30 October 2010

'Today I must stay at your house'. Reflections for 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Zacchaeus by Niels Larsen Stevns (1864-1941)

I've posted some reflections here on Misyononline.com, the magazine I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines, for tomorrow's Mass.

A boy rests at the base of an ancient sycamore tree in the West Bank city of Jericho. Tradition says it is the same tree featured in the biblical tale of Jesus and the tax collector. (Majdi Mohammed, Associated Press / October 1, 2010)

28 October 2010

A post-Vatican II martyr-priest

 Father Jerzy (the Polish form of 'George') Popieluszko was beatified on 6 June in Warsaw in the presence of his 100-year-old mother Marianne. While editing the forthcoming issue of Misyon I found myself doing some research on this inspiring priest. I remember clearly when he was murdered on 19 October 1984 and how shocked I was at the brutality of it. I was also inspired by his courageous faith as I had been by that of Archbishop Oscar Romero four and a half years before. The Archbishop was celebrating Mass when he was shot while Father Popieluszko had just finished.

In his final homily the young Polish priest said, ‘In order to defeat evil with good, in order to preserve the dignity of man, one must not use violence. It is the person who has failed to win on the strength of his heart and his reason who tries to win by force . . . Let us pray that we may be free from fear and intimidation, but above all from lust for revenge and violence.’ 

Grave of Father Jerzy  (thanks to Fr Denton)

The future martyr entered the seminary in 1965 around the time the last session of Vatican II was beginning. I had entered four years before that. I came across an article by a classmate of Blessed Jerzy, Fr Jan Kolodynski, parish priest of St Jerome's, Brampton, Ontario. How do I remember him? I remember him as being an amiable, sociable, kind and  naturally good person. He was seen as ordinary, frail, and 'not spectacular.'  We were both ordained with 29 other deacons by the Servant of God, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski on May 28, 1972.

I have known a number of Columbans who have been murdered and others who have been unjustly imprisoned. Father Jan's description of his classmate could be applied, with variations, to them. What I see is the power of God's grace working through ordinary men and women who are sinners but who desire to do his will and give everything for the sake of the Gospel.

Father Jerzy, like Archbishop Romero, knew that his life was in danger. He said, If I must die suddenly, it is surely better to meet death defending a worthwhile cause than sitting back and letting injustice win. He knew that his vocation as a priest was to serve the wider community in its struggle as Church and as a nation for freedom: At this time, when we need so much strength to regain and uphold our freedom, let us pray to God to fill us with the power of His Spirit, to reawaken the spirit of true solidarity in our hearts.


I also came across the video above by RomeReports.com in which director Rafal Wieczynski speaks about his movie Popieluszko: Freedom is within us. The video also contains some clips from the film.

Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko shows the true face of the priest of Jesus Christ, as does Archbishop Oscar Romero. The people of Poland recognized Father Jerzy's holiness long before the Church gave it's official 'stamp' through his beatification. The people of El Salvador and far beyond have also seen the holiness of Archbishop Romero the cause of whose beatification began in 1993 but which stalled in 2008 due to a question as to whether he was assassinated out of hatred for the faith or for political reasons. I don't think that that question was raised in the case of Father Jerzy, though the two situations were very similar. I can't think of a much greater expression of contempt and hatred for the faith than to murder a bishop while he is celebrating Mass in a hospital as was the case with Archbishop Romero.

In the context of the great shame that some bishops and priests have brought on the Church and the enormous damage they have done to its very capacity to carry out its mission, we need to formally recognize the heroic faith of priests like Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko and Archbishop Oscar Romero and to thank God every day for them.

25 October 2010

Fr Michael Sinnott and Columbans featured on Irish Mission Sunday poster

I arrived back in Bacolod City on Saturday night. While travelling I forgot all about World Mission Sunday, observed in Ireland and the USA and other countries yesterday, 24 October. For some reason the Philippines observed it on 17 October.

Only this morning I discovered that the Church in Ireland featured Fr Michael Sinnott and the Columbans in its poster for World Mission Sunday:

The photo on the right was taken, as far as I know, at Hangop Kabataan, the school started ten eyars ago by Fr Sinnott in Pagadian City for children with disabilities, especially those who are deaf or who have learning disabilities and mostg of whom come from very poor families.

In the third photo Fr Sinnott is with some Filipino Columban lay missionaries working in Ireland, reflecting the understaning of mission that came with Vatican ii, namely that the Church in every country should both send and receive.

Fr Sinnott and I happened to be both on the same flight from Dublin to Manila via Abu Dhabi on 14 october, neither of us knowing that the other was travelling till we met at Dublin Airport. Last Saturday he flew from Manila to Ozamiz City where he will be based while keeping an eye on Hangop Kabataan.

Fr Michael Sinnott with children and staff at Hangop Kabataan.

22 October 2010

'O God, be merciful to me a sinner'. 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C, 24 October 2010


New American Bible (Philippines, USA)

Gospel (Luke 18:9-14, NAB)

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.

The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'

I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."


I have often thought that this parable could be read another way: instead of having the pharisee saying 'O God, I thank you that I am not . . . not like this tax collector' we could apply it to ourselves as saying 'O God, I thank you that I am not . . . like this pharisee'. One of the flimsiest excuses that I have heard so often from persons who don't go to Mass anymore is that the church is full of hypocrites and pharisees. We have no idea what goes on in the heart of another, of the inner struggles of another. The Church is for sinners, as the tax collector in the parable realized.

His words perhaps inspired the very ancient prayer known as 'The Jesus Prayer': 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner'. This has come down to us especially through the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church and through the Orthodox Churches. This prayer can be used to draw us into silent prayer, into meditation, saying each phrase as we breathe in and repeating it over and over. I also use it as an Act of Contrition

16 October 2010

'Pray always . . .' 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C, 17 October 2010

I left Dublin on Thursday night to fly back to Manila via Abu Dhabi. It will probably take a day or two to get over jet-lag which hits you more when you're flying for west to east. when you fly from east to west you are essentially going to bed very late when you reach your destination. But when you go the other way you miss a night's sleep and your internal 'clock' is confused.


New American Bible (Philippines, USA)

Jerusalem Bible (Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

Gospel (Luke 18:1-8, NAB)

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, "There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, 'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.'

For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, 'While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.'"

The Lord said, "Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"


I am often astonished when persons who have asked me to pray for them come to me later and thank me for my prayers. I find this especially in the Philippines. It makes me feel humble. I bring all of these intentions into the Mass and into the Liturgy of the Hours (the Breviary or Divine Office) since this is the official prayer of the Church and involves not only me but the whole Church, the angels and saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory and all Christians here on earth. Most of all it is the prayer of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord.

Our personal prayers are powerful too. As I first wrote this the 33 trapped Chilean miners were being rescued. People around the world had been praying for them while the rescuers used their professional knowledge and expertise. Prayer practical efforts, not necessarily by ourselves, go together. For example, when we pray for someone who has to have surgery we can and should include the medical personnel involved in our prayer.

This time last year when my Columban colleague Fr Michael Sinnott was kidnapped in the southern Philippines people around the world were praying for his release, as so many have been praying for the Chilean miners. Among those praying for Father Michael were my young friends in Holy Family Home, Bacolod City, which we have featured a number of times in Misyon, eg, here and here (video). You can see the response of the girls to the release of Father Michael here. On that occasion one of the girls approached me and sai, 'Father, we are the miracle girls'. God had answered her prayers and those of her companions. Their prayers too helped all those involved behind the scenes in obtaining the release of Father Sinnott. The greatest miracle of all was that despite his lack of medicines for a heart condition he suffered no discomfort whatever healthwise. And, of course, his own prayers helped.

While waiting at Dublin airport on Thursday evening for my flight back to Manila via Abu Dhabi a young Filipina approached me and asked me to give her a blessing for a safe journey. She was delighted when I told her I was on the same flight. After blessing her I turned around and there saw Fr Michael Sinnott who was also on the same flight, though I hadn't known. Both he and I were wearing our Roman collars. This led, in my case, to a number of conversations during the trip and while waiting for more than an hour before I reached an immigration officer in Manila, due to the volume of passengers.

One of 'The Miracle Girls'

12 October 2010

A Columban visits 'Camp Hope' in Chile

We hope and pray that the trapped miners in Chile will all be taken safely to the surface during the next few days. Here is an article by Columban Father Alvaro Martinez who visited Camp Hope recently. The article is by courtesy of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand.

Fr Alvaro Martinez

During the rescue effort to free 33 miners in the San José mine near Copiapó in Northern Chile, Columban Fr Alvaro Martinez went to ‘Camp Hope’ with a television crew to do a report for the program, ‘The Paths of the Church’. He said, “We planned to speak with the families of the miners about how their religious faith helped them deal with waiting and hoping for the rescue of the miners.

On the streets of the mining camp, ‘Hope’, one can feel the anxiety of just waiting for the rescue. Each person, relatives and miners, feel the hammering of the machines that break the rock in search of the trapped men. This banging provokes both anxiety and hope. It also creates tension between people, as do a variety of circumstances of this temporary living arrangement. There are 33 families who have come to live in the camp. They live in tents without the conveniences of a town, but they do have running water and toilets. Recently a small school was installed so the miners’ children can continue with their classes. The camp is located 45 kilometres north of Copiapó.” Copiapó is 800 kms North of Santiago, Chile.

In the midst of this tension I felt the harassment from international mass media organisations making offers for an exclusive interview when the miners come out of the earth. Big money provokes people to make a deal with major television chains. I suggested to one family member whom I was interviewing that they be careful about allowing their men being subjected to more stress as they came out of the mine. The response was clear and firm: “We have to get organised to ensure the future”. Tough, but realistic. They are determined to do something about the bad work conditions of miners.

Along with that seething determination to work for greater justice in the workplace, the miners and their families have demonstrated an unbreakable trust in God and the Virgin Mary, giving witness of a living faith to the whole country. They made the idea of trusting in God real as the families and their men organised both above and below ground with daily routines of work and prayer. In the interviews with the families and friends who await the rescue I could feel how their faith was key to sustaining them in the midst of the tensions and anxiety of the ongoing rescue work.

Miguel Valenzuela was one of those who spoke to me. He said, “I’m not one for going to church but the day they told me the children (that is how their family members refer to the trapped miners) were alive I exploded with joy; I gave thanks to God and the Virgin Mary for returning our ‘children’ to us. The miracle that they are alive is half of it; the other half (which has yet to happen) is getting each one of them out alive”.

I asked Alonso Contreras, cousin of Carlos, one of the trapped miners - What happened in the mine? How have those men united and kept themselves going through their faith in God? He told me that there was one miner who is a man of faith and piety, who had been a messenger of hope for all the trapped men. He awakened the desire to look at God in the darkness 700 metres down and find the light of the Risen One. One of the trapped miners did not believe in God, but in one of the first telephone conversations he told his cousin, “I have found God and believe God exists.

These stories move me to share the importance of being a missionary in today’s world. A man of faith proclaimed a message of hope in the face of despair; he was able to see light in the midst of the darkness 700 metres below the earth’s surface. This man’s example urges us to witness our own faith, to offer hope in the face of despair.

Fr Alvaro Martinez SSC has worked in Santiago, Chile for many years.

08 October 2010

'Your faith has saved you': 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C, 10 October 2010

Christ healing a leper, sketch by Rembrandt, drawn c. 1657-1660.


New American Bible (Philippines, USA)

Jerusalem Bible (Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

Gospel (Luke 17:11-19, NAB)

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"

And when he saw them, he said, "Go show yourselves to the priests."

As they were going they were cleansed.

And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.

Jesus said in reply,
"Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"

Then he said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."

When I was in kindergarten in Dublin one of the first holy persons I learned about was Father Damien of Molokai, now St Damien. Sister Stanislaus, the Irish Sister of Charity who was the principal of the boy's kindergarten and who prepared us for our First Holy Communion in 1950, was forever telling us about this great priest.

A few months after my First Holy Communion Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity were formally established. She had spent a few months in Dublin, 1928-29, as a postulant with the Loreto Sisters and it was they who sent her to India where she was a member of that congregation till she got permission to found the Missionaries of Charity.

Both St Damien and Blessed Mother Teresa exemplified very powerfully the mission of Jesus to those who are on the margins of or outside society. Both gave themselves at great cost. For St Damien it was isolation and then finding that he had acquired leprosy. For Blessed Mother Teresa, as we know now, there was deep spiritual anguish. Part of the cost to Jesus himself in today's gospel was the lack of gratitude of nine of the ten whom he had healed and enabled to be fully part of society again.

The Church continues to bring the healing power of Jesus to people who have nothing or who are ostracised.

The gospel too evokes the words of St Paul: 'Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you' (1Thess 5:17) and 'always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father' (Eph 5:20). I remember an incident outside a retreat house in Cebu in the morning of Holy Thursday 1990. A woman and her daughter, aged about 13, asked me for money. I made an excuse that I was only visiting. Later I saw them sitting on the steps of the retreat house, the daughter, clearly tired, with her head on her mother's shoulder. When I was leaving I gave them enough to buy a meal. The girl looked at me with the most beautiful smile I have ever seen and said in Visayan 'Salamat sa Ginoo!' 'Thanks to the Lord!' she wasn't thanking me but inviting me to thank the Lord with her and her mother. This young girl had the same deep sense of gratitude as the Samaritan leper had.

Fr Thomas Rosica CSB writes: 'Thankfulness is much more than saying "Thank you" because we have to. It is a way to experience the world, to perceive and to be surprised. Thankfulness is having open eyes and a short distance between the eyes and the heart. What are the signs of grateful people? Tears are always wiped away from the eyes of those who are thankful. The courage to thank, to see the gifts and experiences of this world all together as a gift, changes not only the person who gains this insight. It also changes the environment, the world, and those who surround that person. Grateful hearts are the hallmark of authentic Christians. Those who possess the virtue of gratitude are truly rich. They not only know how richly they have been blessed, but they continuously remember that all good things come from God.'

You can read the full text of his reflections on the readings for this Sunday here.