30 November 2011

'Prepare a way for the Lord'. Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Advent Year B

The Preaching of St John the Baptist, Alessandro Allori, painted 1601-03

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:1-8 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah:

Look, I am going to send my messenger before you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.

And so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. In the course of his preaching he said, 'Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.

An Soiscéal Marcas 1-8 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Tosach Shoiscéal Íosa Críost, Mac Dé. De réir mar atá scríofa in Íseáia fáidh:

“Feach, cuirim mo theachtaire romhat
a ullmhóidh do bhóthar.
Glór duine ag éamh san fhásach:
‘Réitígí bóthar an Tiarna,
déanaigí díreach a chosáin.’”

Tháinig Eoin ag baisteadh san fhásach agus ag fógairt baiste aithrí chun peacaí a mhaitheamh. Agus bhí ag teacht amach chuige na daoine ó thír Iúdáia go léir, agus muintir uile Iarúsailéim, agus iad ag fáil baiste uaidh in abhainn na Iordáine ag admháil a bpeacaí.

Bhí rón camaill mar éadach ar Eoin, crios leathair faoina choim aige, lócaistí agus mil fhiáin mar bheatha aige. Agus bhíodh sé ag seanmóir á rá: “Tá ag teacht i mo dhiaidh an té atá níos treise ná mé, agus ní fiú mé cromadh síos chun iall a chuarán a scaoileadh. Bhaist mise le huisce sibh, ach baistfidh seisean sibh leis an Spiorad Naomh.”


I met Angela, as I’ll call her, in 1969 when she was 16 and I was a young priest studying in the USA. She was in many ways a mixed-up young person but I could see her integrity and her desire to do what was right. Mainly through correspondence, I saw her grow in the faith until her death thirteen years later. This growth in faith involved two suicide attempts. Thanks to God's loving mercy I was his instrument in helping Angela through the second crisis, which occurred the year before her death. She was very much at peace in the last part of her life.

One thing I learned from that experience was that some persons of strong faith can also be very vulnerable.

On one occasion Angela told me that she was hoping that one day the priest would announce that he was giving general absolution to everyone, as some priests were wont to do at the beginning of Mass, even though this was totally wrong. It was a time when there strange things done ’neath the midnight sun, to quote Robert Service in a totally different context.

One day a priest did exactly what Angela had been hoping for. To her surprise, she felt cheated. Nothing had been asked of her. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. The sinners who publicly lined up, as we used to do in most churches before, confessed their sins. They took personal responsibility before God for their wrongdoing and trusted in his mercy.

Advent is a time when we prepare to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, God who became Man. It is a time when we prepare for his Second Coming at the end of time. But we also prepare for his third coming which, in the words of St Bernard, come between the other two. The saint writes in the Office of Readings for Wednesday of the First Week of Advent: This intermediary coming is like a road leading from the first to the last coming. In the first coming Christ was our redemption, in the last he will appear as our life, in this intermediary coming he is our rest and consolation.

Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight, St John the Baptist tells us today, quoting Isaiah in the First Reading. The sacrament of confession / reconciliation / penance is one of the best ways to do this.

Pope Benedict explained very simply what this sacrament is in response to a question by Livia at an audience on 15 October 2005 for children who had made their First Holy Communion that year.

Livia: Holy Father, before the day of my First Communion I went to confession. I have also been to confession on other occasions. I wanted to ask you: do I have to go to confession every time I receive Communion, even when I have committed the same sins? Because I realize that they are always the same.

I will tell you two things. The first, of course, is that you do not always have to go to confession before you receive Communion unless you have committed such serious sins that they need to be confessed. Therefore, it is not necessary to make one’s confession before every Eucharistic Communion. This is the first point. It is only necessary when you have committed a really serious sin, when you have deeply offended Jesus, so that your friendship is destroyed and you have to start again. Only in that case, when you are in a state of ‘mortal’ sin, in other words, grave [sin], is it necessary to go to confession before Communion. This is my first point.

My second point: even if, as I said, it is not necessary to go to confession before each Communion, it is very helpful to confess with a certain regularity. It is true: our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen but it builds up. Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: if I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul which Jesus gives us in the Sacrament of Confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons. Therefore, two things: confession is only necessary in the case of a serious sin, but it is very helpful to confess regularly in order to foster the cleanliness and beauty of the soul and to mature day by day in life.

May each of us make it part of Advent, part of our preparation for the ‘three comings’ of Jesus, to go to confession.

Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.


Handel’s Messiah includes part of today’s First Reading. The composer used the Authorized Version, also known as the King James Version, of the Bible, slightly adapting it. This translation was finished 400 years ago.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.


And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

[Sung in Korean]

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing (Isaiah 35:5-6).

He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

23 November 2011

'Stay awake!' Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday in Advent Year B

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 13:33-37 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus said to his disciples: 'Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!'

An Soiscéal Marcas 13:33-37 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail :Bígí aireach, déanaigí faire, mar níl a fhios agaibh cén uair a bheidh an t-am ann. Is é dála duine é a d’fhág a theach agus a d’imigh ar an gcoigríoch; thug sé an t-údarás dá sclábhaithe, gach duine díobh i mbun a chúraim féin; agus d’ordaigh sé don doirseoir faire a dhéanamh. Déanaigí faire, dá bhrí sin, mar ní fios daoibh cén uair a thiocfaidh tiarna an tí, um thráthnóna, i lár na hoíche, ar ghlao an choiligh, nó ar maidin. Má thagann sé gan choinne, ná faigheadh sé sibh in bhur gcodladh. An rud a deirim libhse, deirim le gach duine é: Déanaigí faire.”

My father, John, 'upped and died', as we say in Ireland, on 11 August 1987 at the age of 74. He had a heart attack while watching cricket on television in the late afternoon, something the Columban Superior General at the time, Fr Bernard Cleary, an Australian, found amusing.He just had time to call my brother, who was about to go out, get to his bed and lie down before he became unconscious.

In our part of Dublin there was one priest on call every day for emergencies in a group of parishes. My father had placed the emerency number, in large digits, and placed t on top of the phone. My brother phoned immediately. It happened that the priest on call was from our parish and was less than five minutes' walk away. The particular priest, though young, wasn't noted for his speed but he was over in no time at all to anoint Dad before the ambulance arrived. However, Dad was dead on arrival at the hospital. He died 17 years after my mother, Mary, who passed away in her sleep.

When I got the news of his death in the middle of the night in Cebu I was shocked. But not for a moment did I feel any regret over things not done. There was no 'unfinished business'. I was consoled when I learned that the priest had been with him but even more consoled knowing that he had been at Mass that morning, as he had been every day of his adult life.

He had no idea when the Lord would come for him. When he found my mother dead in bed he said to my brother, 'Your mother has gone now and we have to adjust to this. His strong faith enabled him to do that. That same faith prepared him for his own sudden death and prepared us, his two sons, to adjust to that new reality with grief, yes, but with no regrets, no 'unfinished business'.

'If he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!'

On my ordination day, 20 December 1967, with my parents and brother
Communion antiphon

Dóminus dabit benignitátem, et terra nostra dabit fructum suum (Ps 84:13).

The Lord will bestow his bounty, and our earth shall yield its increase.

17 November 2011

'I was sick . . . and you visited me.' Sunday Reflections, Christ the King, Year A

The Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo, painted 1537-41

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 25:31-46 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus said to his disciples: 'When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right hand, "Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me." Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?" And the King will answer, "I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me." Next he will say to those on his left hand, "Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For 1 was hungry and you never gave me food; 1 was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me." Then it will be their turn to ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?" Then he will answer, "I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me." And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.'

An Soiscéal Matha 25:31-46 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin duirt Íosa lena dheisceabail: “Nuair a thiocfaidh Mac an Duine ina ghlóir agus na haingil uile in éineacht leis, rachaidh sé ina shuí an uair sin i ríchathaoir a ghlóire. Beidh na náisiúin uile cruinnithe os a chomhair, agus déanfaidh sé na daoine a scaradh ó chéile, mar a scarann an t-aoire na caoirigh ó na gabhair. Cuirfidh sé na caoirigh ar a láimh dheis agus na gabhair ar a láimh chlé. Ansin déarfaidh an rí le lucht na láimhe deise: ‘Tagaigí, a lucht bheannaithe m’Athar, glacaigí mar oidhreacht an ríocht a ullmhaíodh daoibh ó thúsú an domhain. Óir bhí ocras orm agus thug sibh rud le hithe dom, bhí tart orm agus thug sibh rud le hól dom, bhí mé i mo strainséir agus thug sibh aíocht dom, bhí mé nocht agus chuir sibh éadach orm, bhí mé tinn agus tháinig sibh do m’fheiceáil, bhí mé i bpríosún agus thug sibh cuairt orm.’ Freagróidh na fíréin é ansin: ‘A Thiarna, cén uair a chonaiceamar thú agus ocras ort go dtabharfaimis bia duit, nó tart ort go dtabharfaimis deoch duit? Cén uair a chonaiceamar i do strainséir thú go dtabharfaimis aíocht duit, nó nocht go gcuirfimis éadach ort? Nó cén uair a chonaiceamar tinn thú, nó i bpríosún, go dtabharfaimis cuairt ort?’ Agus déarfaidh an rí á bhfreagairt: ‘Deirim libh go fírinneach, sa mhéid go ndearna sibh é do dhuine den chuid is lú de na bráithre seo agamsa, is domsa a rinne sibh é.’ Ansin déarfaidh sé le lucht na láimhe clé ar a seal: ‘Imígí uaim, a dhream mhallaithe, isteach sa tine shíoraí a ullmhaíodh don diabhal agus dá chuid aingeal. Óir bhí ocras orm agus níor thug sibh aon rud le hithe dom, bhí tart orm agus níor thug sibh aon rud le hól dom, bhí mé i mo strainséir agus níor thug sibh aíocht dom, bhí mé nocht agus níor chuir sibh aon éadach orm, bhí mé tinn agus i bpríosún agus níor tháinig sibh do m’fheiceáil.’ Agus freagróidh siad sin é ansin: ‘A Thiarna, cén uair a bhí tú le feiceáil againn agus ocras nó tart ort, nó i do strainséir, nó nocht nó tinn nó i bpríosún agus nach ndearnamar freastal ort?’ Ansin freagróidh sé iad: ‘Deirim libh go fírinneach, sa mhéid nach ndearna sibh é do dhuine den chuid is lú díobh seo, ní dhearna sibh domsa é ach oiread.’ Agus imeoidh siad leo, iad seo isteach i bpionós síoraí, ach na fíréin i mbeatha shíoraí.”
King Baudouin of the Belgians (1930-1993)

Leo Jozef Cardinal Suenens (1904-1996), Archbishop of Malines-Brussels from 1961to 1979,one of the leading figures at Vatican II, in a biography of King Baudouin of the Belgians, wrote of the occasion the king heard of a mother who was so ill in hospital that she could not attend the ordination to the priesthood of her son, a Jesuit. The king went to visit her that day. I was sick . . . and you visited me. When King Baudouin died suddenly in Spain on 31 July 1993 that same priest was chaplain in the prison where Belgium's most hardened criminals are kept. They nearly all attended a Mass for the late king and sent a message of sympathy to Queen Fabiola.

Not too long before his death, King Baudouin visited a brothel in Antwerp to listen to the stories of the women there. One of them, a Filipina, spoke at his funeral and said that he was the only man who had ever listened to them. (I am relying on memory here to some degree but the Los Angeles Times report on the funeral said, 'The breadth of Baudouin's popularity was reflected in the list of those who eulogized him: a Cabinet minister, an artist, a community worker, a prostitute and an investigative journalist'.)

The same report quotes Godfried Cardinal Danneels, then Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, at the funeral Mass in St Michael's Cathedral, 'There are kings who are more than kings, they are shepherds of their people. King Baudouin was such a king'. Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,so will I tend my sheep' (Ezekiel 34:11-12, today's first reading).

In April 1990 King Bauduoin refused to sign into law a bill legalising abortion. He knew his stand could not prevent the bill from being implemented. The parliament declared him temporarily unable to carry out his duties and the members of the government signed the bill into law before declaring that the king was able to carry out his duties again. The king's stand could have led to the abolition of the monarchy. He himself became king when his father, a divisive figure, abdicated in 1951. I was a stranger and you made me welcome.

Cardinal Suenens' book showed that some wrote to the king for spiritual direction. He was a man whose Catholic faith was fully integrated with his public and private life. He and Queen Fabiola longed to have a child but the queen had five miscarriages.

In the days of Jesus kings were men with great power. Today's monarchs are basically ceremonial heads of state, with little power. But they can have great influence.

A friend of my brother was asked if he could play golf near Belfast with a visitor from the European Continent. The visitor was introduced as 'Mr So-and-so'.  After a few holes my brother's friend asked his golfing partner what he did for a living. 'Mr So-and-so' smiled and said, 'I'm the King of the Belgians'.

None of us are kings or queens but many of us have responsibilities towards others, as priests, spouses/parents, teachers, social workers, caregivers, nurses and what not. The feast of Christ the King tells us that the heart of responsibility is loving service, even to giving up our lives if necessary. I believe that King Baudoin is one of many persons from every walk of life whom God has sent to show us how to follow his Son Jesus, God who became Man, whom we honour today as Christ the King.

16 November 2011

Death: a time for gratitude

Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with the round tower over the grave of Daniel O'Connell

There is a beautiful letter in today's Irish Independent expressing the writer's gratitude to those who had helped his mother in her latter days. He mentions, among others, bus drivers. I have seen many acts of kindness by drivers and passengers over the years on buses here in Dublin and similar acts of kindness in all sorts of ordinary situations. 'Whoever has eyes to see . . .'

I buried my mother in Dublin last week. Her quality of life became poor over her last two years as she battled against the effects of earlier smoking on her eyesight, heart and lungs.

But the people of Dublin were there to help. Bus drivers left their buses and walked her across to her little apartment; some even helped her up the steps and into her little 'home'.

Three complete strangers, her "three angels", did her shopping, washing and ironing and took her to get her silver hair done every week.

Staff in her local pharmacy in Rathfarnham village let her rest in the shop and often took her across to the bus stop or arranged a lift home.

We had a lovely last day. She went to sleep happy that night and did not wake up.

Thank you so much to the many random strangers who did so much for my mother at her time of need.

Frank Devine
Kenilworth, England

11 November 2011

'To everyone who has will be given more . . .' Sunday Reflections, 33rd Sunday Year A

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 25:14-30 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)I have a young friend who has been gifted by God with more than average intelligence. I'll call her 'Rosa', though that's not her real name. She 'breezed' through all her examinations from kindergarten to college. She was involved in legitimate extra-curricular activities at school, without neglecting her studies. While studying, she would readily help other students prepare for exams. Most importantly, she recognises that she has a gift from God. She doesn't hide behind a false humility nor does she boast about herself. She is now working with persons who have suffered deeply from the sins of others.

'It is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third is one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out. The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. "Sir," he said "you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made." His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master's happiness". Next the man with the two talents came forward. "Sir," he said "you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made." His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master's happiness". Last came forward the man who had the one talent. "Sir," said he "I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back." But his master answered him, "You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth."

An Soiscéal Matha 25:14-30 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail “duine a bhí ag dul ar an gcoigríoch: ghlaoigh sé ar a sheirbhísigh agus thaobhaigh leo a mhaoin; thug cúig thallann do dhuine acu, a dó do dhuine eile, aon tallann amháin do dhuine eile – do gach duine de réir an chumais a bhí ann – agus d’fhág an tír. Ní dhearna fear na gcúig thallann aon mhoill gan cur chun gnó leo agus cúig cinn eile a ghnóthú. Mar an gcéanna d’fhear an dá thallann; ghnóthaigh seisean dhá cheann eile. Ach chuaigh fear na haon tallainne amháin agus rinne poll sa talamh agus chuir sé airgead a mháistir i bhfolach. Seal fada ina dhiaidh sin, tháinig máistir na seirbhíseach sin ag réiteach cuntas leo. Tháinig fear na gcúig thallann ina láthair agus thairg cúig thallann eile aige chuige agus ar seisean: ‘A mháistir, d’fhág tú cúig thallann ar iontaoibh agamsa; seo duit cúig cinn eile a ghnóthaigh mé.’ Labhair a mháistir leis: ‘Go han-mhaith; dea-sheirbhíseach iontaofa thú: bhí tú iontaofa i mbun beagán nithe; ceapfaidh mé i do cheann thú ar mhórán; gabh isteach in aoibhneas do thiarna.’ Tháinig ina láthair ansin fear an dá thallann: ‘A mháistir,’ ar seisean, ‘d’fhág tú dhá thallann ar iontaoibh agamsa: seo duit dhá cheann eile a ghnóthaigh mé.’ Labhair a mháistir leis: ‘Go han-mhaith: dea-sheirbhíseach iontaofa thú; bhí tú iontaofa i mbun beagán nithe; ceapfaidh mé i do cheann thú ar mhórán: gabh isteach in aoibhneas do thiarna.’ Tháinig ina láthair ansin an fear a fuair an t-aon tallann amháin: ‘A mháistir,’ ar seisean, ‘bhí aithne agam ort gur duine crua thú, ag baint fómhair san áit nár chuir tú síol, agus ag cnuasach as an áit nach ndearna tú scaipeadh; agus le barr eagla, chuaigh mé ag cur do thallainne i bhfolach sa talamh. Seo duit í: tá do chuid féin agat.’ Dúirt a mháistir leis á fhreagairt: ‘Drochsheirbhíseach leisciúil thú! Bhí a fhios agat go mbainim fómhar san áit nár chuir mé síol agus go gcnuasaím as an áit nach ndearna mé scaipeadh: ba cheart duitse mar sin mo chuid airgid a chur chun lucht gaimbín, agus nuair a thiocfainn gheobhainn mo chuid féin ar ais le hús. Bainigí de an tallann agus tugaigí í don duine a bhfuil na deich dtallann aige, óir, gach aon duine a mbíonn ní aige, tabharfar dó agus beidh fuílleach aige, ach an té a bhíonn gan ní, fiú amháin a mbíonn aige bainfear de é. Agus an seirbhíseach úd gan aird, caitear amach sa dorchadas é: is ann a bheidh gol agus díoscán fiacla.’

I have a young friend in the Philippines, Richelle (above), who has been gifted by God with more than average intelligence. She 'breezed' through all her examinations from kindergarten to college where she graduated summa cum laude. A few months alter she came second in the country in the licensure examination for social workers. She was involved in legitimate extra-curricular activities at school, without neglecting her studies. While studying, she would readily help other students prepare for exams. Most importantly, she recognises that she has a gift from God. She doesn't hide behind a false humility nor does she boast about herself. She is now working with persons who have suffered deeply from the sins of others.

When I was in Cebu I came to know a young man named Isabelo. Unlike Richelle, he had an intellectual disability because he was born with trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). However, Isabelo had a special gift for the Faith and Light community to which he and I belonged - he had a great memory for names and would always remind us that so-and-so had not yet arrived.

I met a young girl of about ten or eleven from Hong Kong at the international Faith and Light pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2001 - the movement grew out of a pilgrimage to Lourdes for persons with intellectual disabilities in 1971 - whose name I cannot remember, to my shame, but whose trusting purity made a profound impact on me. In the Irish language such a person is called 'duine le Dia', 'a person with God'. This young girl was truly such.

She and Isabelo were unaware of the specail gift that God had given to each of them, but others enabled those gifts to be shared with the wider community. Rosa is very much aware of being gifted by God and consciously, unselfishly, joyfully and humbly shares her gifts with others.

We sometimes distort the image of Jesus by describing him as 'meek and mild'. This is certainly part of God who became Man. But in today's parable he is scathing of those who don't use the gifts that God has given them. A talent in Biblical times was a container of gold or silver but has come to mean an ability or gift from God that a person has.

Some have the gift of spotting and encouraging in others gifts they don't have themselves. My father, a carpenter, rarely read books but when I was still in kindergarten he gave me a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island that he had received as a child. It wasn't a simplified edition but unabridged. I read it with joy. The Sisters in the kindergarten I went to had alreadly spotted that my reading ability was way ahead of that of my classmates and used to give me stampetas or holy cards as a reward for reading something normally difficult for a young child.

Soemtimes we discover a gift we have because others see it first. It was only after my ordination, while studying in the USA, that I realised I have a certain ability to listen to persons. This was when individuals, some much older than me, came to me because they needed someone to listen to. I became aware of this while spending most of the summer of 1969 in a sprawling rural parish in Kentucky, where there were very few Catholics. The parish priest used to get college students from many parts of the USA to work in various summer projects, such as camps for poor children, Bible school, home-to-home visitation, and preaching tours, the latter with seminarians. Fr Ralph Beiting had a marvellous gift for organising and inspiring young people,but he wasn't a person you would go to if you wanted someone to listen to you. However, it was his giftst that made it possible for me to discover one of mine.

The two young Irish diocesan priests who founded the Columbans, Fr Edward Galvin (later Bishop of Nancheng, China) and Fr John Blowick, had very different gifts. Fr Galvin was an 'action man' while Fr Blowick was a brilliant scholar who also knew how to deal with bishops and with authorities in the Vatican. Neither on his own would have got anywhere with a new missionary society. Together, they used the speific gifts God had given each to further the mission Jesus gave the Church, to preach the Gospel to every creature.

On His Blindness, John Milton (1608-1674)
"When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

English poet John Milton tried to come to terms with the blindness that came upon him. Many older persons, or those who have been struck with a severe illness or disability, go through a similar struggle. 'Who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best'. Fr Edward Allen was a saintly Columban I was blessed to have lived with from 1997 till 2000. Over the years he had helped many young women discover ther vocation to religious life. Late in 1998 he had a severe stroke which made him almost totally dependent on others. His mind and his sense of humour remained intact, though his speech wasn't clear. He was 92 when he got the stroke but for the remaining two-and-a-half years of his life he was giving strength to the young and healthy nurses who were taking care of him because of his deep faith in Jesus Christ.
God has given each of us a unique set of gifts. We glorify and honour him by racknowledging them and using them joyfully in the service of others, and especially by helping others discover their gifts.

09 November 2011

Choi Sung-Bong, Korea's Susan Boyle

A friend sent me the link to this video some months ago but I've only got round to looking at it. Possibly I'm the last person on the planet to have watched it. Nevertheless, I think it is worth sharing. The account Choi Sung-Bong gives of his life on Korea's Got Talent has been verified. It is an inspiring one. Like Susan Boyle, Choi Sung-Bong has been on the margins, though in a different way from the Scottish singer.

As a Columban I have a special interest in Korea as we have been working there since 1933 and shared the hardships of World War II and the Korean War with the people there. Columban priests died violently there. I have visited the country three times and have Korean friends, Columban priests, seminarians, lay missionaries and religious who have come to the Philippines as missionaries.

The song is Nella Fantasia, is based on Gabriel's Oboe, composed by Enrico Morricone for The Mission, that wonderful film based on the missionary work of the Jesuits in Paraguay.

07 November 2011

'Can you pray for my sick dog?'

The Holy Family with a Bird, Murillo, painted 1650.

I was in our parish church in Dublin this afternoon praying when I saw a young man of about 19 come in, kneel in the front pew for a couple of minutess, light a candle in front of the latar of the Blessed Virgin and then leave. I was thinking that it was a hopeful sign to see a young person do this. Indeed, yesterday at Sunday Mass, while the congregation at the Mass at 11am wasn't great, there were some young people present.

A few minutes latr thee young man came, approached me and told me his dog was sick. I wouldn't describe him as distressed but he was upset. I asked hiim how old his dog was and he said 'three'. He also gave me the dog's name, 'Sam'. I asked him if he had taken Sam to the vet. 'He's with him right now', he told me.

I mentioned two saints to the young man, whose name I asked but won't mention here, who had the gift of healing animals, St Francis and St Martin de Porres. (I'm not certain that St Francis actually healed them but many churches bless pets on his feast day). The young man was happy with this and went off. I prayed of him and for little Sam.

St Martin de Porres is sometimes depicted with a broom, a dog, cat, mouse and bird at his feet. He had the gift of healing persons and their animals, as the picture above suggests. (If the picture disappears click on the link. I'm not sure whether or not it's copyright but the link brings you to the source).Probably health authorities today in the West would be horrified to see animals outside a hospital ward!

Jesus, God who created animals, was born among some of them when he became Man. He gave them to us for different purposes, some of which aren't clear to me, eg, what are rats for? The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No 2416, reads: Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

It also reminds us in No 2418, It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

I don't think the young man I met this afternoon in our parish church was giving little Sam the affection due only to persons, but was showing proper respect for one of God's creatures for which he had taken responsibility. I hope that Sam recovers and continues for many years to 'bless God and give him glory' and that his young owner will come to know the same God's infinite love for him as one made in God's image and likeness.

 Statue of St Roch (San Roque) in Prague

I forgot to tell the young man about San Roque ['ROkay'], one of the most popular saints in the Philippines, who was nursed back to health by a dog after he had caught the plague. I remember once celebrating Mass during the novena in preparation for the feast of San Roque in the section of Cebu City where I was based at the time. All during the Mass a black cat sat quietly at my feet. At the end I said, 'San Roque has his dog and I have my cat!' Maybe St Martin de Porres was quietly present too


04 November 2011

'So stay awake . . .' Sunday Reflections, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, Hieronymus Francken II, c.1616

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 25:1-13 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: 'The kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were sensible: the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps. The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight there was a cry, "The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him." At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, "Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out". But they replied, "There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves". They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed. The other bridesmaids arrived later. "Lord, Lord," they said "open the door for us." But he replied, "I tell you solemnly, I do not know you". So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.

An Soiscéal Matha 25:1-13 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail: “Is iad dála ríocht na bhflaitheas an uair sin mar a bhí ag deichniúr maighdean a chuaigh amach agus a lampaí acu in airicis an fhir nuaphósta. Cúigear díobh seo, bhí siad gan tuiscint agus bhí an cúigear eile ciallmhar; mar, thug na mná gan tuiscint na lampaí leo agus gan aon ola acu, ach thug na mná ciallmhara ola ina bpróiciní leo chomh maith leis na lampaí. Bhí an fear nuaphósta ag déanamh moille, agus tháinig sámhán orthu uile agus thit siad ina gcodladh. Ach glaodh i lár na hoíche: ‘Chugaibh an fear nuaphósta! Amach libh ina airicis!’ D’éirigh na maighdeana sin uile ina suí agus dheasaigh siad a lampaí. Ach dúirt na mná gan tuiscint leis na mná ciallmhara: ‘Tugaigí dúinn braon de bhur n-olasa, mar tá ár lampaíne in éag.’ D’fhreagair lucht na céille iad: ‘Le heagla,’ ar siad, ‘nach mbeadh ár ndóthain ann dúinn féin agus daoibhse, b’fhearr daoibhse dul go dtí lucht a díolta á ceannach daoibh féin.’ Bhí siad ag dul á ceannach nuair a tháinig an fear nuaphósta, agus iad seo a bhí ullamh, chuaigh siad isteach in éineacht leis chun na bainise, agus dúnadh an doras. Sa deireadh, tháinig na maighdeana eile freisin: ‘A thiarna, a thiarna,’ ar siad, ‘oscail dúinn!’ Ach d’fhreagair sé agus dúirt: ‘Deirim libh go fírinneach, níl aithne agam oraibh.’ Bígí ag faire, dá bhrí sin, mar níl a fhios agaibh an lá ná an uair.


Entrance Antiphon

Let my prayer come before you, Lord; listen and answer me (Ps 87:3).
Intret orátio mea in conspéctu tuo; inclína aurem tuam ad precem meam, Dómine (Latin).

As we come towards the end of the liturgical year the them of vigilance and preparedness becomes prominent in the readings at Mass. Today's gospel highlights those two themes. The grave above is that of Liam Whelan, a 22-year-old man from the next parish to my own in Dublin, who died in an aircrash in Munich on 6 February 1958 with other members of the Manchester United soccer team, officials and journalists. Hearing the news of the disaster that evening from a street singer was my first experience, at 14, of what has been called a 'private public moment' when everyone remembers where they were when they heard of a tragedy.

For people of an older generation in Europe the word 'Munich' conjured up the picture of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at an airport in London on 30 September 1938 waving a piece of paper signed by himself and Hitler in that German city, the Anglo-German Declaration, assuring 'peace for our time'. Less than a year later Germany and Britain were at war. For me Munich, which I have visited twice, will be for ever the place where Liam Whelan and his companions died so tragically.

But I remember being inspired when I read what Liam Whelan's last words were: 'If this is the end, then I'm ready for it'.

Here, slightly edited, is what I wrote in my blog on the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster, because I think it powerfully brings out the meaning of today's parable.

A stamp with Liam Whelan's photo, issued by An Post, the Irish Postal Service, for the 50th anniversary of the Munich Disaster. The clock is in Old Trafford, the Manchester United stadium, shoing the time and dated of the crash.

'If this is the end, then I'm ready for it'. (Posted 6 February 2008).

These were the last words of Liam Whelan who died 50 years ago today and who is buried near my parents. Only last year I learned that when they were both around 14 Liam rescued a close friend of mine who had got into difficulties in a swimming pool. [I am baptising a grandson of that friend tomorrow, 5 November].

The average age of Manchester United's players was only 22. One who was only 21, Duncan Edwards, from the English Midlands, was considered by many to have the potential to become perhaps the greatest footballer ever. He died 15 days after the crash.

These young men were earning only £15 a week, about 25 percent more than a tradesman could earn. Endorsements could bring in a little more income for a few talented players whose career would end for most at 35, if not earlier. Their counterparts today are often spoiled millionaires. Imagine if the top players in the Philippine Basketball Association were paid only the same amount as a public school teacher, or if the members of the New York Giants or the Boston Red Sox were limited to earning little more than a bus-driver. That’s how it was with these young men who filled stadiums week after week.

Those who knew him describe Liam Whelan as a ‘devout Catholic’. I know that he sent his mother some money for her to go to Lourdes. 11 February 1958 was the centennial of the first apparition of our Blessed Mother to St Bernadette. Mrs Whelan, a widow since 1943 when Liam was 8, used the money instead towards a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes over the grave of her son. I pass it each time I visit my parents’ grave.

Clearly young Liam Whelan had his life focused on what was most important. He was ready to meet death. I spoke about him at Mass this morning. I see Lent as a time to focus on the essentials, God’s love for us sinners, the hope that the life and death of Jesus offer us, the necessity of acknowledging our sinfulness to enable God’s love to break through. [6 February 2008 was Ash Wednesday].

But the deaths of so many talented young men still leaves a deep sadness among those who saw them play and followed their fortunes. I was feeling that sadness quite heavily this last week but it has lifted now. The February issue of The Word has an article, A Sporting Tragedy, in which John Scally speaks for me : ‘Their funerals were like no other. Most funerals are a burial of someone or something already gone. These young deaths pointed in exactly the opposite direction and were therefore the more poignant. Normally we bury the past but in burying Liam Whelan and his colleagues, in some deep and gnawing way we buried the future’.

You can listen to a wonderful interview with Harry Gregg, one of the survivors, on Bowman Sunday Morning on 27 January. [This interview on RTÉ, Ireland’s national radio and TV service, is no longer available. Harry Gregg, who was a goalkeeper for Manchester United and Northern Ireland, survived the crash without injury and rescued a number of passengers. He has often told the story of Liam Whelan's last words. I think he was sitting next to the young Dubliner].


'So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour'.