30 August 2011

'Please stand to welcome our celebrant, Father . . .'

Pope Benedict celebrating Mass ad orientem in the Sistine Chapel on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord 2008 when he baptised 13 children.

A very irritating experience I have here in the Philippines occasionally is when I am invited to celebrate Mass on some special occasion such as a recollection day for students. Usually there is a commentator. I would love to see this role abolished, since it serves no useful purpose. Many parishes here still have someone telling them when to sit, stand or kneel, which is not the business of the commentator at all.

The General Instruction of the Roman Mass No 105 b) clearly describes the commentator's job: The commentator, who provides the faithful, when appropriate, with brief explanations and commentaries with the purpose of introducing them to the celebration and preparing them to understand it better. The commentator's remarks must be meticulously prepared and clear though brief. In performing this function the commentator stands in an appropriate place facing the faithful, but not at the ambo. (My highlights).

I have heard commentators cutting across the priest as he is saying 'Let us proclaim the mystery of faith' by telling the people, 'Please stand'. (Here in the Philippines the people stand for the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer. I would prefer if they stayed kneeling). There are no more courteous people than Filipinos but the role of commentator seems to distort the personality of some. After more than 40 years of the new Mass people don't need to be told when to sit or stand, except maybe on occasions such as weddings when the ceremony is a little more complicated. And many haven't been in church since a previous wedding or funeral.

And readers get in on the act too telling people, 'Please stand to honour the Gospel'.

On 16 August Fr Edward McNamara LC answered in Zenit a question from Liberia: During the celebration of the Mass, where, who or what is the center of focus? Is it the altar or the tabernacle or the celebrant? Fr McNamara began his answer with: These is really only one true center of the Eucharistic celebration around which all the rest revolves, and that is Christ and his saving mystery.

At the end of his answer he wrote: The priest, although he acts in the person of Christ, is not really a focus of the celebration. He is indeed most effective when he manages to deflect attention from himself and guides the faithful toward Christ's mystery. Indeed, the use of vestments, song and special location are meant to emphasize the priest's ministerial role rather than his person. The priest is a "pontifex," a bridge between God and man, and a bridge may be admired from a distance but is only useful when we trample over it.

So 'Please stand to welcome our celebrant, Father . . .' is totally out of order. A variation I sometimes hear and that is not totally wrong is 'Please stand to welcome Christ in the person of Father . . .'. Yes, the priest is an alter Christus, another Christ, but it is Jesus who is welcoming us. And in most churches he is present already in the tabernacle. (Father McNamara rightly points out: The tabernacle is not a center of attention during the Eucharistic celebration even though it should have a prominent and even central place in the church building for adoration outside of Mass. So the priest should bow to the altar and not to the tabernacle before he reads the Gospel, for example).

Early last year, when I was giving an eight-day retreat to junior professed Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation of Blessed Mother Teresa, I celebrated Mass a number of times ad orientem, with priest and people all facing in the same direction. For many years I used the terminology 'the priest saying Mass with his back to the people' until I read the then Cardinal Ratzinger's book The Spirit of the Liturgy. His explanation of ad orientem made everything look totally different. And when I was grwoing up, with the old Mass, I never heard anyone speak of the priest as being with his back to the people.

Most Sundays I celebrate Mass in Holy Family Home for Girls here in Bacolod City. It's run by the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family. On Monday I Mass with the Sisters. Last year I celebrated the Sunday Mass ad orientem a number of times in the large multi-purpose building when we ahd some people from outside. I explained beforehand why I was doing this.

On the feast of the Queenship of Mary I celebrated Mass ad orientem in the Sisters's chapel for the first time. Last Sunday, when we had Mass there, with part of the overflowing congregation of Sisters and girls in the lobby outside the chapel, the Sisters had prepared the altar for celebration ad orientem, as they did yesterday. I hadn't asked them to do this but was very happy that they had.

Nobody has ever made any comments, good, bad or indifferent, after I celebrated Mass ad orientem. But I believe it helps everyone, including the priest, to focus on 'Christ and his saving mystery' as Father McNamara puts it.

I also celebrate Sunday Mass regularly in Sign Language with the Deaf. Some of the commentators there used to say 'Let us stand to welcome our celebrant . . .' but no more. They now say 'Let us stand for our opening hymn'.

I am conscious of the fact that the hymns we sing at Mass aren't part of the text. I always read the Entrance Antiphon even if there is a hymn and the Communion Antiphon before the people come for Holy Communion. And I usually follow the 'default' position for the Offertory - saying the prayers very quietly, enabling the people to have some of the silence that every Mass is supposed to have.

I would love to be able to celebrate Mass always ad orientem. That's not possible. And I have no difficulty about celebrating versus populum, facing the people. But because of the influence of Pope Benedict I try to ensure that there is a large crucifix, if possible, on the altar, which is a focal point for all.

26 August 2011

'What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life?' Sunday Reflections. 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time Year A, 28 August 2011

Sir Thomas More, Hans Holbein the Younger, painted 1527

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

Gospel Matthew 16:21-27 (Jerusalem Bible, used in Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotlanc)

Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. 'Heaven preserve you, Lord;' he said 'this must not happen to you'. But he turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God's way but man's.' Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life? 'For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour.

An Soiscéal Matha 16:21-27(Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin amach, thosaigh Íosa á thaispeáint dá dheisceabail nárbh fholáir dó dul go Iarúsailéim agus mórán a fhulaingt ó na seanóirí agus ó uachtaráin na sagart agus ó na scríobhaithe, agus a chur chun báis, agus éirí an treas lá. Ach thug Peadar ar fhód ar leith é agus thosaigh ag tabhairt casaoide dó: “Go bhfóire Dia ort, a Thiarna,” ar seisean, “agus i bhfad uait sin!” Ach d’iompaigh Íosa thairis agus dúirt le Peadar: “Siar i mo dhiaidh leat, a Shátain! is ceap tuisle dom thú, mar ní hiad smaointe Dé atá i d’aigne ach smaointe daoine.”

Ansin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail: “Más áil le haon duine bheith ar mo bhuíon, séanadh sé é féin, tógadh suas a chros agus leanadh mé. Óir cibé arb áil leis a anam a shaoradh, caillfidh sé é; ach cibé a chaillfidh a anam mar gheall ormsa, gheobhaidh sé é. Óir cá fearrde duine go ngnóthódh sé an domhan go léir dá ligfeadh sé a anam féin ar ceal? Nó cad a d’fhéadfadh duine a thabhairt mar mhalairt ar a anam?

Óir tá Mac an Duine le teacht faoi ghlóir a Athar lena chuid aingeal, agus ansin cúiteoidh sé le gach duine de réir mar a rinne. Deirim libh go fírinneach, tá daoine anseo i láthair nach mblaisfidh an bás nó go mbeidh Mac an Duine feicthe acu ag teacht ina ríocht.”

The above is one of the great dramatic scenes in a movie or a play. A Man for All Seasons, based on the life of St Thomas More, was written by Robert Bolt. It began life as a radio play on the BBC in 1954, was reworked as a one-hour TV play in 1967 and then as a stage play in 1960, a great success in London and on Broadway. The 1966 film, produced and directed by Fred Zinnemann, won six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor. The latter was for Paul Scofield who played Sir Thomas More.

In this scene during the trial Sir Richard Rich (played by John Hurt), an ambitious young man who once tried unsuccessfully to bribe the upright More, is being questioned by Thomas Cromwell (played by Leo McKern), perjures himself. As the witness leaves Sir Thomas asks to see his chain of office and learns that Sir Richard had just been appointed Attorney General for Wales. He looks sadly at Richard and says ironically, 'For Wales? For, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales?'

This year has seen a number of long-term rulers toppled, in Tunisia, in Egypt and now in Libya. Each time a dictator goes I ask myself, 'Will they never learn?' None ends up as a free man. St Thomas in the trial scene says 'I am a dead man'. But, unlike Sir Richard Rich, he is a free man. He takes Jesus at his word: 'anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it'. He then goes on to quote to Richard the next sentence, 'it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world' ('What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life?' in the Jerusalem Bible translation).

This Sunday is the tenth anniversary of the death of a Columban confrere and close friend who, like St Thomas More, died violently. Fr Rufus Halley (in photo above) was ambushed and shot dead while riding on his motorbike from an inter-faith meeting in Balabagan to his neighbouring parish in Malabang, Lanao del Sur, in the southern Philippines, both towns and the area predominantly Muslim. Father Rufus came from a privileged background in Ireland and spent the earlier years of his priesthood in a Catholic area of the Philippines, near Manila. He felt called by God to move to live among Muslims in the Prelature of Marawi, an area where only about five percent are Catholic and nearly all the others Muslim. He lived in constant tension, sometimes danger. He learned two new languages, Maranao, that of the majority of the Muslims in the area, and Cebuano-Visayan, that of the Christians.

Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Archbishop of Manila, wrote an article about Father Rufus for Misyon, the online Columban magazine I edit, for the July-August 2006 issue, when we still were a print magazine. The Cardinal got to know Father Rufus when he was a young auxiliary bishop of Manila with responsibility for the area where Father Rufus was assigned. Here are some of the things the Cardinal wrote.

  • We decided we’d celebrate Mass the next day back at the centro. We slept on the floor.
  •  I learned from the late Father Patrick Ronan, then parish priest in Morong, that Father Rufus came from a privileged background. That was a revelation to me, as I had always been struck by the simplicity I saw in his life. Father Ronan, another Irish missionary with a great sense of humor and known to his fellow Columbans as ‘Pops’, had spent time in jail in China after the Communist takeover in 1949.
  • Around 1980 Father Rufus felt called by God to leave the security of living in an overwhelmingly Catholic community to work in the new Prelature of Marawi, which includes all of Lanao del Sur and part of Lanao del Norte, where 95 percent of the people are Muslims. He was very aware of the long history of tension and occasional outright conflict between Christians and Muslims. He also became fluent in two other languages, Maranao, spoken by the Muslims in the area, and Cebuano, spoken by the Christians.
  • I knew of the intensity with which Father Rufus lived his own Christian faith, how he began each day with an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, the centrality of the Mass in his life. A big influence on him was the life of Charles de Foucauld, 1858-1916, beatified last November. This Frenchman was also from a privileged background. Unlike Pareng Rufus, he lost his Catholic faith and became a notorious playboy before re-discovering it, partly through the example of Muslims living in North Africa. He spent many years as a priest living among the poorest Muslims in a remote corner of the Sahara, pioneering Christian-Muslim dialogue by discovering himself as the Little Brother of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and as the Little Brother of the Muslims who came knocking at his hermitage door.
  • On 1 December 1916 Charles de Foucauld died at the hands of a young gunman outside his hermitage and on 28 September 2001 Pareng Rufus died at the hands of gunmen who ambushed him as he was riding on his motorcycle from a meeting of Muslim and Christian leaders in Balabagan to his parish in Malabang. The local people, both Christian and Muslim, mourned for him deeply. The grief of the Muslims was all the greater because the men who murdered my Pareng Rufus happened to be Muslims. This great missionary priest brought both communities together in their shared grief for a man of God, a true follower of Jesus Christ.
Though born into privilege, like St Thomas More, Father Rufus had no interest in clinging on to it. Though honoured as a priest by the people in his parish he chose to let go of the prestige that carried in order to answer God's call to live in a place where he would experience insecurity and danger. Like St Thomas More, he took Jesus at his word: 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it'.

Very few of us will be called to martyrdom or to violent deaths because of being Catholic Christians. But what are the areas in our lives where we are prepared to ignore what is right in order to have some passing power or privilege, such as Sir Richard Rich sought? It may not be a matter of bribery or perjury but of excusing ourselves because 'everyone does it', 'things are different now', etc, etc.

St Thomas More is the patron saint of statesmen, politicians and lawyers.

A note on Wales

Wales, in red, is now part of the United Kingdom but has its own language, far older than the English language, and national assembly, (a regional parliament with limited powers). It is about one-and-a-half times the size of the island of Negros in the central Philippines, where I live, but, with 3,000,000 people only three-quarters of the population of the island.

23 August 2011

'Can life still be something grand, even when suffering unexpectedly enters it?'

For many years I've had some involvement with persons with disabilities. Last Sunday I officiated at a wedding for two Deaf people. I regularly celebrate Sunday Mass in Sign Language. I'm not very good in that language and find conversations difficult, since I'm poor at reading signs. I've asked a number of experienced interpreters and their experience has been similar to mine. When you are learning a spoken language you reach a point when you can understand far more than you can express. With Sign Language it is the opposite.

I've also been on the fringes of Faith and Life for many years. It is a movement, born from a pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1871, that is made up of 'communities made up of persons with an intellectual disability, their families and friends, particularly young friends, who meet together on a regular basis in a Christian spirit, to share friendship, pray together, fiesta and celebrate life'.

Some of the 200 Faith and Light pilgrims from Zimbabwe, Colombia, Portugal, United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Spain attended the talk that Pope Benedict gave to persons with disabilities at the San José Foundation, run by the Hospitaller Brothers of St John of God, last Saturday. Here are the Pope's remarks, some of which I have highlighted. I've also added some [comments].

I thank you most sincerely for your kind greeting and heartfelt welcome.

This evening, just before the Prayer Vigil with the young people from throughout the world gathered in Madrid for this World Youth Day, we have this chance to spend time together as a way of showing the Pope’s closeness and esteem for each of you, for your families and for all those who help and care for you in this Foundation of Saint Joseph’s Institute.

Youth, as I have said more than once, is the age when life discloses itself to us with all its rich possibilities, inspiring us to seek the lofty goals which give it meaning. [Pope Benedict never short-changes young people.] So when suffering appears on the horizon of a young life, we are shaken; perhaps we ask ourselves: “Can life still be something grand, even when suffering unexpectedly enters it?” In my Encyclical on Christian Hope, I observed that “the true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer … A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through ‘com-passion’ is a cruel and inhuman society” (Spe Salvi, 38). These words reflect a long tradition of humanity which arises from Christ’s own self-offering on the Cross for us and for our redemption. Jesus and, in his footsteps, his Sorrowful Mother and the saints, are witnesses who shows us how to experience the tragedy of suffering for our own good and for the salvation of the world.

These witnesses speak to us, first and foremost, of the dignity of all human life, created in the image of God. No suffering can efface this divine image imprinted in the depths of our humanity. But there is more: because the Son of God wanted freely to embrace suffering and death, we are also capable of seeing God’s image in the face of those who suffer. This preferential love of the Lord for the suffering helps us to see others more clearly and to give them, above and beyond their material demands, the look of love which they need. But this can only happen as the fruit of a personal encounter with Christ. [Pope Benedict constantly speaks of the importance of this personal encounter with Christ.] You yourselves – as religious, family members, health care professionals and volunteers who daily live and work with these young people – know this well. Your lives and your committed service proclaim the greatness to which every human being is called: to show compassion and loving concern to the suffering, just as God himself did. In your noble work we hear an echo of the words found in the Gospel: “just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

At the same time, you are also witnesses of the immense goodness which the lives of these young people represent for those who love them, and for humanity as a whole. In a mysterious yet real way, their presence awakens in our often hardened hearts a tenderness which opens us to salvation. [I have seen priests who would be very tough inconfronting injustices while living in difficult circumstances and vocal in discussions showing a real tenderness towards older and sick brother priests.] The lives of these young people surely touch human hearts and for that reason we are grateful to the Lord for having known them.

Dear friends, our society, which all too often questions the inestimable value of life, of every life, needs you: in a decisive way you help to build the civilization of love. What is more, you play a leading role in that civilization. As sons and daughters of the Church, you offer the Lord your lives, with all their ups and downs, cooperating with him and somehow becoming “part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race” (Spe Salvi, 40).

With great affection, and through the intercession of Saint Joseph, Saint John of God and Saint Benito Menni, I commend you to God our Lord: may he be your strength and your reward. As a pledge of his love, I cordially impart to you, and to your families and friends, my Apostolic Blessing. Thank you very much.

19 August 2011

'Who do you say I am?' Sunday Reflections, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 21 August 2011

Baldacchino, St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Gian Lorezo Bernini, 1624
Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and the USA). 

Gospel Matthew 16:13-20 (Jerusalem Bible, used in Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland).

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?' And they said, 'Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets'. 'But you,' he said 'who do you say I am?' Then Simon Peter spoke up, 'You are the Christ,' he said 'the Son of the living God'. Jesus replied, 'Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.' Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

An Soiscéal Matha 16:13-20 (Irish Gaelic)

San am sin ar theacht isteach i gceantar Chéasaráia Philib dó, d’fhiafraigh Íosa dá chuid deisceabal: “Cé hé a deir na daoine Mac an Duine?” Dúirt siad: “Deir cuid acu Eoin Baiste; cuid eile acu Éilias; tuilleadh acu Irimia nó duine de na fáithe.” Dúirt sé leo: “Ach cé a deir sibhse mé?” Dúirt Síomón Peadar á fhreagairt: “Is tú an Críost, Mac Dé bheo.” D’fhreagair Íosa agus dúirt sé leis: “Is méanar duit, a Shíomóin Bar Ióna, óir ní fuil agus feoil a d’fhoilsigh duit é ach m’Athair atá ar neamh. Agus deirimse leatsa gur tú Peadar agus is ar an gcarraig seo a thógfaidh mé m’eaglais, agus ní bhuafaidh geataí ifrinn uirthi. Agus tabharfaidh mé duit eochracha ríocht na bhflaitheas; rud ar bith a cheanglaíonn tú ar talamh beidh sé ceangailte ar neamh, agus rud ar bith a scaoileann tú ar talamh beidh sé scaoilte ar neamh.” Chuir sé mar acht ar na deisceabail ansin gan a rá le duine ar bith gurbh é féin an Críost.

Entrance Antiphon (Latin)

Inclina Domine aurem tuam et exaudi me.
Salvum fac servum tuum, Deus meus, sperantem in te.
Miserere mei, Domine, quoniam ad te clamabo tota die. (Ps 85 [86]:1-3).

Entrance Antiphon (English)

Listen, Lord, and answer me.
Save your servant who trusts in you. .
I call to you all day long; have mercy on me, O Lord. (Ps 85 [86]:1-2)/

It is fitting that this is the gospel on the Sunday on which World Youth Day ends in Madrid, with Pope Benedict the main celebrant and the homilist at the closing Mass. In the gospel Jesus asks Peter directly, 'Who do you say I am?' Jesus is putting the same question to each of the young pilgrims from all over the world, estimated to number between 500,000 and 1,000,000.
In his message for WYD 2011 Pope Benedict reflects on the theme for Madrid, Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith (cf. Col 2:7). He invites not only those who are strong in the faith to take part: I would like all young people – those who share our faith in Jesus Christ, but also those who are wavering or uncertain, or who do not believe in him – to share this experience, which can prove decisive for their lives. It is an experience of the Lord Jesus, risen and alive, and of his love for each of us.

In today's gospel St Peter had not yet met the Risen Lord but he already believed in Jesus. His response to the question or Jesus, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, led directly to Pope Benedict being in Spain this weekend, because he received through Peter the commission Jesus gave, You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church . . .

Pope Benedict, who refers in his message to his own experience as a young person under the Nazis, doesn't underestimate the youngL Part of being young is desiring something beyond everyday life and a secure job, a yearning for something really truly greater. Is this simply an empty dream that fades away as we become older? No! Men and women were created for something great, for infinity. Nothing else will ever be enough. Saint Augustine was right when he said 'our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you'.

My paternal grandfather, who spent his working life as a labouring man in Guinness's brewery in Dublin, used to say to me When you leave school get a nice, cushy job. I guess he didn't want me to have to do any backbreaking work. I was never inspired by his words, though I still remember them. Rather, I was inspired by stories of Columban priests in prison after the Communist takeover in China in 1949 and accounts of the lives and deaths of other Columbans who died in the Korean War.

Pope Benedict explicitly assumes the task given him by Jesus through Peter in today's gospel: As the Successor of the Apostle Peter, I too want to confirm you in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32). We firmly believe that Jesus Christ offered himself on the Cross in order to give us his love. In his passion, he bore our sufferings, took upon himself our sins, obtained forgiveness for us and reconciled us with God the Father, opening for us the way to eternal life. Thus we were freed from the thing that most encumbers our lives: the slavery of sin. We can love everyone, even our enemies, and we can share this love with the poorest of our brothers and sisters and all those in difficulty.

These are the central truths that the Church must constatnly proclaim and, with God's grace, try to live each day. Benedict doesn't offer the young, or any of us, a 'faith diet' suitable only for an unweaned child: Recognize and serve Jesus in the poor, the sick, and in our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and in need of help.

Enter into a personal dialogue with Jesus Christ and cultivate it in faith. Get to know him better by reading the Gospels and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Converse with him in prayer, and place your trust in him. He will never betray that trust! 'Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 150). Thus you will acquire a mature and solid faith, one which will not be based simply on religious sentiment or on a vague memory of the catechism you studied as a child. You will come to know God and to live authentically in union with him, like the Apostle Thomas who showed his firm faith in Jesus in the words: 'My Lord and my God!'

The Pope reiterates his commission from Jesus in the service of the Church in his address at the welcome ceremony on 18 August at Madrid-Barajas International Airport: I have come here to meet thousands of young people from all over the world, Catholics committed to Christ searching for the truth that will give real meaning to their existence. I come as the Successor of Peter, to confirm them all in the faith, with days of intense pastoral activity, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life; to motivate the commitment to build up the Kingdom of God in the world among us; to exhort young people to know Christ personally as a friend and so, rooted in his person, to become faithful followers and valiant witnesses.

May each of us, like St Peter, desire to know Christ personally as a friend and so, rooted in his person, to become faithful followers and valiant witnesses.

17 August 2011

Why do brides dress the way they do?

I used this video a few days ago. But I want to look at one particular part of it: a wedding 2:40 into the video. The bride is wearing a strapless dress. I have seen brides dressed in this way in different countries. It always embarrasses me because I know that most of them would never go to Mass on any other occasion wearing a similar dress. Why do they dress this way on one of the most important days in their life?

Irishman Percy French, one of the first persons I hope to meet in heaven, wrote Where the Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea in 1896, a song I have been known to sing on occasion. One of the stanzas goes:

I believe that when writin' a wish you expressed
As to how the fine ladies in London were dressed
Well if you'll believe me, when asked to a ball
They don't wear no top to their dresses at all
Oh I've seen them meself and you could not in truth
Say that if they were bound for a ball or a bath
Don't be startin' them fashions, now Mary machree
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

I wonder what he would have made of church weddings today!

16 August 2011

Death of heroic Irish priest 94 years ago today in The Great War

Fr William Doyle SJ
3 March 1873 - 16 August 1917

This account of Father Willie Doyle's death in Ypres/Ieper, Belgium, while serving as a chaplain in the British Army during The Great War is from Father William Doyle S.J. by Professor Alfred O'Rahilly and taken from the blog Remembering Father William Doyle SJ. Fr Doyle was from Dalkey, County Dublin.

Fr. Doyle had been engaged from early morning in the front line, cheering and consoling his men, and attending to the many wounded. Soon after 3 p.m. he made his way back to the Regimental Aid Post which was in charge of a Corporal Raitt, the doctor having gone back to the rear some hours before. Whilst here word came in that an officer of the Dublins had been badly hit, and was lying out in an exposed position. Fr. Doyle at once decided to go out to him, and left the Aid Post with his runner, Private Mclnespie, and a Lieutenant Grant. Some twenty minutes later, at about a quarter to four, Mclnespie staggered into the Aid Post and fell down in a state of collapse from shell shock. Corporal Raitt went to his assistance and after considerable difficulty managed to revive him. His first words on coming back to consciousness were: “Fr. Doyle has been killed!” Then bit by bit the whole story was told. Fr. Doyle had found the wounded officer lying far out in a shell crater. He crawled out to him, absolved and anointed him, and then, half dragging, half carrying the dying man, managed to get him within the line. Three officers came up at this moment, and Mclnespie was sent for some water. This he got and was handing it to Fr. Doyle when a shell burst in the midst of the group, killing Fr. Doyle and the three officers instantaneously, and hurling Mclnespie violently to the ground. Later in the day some of the Dublins when retiring came across the bodies of all four. Recognising Fr. Doyle, they placed him and a Private Meehan, whom they were carrying back dead, behind a portion of the Frezenberg Redoubt and covered the bodies with sods and stones.

On 14 August Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ carried a photo of his last letter to his father, written two days before his death. Read the full post here.

I first learned about Father Willie Doyle from Sister Stanislaus, the Irish Sister of Charity who was principal of the boys' kindergarten I attended in Stanhope St, Dublin. She also prepared us for First Holy Communion. I learned mor about him in my first year in St Columban's College, Dalgan Park, when I entered the seminary there 50 years ago. Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ is a blog that is a work of love and a reminder to me of what a priest is called to be,

World Youth Day begins today

These are the logos being used by the delegates from the Philippines at World Youth Day, which begins today in Madrid. 'Pinoy' is a term that Filipinos use for themselves and has no negative connotations whatever. President Benigno C. Aquino III, whose nickname is 'Noynoy', is universally referred to in the Philippines as 'P-Noy'.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Philippines set up at website for World Youth Day 2011, wydpinoy.com.

Bishop Joel Z. Baylon of Legazpi is Chairman of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Youth. His talk above is almost totally in Tagalog. The promo video below shows the essence of WYD - a pilgrimage of prayer, repentance, celebration of our Catholic faith. It is an occasion when young people can show their pride in their national and cultural identity while discovering their deepest identity as beloved sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and therefore of one another.

I like this promo video below. It captures something of the hope and optimism of the young. Though it is in Spanish anyone with a smattering of that language should be able to understand the texts or at least get the gist of them.

The song of Jaula Grillos, We Are More, on the video below, which is on the official website of WYD 2011, also captures something of the enthusiasm of the young that the Church needs.

The link to the official Facebook page is here. There are links there to pages in many languages, including English and Tagalog.

The official English Twitter page is here.

You can keep track of some of the delegates from the Philippines on Facebook on Youth Pinoy. There I found this photo of Filipino delegates to WYD in Fatima, Portugal, on 14 August:

15 August 2011

'A Week in the Life of a Priest' and World Youth Day 2011

I found this video on CathNews (Australia). It is a production of the Vocation Centre of the Archdiocese of Sydney. CathNews showed the video in the context of World Youth Day, which begins tomorrow in Madrid.

At the end of the video Father Michael tells us that his uncle once asked him if the priesthood was as good as he thought if would be. He answered, 'No. It's much better!' That would echo my own experience of nearly 44 years. (It gave me a bit of a shock to see that Father Mark's parents are probably younger than I am!)

Being a priest has brought unexpected graces and experiences. One I never imagined during my seminary years was giving a bride away. Yet this has been something I've done three times for young women whose fathers had died. Two of them had never known their fathers, each of whom had died in an accident when his daughter was still an infant.

I once fulfilled a similar role in the case of a young woman making her first religious profession. Her father too had died when she was quite young.

The video focuses on the essentials of a priest's life, Mass and the sacraments.

I pray that World Youth Day will lead many young men to consider the possibility that God may be calling them to be priests. In some countries, Ireland, for example, entering the seminary requires a courage not needed when I made that decision 50 years ago. I got nothing but encouragement from my classmates. Today a young man in Ireland is very much going against the tide.

WYD Madrid 2011 Theme song Firmes en la fe English version by Rabab Zaitoun

Firmes en la fe, firmes en la fe!
We go forward in Christ, he's our companion and he is Lord!
Glory be to him! Glory be to him!
We go forward in Christ, made stronger in our faith.

1. Your love, it builds us up and keeps us rooted,
Your cross, it gives us constant strength and courage,
Your flesh, it ever saves us and sustains us,
Your blood, it flows to cheer us and renew us.
Oh, Christ, you are our brother,
Oh, Christ, you are our friend, you are our Lord,
Make us firm in the faith, make us firm in the faith!

Firmes en la fe...

2. Your hands, they hold us when we have been wounded,
Your eyes, they purify the way we see things,
Your lips, they speak to us words of forgiveness,
Your feet, they guide our steps to find life's fullness.
Oh, Christ, you are our brother,
Oh, Christ, you are our friend, you are our Lord,
Make us firm in the faith, make us firm in the faith!

Firmes en la fe...

3. We are the young, and Mary journeys with us,
And like a joyful bride she sings your praises;
With her we too shall sing and praise your triumph,
Because already death has been defeated.
Oh, Christ, you are our brother,
Oh, Christ, you are our friend, you are our Lord,
Make us firm in the faith, make us firm in the faith!

Firmes en la fe...

Here is a version in Spanish with images from previous World Youth Days:

10 August 2011

'Woman, you have great faith.' Sunday Reflections, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 14 August 2011

The Prophet Isaiah, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, painted 1726-29 (see first reading)
Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and the USA)

Gospel Matthew 15:21-28 (Jerusalem Bible, used in Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland).

Jesus left Genenesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel’. But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs’. She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table’. Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

Soiscéal Matha 15:21-28 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin chuaigh Íosa i leataobh go dtí ceantar na Tuíre agus Shíodóine. Agus bhí bean Chanánach a tháinig amach as na críocha sin agus thosaigh sí ag glaoch os ard: “Déan trócaire orm, a Thiarna, a mhic Dháiví,” ar sise, “tá iníon agam agus í á crá go géar ag deamhan.” Ach ní dúirt Íosa focal ar bith á freagairt. Tháinig a dheisceabail chuige agus bhí siad ag impí air: “Scaoil uait í,” ar siad, “tá sí ag glaoch inár ndiaidh.” D’fhreagair agus dúirt: “Níor cuireadh mé ach amháin go dtí caoirigh caillte theaghlach Iosrael.” Ach tháinig an bhean agus d’fhan ar a dhá glúin ina láthair: “A Thiarna,” ar sise, “fóir orm.” D’fhreagair agus dúirt: “Níl sé oiriúnach arán na leanaí a thógáil agus é a chaitheamh chun na gcoileán.” Dúirt sise: “Cinnte, a Thiarna, agus itheann na coileáin féin na grabhróga a thiteann ó bhord a máistrí.” Ansin dúirt Íosa léi á freagairt: “Ó, is mór é do chreideamh, a bhean! Bíodh agat mar is áil leat.” Agus bhí a hiníon leigheasta ón nóiméad sin.

Vegetable Seller, Joachim Beuckelaer 

My late mother loved to bargain, when buying clothes and when buying fruit and vegetables. She usually bought the latter at the store of a woman named Chrissie Caffrey, whose sister Maggie had a similar store across the road. There were usually a few cats around but the vegetables and fruit on sale were fresh. Sometimes as a child, listening to my mother, I would think that she was insulting Chrissie the way she spoke to her. But they both would end up happy, my mother having got a bargain and Chrissie having got a sale.

What my mother and Chrissie did a couple of times a week was a form of banter with a serious purpose. My mother wasn't insulting Chrissie, she was simply looking for a good price. Chrissie didn't take any offence at my mother's words, gave as good as she got - and sold her produce.

One commentary I read on this gospel suggests that Jesus and the Canaanite woman were engaged in something similar to Chrissie and my mother, a form of banter, but with a serious purpose. The words of Jesus comparing the Canaanites, non-Jews, to dogs were insulting at their face value. But the woman didn't take offence, She wanted her daughter healed and that's all that mattered to her. She probably hadn't been among those who heard Jesus' Sermon on the Mount when he said, among many other things, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you (Mt 7:7). But clearly she had heard something about Jesus, of his love for the poor, for the sick, for the tormented. Because she persisted, giving as good as she got, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table’, she heard the astounding words of Jesus, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’

It wasn't the first time Jesus responded to a non-Jew and remarked on that person's faith. Before we receive Holy Communion we pray the words of the Roman centurion who had come to Jesus with a similar plea to that of the Canaanite woman, not on behalf of his daughter but of his servant, 'Lord, I am not worthy . . .'

Everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds; everyone who knocks will have the door opened (Mt 7:8).
The Solemnity of the Assumption

The Solemnity of the Assumption begins with Evening Prayer on Sunday. That means that a Sunday evening Mass should be the Mass for the Vigil of the Assumpion , not that of the Sunday or the Mass During the Day of the Assumption.

At the end of Night Prayer a Marian Anthem is always sung or recited. Ave Regina Caelorum is considered especially appropriate for the Assumption.

07 August 2011

Novena for the Church in Ireland, 7-15 August 2011

St Patrick the Pilgrim by Ken Thompson, 2002
The statue is located close to the mainland pier of the ferries to Station Island, Lough Derg, where St Patrick's Purgatory is.

Thanks to English blogger Fr Ray Blake for drawing the Novena for the Church in Ireland to my attention. He in turn found the novena at Protect the Pope. Just now I have discovered that it originated on Facebook. The Church in Ireland, meaning all its members, needs prayers very badly. May I invite you to join in this novena which ends on the Solemnity of the Assumption, known in Irish Gaelic as Lá Fhéile Mhuire Mhóir, the Great Feast Day of Mary.

The photo above was taken at the point where pilgrims take a boat on Lough Derg to go to St Patrick's Purgatory. I must confess that I've never been there. A priest who spent some summers working there was Fr Ragheed Ganni (20 January 1972 - 3 June 2007), the Iraqi priest who was murdered along with three subdeacons just after celebrating Mass on Pentecost Sunday. Father Ragheed, of the Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church and an engineer by profession, studied in Rome before and after his ordination and stayed at the Irish College there where he acquired the nickname 'Paddy the Iraqi'. I believe he is a martyr and I'm sure that he is praying for repentance and renewal in the Irish Church as well as for peace and justice in his homeland..

Novena for the Church in Ireland (Sunday 7th August – Monday 15th of August)

There are three intentions:

1) We pray in atonement for the sins of the Church in Ireland and for all those who were hurt.

2) We pray for all of our priests and bishops,the guilty that they might find God’s mercy and the innocent that God might support them in this difficult time.

3) We pray for the healing and renewal of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

If everyone who wants to join in could pray the rosary on each day (or even just a decade of the rosary) for these intentions and if you can;the Pope’s prayer for the Church in Ireland,which is below,and finally just offer up your Mass on the feast of the Assumption for these intentions.

Prayer for the Church in Ireland

God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts
to love you,and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus Christ,
may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment
to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.

Holy Spirit,comforter,advocate and guide,
inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal
for the Church in Ireland.

May our sorrow and our tears,
our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,
and our firm purpose of amendment
bear an abundant harvest of grace
for the deepening of the faith
in our families, parishes,schools and communities,
for the spiritual progress of Irish society,
and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace
within the whole human family.

To you, Triune God,
confident in the loving protection of Mary,
Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints,
do we entrust ourselves, our children,
and the needs of the Church in Ireland.


Protect the Pope comment: Here’s an extract from Pope Benedict’s moving Letter to the Faithful of Ireland about the need for reparation for the sin of abuse before the Blessed Sacrament:

‘Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration,and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes,seminaries,religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration,so that all have an opportunity to take part.

Through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord,you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm,at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests,religious and lay faithful.’

04 August 2011

'"Come" said Jesus.' Sunday Reflections, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 7 August 2011


Jesus says, ‘Come, through all the turmoil,
the storms which threaten to engulf me.
He calls out to me.
He wants to pull me towards him.

Jesus is present in the storms of my life.
He is in the boat with me.
He says, ‘Trust me!’

He is also saying, ‘I need you.
We’re a balancing act, dancing together!

I need you to believe in me.
I need you to be me on earth.

You need my power and love to grow
and reveal me
to your brothers and sisters.

When you don’t trust,
you sink!
You are swallowed up
in life’s sorrows.
You block my power
to work through you’.

The painting and reflection above are by Sr Maria Forrestal, an Irish Franciscan Missionary of Mary who has worked in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic for many years. Among other things, Sister Maria maintains the excellent website of the Catholic Church in the Faroes.
Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and the USA).
Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33; Jerusalem Bible, used in Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. 'It is a ghost' they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, 'Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.' lt was Peter who answered. 'Lord,' he said 'if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.' 'Come' said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. 'Lord! Save me!' he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. 'Man of little faith,' he said 'why did you doubt?' And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, 'Truly, you are the Son of God'.

Soiscéal (Matha 14:22-33, Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin chuir Íosa d’fhiacha ar na deisceabail dul ar bord agus imeacht roimhe go dtí an taobh thall fad a bheadh sé féin ag scaoileadh na sluaite uaidh. Agus tar éis a scaoilte dó, chuaigh sé an sliabh suas ar leithligh chun guí, agus nuair a bhí an tráthnóna ann bhí sé ansiúd ina aonar. Bhí an bád faoin am sin mórán staideanna amach ón talamh, á bocadh ag na farraigí, mar bhí an ghaoth contrártha. Sa cheathrú faire den oíche, tháinig sé chucu ag siúl ar an bhfarraige. Nuair a chonaic na deisceabail é, agus é ag siúl ar an bhfarraige, bhí siad buartha: “Taibhse atá ann!” ar siad, agus scread siad amach le barr eagla. Ach labhair Íosa leo láithreach: “Bíodh misneach agaibh!” ar seisean, “mise atá ann, ná bíodh eagla oraibh.” D’fhreagair Peadar é: “A Thiarna,” ar seisean, “más tú atá ann, ordaigh mé a theacht chugat ar bharr an uisce.” Dúirt Íosa: “Tar!” Agus tháinig Peadar amach as an mbád agus shiúil ar bharr an uisce ag déanamh ar Íosa. Ach nuair a d’airigh sé chomh borb agus a bhí an ghaoth, rug an eagla air; thosaigh ag dul faoi uisce agus scread sé amach: “A Thiarna, saor mé!” ar seisean. Shín Íosa amach a lámh láithreach, agus ag breith greama air dúirt: “A fhir an bheagán creidimh, cén fáth ar tháinig amhras ort?” Ar dhul isteach sa bhád dóibh, thit an ghaoth. Agus iad seo a bhí sa bhád, d’umhlaigh siad síos ina láthair ag rá: “Go dearfa, is tú Mac Dé.”


Sister Maria's painting evokes in me a sense of my vocation. Jesus invited Peter to step out. Peter did but then hesitated. Each person's vocation is unique. Some know from their childhood where God is calling them, some from early adolescence, as was my experience, some at a much later stage. But however one experiences God's call at some stage one has to step out.

A priest I knew here in the Philippines, the late Fr Vincent San Juan SJ, spent most of his life as a priest in the family life apostolate, working particularly with couples. I heard him speak of ballroom dancing as an image of the relationship of a husband and wife. The man usually leads, though not always, the woman following his moves. When I reached adolescence in the mid-1950s rock 'n' roll hat hit the scene and ballroom dancing disappeared for my generation. I used to envy my parents, uncles and aunts when I'd see them dancing with such skill, teamwork and enjoyment!

Sister Maria shows Jesus and Peter involved in a dance. Jesus is holding Peter's hand even before he steps out. I remember how my father taught me to swim and to ride a bicycle. He held his hand under my chest in the water, giving me a sense of security. Then on one occasion I realised his hand wasn't there anymore. I was swimming on my own. It was the same with cycling. My Dad kept a grip on the saddle until he judged that I could manage on my own. I remember the great joyful sense of freedom I felt on both occasions. But I would never have learned to swim or ride a bike without 'stepping out' as Peter did, even though he then lost his nerve.

Fr Gerard Dunne OP sees the present crisis in the Church in Ireland as a time for a young person to answer God's call to the priesthood or religious life. I quote here from a recent post in his blog, Irish Dominican Vocations, Why consider a vocation in the midst of a crisis?

The church and its people are not just survivors who grit their teeth in the face of either internal turmoil or external opposition. The church doesn't just survive - it lives. It lives because Jesus Christ lives in and through the church. In the midst of this present crisis we must humbly admit that we are the recipients of the graciousness and unconditional love of Jesus Christ who promised never to abandon his disciples: "And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time." (Matthew 28:10) The church has existed and lived these 2000 years because of God's grace manifested through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

During these dark days I am often reminded of the words of Blessed John Paul II in Toronto during a World Youth Day event when he addressed the young people saying: "At difficult moments in the church's life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Spirit......We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son."

While many might argue that this is the worst time ever to consider a religious vocation, I see it as the most desirable time to discern life as a sister, brother, nun, priest and indeed Dominican. Here's a few reasons:

Firstly, God continues to call and invite people to a life of service and community, especially when the church faces and unprecedented crisis like the one we presently face. Our history proves this. In the middle of the great injustices of the Spanish Inquisition God called St Teresa of Avila to a life of mysticism and ultimately of reform of her Carmelite order; Saint Francis had a dream of rebuilding God's house and in response chose to live a life of radical simplicity through simplicity, prayer and penance - in stark contrast to the wealth and corruption of the twelfth century church. A couple of hundred years later when there was unrest in the church and a divided papacy Saint Catherine of Siena responded to God's call to live the Dominican life and later became a mediator for peace and the reunification of the papacy.

The church still benefits from the virtue of these heroic men and women and the many more like them who heard God's call and invitation to live a radical Gospel life in the midst of a church in turmoil. I am confident that with the help of God's grace that we will be telling similar stories in the future of today's heroic men and women who responded to the challenges of religious life.

Another reason to consider a religious vocation is that our church needs the creativity, idealism, faith and spirituality of a new generation. In the midst of our crisis the poor in our world continue to suffer from a lack of education, healthcare, social services. In a culture that suffers from inequalities, violence and disregard for human life, people need to hear the prophetic message of justice, peace and dignity. And in the middle of the crisis that the church now faces, people more than any other time in history need to hear the Gospel preached.

One further reason: the church needs more than just service. In a society that glamourises wealth, sex, power and money the church needs the continued witness of young people (and not so young) who are willing to give their all for holiness by living a life of chastity, obedience and poverty. Because we are a sacramental church we need priests to preach the Word with integrity and minister in times of joy and pain with sensitivity. When the world is plagued by polarization and division we need the hope for the Christian community that is inspired by people who come together to live and share their faith, values and mission.

By considering a religious vocation, there is nothing to lose. Why? Because all vocations are oriented towards holiness and a deepening of a relationship with God. I would continue to encourage people to consider religious life for the sheer joy that it can bring. Of course there are challenges and sacrifices but there is a deep consolation in knowing that you are following God's will or plan for you and that you are making a significant contribution to the life of the church and those that you live with and serve.
These are definitely trying times for the church especially in Ireland. But they are not the first, nor will they be the last. Keep on considering your vocation - and do not be afraid.

The full text of Father Gerard's post is here.

Nicene Creed

Credo in unum Deum, I believe in one God,
Patrem omnipoténtem, the Father almighty,
factórem caeli et terrae, maker of heaven and earth,
visibílium ómnium et invisibílium. of all things visible and invisible

Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum, I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
Fílium Dei Unigénitum, the Only Begotten Son of God,
et ex Patre natum ante ómnia saecula. born of the Father before all ages.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, God from God, Light from Light,
Deum verum de Deo vero, true God from true God,
génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri: begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
per quem ómnia facta sunt. through him all things were made.

Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem For us men and for our salvation
descéndit de caelis. he came down from heaven,
Et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex María Vírgine, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
et homo factus est. and became man.

Crucifíxus étiam pro nobis sub Póntio Piláto; For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
passus et sepúltus est, he suffered death and was buried,
et resurréxit tértia die, and rose again on the third day
secúndum Scriptúras, in accordance with the Scriptures.
et ascéndit in caelum, He ascended into heaven
sedet ad déxteram Patris.and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Et íterum ventúrus est cum glória, He will come again in glory
iudicáre vivos et mórtuos, to judge the living and the dead
cuius regni non erit finis. and his kingdom will have no end.

Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dóminum et vivificántem: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
qui ex Patre Filióque procédit. who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
Qui cum Patre et Fílio simul adorátur et conglorificátur: who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
qui locútus est per prophétas. who has spoken through the prophets.

Et unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Confíteor unum baptísma in remissiónem peccatórum. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
Et exspécto resurrectiónem mortuórum, and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
et vitam ventúri saeculi. Amen. and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Here in the Philippines the Nicene Creed is rarely used at Mass, a great pity. The English translation above is the new one that will come into effect in most English-speaking countries on the First Sunday of Advent. The Philippines isn't an English-speaking country, though it is widely used in Mass, especially in the larger cities. It is one of the official languages of the country. I haven't heard any official announcement from the bishops as to when the new translation will be implemented here. I will probably use the opportunity of the change to introduce people to the Nicene Creed, which is the 'default' one for Mass.

View of the Catholic church (Mariukirkjan) and convent (Kerit) from Varðagøta, Torshavn, capital of the Faroes.


03 August 2011

Preaching Hope from Prison: François-Xavier Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuán

Tomorrow is the feast of St John Mary Vianney, patron of priests. More than ever today we need holy priests. We priests need your prayers. One of the great priests of our time was François-Xavier Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuán (1928-2002).

Fr Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly

I am conscious of the Church in Vietnam in a personal way because I am giving a weekly class to the eleven aspirants of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family here in Bacolod City. The group includes six young women from Vietnam, the first to enter the congregation. The Church in Vietnam has suffered greatly in modern times and harrassment is not yet absent, as the story of Fr Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, 64, shows.

The Martyrs of Vietnam, celebrated by the Church on 24 November.

In the May-June 2006 issue of Misyon, which I edit on behalf of the Columbans in the Philippines, I published an article by the Cardinal. Misyon was then a printed magazine. We are gradually putting all issues from the first in 1988 online but this particular article isn't yet there. Below is the text, with an introduction.


By François-Xavier Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuán

The extraordinary story, in his own words, of Vietnamese Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuan, Coadjutor Archbishop of Thành-Phô Hô Chí Minh (formerly Saigon) from 1975 till 1994. Just three months after his appointment he was imprisoned by the communist government. He spent thirteen years in jail, nine of them in solitary confinement. In 1998 he was appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in the Vatican. He gave the Lenten retreat to Pope John Paul and his staff in 1999 and died in Rome on 16 September 2002. Here are some edited extracts from the cardinal’s story.
Saved by prayer

In my initial period in prison I spent many months in an extremely narrow space without windows, half suffocated by the heat and humidity. Often I had great difficulty in breathing. They tortured me by leaving me under lights day and night for ten days and then depriving me of all light for long periods. One day in the darkness I noticed a tiny hole through which the light shone. From then on I used to put my nostrils there to breathe more easily.

Whenever there were floods snakes used to invade my cell and sometimes climbed my legs to avoid the water. They used to stay with me until the floods passed. I had no toilet but since I received hardly any food I had little need of one. My daily rations consisted of some rice and vegetables cooked with salt. From five in the morning until 11:30 at night there was a constant din of voices over loudspeakers. To distract myself I did exercises, jumped, danced, sang and prayed. Prayer saved my life. In moments of great suffering, sometimes when I wanted to pray I couldn’t. I was desperately tired, sick and hungry . . . often I was tempted to despair and rebellion. But the Lord always helped me.

Learning again how to pray

In my later years in prison five policemen guarded me. Some even studied Latin to censor any documents or telegrams sent to the bishops from Rome. One day a policeman asked me: ‘Can you teach me some song in Latin?’ I replied, ‘I’ll sing some and you can choose.’ He chose the Veni Creator (Come Holy Spirit) and asked me to write out the words. I did so not really expecting that he would learn them. But in a few days he had learned them really well and sang them every morning while he was on guard. I thought to myself: ‘When an archbishop cannot pray, the Lord sends him a policeman to sing the Veni Creator and help him to pray!’

On another occasion a farmer came to the prison and asked permission to visit me. The police permitted it and he spent a few minutes with me. When he was leaving he asked: ‘Please, pray for me,’ and he added: ‘Father, one prayer from you in prison is worth a hundred offered in freedom.’ That day the Holy Spirit sent a farmer to teach me the value of prayer in prison.

Writing about hope

While in prison I wrote several books. All our religious literature had been burned and permission to publish new ones refused. I wondered how, as a pastor, I could encourage the faithful. At that time I was in a closely guarded cell but children were allowed to visit me. One day I said to one of them: ‘Ask your mother to buy me a calendar-block.’ When I received it I wrote my thoughts on the back of a sheet each night and in this way I produced my first book, Pilgrims on the Road of Hope. I wrote the second, The Way of Hope in the Light of the Word of God in the Council in my years in exile, 1,700 kilometers from my diocese. At another time when I was feeling very low and had no desire to write I received a request from the Holy Father asking me to write some spiritual exercises. These later became the work Witnesses to Hope.

I have personally experienced the sorrow of a pastor forbidden to care for his people and forced to abandon his diocese. It caused me great torment to be in prison while the people were abandoned. But I discovered that it had all been God’s work. One night I sensed a voice in my heart saying: ‘François, God holds you in his hands. Always seek his will. God knows what he is doing. He will seek other collaborators who work better than you. Be at peace.’ That night I experienced a deep peace in my heart and I decided to seek God’s will every minute of my life.

Under house arrest,

Befriended by jailers

At one stage while in prison five young jailers, university students, guarded me. One reason that I survived was because of their friendship.

Those in charge had forbidden them to speak to me. Initially my guards were changed every fifteen days. Prison authorities believed the guards risked being contaminated if left with me for any length of time. Eventually they stopped changing them because apparently they were afraid I would contaminate the whole force. And so the young students became my friends. The love of Christ has great power to change people.

I would chat with them through the door about my life, the various countries I had visited, my family, my childhood and so on. I taught them English, French, and even a little Russian. One day I asked one of them to bring something to trim a piece of wood. He did and I was able to make a cross. Even though all religious symbols were prohibited, I now had a cross in my quarters. I hid it in a bar of soap. Another time I asked for a piece of wire and a pair of pliers. My friendly policeman said, ‘I will bring them but you have to finish in four hours’ – the length of his particular shift. In four hours I had fashioned a chain for my cross. The cross was later enclosed in silver and it is the cross and chain I still wear.

Saying Mass in prison

The day I was arrested I had to leave everything behind me. The following day I was allowed to write and ask my friends to bring my clothes, toothpaste and other personal needs. I also asked them to include some wine ‘as medicine.’ My friends understood. They sent me a little bottle of Mass-wine labeled ‘Medicine for Stomach Aches’ and also some hosts hidden in a little burner used to keep the humidity at bay.

Every night I kept a tiny piece of bread for the following day’s Eucharist. And so every day for many years I had the joy of celebrating Mass with three drops of wine and one of water in my palm. This was my altar, my cathedral. For me it was the true medicine of body and soul something to stave off death in order to live for ever in Christ.

Photos in body of article from the Facebook account in honour of the Cardinal.

Prayer for the Beatification of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

O mighty and eternal God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
I offer thanks for giving to the Church
the heroic testimony of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân.

The suffering he experienced in prison,
which he united with the crucified Christ
and commended to the maternal protection of Mary,
is for the Church and the world a shining witness of unity and forgiveness,
and of justice and peace.

His loving person and his Episcopal ministry radiate the light of faith,
the enthusiasm of hope and the warmth of love.

Now, my Lord, through his intercession and according to your will,
grant me the grace I am imploring in the hope that
he will soon be elevated to the honour of sainthood.

Roma 16.9.2007
+ Giampaolo Crepaldi
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace