christmas preparations. When considering your preparations for Christmas, be sure to take a cue from those who celebrated Christmas for the first time. Consider how the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph prepared for the miracle of birth. Meditate and pray about how you prepare your home for Christmas and you may see that Christ prefers the humble stable of Bethlehem to tinsel and light decorations. Take time and celebrate the seasonal liturgies with sincere faith and you’ll hear how a silent night is preferred over the din of overplayed Santa songs. And, if you really take St. Nicholas seriously by praying with that saint, you’ll understand how through prayer we can become like saints.

As you and your family prepare your home for Christmas, don’t start with a tree or tinsel. Start with the most important home you can offer Jesus: your pure heart.

Mushroom-stuffed Double-thick Pork Chops

Cooking in stages can create a memorable meal, while giving you peace of mind about cooking a lot of food quickly during this busy season. Here’s a meal you may want to consider for a big holiday party. It begins with asking your butcher to create a pocket in the pork chop so that you can stuff it. Then, you simply brine the meat over night. After you stuff the chops, it’s only a matter of minutes before you have a perfectly succulent meal. Please click here for the recipe.

Slow Down and Pray

Here’s a prayer from a great website to bless your Christmas tree and help you and your family enjoy the holidays as true Holy days!

Holy Lord,We come with joy to celebrate the birth of your Son, who rescued us from the darkness of sin by making the Cross a tree of life and light.

May this tree, arrayed in splendor, remind us of the life-giving Cross of Christ, that we may always rejoice in the new life that shines in our hearts. We ask this through Christ our Lord.Amen.

Ask Fr. Leo for fatherly advice.Any submissions may be used in future Grace Before Meals publications.

Please forward Fr. Leo’s weekly email blast to anyone you think would benefit. If you haven’tsigned up for the Food for the Body, Food for the Soul weekly email blast, go here and register now. Also please visit our blog. weekly to stay up

19 December 2008

The Filipino whose fists stop wars

Without a doubt, the most popular person in the Philippines right now is a boxer, Manny Pacquiao, from General Santos City in southeastern Mindanao, an island that is bigger than Ireland. (Very few Filipinos live on 'cartoon' tropical islands with a beach and one coconut tree!)

Mercatornet, a website that is well worth exploring as it deals with current events and ethical issues from a point of view that is very much that of the orthodox teaching of the Church, though it isn't a Church site, has an interesting article about this boxing phenomenon. Among other things, it highlights popular religiosity in the Philippines and the open way in which many Filipinos express their faith and piety.

I'm not a supporter of professional boxing but it is a fact of life.

This article is by Zen Udani.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Filipino whose fists stop wars

"Don't tell God you have a big problem. Tell your problem you have a big God,” champ tells fans.

The boxing world is in shock after the legendary Mexican Oscar de la Hoya was sent into retirement by Filipino Manny Pacquiao on December 6 in Las Vegas.

Manny Pacquiao is undoubtedly the Philippines’ most popular sports icon. He’s a simple guy of extraordinary grit. Glorious in his bouts, he remains humble with his feet firmly planted on the ground. In his most recent match, which kept millions of Filipinos all over the world glued to their radios or TV screens, he emerged as the winner against the much touted “golden boy” Oscar de la Joya in an eight-round TKO decision.

The good-natured Pacquiao shows his mettle even inside the ring. Recah Trinidad, a Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) columnist, wrote: “How Pacquiao lent boxing a warm human touch was no coincidence. In fact, Pacquiao would later bare that he often took pity on the helpless De La Hoya. After cornering and shaking up De La Hoya, Pacquiao would often stall in his offensive. Of course, this was not out of a sudden attack of compassion and humility.”

Pacquiao’s matches are surely a diversion to many people, not just Filipinos. His bouts relieve the stress of a faltering economy and provide national entertainment on a humdrum weekend. They have even led to truces among warring camps and a drop in crime rate, even as rebels and thieves are kept off the streets to catch a glimpse of his exciting matches. Apparently Eid Kabalu, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front civil-military affairs chief, has been known to say, “If Manny fights every day, guns will always be silent.”

The 29-year-old Pacquiao is an interesting character. In the tough world of boxing, you see this man publicly acknowledging that among his weapons are absolute faith in God and prayer. He hangs a rosary around his neck just before a match, and he’s not shy about it. As soon as he steps into the boxing ring, he kneels in deep prayer in one corner. Meanwhile, thousands of kilometers away in General Santos City, he’s supported by a pious mother who spends hours praying before an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Santo Nino (Holy Child Jesus) for the success of her son. After each victorious bout, an assistant immediately hops into the ring to hang once more the same holy rosary around Manny’s neck.

Returning to the Philippines after his victorious dream match, he went to the popular Black Nazarene Church in Manila. In a blog posted by Izah Morales in the PDI, she recalled: “After priest gave his final blessings, Pacquiao was asked to give a message to the people. During his message, Pacquiao thanked the people and attributed his success to God. He talked about the criticisms he got from some sportswriters before his bout with Oscar de la Hoya. But he said he did not lose hope as he kept his faith in God.

“Pacquiao told the crowd, ‘Don't tell God that [you] have a big problem. [B]ut tell your problem [that you] have a big God.’”

It said that a boxer’s motto is “It’s better to give than to receive.” But Pacquaio goes beyond that quip. It was reported that before his “dream match” with de la Joya, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for tickets to be distributed among his friends and supporters. For him, it was a way of giving back. Some labeled it as superstition. But Pacquiao has that penchant for sharing his blessings with others. At the end of his match he was quoted saying, “I’m just happy that I made a lot of people happy.”

Pacquiao was tempted to venture into politics last year when he ran for a seat in Congress. He was soundly defeated, much to the delight of his fans, who wanted him to stay in the ring.

A recent PDI editorial warned Pacquiao against pursuing further political ambitions: “Pacquiao's achievements have been fully his own, as far as boxing is concerned. His becoming a sports hero has led not only to riches, but also has won him the incomparable affections of an entire nation. That success and that affection are his because of how he unites a nation otherwise divided and discouraged by politics.

“No one can doubt that Pacquiao is looking for a career that will not just give meaning to his life after boxing, but which will also allow him to help others as so many have helped him rise from rags to riches through sports. The question is not whether he can or should try to be a force for public good, but whether the public good is served by his entering politics.

“His dogged determination, his dedication to his sport, his discipline and his ability to improve himself, all the while maintaining a sunny disposition and picking no quarrels with people outside the boxing ring, suggest to us that the greatest good for the greatest number lies in Pacquiao staying out of the political arena. He is a political force by sheer force of being who he is-the man who unites-and staying that way.”

The good-tempered, level-headed Pacquiao is no Mike Tyson. He is unlikely to end up like many other boxers: broke, cheated, disgraced or punch-drunk. But he should stay out of politics. The punches thrown in political shadow boxing are more vicious than any he will ever face in the ring.

Zen Udani is Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Macau.

16 December 2008

Novena of pre-dawn Masses in the Philippines

Parols, Christmas lanterns, on sale in the Philippines. These are used as decorations outside and inside buildings.

This morning I had Mass at five, the first day of the Misa de Gallo, or Aguinaldo Masses, also called Simbang Gabi in Tagalog. A letter from Bishop Vicente M. Navarra of Bacolod, where I live, explains what these Masses are:

The celebration of the Aguinaldo Masses is a special indult given by Rome to the Church in the Philippines for the perseverance of the nation in the Catholic Faith. Hence the sacrifice of a very early morning Mass, It has to be celebrated only in the early morning (4am) from December 16-24, and not in the late afternoon or everning. The Mass formulary is one one for the whole duration - the Mass of the Blessed Virgin. The vestments are with with the recitation of the Gloria and Credo.

Misa de Gallo is Spanish for 'Mass at cockcrow'. (I have a recording by the Tallis Singers of Missa in Gallicantu, A Mass in Sarum chant, the usage in the Diocese of Salisbury, England, before, that used to be sung after midnight on Christmas Eve - I'm not sure if that means early on the 24th or 25th). Aguinaldo is a Spanish word meaning Christmas or New Year's gift. Simbang Gabi could be translated as 'going to church at night'.

The emphasis is on thanking God, with our Blessed Mother, for the gift of faith. There are now nine special Mass formularies that may be used, with the readings of the current Advent day. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent the Mass of that day is used, with white vestements and the Gloria.

The custom began maybe three centuries or so ago, in Spanish times, when farm workers wanted to have Mass very early before they'd go to work.

In the village where I live the Mass has always been at 5, maybe because when there was no priest here before, the parish priest came after his 4am Mass in the parish church. However, for the rest of the novena we'll start at 4:45 so that dawn won't be breaking until Mass is ending. I take the bishop's '4am' to be a guideline and it's the norm in parish churchese.

Churches all over the Philippines are full these mornings, especially with young people. I noticed a young woman in the chapel this morning with her infant and reminded the people that that's one of the ways we pass on the faith.

The only thing comparable to the Misa de Gallo in my own experience before coming to the Philippines was Lenten weekdays in Dublin in the 1950s when the churches would be full of workers and students at the earlier Masses, the older people and housewives - yes there were still very many of them! - going to the later Masses.

Each year people are spending less and less in the run up to Christmas in the Philippines, which in one way is a good thing, though it's also a sign of people having less money for things that aren't essential.

Filipinos have brought the custom of the Misa de Gallo to many other countries and have adapted them to the local situation. I'ts not usually a Misa de Gallo in the literal sense since it's usually held in the evening, for example, in London, when the roosters, if there are any there, have all gone to sleep. Very often a Mass is celebrated on the nine evenings in a different church each time. I know that in the Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington, Archbishop Alexander Joseph Brunett has encouraged everyone to get involved, not just Filipinos. It may be one way of renewing the faith in Europe and North America, not to mention other places.

I'll remember my readers at Mass these mornings.

06 December 2008

A Grand Duke with Backbone

The price for opposing euthanasia

The Grand Duke of Luxembourg is to be stripped of his executive veto after refusing to rubber-stamp a euthanasia law.

The cynical epitaph for the rakish King Charles II of England -- "Here lies our Sovereign Lord the King, Whose word no man relies on ; Who never said a foolish thing, And never did a wise one." -- sums up most republicans' feelings towards constitutional monarchs. Palatial accommodation, fabulous salaries, gorgeous clothes, jetsetting, handshakes with everyone from Bono to Barack – all this just to sign a few laws tossed across a desk by the government of the day.

However, 53-year-old Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg is made of different stuff. He has just precipitated a constitutional crisis in his tiny (population 470,000) realm by refusing to grant royal assent to a law authorising euthanasia -- "for reasons of conscience".

Read the full article here and check out its source, Mercatornet.

As we might say in Ireland, 'Ah, sure isn't he a grand duke, God bless him!'

Do you have the courage to defend Christian marriage?

Joanna Bogle wonders why British Catholics are too afraid to speak up for holy matrimony

5 December 2008, The Catholic Herald.

If, at any time during our country's long history, you had been invited into a school or youth group to give a talk on marriage, and began with the words, "Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, establishing a new family", you would have been regarded as making a statement of the blindingly obvious. Not any more. It's now regarded as a rather daring and controversial statement, possibly acceptable in a guest speaker but probably to be followed up with some caveats on the part of the teacher.

Read the full article .

Joanna Bogle has her own blog, Auntie Joanna Writes.

01 December 2008

Going on retreat

Please pray for me till Friday. I'll be on retreat at Maryshore Retreat House, in Talisay City, just north of Bacolod, from this morning until Friday afternoon. It's right beside the sea and is owned by the CICM Missionaries, known in the USA as 'Missionhurst' and in Belgium, where the congregation originated, as the 'Scheut Missionaries'. Their full name in English is the 'Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary'.