31 December 2010

'And Mary kept all these things . . . in her heart.' Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

The Virgin Mary, El Greco, 1590s

Gospel (Luke 2:16-21)

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.

Pope Benedict blessing members of Pueri Cantores (Boys' Choir Association), 30 December 2010

Pope Benedict’s Message for World Day of Peace 2011

Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace

Religious freedom in the world

14. Finally I wish to say a word to the Christian communities suffering from persecution, discrimination, violence and intolerance, particularly in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land, a place chosen and blessed by God. I assure them once more of my paternal affection and prayers, and I ask all those in authority to act promptly to end every injustice against the Christians living in those lands. In the face of present difficulties, may Christ’s followers not lose heart, for witnessing to the Gospel is, and always will be, a sign of contradiction.

Let us take to heart the words of the Lord Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied … Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Mt 5:4-12). Then let us renew “the pledge we give to be forgiving and to pardon when we invoke God’s forgiveness in the Our Father. We ourselves lay down the condition and the extent of the mercy we ask for when we say: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us’ (Mt 6:12)”.[17] Violence is not overcome by violence. May our cries of pain always be accompanied by faith, by hope and by the witness of our love of God. I also express my hope that in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel. May Europe rather be reconciled to its own Christian roots, which are fundamental for understanding its past, present and future role in history; in this way it will come to experience justice, concord and peace by cultivating a sincere dialogue with all peoples.

Full text here.


A Feast Rich in Names, Meaning and Mission

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, DEC. 24, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Jewish Feast of Rosh Hashanah, meaning literally the “beginning of the year,” occurs on the first of the Hebrew month Tishre and inaugurates the solemn Jewish season that concludes with Yom Kippur.

In the Bible, the Jewish New Year Festival is called Day of the Sounding of the Shofar and Memorial of the Blowing of the Shofar (ram's horn). This instrument is designed to sound the alarm of the forthcoming solemn season, to awaken Jewry to prayer and repentance. It serves as a call to remember the historical events that made Israel a people, whether at Mount Sinai or on its entrance into Israel, or on the occasion of the proclamation of the Jubilee year. In Jewish liturgy, this feast also has two other names: Day of Memorial and Day of Judgment. Each of the different names of the festival conveys one of its special characteristics.

Full text here.

The Virgin in Prayer, Sassoferrato, 1640-50

What's in a Name?

Fr Fabian Radcliffe OP

'Holy Mary, Mother of God': we say this whenever we say the Hail Mary. We say it so often that we can easily forget what a strong, startling, even shocking, phrase it is. How can Mary, or any woman for that matter, be literally Mother of God? God has no beginning. It is impossible for a human woman to be Mother of God. It sounds more like pagan myth than Christian doctrine.

But no: it is the Christian and Catholic faith that Mary is Mother of God; so it is necessary to understand it properly. The difficulty is overcome if instead we say that Mary is the 'God-bearer'. This is in fact what the Greek word theotokos means: 'God-bearer', and therefore 'Mother of God', because the one she bears is God. This title had been given her in popular devotion from the second century onwards, and it was confirmed by the Council of Ephesus in AD 431 as a sure way of asserting the full divinity of her Son.

We also hear this phrase in all the Eucharistic Prayers. There it is linked with her title 'Virgin' in such a way that the two tend to be merged into the paradoxical title 'Virgin-Mother'. Mary is indeed both virgin and mother. 'Virgin' expresses the initiative of God and therefore the full divinity of her Son. 'Mother' expresses Mary's full cooperation and therefore also His full humanity.

Full text here. 

28 December 2010

Rachel's Vineyard

Massacre of the Innocents, Guido Reni, 1611

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more" (Mt 2:16-18).

These words end today's gospel for the Feast of the Innocents. St Matthew's text also gives the name to an international ministry that began in the USA some years ago, Rachel's Vineyard. The website carried this message by the founder, Dr Theresa Burke:

Rachel's Vineyard - A Message from our Founder

Dear friend,

I would like to personally welcome you to Rachel's Vineyard! 

If the emotional and spiritual wounds of a past abortion have been sapping faith, love and joy from your life, I can promise, that if you enter this process for healing, your life will begin to change. 
 A journey into Rachel's Vineyard is a gift only you can open your heart to receive.  The spiritual process of reconciliation with yourself, with God and your lost child will truly result in wholeness and freedom and a difference you will be able to feel inside your heart. This healing process will give you a deeper compassion for yourself.  It's also a journey that will give you a new appreciation of your strength and courage.

By traveling a path of healing in Rachel's Vineyard, you will experience an end to isolation, despair and hopelessness. You will have the potential to revisit abandoned goals and dreams, and articulate your truest and deepest desires for your future.

Whatever your fears or hesitations may be, I encourage you to take the steps toward receiving the healing and peace that you deserve.  Rachel's Vineyard provides a tried and true journey that over 100,000 women and men have traveled.  You can be confident that there are wonderful people in Rachel's Vineyard who are ready and eager to accompany you.

You are not alone.  A new chapter of your life awaits you.  Take courage, God is calling you towards peace, love, hope, and freedom.

Dr. Theresa Burke
Founder, Rachel's Vineyard Ministries
As far as I know, Rachel's Vineyard doesn't exist in the Philippines - yet. Though abortion is illegal in the Philippines the evidence is that it is widely practised.

Rachel's Vineyard is active in Ireland, where I got to know a little more about it during my recent home leave. I met the director there just after she had visited the Faroe Islands at the invitation of a mutual friend, Sr Maria Forrestal FMM.
 Bernadette Goulding from Cork, Ireland

The Irish website carries this statement:

Rachel's Vineyard is a safe place to renew, rebuild and redeem hearts broken by abortion.
Healing Weekends offer you a supportive, confidential and non-Judgmental environment where women and men can express, release and reconcile painful post-abortive emotions to begin the process of restoration, renewal and Healing.
Rachel's Vineyard can help you find your inner voice. It can help you experience God's love and compassion on a profound level. It creates a place where men and women can share, often for the first time, their deepest feelings about abortion. You are allowed to dismantle troubling secrets in an environment of emotional and spiritual safety.
Rachel's Vineyard is therapy for the soul. Participants, who have been trapped in anger toward themselves or others, experience forgiveness. Peace is found. Lives are restored. A sense of hope and meaning for the future is finally re-discovered.
Making the decision to attend a Rachel's Vineyard Healing Weekend can  be intimidating.
Fear of the unknown might be making it harder for you to reach out for help with the emotional and spiritual conflict you may be feeling after your abortion, whether your abortion was recent or decades ago.

Most of us at Rachels Vineyard are persons who have walked down the same path as you and have experienced the Healing power through a Rachel's Vineyard Healing Weekend.

The weekends organized by Rachel's Vineyard also welcome men who have been directly affected by abortion. These may be fathers of aborted children who were not consulted or who put pressure on the mother to have an abortion. They may be husbands married to women who have had abortions in a previous relationship and whose marriage is affected by this.

26 December 2010

'Tweetings' of great joy!

Matt in The Daily Telegraph

I don't 'tweet' and I don't have an i-pod but this front-page cartoon from the English broadsheet with the widest circulation shows that the Good News is news!

25 December 2010

'He rose, took the child and his mother . . .' The Holy Family, Year A, 26 December 2010.

The Flight into Egypt, oil on copper, Cigoli, c.1608

Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and the USA)

Gospel (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod had died, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream
to Joseph in Egypt and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel,
for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”
He rose, took the child and his mother,
and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea
in place of his father Herod,
he was afraid to go back there.
And because he had been warned in a dream,
he departed for the region of Galilee.
He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth,
so that what had been spoken through the prophets
might be fulfilled,
He shall be called a Nazorean.


St Joseph is central in the Christmas story as St Matthew tells it. His role is to be the husband of Mary. It is as such that he names Mary’s son and so becomes his legal father (Mt 1:21). It is as husband of Mary that he ‘took the child and his mother by night’ and fled to Egypt. It is as husband of Mary that he ‘took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel’. It was as husband of Mary that ‘he was afraid to go back there’ (Judea) and risk not only his own life but theirs and took them instead to Galilee

The major feast of St Joseph, on 19 March, honors him as ‘Husband of Mary’. I can’t help repeating that the primary vocation of a married couple is to be spouses, not parents. It is as loving spouses that they become loving parents. This was most clearly expressed for me by an 11-year-old boy at a family day of Worldwide Marriage Encounter here in Bacolod City during an activity for the pre-teens. They were asked what they loved most about their parents. He said, ‘What I love most about my parents is that they are always together’.

A wife can fail as a spouse by giving more attention to her children than to their father. Nobody questions the love of a mother. But it can be a temptation. If a husband, who has pledged his life to his wife ‘till death do us part’ feels that he is not any more the most important person in her life he may be more easily tempted to look elsewhere, with tragic consequences for the whole family.

So many married couples in the Philippines, and elsewhere, are separated by the fact that one is working overseas, sometimes both and possibly in different countries. It is vital that they have living and vibrant communication. Modern technology has made that possible in almost every part of the globe. I know one Filipino couple, where the husband is on a scholarship in Japan, who talk every night using their webcams and computers and their children have a chance to see and talk to their father as he sees and talks to them.

Flight into Egypt, Murillo, painted 1655-60.

Biblical Reflection for Dec. 26, Feast of the Holy Family, Year A

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, DEC. 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Today's readings for the Feast of the Holy Family take up the tension between rights and obligations. Our Scripture texts maintain that obligations have primacy over rights. Hence the truly human, genuinely Christian priority is not so much what others can do for me but rather what I can do for others.

Preoccupation with self must be set aside as we cast ourselves in the role of servant rather than served. Serving and selflessness are at the core of authentic family life . . .

. . . Joseph, the "foster-father" of the Lord reveals that fatherhood is more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children. Real fathers and real men are those who communicate paternal strength and compassion. They are men of reason in the midst of conflicting passions; men of conviction who always remain open to genuine dialogue about differences; men who ask nothing of others that they wouldn't risk or suffer themselves. Joseph is a chaste, faithful, hardworking, simple and just man. He reminds us that a family, a home, a community, and a parish are not built on power and possessions but goodness; not on riches and wealth, but on faith, fidelity, purity and mutual love.

Full reflection here.

24 December 2010

'Adeste Fideles' on this 'Holy Night'!

Growing up as a Catholic boy in Dublin I just loved 'Adeste Fideles', which we sang in Holy Family Church, Aughrim Street, during Christmas. I've always loved it as a rousing, manly hymn. John McCormack's version was played every year on the radio coming up to Christmas. And being a 'Good Irish Catholic', I have never warmed to the English version, 'O Come, all ye faithful', which I've always seen as somewhat 'Protestant'. Give me the original Latin anyday!

Andrea Bocelli has the backing of a choir and orchestra here, which the hymn calls for. I found two different videos of Andrea singing this. This one has more of 'the works'. Being Italian, he follows the Roman pronunciation of Latin, which the Church uses, with a soft rather than a hard 'g'.

I'm not familiar with the second and fourth stanzas below. Only the first two stanzas are sung here, with everyone singing the first again after the second.

Adeste Fideles
Laeti triumphantes
Venite, venite in Bethlehem
Natum videte
Regem angelorum
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus

En, grege relicto,
humiles ad cunas,
vocati pastores approperant;
et nos ovanti gradu festinemus.
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus

Cantet nunc io
Chorus angelorum
Cantet nunc aula caelestium
Gloria, gloria
In excelsis Deo
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus

Ergo qui natus
Die hodierna
Jesu, tibi sit gloria
Patris aeterni
Verbum caro factus
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus

I don't remember hearing 'O Holy Night' growing up in Ireland until the early 1960s, when I was in the seminary, when an Irish singer named Tommy Drennan recorded it. But now everyone in Ireland knows it. It is also enormously popular here in the Philippines, though I don't think that this wonderful recording by Leontyne Price - the very best version in my opinion - is known here. If the various stations of RTÉ, the Irish national broadcaster, didn't play this version every December there might be an uprising!

O Holy Night!
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

In Ireland we say 'Happy Christmas!' rather than 'Merry Christmas!' In the language of my ancestors: 'Nollaig shona daoibh!' And in the language of the people among whom I live here in Bacolod City, Philippines: 'Malipayon nga Pascua sa inyo nga tanan!'

20 December 2010

43rd Ordination Anniversary

What does a snowball fight between young Dominican friars have to do with my ordination anniversary? The video was made recently in my native Dublin during the unseasonably wintry weather in late November and early December at St Saviour's, in the heart of Dublin. These young Dominicans studying for the priesthood are living there. The church attached to the priory is one of the best known in the city. My late father, John, used to take me to High Mass there on occasion when I was young. The white habit of the Dominicans was what first stirred my interest in being a priest, when I was six or seven, though I never considered being a Dominican when I began to think seriously about the priesthood when I was 13-14.

The video is from the excellent Irish Dominican Vocations of Fr Gerard Dunne OP, a blog that gives me hope for the Church in Ireland.

The painting is, I think, by Seán O'Sullivan

The Venerable Matt Talbot died just behind the church, in Granby Lane, on 7 June 1925 on his way to Mass in St Saviour's. Sometimes my mother would go into town, as she called the city centre, through Granby Lane and we would stop and say a prayer at the shrine on the spot where Matt collapsed. Today there is a plaque on the wall of a new building in the same place but it lacks something of the expression of faith that the simple shrine was. Matt was an alcoholic who, after giving up drink, lived an extremely ascetic life, similar to that of the monks of ancient Ireland, under spiritual direction, for many years while working as a labourer.
Ordination day 20 December 1967, St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin
With my father, John (+1987), my mother, Mary (+1970) and my brother Paddy.
Two of us are still here in the Philippines. Fr Michael Mohally from Cork city, is in charge of our seminarians from the Philippines and Fiji doing their spiritual formation year, the equivalent of a novitiate in religious orders and congregations, in Manila. We Columbans are not religious. We are secular priests belonging to a 'society of apostolic life'.
Fr Tom O' Reilly from Port Laoise, is now the Regional Director of the Columbans in Britain. He has taught Scripture and worked for some years in Pakistan where Fr Joe Joyce from Tullamore is still serving. He also has been in charge of our spiritual formation year in Chile and once, if my memory is correct, in Manila.
Fr Kieran Moloney from Coleraine is in Fiji while Frs Liam O'Keeffe from Ennistymon, County Clare, and Fr Pádraig Murphy from County Kerry are in Korea.
Fr Pat Raleigh from Limerick city, who worked in the Philippines before being sent to Pakistan in 1979 as one of the pioneers of our mission there, is now the Vice Director of the Columbans in Ireland.
Fr John Brannigan from Dundrum, County Down, is at the Filipino Center, St Columban's Parish, Los Angeles, while Fr John Hickey from County Tipperary, a veterinarian before he became a priest, is now in the Diocese of Clonfert, Ireland, after many years in Mindanao here in the Philippines. Fr Gerard Dunn, a doctor by profession, is in his native Glasgow.
A number of our class have gone to their reward: Fr Jim Doherty and Fr Joe Ruth from Donegal and Fr Morty Kelly from Gort, County Galway. Another died during the summer of 1966 while trying to rescue some cousins from drowning, Jack Walshe from County Sligo.
This year we Columbans, especially his classmates, were all shocked by the sudden death on 18 May of Fr Pat McCaffrey from Tempo, County Fermanagh, in Murree, Pakistan. May they all rest in peace.
Fr Pat McCaffrey

18 December 2010

'You are to name him Jesus.' Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A, 19 December 2010

The Dream of St Joseph, c.1640. Georges de la Tour

Readings (New American Bible, Philippines, USA) l

Gospel (Matthew 1:18-24)

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

Vision of St Joseph, c.1694, marble. Domenico Guidi

The late Scripture scholar Fr Raymond E. Brown SS in his commentary on this passage speaks of Joseph as the legal father of Jesus, since he acknowledges the son of Mary as his own son by naming him. In Jewish law this is what happened. Father Brown prefers the term ‘legal father’ to ‘foster father’ or ‘adoptive father’, even though they are positive expressions.

St Joseph is the person who taught Jesus in his humanity how to grow into manhood. I remember when my late father, whose baptismal names, like my own, were John Joseph and who, like the saint, was a carpenter, visited the Philippines in 1981. He spent most of the time with me in Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, where I was in charge of Paul VI Formation House at the time. The seminarians there were on a spiritual/pastoral formation year. One evening, with some of the parishioners, I visited a family with my father. As we were slowly strolling home, someone pointed out that we were both walking in exactly the same way, with our hands behind our backs. I had never averted to this before but realized that I must have unconsciously learned this from the time I had learned to walk. My father often took me and my younger brother for a stroll on Sunday morning after Mass.

But I learned much more than how to walk on those Sunday mornings. When my brother was still very young and my parents could not attend the same Mass it was my father took me to church while my mother went to a later one. My mother did take me on occasion but it was usually my father.

I also learned from my father what respect for others means by the way he treated my mother, and everyone else, with courtesy. From both my parents I learned to be honest. If I found a coin I was first to try to find out who owned it before I could claim it as my own.

I saw my father go to Mass every day of his life very early in the morning. When my mother was alive he would come home after Mass, prepare my mother’s breakfast and bring it to her in bed, a treat. (For me that is something that happens when you’re sick. I would never dream of asking for breakfast in bed!) He did this even on occasions when relations between them were a little strained, as she always had his dinner ready when he came home for work. This was their way of loving each other, no matter what their day-to-day feelings were. One of the things we learn in Worldwide Marriage Encounter is that ‘Love is a Decision’. It isn’t a feeling, though feelings surround it.

The Church honors St Joseph above all as the Husband of Mary, the title that goes with his major feast day on 19 March. In other words, this was his vocation from God, to be Mary’s husband and, as such, to be the legal father of Jesus. The primary vocation of a married couple is to be spouses to each other. Within that vocation they are usually called to be parents. Being a parent is meant, in God’s plan, to be a consequence of being a spouse. I remember once coming across someone referring to ‘the love of my life’. I thought at first that she meant her husband. No. She meant their only child, a son. I felt sad.

There is no conflict in being a spouse and a parent. But there can be when the fruit becomes more important than the tree. The tree is marriage and the fruit is the children.

Today’s gospel focuses on Joseph’s call to be the legal father of Jesus – as the husband of Mary.

I am eternally grateful to God for the parents he gave me. I am especially grateful to God for my father. When I was young I used to be irritated by stories we read in schoolbooks where the father usually worked in an office. Mine didn’t. He worked with his hands on construction sites, and took great pride in his work, as I’m sure St Joseph did.

I still get annoyed at the stereotype of the mother as being the one who passes on the faith to the children. Both parents are called to do so. In my case my father had the deeper influence. He wasn’t ‘pious’ or demonstrative in the way he lived his faith. He lived it quietly. Last Sunday the disciples of St John the Baptist, on his behalf, asked Jesus if he was really the Messiah. Jesus told them to tell John what they saw: the blind see, the deaf hear and so on. That was the kind of evidence I saw in my father’s life.

Neither he nor my mother ever suggested that I should be a priest. They enabled me to have the best education they could afford and simply asked me when I was near the end of high school what I wanted to be. When I told them I wanted to be a Columban missionary priest they gave me their full blessing.

May St Joseph, Husband of Mary and legal father of Jesus, obtain for every married couple the grace to be loving and faithful spouses above all and, as such, to be loving parents.



Biblical Reflection for 4th Sunday of Advent Year A 

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, DEC. 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we listen attentively to the words of the prophet Isaiah, to the dream of Joseph, and the promise of the eternal God that takes flesh in the womb of the Virgin. The birth of Jesus into human history was the true fulfillment of the hopes and longings, dreams and desires of the people of ancient Israel.

Sign of Isaiah

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah (7:10-14), King Ahaz expresses in a hypocritical way his preference for depending upon the might of Assyria rather than upon God (v 12). The sign proposed by Isaiah (v 14) was concerned with the preservation of Judah in the midst of distress but more especially with the fulfillment of God's earlier promise to David (2 Samuel 7:12-16) in the coming of Emmanuel as the ideal king (cf. Isaiah 9:5-6; 11:1-5).

The Church has always followed Matthew's Gospel story in seeing the fulfillment of this verse (7:14) in Christ and his Virgin Mother. The prophet Isaiah need not have known the full force hidden deep within his own words. Some have sought a preliminary and partial fulfillment in the conception and birth of the future King Hezekiah, whose mother, at the time Isaiah spoke, would have been a young, unmarried woman "almah" in Hebrew. The Holy Spirit was preparing, however, for another birth which would fulfill Emmanuel's mission, and in which the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God was to fulfill the words of this prophesy.

Full text here.

How Inscrutable His Ways

Timothy Gardner OP

In his Letter to the Romans, several chapters after the portion appointed to be read as the second reading today, St Paul waxes lyrical over the utterly mysterious nature of God, 'O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!'

St Matthew, on the other hand, seems to have a rather matter of fact style - 'Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way…' - yet what he goes on to describe is mysterious, the central mystery of the Christian faith: the incarnation.

Full text here.

16 December 2010

Christmas and martyrs

The video above is my Pulong ng Editor, Editor's Word, in the November-December issue of Misyon which I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines. I focused on martyrdom because Christians are being persecuted in many parts of the world today. The most awful incident this year was the attach during Mass on the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad in which 58 died, nearly all of them worshippers and including two young priests.

This morning we began the novena of pre-dawn Masses here in the Philippines in preparation for Christmas. They are known as Misas de Aguinaldo, Misas de Gallo and Simbang Gabi. 'Aguinaldo' is a Spanish word meaning 'goft', in this case the gift of our Catholic faith. 'Misas de Gallo' is the Spanish for 'Masses at cockcrow' while 'Simbang gabi' is Tagalog for 'night worship'.

12 December 2010

Celebration in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico City

Today, 12 December, is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Under that title she is the Minor Patroness of the Philippines, which was originally under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Mexico when the Spaniards first came here in 1521. The feast isn't observed liturgically here this year because it falls on the Third Sunday of Advent. (Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is the Principal Patroness of the Philippines).

The video above is the finale of Las Mañanitas a la Virgen de Guadalupe 2009 celebrated in the basilica in Guadalupe, Mexico City. This is an annual celebration on the feast and, I presume, is celebrated early in the morning, since La Mañanita is an early morning birthday song. It was very popular here in the Philippines when I arrived in 1971 due to the influence of the Cursillo movement. The melody in this final number is the one I remember.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is also the patroness of unborn children and of the pro-life movement.

I don't know whether Las Mañanitas a la Virgen de Guadalupe is a concert or a para-liturgy in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe or a combination of both. Probably the latter. What I noticed in all the videos I looked at is that the singers addressed their songs to the image of the Virgin behind the altar. They didn't face the audience/congregation. In other words, this was an ad orientem (towards the east) celebration, as the Mass almost always was before. The singers don't 'have their backs turned to the people' but honour the Blessed Mother along with the people present, all facing in the same direction.

There is an exuberance about this celebration in Mexico, as there is in much of the worship here in the Philippines. Mary definitely is a Mother who brings us Life - Jesus, God who became Man. May Our Lady of Guadalupe obtain peace for the people of Mexico who are struggling with the evil of the drug wars in parts of their country at present, including Ciudad Juarez on the border of El Paso, USA, in both of which cities Columbans are working.. And may she obtain peace and justice for the people of the Philippines who are under her special care.

11 December 2010

'Go and tell John what you hear and see . . .' Third Sunday of Advent Year A, 12 December 2010

The Preaching of St John the Baptist in the Desert, Massimo Stanzione, c.1634

Readings (New American Bible, Philippines, USA)

Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11)

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

As they were going off,
Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John,
“What did you go out to the desert to see?
A reed swayed by the wind?
Then what did you go out to see?
Someone dressed in fine clothing?
Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces.
Then why did you go out? To see a prophet?
Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
This is the one about whom it is written:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way before you.
Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”


This Sunday a young man from Ozamiz City in the southern Philippines, Rodolfo Christopher Kaamiño IV, will be ordained deacon in Malate Catholic Church, Manila, where the Columbans have been working since 1929 when we first came to the Philippines. The evening before Christopher will take his permanent oath as a member of the Missionary Society of St Columban. We Columbans aren’t religious. We don’t take a vow of poverty but our oath is a commitment to celibacy and to obedience to our superiors.

The gospel has Jesus report back to John the Baptist what they see: ‘the blind regain their sight . . . Chris spent two years in Taiwan as a seminarian on First Mission Assignment. Here is something he wrote about the very down to earth way – using slightly inelegant language – about the way some adults with mental disabilities experienced the love of the same Jesus through him.

Reverend Rodolofo Christopher Kaamiño IV

Friends ask me what I’m doing here in Taiwan. Half-jokingly, ‘Washing asses’ is my frequent reply, and they laugh, thinking I might be joking or that I mean something else. Here is somebody who has studied for four years in graduate school in the USA now washing other people’s asses. It led me to wonder what’s ‘wrong’ with this, probably because it’s a ‘dirty’ job, or because it’s not a ‘classy job’, a ‘sophisticated profession’ such as engineering or accountancy. A friend asked me why I’m doing this. I told him I don’t do it on my own, or else I would have quit a long time ago. I have some help from above.

AiJia Community, Taiwan. Chris on right in white T-shirt.

After being in Taiwan for almost two years, I felt I was an ‘amateur in every field and professional in none’. Probably that's what being a missionary is all about. Being in the ministry for several months now, I feel that I don’t have to be a professional or a rocket scientist to be a minister. I arrived here with ‘professional ideas and concepts’ about mission and ministry learned in school. In ministry here at AiJia these don’t matter much. Mentally challenged adults don’t necessarily need a professional. They need a human companion, somebody who can ‘waste’ time with them.

AiJia core-members ans assistants. Christopher in blue T-shirt

The ministry at AiJia, of course, also requires professional nursing and care-giving and I learned both on the job. Probably it was my willingness and openness that enabled me to also take on those roles. It wasn’t easy. Being an adult, I don’t want to be told what to do. Yet being a ‘tongue-tied’ foreigner, I depended much on others in the ministry. In AiJia a professional nurse, caregiver or social worker may efficiently take care of the physical needs of mentally challenged adults but not necessarily of their human needs. It has been my continuous struggle in the ministry to provide the people here with professional care and at the same time to be a human companion to them.

Most of the first followers of Jesus knew only of one trade, and that was to fish. These disciples could have remained professional fishermen and serve the hunger of the people by providing them with fish. But Jesus invited them to a whole new level of fishing, to ‘fish’ for people, a whole new field beyond their professional expertise. It required less of their professional skills but more of their hearts and minds. A tall order, but they were willing and trusting. Despite their being slow to understand, Jesus patiently journeyed with them as they continued ‘fishing’ for people.

AiJia members after performing in a cheering-squad contest. Chris in blue T-shirt.

Like the first disciples, I too am slow to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Yet I continue this journey in trust and with help from above. We missionaries try to put some flesh on God’s love in this world. Each does it in different ways depending upon the different gifts each has been given. One can be a professional when the situation calls for such. But most of the time, people need a human companion, somebody who is willing to go the extra mile with them.

Article, slightly edited, and photos from Columban Vocations Website, Philippines.


The Highway of Holiness Passes Through the Desert

Biblical Reflection for 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A
By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, DEC. 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In his moving homily for the Inauguration of his Petrine Ministry as Bishop of Rome on April 24, 2005, Benedict XVI spoke these words: "The pastor must be inspired by Christ's holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert."

He continued: "And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God's darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life.

"The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth's treasures no longer serve to build God's garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. [...]

"The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, toward the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, toward the One who gives us life, and life in abundance."

There is no better starting point to understand the Scripture readings for the third Sunday of Advent, especially today's first reading from the prophet Isaiah (35:1-10), than by reflecting on Benedict XVI's words. The themes of geography and desert in both the Pope's inaugural homily and Isaiah's stirring reading invite us to reflect on the deserts of our own lives. How do we live in the midst of our own deserts? How often have we become deserts of loneliness, desolation and emptiness, rather than flourishing gardens of community, joy and light for others? How have we resisted transforming our own deserts into places of abundant life? We may have to go into that wilderness where we realize we are lost, and alone, unfruitful and without resources - and only when we reach that point are we ready to meet God.

Full article here.

10 December 2010

Prayers urgently asked again for young Mikko

Mikko with his mother, Gee-Gee
Three months ago I asked your prayers for young Mikko, now three-and-a-half, who was in the ICU near Atlanta, Georgia. I got an email today from his father Miggy and his mother Gee-Gee who was my assistant editor before at http://www.misyononline.com/ before she married, telling me that her son in in the ICU once again. Here is part of their email:

Please keep Mikko in your prayers. We had to call 911 on Tuesday at around 2pm. Mikko's temperature dropped to 28 degrees celsius (37 is normal) and he was still desatting even with 4 liters per minute (LPM) of oxygen support ('Desatting' is a word I hadn't heard before. It has to do with the level of saturation of oxygen in the blood's haemoglobin). Normally he would be okay with 0.5-2 LPM. The nurses at the ER said that Mikko's toes were beginning to turn blue when they took off his socks at the ER.

Yesterday afternoon he was retracting (having difficulty in breathing. Again, a term I wasn't familiar with). for 2 hours. We made the difficult decision of letting the doctors intubate (putting a flexible plastic tube into the trachea to enable breathing) him. But thank God we didn't have to do the intubation. When the team was getting ready, Mikko started to relax. What a big relief! His pulmonologist explained that there is a possibility that when they intubate him, he'll be on a ventilator for life which translates to having a tracheostomy. Today Mikko had difficulty breathing again around noon. But as of this time, he's sleeping.

Mikko's condition is worse than the last time he was here in the hospital. His condition is up and down right now. So far, he is not yet out of the woods yet, so he could still get intubated. He's on 15 LPM of oxygen today. They were pushing 25 LPM of oxygen into him yesterday afternoon, when the doctors thought of intubating him.

We are afraid of the outcome of this hospitalization. We are more worried now as his condition had never been up and down before. Usually, he'd get worse, but when he'd get better, it would go all the way quickly. But now, it seems like he gets a little better, then takes a turn for the worse again.

The doctors are talking to us already about "Quality of Life" again -- that we have to start thinking about it for Mikko. The last time they talked to us about that was when he was just a day old and they were predicting his death.

We are afraid, but still hopeful that Mikko will overcome this challenge once again, as he's done before.

08 December 2010

New video shows Chile’s defense of life doesn’t stop with trapped miners

Chile, the Miners, and Respect for Life from Dan Zeidler on Vimeo.

I found the video above on LifeSiteNews.com. It points out towards the end that Chile has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the whole of Latin America. Here is the full story by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman:

CARACAS, December 7, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A new video produced by the pro-life Latin American Alliance for the Family (ALAFA) shows that the Chilean government’s commitment to the value of human life doesn’t stop with miners trapped underground, but also extends to the unborn.

The two-part video depicts the devotion of Chilean president Sebastian Piñera to the rescue effort for the 33 trapped miners. The president had waited outside the mine to receive every one of the miners as they were lifted to safety through a narrow shaft that had taken months to dig. The video then shows new advertising spots sponsored by the Chilean government, reminding Chileans that their unborn child “hears and experiences the world” just as they do.

In the commercials one expectant mother listens to music, while another spends time with her husband; the unborn child in then seen in his mother’s womb, responding and even interacting with those outside.

“My child hears and experiences the world just as I do. We’re connected!” the mother says in a voice-over. An announcer says, “An invitation from the government to protect children.”

Dan Zeidler, the ALAFA’s U.S. representative, notes that President Piñera’s devotion to human life, reflected in his relentless commitment to save the miners, has been evident in his pro-life politics as well.

“Chile’s new president, Sebastián Piñera, expressed a strong position against abortion during his campaign, and during his May 21st presidential speech to the nation, he announced a new government program called ‘Committed to Life’ to offer help to pregnant women to carry their babies to term.”

“The government of Chile has also made strong declarations at recent UN meetings explaining that Chile is a pro-life country, and will not accept abortion,” Zeidler added.

06 December 2010

A new perspective, from the Faroe Islands, on 'The CATechism' - and something more serious

I believe that when God created the first cat He smiled. The photo above brought more than a smile to my face. It made me laugh. I found it in the Facebook account of my friend Sr Maria Forrestal FMM in the Faroe Islands. She is from County Wexford, Ireland, Through her I spent six or seven weeks in the Faroes in the summer of 2000. There's no permanent priest there. The Faroes come under the Diocese of Copenhagen, which includes all of Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, probably the only diocese in the world now that covers three countries in two continents.

Here are Sister Maria's own words to accompany the photo: Hehe, naughty but nice! Must confess to having "borrowed" the photo from another profile... There is a play of words.The title of the book the cat is "reading" is a send up of a book called "The God Delusion" by English evolutionary biologist and atheist, Richard Dawkins. He argues that God is a delusion. So here we have God spelt backwards (dog) and a cat being "persuaded" that dogs don´t exist!!! We know the answer to that one.

This reminds me of the then eleven-year-old son of one of my closest friends in Dublin who asked me if I had heard about the dyslexic, insomniac agnostic. I hadn't. My young friend informed me that he had spent the whole night awake wondering if there was a dog.

Sister Maria works through art. She conducted days on Art and Prayer on 13 and 20 November. Here is how she describes the experience:

A day during which participants relax in silence,
reflect and meditate on their lives in the light of the Word of God,
enjoy the beauty of nature in the nearby park
and the beauty of the architecture in Mariukirkjan,
discover and explore their creative talents,
share their experience together,
get to know each other
and enjoy some good food!

Here is the image, painted by Sister Maria, which inspired the day:

John 1:4-5

The Church and Sisters' convent in Torshavn, Faroes

You can get a brief history of the Church in the Faroes here with links to the many interesting pages, in English, Danish and Faroese, on the website of the Church there. One of the most interesting is FOCUS ON "FORBIDDEN GRIEF" (RACHEL´S VINEYARD) IN MARIUKIRKJAN Sunday, 3rd. October.

Sr Maria (right) introducing Mrs Bernadette Goulding of Rachel's Vineyard, Ireland, in the Faroes.

When I was at home in Dublin a while back I had a long chat with Fr Laurence Kettle OFMCap, who grew up there who told me about Bernadette the day before he returned to Seoul. I contacted her and when it was possible for me to visit her in Cork, where she lives, I discovered she was in the Faroes at the invitation of Sister Maria. Bernadette and I met for lunch the day after she returned. I don't know yet where all of this is leading.

Bernadette gave me Forbidden Grief, which I'm reading at the moment. There is a review of the book, with many links, on the website of the Church in the Faroes here.

I had no idea that the feline philosopher/theologian at the top would lead me here. This post is all over the place, in more senses than one - but that is how life is.

04 December 2010

'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!' Second Sunday of Advent Year A, 5 December 2010

St John the Baptist, El Greco, painted 1577-79

Readings (New American Bible, Philippines, USA)   

Gospel (Matthew 3:1-12)

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:

A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’

For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”


Advent is a time of preparation for the Lord’s coming: the celebration of his birth, his first coming, his return in glory at the end of time, his second coming, and his daily coming into our lives, at every moment, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

One specific way to prepare is to repent of our sins. The most specific means for that, given us by Jesus himself through the Church, is the sacrament of confession/repentance//reconciliation. I know that there are churches where a priest is available almost around the clock and many avail of the opportunity to confess. There are far more churches where it is very difficult to find a priest available for confession. But my own experience is mixed. I do make myself available frequently – at least twice a week for an hour before Mass - in the church where I celebrate Mass on weekdays. A few may come each week, though I know that some may confess elsewhere. In the home for girls where I usually celebrate Sunday Mass they will sometimes ask me when I will be available.

Fr Francis Vernon Douglas

The Redemptorists in the Philippines have a wonderful record of availability for confession, especially on Wednesdays when the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is celebrated in their churches. I think of three Columban priests, now deceuased, who used to spend hours in the confessional each day, St John Mary Vianney-like, in the Cathedral in Cagayan de Oro during their ‘retirement’ years: Fr Frank Chapman from Australia, Fr Jim Moynihan from New Zealand, and Fr John Meaney from Ireland. I think of another Columban from New Zealand, Fr Francis Vernon Douglas, scourged and killed by Japanese soldiers in Paete, Rizal, in July 1943, quite possibily because he would not break the seal of confession.

St James the Apostle Church, Paete, Laguna where Fr Douglas was scourged before being killed.
However, I find that even in times such as Advent and Lent people seem to be very slow to take the opportunity to confess. I sometimes ask myself if many consider themselves saints. I’m aware too that embarrassment may be a factor sometimes.

It’s not always that easy for a priest to find a confessor. This year I have been blessed with many opportunities to confess and I’m well aware of the need.

Confession is an expression of God’s tender love for us as sinners.



Biblical Reflection for 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB http://www.zenit.org/article-31120?l=english

TORONTO, NOV. 30, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In today's Scripture readings, two of the three outstanding Advent guides (Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary) show us the proper attitude to assume as we prepare to welcome the Savior of the world.

First there is Isaiah, the prophet of consolation and singer of hope. The idyllic reading from the prophet Isaiah (11:1-10) speaks of a shoot that will sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom (v 1). This is a reference to the fact that after the Babylonian Exile only a stump of the Davidic dynasty would remain; from it would arise the new shoot, the messianic King. In verses 2-3 we have the source of the traditional names of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

An image of the idyllic harmony of paradise (vv 6-9) is a dramatic symbol of the universal peace and justice of messianic times. Throughout this season of Advent, Isaiah proclaims a true and proper Gospel for the people of Israel, enslaved in Babylon, and urges them to remain vigilant in prayer, to recognize "the signs" of the coming of the Messiah.

You may read the full text here.