28 July 2011

'They all ate as much as they wanted.' Sunday Reflections, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 31 July 2011

Readings (NAB: Philippines, USA) 

Gospel, Matthew14:13-21 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

When Jesus received this news he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But the people heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick.

When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, 'This is a lonely place, and the time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food'. Jesus replied, 'There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves'. But they answered 'All we have with us is five loaves and two fish'. 'Bring them here to me' he said. He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining; twelve baskets full. Those who ate numbered about five thousand men, to say nothing of women and children.

Soiscéal, Matha 14:13-21 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin nuair a chuala Íosa faoi bhás Eoin, , chuaigh sé i leataobh as sin i mbád go dtí áit uaigneach ar leithligh. Ach fuair na sluaite scéala air, agus tháinig siad amach as na cathracha á leanúint dá gcois. Ar theacht i dtír dó, chonaic sé slua mór agus ghlac sé trua dóibh agus leigheas na hothair a bhí leo.

Nuair a bhí an tráthnóna ann, áfach, tháinig na deisceabail chuige agus dúirt siad: “Áit uaigneach é seo agus tá sé deireanach feasta. Mar sin, scaoil uait na sluaite go dtéidís isteach sna bailte agus bia a cheannach dóibh féin.” Ach dúirt Íosa leo: “Ní gá dóibh imeacht; tugaigí sibhse rud le hithe dóibh.” “Ach,” ar siadsan leis, “níl anseo againne ach cúig builíní agus dhá iasc.” “Tugaigí chugam anseo iad,” ar seisean. D’ordaigh sé do na sluaite luí fúthu ar an bhféar; thóg sé na cúig builíní agus an dá iasc, agus, ar dhearcadh suas chun na bhflaitheas dó, bheannaigh, bhris, agus thug na builíní do na deisceabail, agus thug na deisceabail do na sluaite iad. D’ith siad uile agus bhí siad sách, agus thóg siad suas an bruscar fuílligh, lán dhá chiseán déag. Timpeall cúig mhíle fear a fuair an béile, gan mná ná páistí a áireamh.

During my seminary years in the 1960s I sometimes came across this statement - though never from any of my teachers: 'You can't preach the Gospel to an empty stomach'. Today's gospel tells us clearly that Jesus took pity on those who had followed him that day, even though he needed time to be alone to come to terms with the news he had just received of the murder of his cousin John the Baptist. He then fed five thousand men, 'to say nothing of women and children' with the help of the apostles. In the very act of feeding all these people and healing the sick among them Jesus was bringing the Good News to them.

The Gospel isn't something separated from our lives. It is God's love experienced and shared. In my most recent post, 'Feed my sheep' fine - but 'feed my cat'?, I shared the charming story of Bishop-elect Thomas Dowd of Montreal who was once asked as a matter of urgency by a patient in the hospital where he was working to feed his cat. Father Dowd doesn't tell us anything about the man's faith but he saw the priest as a person who would do this act of kindness for him. That was his pressing need at that moment.

The pressing need of the vast throng that had followed him was for something to eat. There is a lovely detail in St Mark's version of the raising of the daughter of Jairus. While everyone is rejoicing at her having come to life Jesus, surely with a smile on his face, is aware of the pressing need of the 12-year-old who had just come through a deadly illness. He says, 'Give her something to eat' Mk 5:43).

St John, in his version of this event, one of very few to appear in the four gospels, has Jesus speaking about the Eucharist. As this gospel is read to us in this in the liturgy of the Word we are drawn to to thank God for the gift of himself that he offers us in every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. do we really believe that it is Jesus the Risen Lord whom we receive in Holy Communion? Do we really believe that we are receving the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, as so many of us learned in the catechism when we were children? Do we really believe that the same Jesus who fed the thousands, with only five loaves and two fish, and the help of the apostles, is now giving himself to us as the Bread of Life?

In 1993 when I was parish priest in the relatively remote province of Surigao del Sur on the east coast of Mindanao a six-year-old boy was brought to the local government hospital on the verge of death from starvation. He was being taken care of by his 11-year-old sister, not by an adult. I discovered that their mother was dead and the siblings had been divided up among relatives. Fortunately, the boy slowly recovered and I was able to get the children into an SOS Children's Village where they grew up and were well taken care of. But I'll never forget one day when the boy's sister, who had missed some years in school, came to visit me and, pointing at Somalia on a world map on the wall said, 'There are many children like my brother there'. Very few in the parish even knew where Somalia was but this girl from an utterly deprived background made the connection between here brother and children suffering from the famine in that country at that time.

Sadly, famine once again has hit that troubled land. The gospel today and our receiving the Bread of Life in Holy Communion calls us to make a similar connection between Jesus the Bread of Life whom we receive, Jesus who fed the thousands, and the needs of those who are hungry anywhere, whether it is for food so that can they simply live or for some other expression of God's love for them.

May I ask you to continue to pray for all the members of the Church in Ireland, which is going through a grave crisis. The next International Eucharistic Congress is scheduled to be held in Dublin next year. Irish missionaries have brought the faith to every continent, have brought the Bread of Life, Who prepares us for the Eternal Banquet to which He invites each one. The people of Ireland now need the prayers of those who have received the gift of the Faith and the gift of the Bread of Life through Irish missionaries. May the Eucharistic Congress be a true moment of grace for the Irish Church.

27 July 2011

'Feed my sheep' fine - but 'feed my cat'?

Tigresa and Whitey, two of my three cats

As a priest who loves cats I couldn't resist this story from the blog of Bishop-elect Thomas Dowd, soon to be auxiliary bishop of Montreal. I'm simply and shamelessly copying and pasting from his blog, Waiting in Joyful Hope. I don't know if he's distantly related to me. My maternal grandmother was Annie Dowd from County Meath, the 'Royal County'.

Post for July 25, 2011

Christopher Curtis, in his recent article on me in the Montreal Gazette, includes this quote: “The job can be a lot of things. When I worked for a hospital, I was on call and you would get everything from a multiple victim car accident to a guy who is sick and needs you to feed his cat.”

In case you were wondering about the reference to a cat, it is from an incident that took place on March 7, 2006. My older posts are still in archives for the moment, but I thought I’d fish this one out and repost it (with just a bit of editing to help it make sense). Enjoy!

I was sick, and you visited me fed my cat

Today I got a call on my pager, 15 minutes before I was going to leave the hospital to teach downtown. Calling the ward desk, I was told that a patient wanted to see me. Could it wait till tomorrow, I inquired? No, it was urgent, was the response. OK, then, I headed downstairs right away.

The nurse let me to the patient’s room. He was quite upset to be stuck in the hospital. I asked him what he wanted to talk about, and it turned out he didn’t want to talk about anything. He wanted me to feed his cat.

Excuse me?

It turns out that this unfortunate gentleman really has nobody here in the city to help him, and by now his cat was 4 or 5 days without food. He did not remember the number of the superintendent of his building, either, so he had nobody to call. Could I head over to his apartment and explain things to the super, and maybe be let in to feed that cat?

Well, this sure wasn’t part of the job description. Running through my head were the words of advice I had received time and time again: “Don’t try and rescue everybody out there! You have to distinguish between what is essential, and what is merely important! There is only one Saviour, and you are not him!”

But on the other hand, this situation involved a starving cat. And I’m a cat person, so I felt for the poor thing. So I said ok, with a rolling of my eyes towards the Lord, who by now (I am sure) was having another one of his divine belly laughs.

Things, it turned out, were not as simple as all that. The super is new there, just recently moved to Canada from Romania, and he could not find the proper key. So it was back to the hospital to get the key (and permission to use it, witnessed by a staff member), until I finally managed to get in the door and feed the poor cat. Boy, was he happy to see me!

It turns out that there is actually a deeper lesson in all of this. At one point, as I was heading back to the hospital, I asked the Lord what the point of all this was. And the Lord answered, in one of those moments of clarity that you just know is a divine response. “Tom,” He said, “if I had asked you to do something extravagently important for this man, something heroic, you would have done it without question. Yet now, when I ask you to merely show him a very simple kindness, you are full of doubts and questions and annoyance. Does that make sense?”

“He who is faithful in small things shows himself worthy to be trusted with greater things. It’s not the big things that count, but the little things, done with great love.”

So I fed his pet, and even pet it for awhile. I also took care of a couple of other things for the man (returned some rented DVDs, etc.) Tomorrow I will see him again, and I’ll talk with the doctor/social worker/whoever about the need to help him put some structure in his life. I know I can’t take all this on as some sort of long-term responsibility — but in the meantime, I can at least feed the cat.

Bishop-elect Thomas Dowd of Montreal, soon to be the youngest bishop in Canada and the second youngest in the world. The article in the Montreal Gazette referred to above, Montreal Blogfather Thomas Dowd ready to be bishop, shows clearly how a bishop or priest can use the internet in the service of the Gospel. It seems that Father Dowd was the first Canadian priest to blog.

Lifesite news sees hope in three recent episcopal appointments in Quebec.

Please pray for Bishop-elect Dowd and for a renewal of the faith in Quebec.

24 July 2011

Lament for the young Norwegians slain on Friday

Altar of Oslo Domkirke (Oslo Lutheran Cathedral)

Above is the altar of Oslo Domkirke where a special service was held this morning for all who were killed last Friday in Norway. The vast majority of the more than 90 slain were young people.

Here is a video of Grex Vocalis, a Norwegian choir under the direction of Carl Høgset, singing When David Heard that Absalom was Slain, music by Thomas Weelkes (1573-1623).

When David heard that Absalom was slain he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, and thus he said; My son, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!

Based on 2 Samuel 18:33, Authorized Version (King James Bible): And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

Jesus himself would be reported by many today to the police

Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolaes Maes, 1652-53

'It is hard going out on the altar these days after Cloyne and Enda Kenny clearly has read the national mood re Vatican etc . . .' In an email from a friend who is a parish priest in Dublin and is much younger than I am.

Three bishops have come out in support of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny's speech in the Dáil (Irish parliament) last Wednesday. Patsy McGarry quotes the bishops in an article in yesterday's Irish Times, Kenny reflected anger, says bishop. Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, which includes Belfast and is the second largest diocese in Ireland in terms of general and Catholic population, though Catholics are in a minority, said the Taoiseach had 'accurately reflected the dismay and anger felt by many, many Catholics in Ireland'. He was further quoted as saying he was 'shocked and devastated by the content of the Cloyne report and by the failure to implement the basic national guidelines imposed by the church within that diocese. Let me state once again that the protection of and care for our children is our absolute priority. The events described in the Cloyne report simply should not have happened'.

Mr McGarry's article quotes Bishop John McAreavy of Dromore who said that the Taoiseach's address  'accurately reflects the deep anger of the people of Ireland at the contents of the Cloyne report and underlines the huge challenges ahead for the Catholic Church as a whole'.

Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Clifford of Armagh is quoted as saying  that while he was 'taken aback at the force and wide sweeping nature of the Taoiseach’s address in the Dáil' he acknowledged 'the reason for the intensity of feeling expressed given the awful findings of the report'.

Whether it has any significance or not I don't know but the Diocese of Down and Connor and the Diocese of Dromore are the only two of Ireland's 26 that are totally within Northern Ireland, over which Mr Kenny's government has no jurisdiction, while Armagh is one of a number that is partly in Northern Ireland and partly in the Irish Republic.

Kathy Sheridan wrote in yesterday's Irish Times about how the Cloyne Report has affected priests in Ireland, The fearful Fathers. The article begins, Angry, isolated, paranoid and ageing, many of Ireland’s ‘ordinary’ Catholic priests feel failed and abandoned by the church hierarchy. But where were the ‘good priests’ when they were needed? Ms Sheridan quotes Fr Brendan Hoban of Ballina, one of the leaders of the Association of Catholic Priests, which has about 500 members, about ten percent of the country's priests, presenting a pastoral dilemma: 'A woman comes to the door who may have psychiatric problems . . . What do I do? Take a chance by letting her into my front room? There is no doubt that priests have withdrawn, that they’ve become ultracareful and ultrasensitive on how they might be compromised'. Irish parishes, unlike those in the USA and the Philippines, for example, don't usually have an office. Priests meet people in their presbytery.

I'm not sure how fair Kathy Sheridan's question is: But where were the ‘good priests’ when they were needed? I was ordained in December 1967. I know that we must have touched on the question of the abuse of children in moral theology classes in the seminary but it was never part of my experience or awareness until the 1980s when reports about abuse by priests began to emerge from North America. I had never heard a whisper of it growing up in Ireland. I remember reading Irish author Walter Macken's novel published in 1962, The Silent People, set in the time of the Great Famine in Ireland of the 1840s, where a pre-adolescent girl is abused by a neighbour and the horror when this was discovered. As a child I remember clearly the canonisation of St Maria Goretti in 1950. I'm not sure to what extent I really understood what she went through.

One of the great joys in my life is my involvement with a home for girls here in Bacolod City, Philippines, where most of the girls have experienced abuse, mainly from family members or close relatives. This morning I celebrated Mass there followed by a simple celebratory lunch in gratitude to God for a group who recently passed the Social Work Licensure Examination. One was Sr Jenemer Torio TC, Director of Holy Family Home. Three others were young women who have been in the home for some years. One of them, Richelle Verdeprado, came second in the Philippines. Her background is simply one of poverty and she is now employed by an NGO in Manila that is fighting the trafficking of women.  I am conscious that the sense of joy I find there would not be possible in the Ireland of today or in North America or in other English-speaking countries.

The appalling reality is that Jesus himself would be reported by many today to the police: 'Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.' And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them (Mark 10:15-16).

22 July 2011

'The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.' Sunday Reflections, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 24 July 2011

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, c.1665

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 13:44-52 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

'The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.

'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea that brings in a haul of all kinds. When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in a basket and throw away those that are no use. This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the just to throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.

'Have you understood all this?' They said, 'Yes'. And he said to them, 'Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old'.

Soiscéal, Matha 13:44-52 (Gaeilge, Irish)
San am sin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail: “Is cosúil ríocht na bhflaitheas le stór a bhí i bhfolach i ngort, agus an fear a d’aimsigh é d’fholaigh, gur imigh le barr áthais ag díol a raibh aige gur cheannaigh an gort sin.

“Nó fós, is cosúil ríocht na bhflaitheas le ceannaí a bhí ag lorg péarlaí breátha. Tharla aon phéarla amháin leis a bhí róluachmhar, agus d’imigh agus dhíol a raibh aige gur cheannaigh sé é.

“Nó fós, is cosúil ríocht na bhflaitheas le heangach a cuireadh san fharraige agus a ghabh gach uile shórt. Ar bheith lán di, tharraing siad aníos ar an gcladach í, shuigh siad síos ansin ag cnuasach gach tairbhe i soithí agus ag caitheamh na dramhaíola uathu. Sin mar a bheidh i ndeireadh an tsaoil: rachaidh na haingil amach agus scarfaidh siad na drochdhaoine ó na fíréin agus teilgfidh siad san fhoirnéis tine iad. Is ann a bheidh gol agus díoscán fiacla.

“Ar thuig sibh na nithe sin uile?” “Thuigeamar,” ar siad leis. Dúirt sé leo: “Sin an fáth, gach scríobhaí a bhíonn ina dheisceabal de ríocht na bhflaitheas, gur cosúil é le fear tí a thógann amach as a stór nithe nua agus sean.”

Ag Críost an síol

Ag Críost an síol, ag Críost an fómhar;
in iothlainn Dé go dtugtar sinn.

Ag Críost an mhuir, ag Críost an t-iasc;
i líonta Dé go gcastar sinn.

Ó fhás go haois, ó aois go bás,
do dhá láimh, a Chríost, anall tharainn.

Ó bhás go críoch nach críoch ach athfhás,
i bParthas na ngrás go rabhaimid.

(Translation by Thomas Kinsella)

To Christ the seed, to Christ the crop,
in barn of Christ may we be brought.

To Christ the sea, to Christ the fish,
in nets of Christ may we be caught.

From growth to age, from age to death,
Thy two arms here, O Christ, about us.

From death to end — not end but growth,
in blessed Paradise may we be.

Fifty years ago the Church in Ireland observed a Patrician Year, to observe the 1,500th anniversary of the death of St Patrick in 461. He first came to Ireland as a kidnapped 16-year-old and managed to escape after six years. He came back years later as a missionary bishop, in answer to a clear call from God.
In the summer of 1961 the Archdiocese of Dublin held a special congress. In the foreword to a booklet, St Patrick's Achievement, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid wrote, The Dublin Congress of the Patrician Year has one purpose: to express to God our gratitude for the gift of the Faith . . . It is by a singular grace of God that we have been enabled to retain the Faith throughout the centuries.

When I entered the Columban seminary in Ireland that year there were more than 190 studying there for the missionary priesthood. Many other seminaries in Ireland had similar numbers.Today the Columban seminary and all but one of the others are closed. The Church is reviled by some and seen as irrelevant by many others, especially young people. There are many reasons for this. One is the failure of Church authorities to the abuse of children and adolescents by a small number of priests. I would say that the vast majority of people, including priests, were unaware of anything of this kind until it began to come to light in North America in the 1980s and in more recent years in Ireland. But there is a perception that even now some Church leaders are not prepared to take the necessary steps to punish those involved and to make sure it never happens again.

The first two parables tell us what someone is ready to pay when he discovers a treasure. Vermeer's painting shows us why a person would want to own a precious pearl, not to hide it away but to use it to enhance the beauty of a human being made in God's image.

But sometimes we can sell the field with the treasure or the pearls for a pittance, with utter disregard for the value of what we are throwing away. There is much historical evidence of whole communities losing the gift of the Faith, for whatever reason. The whole of Saharan Africa is one example. Modern Europe is another. Quebec in Canada and Ireland are two very recent examples of places where the faith has to a large extent ceased to be a factor or a formative influence in the lives of people.

As a missionary in the Philippines I have a fear that what has happened in my own country since I came here 40 years ago may happen here too. When I left Ireland bishops were still very powerful figures of whom politicians were afraid. We boasted of our 'Spiritual Empire'. There was some truth in that and there was a sense of gratitude to God too. There was enormous growth in the missionary dimension of the Church in Ireland in the first two/thirds of the last century.Churches were packed every Sunday and, at least in Dublin where I grew up, on weekdays during Lent.

Perhaps the boasting about our 'Spiritual Empire' led to hubris and a lack of gratitude for the precious pearl of the Faith that St Patrick had, through God's grace, brought to us.

In recent weeks the bishops and the State in the Philippines have been at odds over vehicles given to seven dioceses by the Philippines Charity Sweepstakes Office, a government agency. While the bishops concerned have all returned the vehicles and were treated with deference when they appeared before a Senate committee you have to ask if they have lost much of their moral authority. The Philippine bishops are at odds with the government over proposed Reproductive Health legislation, aspects of which are contrary to the Church's teaching. Will people listen to them if they perceive that some of them have been too cozy with politicians?

Like last week, there is a sting in the tail of one of the short parables. The net catches some fish that are of no use. These will be thrown out. Jesus is reminding us that it is possible for us to reject him.

The Irish hymn above prays, 'i líonta Dé go gcastar sinn - in nets of Christ may we be caught'. Will I be among the fish put in a basket or will I be thrown back into the sea as useless? Will my community be among the fish put in a basket or will we be thrown back into the sea as useless?

If we constantly express to God our gratitude for the gift of the Faith  and remember that It is by a singular grace of God that we have been enabled to retain the Faith throughout the centuries I don't think we have need to fear.

21 July 2011

'Today, that Church needs to be a penitent Church'

In the Dáil (Irish parliament) yesterday Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny made a blistering attack on the Vatican during a debate on the recently issued Cloyne Report that criticised former Bishop John Magee and his Vicar General Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan for the way they handled allegations about the abuse of children by priests of the diocese.

In his speech the Taoiseach spoke of some of the effects of clericalism: Clericalism has rendered some of Ireland’s brightest, most privileged and powerful men, either unwilling or unable to address the horrors cited in the Ryan and Murphy Reports. This Roman Clericalism must be devastating for good priests.... some of them old... others struggling to keep their humanity....even their sanity........as they work so hard.....to be the keepers of the Church’s light and goodness within their parishes...... communities... the human heart.

Mr Kenny identified himself as a practising Catholic - and he grew up in County Mayo in the west of Ireland, a place where the Catholic faith was particularly strong and that produced such figures as Fr John Blowick, co-founder of the Columbans: As a practising Catholic, I don’t say any of this easily. Growing up, many of us in here learned we were part of a pilgrim Church. Today, that Church needs to be a penitent Church. A church, truly and deeply penitent for the horrors it perpetrated, hid and denied. In the name of God. But for the good of the institution.

The Prime Minister spoke of the supremacy of the law of the State: Where the law - their law - as citizens of this country, will always supercede canon laws that have neither legitimacy nor place in the affairs of this country.

Both the Cloyne Report and the Dublin Report criticise bishops for not having implemented canon law. If they had held canonical trials for priests accused of abusing minors quite probably much subsequent suffering would have been averted. And there is no intrinsic conflict between the law of the state and canon law. The state can put a priest in prison but cannot laicise him. The Church can do the latter, as it has done in many instances.

Mr Kenny acknowledged what the Church has been doing: I must note the Commission is very positive about the work of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, established by the Church to oversee the operation by Dioceses and religious orders. The Commission notes that all Church authorities were required to sign a contract with the National Board agreeing to implement the relevant standards and that those refusing to sign would be named in the Board’s Annual Report. Progress has been in no small measure to the commitment of Ian Elliott and others. [Note: Ian Elliott, appointed by the Irish bishops, is a Presbyterian.]

He also acknowledged the failure of the State in some instances: Just last week we saw a case of the torture of children, within the family, come before the courts. Just two days ago, we were repulsed by the case of a Donegal registered sex offender…and school caretaker

Full text of speech. A video of the Taoiseach's speech, with the text, is available here. [I'm not sure how long RTÉ will leave the link there.]

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, interviewed on RTÉ's Six One News on TV after Mr Kenny's speech asked What sort of a cabal is in there and still refusing to recognise the norms of the church? He was referring to officials in Ireland and in the Vatican. A video of the interview by Bryan Dobson is here. [I don't know how long it will be available.]

Both Mr Kenny and Archbishop Martin are saying things that need to be said. What has been happening in the Church in Ireland has done enormous damage not only to victims of priests but to the faith and trust of good people.

[For non-Irish readers of this blog: the 'Six One News' is so called because it starts at 6:01pm, after the Angelus bell is played. Some want that to go.]

17 July 2011

Archbishop of Dublin on Cloyne Report

Here are the homily notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (above), posted on the website of the Archdiocese of Dublin. I have highlighted some parts of the text and added [comments].


Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland

Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 17th July 2011

Only a few months ago, here in Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral, we celebrated a liturgy of lament and repentance reflecting on the shattering facts regarding the wide-ranging abuse of children by priests and religious in this diocese and about the manner in which the Church in this diocese responded to that abuse. [This liturgy wasn't a Mass].

It was for me a moment of hope. The liturgy had been prepared by survivors of abuse and survivors took part in the carrying out of the liturgy. Courageously, men and women who had been abused spoke out about their hurt and their hopes. It was a moment which I know brought healing to many and gave them renewed strength in themselves and some sense of renewed hope in the Church which had not believed them or had even betrayed them. At that liturgy I saw many faces that I knew in tears; I watched others whose names I will never know sit alone in silence and sadness.

My first thoughts on reading the Cloyne report went back to that liturgy and to those who organized it and took part in it. I asked myself: what are they thinking today? Are they asking themselves if that entire liturgy was just an empty show? Were they being used just to boost the image of the Church? Were their renewed hopes just another illusion about a Church which seems unable to reform itself? Was their hurt just being further compounded?

As I reflected, the first emotion that came to me was one of anger:

anger at what had happened in the diocese of Cloyne and at response – or non-response - that was made to children whose lives had been ruptured by abuse;

anger at the fact that children had been put at risk well after agreed guidelines were in place which were approved by all the Irish bishops;

anger at how thousands of men and women in this diocese of Dublin must feel, who have invested time and training to ensure that the Church they love and hope can be different would truly be a safe place for children;

anger at the fact that there were in Cloyne - and perhaps elsewhere - individuals who placed their own views above the safeguarding of children, and seemingly without any second thought placed themselves outside and above the regime of safeguarding to which their diocese and the Irish bishops had committed themselves.

Paradoxically, appealing somehow to their own interpretation of Canon Law they had put themselves even above and beyond the norms which the current Pope himself has promulgated for the entire Church.

Some years ago I was criticized in some Church circles for speaking of strong forces still present in the Church which “would prefer that the truth did not emerge”. “There are signs”, I said, “of subconscious denial on the part of many about the extent of the abuse which occurred within the Church of Jesus Christ in Ireland and how it was covered up. There are other signs of rejection of a sense of responsibility for what had happened. There are worrying signs that despite solid regulations and norms these are not being followed with the rigour required”.

Much has, thank God, been undertaken within the Catholic Church to address the facts of the past and to improve safeguarding procedures. The Catholic Church in Ireland is a much safer place today than it was even in the recent past. [Until I began to read in the 1980s about abuse by priests I had always presumed that the Church, especially in its bishops, priests and religious, was a safe place].

Much is being said, on the other hand, that despite words the Church has not learned the lessons. Both statements are true. At our liturgy of lament and reconciliation I stressed that that event was only a first step. “It would be easy for all of us”, I said, ”to go away this afternoon somehow feeling good but feeling also ‘that is that now’, ‘it’s over’, ‘now we can get back to normal’”. I repeat once again what I said on that occasion “The Church can never rest until the day in which the last victim has found his or her peace and he or she can rejoice in being fully the person that God in his plan wants them to be”.

That is a challenge not just for bishops and Church leaders. It is a challenge for all. Obviously in this diocese it is a challenge to me personally. I know my own inadequacies and I do not wish to present myself as being better or more expert than anyone else. Like all of us, I need to have the courage to address my responsibilities with the utmost honesty day by day.

All of us need to have in place systems of verification and review which help us to identify mistakes made or areas where more can be done or things can be done better. We need to continue to build a cooperative climate where all the institutions of the Church work in a constructive way together and with the institutions of the State, which bears the primary responsibility for child safeguarding in the country.

I thank the priests and lay persons in this diocese who have committed themselves to implementing our child safeguarding policies and I appeal to them not to be become frustrated or indifferent. The Church needs you. The children who frequent our Churches need you. Parents need to be reassured by your presence. Public recognition is due to the mobilisation within the Church of so many volunteers who are in the front line in our parishes and organizations in child safeguarding.

Those priests who have ministered untarnished and generously over years – indeed for an entire lifetime - should not be made scapegoats and objects of hate. Priests deserve recognition for the good they do and they need the support of their people. I appeal to those priests who have become demoralised and half-hearted not to give in to cynicism but to heed the Lord’s call to renewal and conversion.

However, those in Church and State who have acted wrongly or inadequately should assume accountability.

What is at stake here is not just the past, but the future of our children and our young people and the need to foster a healthy environment across the board in which our upcoming generations are cherished and can grow to maturity. This is a huge challenge and cannot be addressed in a patchwork manner. The early results of the most recent census indicate that there will be a significant growth in the numbers and the proportion of children and young people in our population in the coming years. This will inevitably require significant investment.

While recognising the challenges of our current economic crisis, our long-term economic planning cannot overlook the need to provide not just protection but also vision, hope and opportunity for this future generation. The Proclamation of 1916 contained a vision of solidarity and inclusivity which dreamt not just of the freedom for Ireland’s people, but also of their welfare; it hoped for “equal rights and equal opportunities for all its citizens”; it dreamt of a society “where all the children of the nation would be cherished”. These are perennial goals for our nation which must at all times be a clear focal point for future economic and social planning.

The same proclamation and vision of those who founded our republic recognised that religious and civil liberty of all was to be fostered. A republic is not indifferent to the faith of its citizens. A republic respects the specific rights of believers. It recognises the role of believers in contributing to the common good as they journey with others in search of that hope to which we are all called as human beings and believers.

Great damage has been done to the credibility of the Church in Ireland. Credibility will only be regained by the Church being more truly what the Church is. Renewal will not be the work of sleek public relations moves. Irish religious culture has radically changed and has changed irreversibly. There will be no true renewal in the Church until that fact is recognised.

The Church cannot continue to be present in society as it was in the past. That is not to say that the Church will be renewed by that changed culture or should simply adapt itself to the vision of that new culture. The Gospel reading reminds us that the Church lives its life in the midst of different cultures and indeed with the presence of sin in its own midst.

As believers we know that in the long-term Christ who sows the good seed in our midst will work tirelessly to see that those forces “that provoke offence and who do evil” will not prevail but will face judgement on their lives. It would however be false to interpret the Gospel reading as if we should simply sit back and allow good and evil to grow together in the hope that in the end the good will win out. It is reminding us that fidelity to the message of Jesus is the way in which we will ensure the victory of the good.

The Gospel reading cries out: “Listen”, anyone who has ears”. Rarely more often than in our day are we as believers called to listen, to take note, to be alert and on our guard, so that the virtuous life will shine through us in our world. To do that we must renew ourselves and, as the second reading reminds us, allow the spirit of God to put into our lives a goodness and a love that cannot be summed up in our words. It is only then if we love good that we will drive evil away from us. ENDS.

16 July 2011

Threat to seal of confession by Irish government

Thanks to Fr Ray Blake's Blog for photo

The Irish media reports that Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald intend to introduce legislation that would require priests to break the seal of confession in order to report anyone who confesses the sin of abusing a minor or vulnerable adult.

Social workers have already expressed their concern over mandatory reporting of suspected abuse,as The Irish Times reports today.

I am inclined to think that the proposal about the seal of confession is a non-starter and that the comments of Mr Kenny and of Ms Fitzgerald are an expression of disgust, a disgust which many of us Irish feel. When the matter is debated in a calmer atmosphere I think that what is being proposed will be seen as a form of abuse parallel to the abuse it is trying to stamp out.

Today’s Irish Examiner carries this front-page story: ‘THE HSE [Health Service Executive] has ordered an investigation into how social services failed to intervene in what a judge described as the "torture" of eight children by their mother over seven years’. Read more here.

In other words, Irish government workers, and the wider community, failed to do anything about a horrific situation that was known to the authorities and to at least some in the wider community. There was a similar case last year where even the town couldn’t be named for legal reasons when the trial of a mother was held. She too was found guilty.

I have written on this blog before about a Columban priest from New Zealand, Fr Francis Vernon Douglas (above), was tortured and killed by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1943 quite probably because he refused to break the seal of confession.

Recently I came across this moving account of hearing confessions by Fr John Blowick, co-founder of the Columbans, to which I belong, while the first batch of Columbans were on their way to China in 1920. I found this in The Chinese Batch by Fr Bernard T. Smyth, a now deceased Columban. I have highlighted some parts.

Frs Edward Galvin, John Blowick and Owen MacPolin, all mentioned below, shortly after their arrival in China.

The next afternoon found the Carmania only ten miles off the coast of Ireland; then out to open sea.

The crossing was quiet. Saturday, 3 April, was Holy Saturday, so Father Galvin [the other co-founder of the Columbans] went to the captain to make arrangements for Catholic sailors to go to Confession and Holy Communion for Easter. About Confession there was no great trouble, provided the men were not on duty. But Mass and Holy Communion on Sunday – that was quite another matter and quite opposed to the traditions of the service. First, the men were ‘unspeakably dirty’ and secondly it was a thing unheard of to allow them into places reserved for the use of passengers, specially first and second class passengers! But Edward Galvin was not a man to be easily baulked by the traditions, however venerable, of the service; and finally it was arranged that the men could come to Mass provided they were first well scrubbed. Fathers Blowick and MacPolin proceeded ‘below’, to hear the confessions of the crew. An extract from John Blowick’s diary describes Holy Saturday on the Carmania.

Father MacPolin and I went into the depths to hear their confessions this afternoon. We were descending till we thought we should never see the surface again and then we were shown into two little rooms, wet and dirty. The passage leading to the door of the room which I occupied was ankle deep in water and it was edifying to see the poor fellows standing in that mess waiting for their turn; they were being rounded up by one of the officers who was a Catholic, and so well did he do his work that when we went up to dinner at six o’clock there was not one single Catholic member of the ship’s crew who had not been to confession.

Hard work you may say, repulsive even sitting down there near the engines, in water and dirt and just trying to keep from getting sick. Yes, all that but the consolation of being able to bring the mercy of God into the lives of these poor fellows was a full reward was it not? And, as we passed through their quarters afterwards, the smile of recognition and respect and gratitude is something that you would do a good deal to merit.

After dinner Father Tierney heard confessions in the second [class] cabin, Father O’Doherty in the first and the others in the third where the Catholics were most numerous. In this latter place were our three young priests who then for the first time sat in the sacred judgment seat dispensing the mercy of God to His children. Father Galvin acted as a marshal, escorting them in to the room in which the priests were and showing them out. As each one left the room after confession, they knelt outside in the passage, saying their prayers and their penances and the publicity of the place and the presence of crowds of non-Catholics looking on with a sort of superstitious curiosity did not seem to have any effect on the fervor of their prayers. Every Catholic on board went to confession tonight.

15 July 2011

'Let them both grow till the harvest. . .' Sunday Reflections. 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 17 July 2011

The Gleaners, Jean-François Millet, painted 1857
Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and USA)

Gospel, Matthew 13:24-43 (Jerusalem Bible, used in Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

Jesus put a parable before the crowds, 'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner's servants went to him and said, "Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?" "Some enemy has done this" he answered. And the servants said, "Do you want us to go and weed it out?" But he said, "No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn."'

He put another parable before them, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.'

He told them another parable, 'The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through'.

In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables. This was to fulfil the prophecy:

I will speak to you in parables and expound things hidden since the foundation of the world.

Then, leaving the crowds, he went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, 'Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us'. He said in reply, 'The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears.

Soiscéal, Matha 13:24-43 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin chuir Íosa parabal eile os a gcomhair: “Is iad dála ríocht na bhflaitheas,” ar seisean, “mar a bhí ag an duine a chuir síol maith ina ghort. Ach fad a bhí an saol ina chodladh, bhí namhaid dó a tháinig ag scaipeadh cogail anuas ar an arbhar, agus d’imigh. Tháinig an t-arbhar aníos ina gheamhar, agus ansin ina dhias agus an uair sin chonacthas an cogal freisin. Tháinig a chuid sclábhaí go dtí an fear tí agus dúirt siad leis: ‘A mháistir, an síol a chuir tú i do ghort, nach síol maith a bhí ann? Agus cad a thug an cogal ann más ea?’ Dúirt sé leo: ‘Namhaid éigin a rinne an méid sin.’ ‘Agus ar mhaith leat,’ deir na sclábhaí leis, ‘go rachaimis á bhailiú chun a chéile?’ ‘Ná déanaigí,’ ar seisean, ‘ar eagla, nuair a bheadh sibh ag bailiú an chogail, go sracfadh sibh an t-arbhar aníos san am céanna. Fágtar le hais a chéile ag fás iad araon go dtí an fómhar, agus nuair a bheidh an fómhar á dhéanamh déarfaidh mé leis na buanaithe: Bailígí an cogal chun a chéile ar dtús, agus déanaigí punanna de chun a dhóite. Ach cruinnígí an t-arbhar isteach i mo scioból.’”

Chuir sé parabal eile os a gcomhair: “Is cosúil ríocht na bhflaitheas,” ar seisean, “le gráinne de shíol mustaird a thóg duine agus a chuir sé ina ghort. Is é an gráinnín síl is lú ar bith é, ach nuair a bhíonn sé fásta, bíonn sé ar an gceann is mó de na glasraí agus déantar crann de, a bhféadann éanlaith an aeir dul ar foscadh ina chraobhacha.”

D’inis sé parabal eile dóibh: “Is cosúil ríocht na bhflaitheas le gabháil a thóg bean agus a d’fholaigh sí i dtrí pheic plúir nó go raibh sé gabháilte ar fad.”

Labhair Íosa na nithe sin uile i bparabail leis na sluaite: ní dhéanadh sé caint ar bith leo gan pharabal, agus sin mar a comhlíonadh a ndúradh tríd an bhfáidh:
“Labhróidh mé i bparabail, nochtfaidh mé nithe ba rún ó thúsú an domhain.”

D’fhág sé na sluaite an uair sin agus chuaigh sé isteach sa teach. Tháinig a dheisceabail chuige agus dúirt siad: “Mínigh dúinn an parabal úd an chogail sa ghort.” D’fhreagair sé iad á rá: “An té a chuireann an síol maith, sin é Mac an Duine. Is é an domhan an gort. An síol maith muintir na ríochta. Dream an oilc an cogal, agus is é an diabhal an namhaid a scaipeann é. Is é deireadh an tsaoil an fómhar agus is iad na haingil na buanaithe. Amhail mar a bhailítear an cogal chun é dhó sa tine, sin mar a bheidh i ndeireadh an tsaoil. Cuirfidh Mac an Duine a aingil amach agus baileoidh siad gach ábhar scannail as a ríocht agus na daoine a thaobhaíonn an t-olc, agus teilgfidh siad san fhoirnéis tine iad. Is ann a bheidh gol agus díoscán fiacla. Beidh na fíréin an uair sin ag lonradh ar nós na gréine i ríocht a nAthar. An té a bhfuil cluasa air, éisteadh sé!”

Kyrie eleison from the Missa de Angelis
Jesus tells three parables, all to do with hidden growth. The first is the only one that speaks of the growth of something undesirable, side by side with what the farmer has planted.

The other day I came across a quotation from on an excellent blog, Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ. It reads: Avoid haste and want of control of bodily movements. The interior man, no matter how burdened with work or pressed for time, is never in a hurry. He is swift and expeditious in all he does, but never rushes; and by a jealous watchfulness over odd moments, “gathering up the fragments” of a full day “that none of them may be lost,” he finds time for all things. He knows that the Almighty is never in a hurry; that the great works of God in nature as in the soul are done silently and calmly, and that there is much wisdom in the old monastic saying, “The man who rushes will never run to perfection.”

Father Willie Doyle SJ (1873-1917) - he was born two months and a day after St Thérèse of Lisieux -
died during the Great War (1914-1918) in the trenches in Flanders, Belgium, where he was a chaplain in the British Army. He was living there in a real hell, a hell he was very much aware of. But he was constantly grateful for God's goodness shown especially in his mercy towards the many soldiers wounded and dying in the war. He heard the confessions of countless soldiers and anointed them on the battlefield. He was well aware of their sinfulness but also of their bravery, existing side by side in each just as the wheat and the darnel existed side by side. Father Willie himself went to confession only 15 minutes before he was blown to pieces by a German shell.

I first learned about Father Willie from Sister Stanislaus, the Irish Sister of Charity who was principal of the boys' kindergarten I attended in Dublin from 1947 to 1951. She often spoke to us about this brave priest, his sense of humour, his asceticism, his bravery. In my first year in St Columban's seminary more than a decade later I learned more about his from our director, Fr Ronan McGrath, the eldest of three brothers who became Columbans, all products of a Jesuit school where Father Willie had taught for a while, Belvedere College in the heart of Dublin.

I came across his name from time to time over the years, sometimes mocking references to his ascetic practices. Recently I came across Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ, which features something from Father Willie's writings most days, a labour of love by the blogger. As a result, I have begun to pray to him each day especially for Irish people close to me who seem to have lost the faith.

As I write, the Catholics of Ireland are reeling once again as a government report on the abuse of children by priests has been published, This one, the Cloyne Report, deals with allegations of abuse reported between 1996 and 2009 in the Diocese of Cloyne. The homepage of the website of the diocese has links to the report and to various statements made by officials in the diocese.

Even Catholics who have been faithful, prayerful and loyal are having their faith tested. The old cliché of a few rotten apples at the bottom of the barrel rings hollow for many now. The parable of the weeds growing alongside the wheat is much more accurate it seems.

Enormous harm has been done to the many individuals violated as minors by priests. The bishops as a body have lost nearly all of their authority. The Church in Ireland now is hardly capable of carrying out its mission of preaching the Gospel. 

Yet we need to take Jesus at his word. God is more aware than we are of the good and evil that co-exist in every person, in every society. We as individuals can get discouraged at our own sinfulness. Jesus is telling us that God wants only the best. God wants to harvest every piece of wheat, not to destroy what is good by destroying too soon what is bad.

Ireland is a country that has sent many missionaries to every continent, a country where the Catholic faith was strong as recently as only a few decades ago. Now it is a country in deep crisis, in terms of the faith and in its economic life, a country where a priest needs a police clearance to visit a Catholic school. May I, as an Irish missionary, ask your prayers for the people of my country, especially those who have been victims of priests, and the bishops and priests themselves. Perhaps you can pray:

Prayer for Priests by Father Doyle 
O my God, pour out in abundance Thy spirit of sacrifice upon Thy priests. It is both their glory and their duty to become victims, to be burnt up for souls, to live without ordinary joys, to be often the objects of distrust, injustice, and persecution.
The words they say every day at the altar, "This is my Body, this is my Blood," grant them to apply to themselves: "I am no longer myself, I am Jesus, Jesus crucified. I am, like the bread and wine, a substance no longer itself, but by consecration another."
O my God, I burn with desire for the sanctification of Thy priests. I wish all the priestly hands which touch Thee were hands whose touch is gentle and pleasing to Thee, that all the mouths uttering such sublime words at the altar should never descend to speaking trivialities.
Let priests in all their person stay at the level of their lofty functions, let every man find them simple and great, like the Holy Eucharist, accessible to all yet above the rest of men. O my God, grant them to carry with them from the Mass of today, a thirst for the Mass of tomorrow, and grant them, ladened themselves with gifts, to share these abundantly with their fellow men. Amen.