31 January 2012

'I have always laboured lovingly for them. . .' St John Bosco

I have always admired St John Bosco (16 August 1815 - 31 January 1888). I gave more than a passing thought to the idea of being a Salesian, though that notion never really took hold. But a Salesian priest in England whom I never met did play a part in my desire to be a priest. He established a group called The Guild of St Dominic Savio and members received a newsletter each month. At one stage I wrote the priest to tell him that I hoped to be a missionary priest. I was about 16 at the time. He wrote me a personal letter in which he said that there were many good priests but that the Church needed holy priests. That has stayed with me for more than 50 years now.

I have been blessed all my life as a priest - more than 44 years now - through involvement with young people, as a teacher, a retreat-giver, a confessor, an editor replying to letters, as a friend. At times young people have exasperated me but they have always given me hope and have called forth the best in me. They have been forgiving and understanding.

The second reading in the Office of Readings today, the Feast of St John Bosco, is from a letter of St John Bosco to his confreres in the Salesian Congregation which he founded to respond to the needs of boys who had little hope or direction in their lives. It is a letter that shows an understanding of human nature and of God's call to be loving.

I have highlighted some parts and added [comments].

St Dominic Savio, 2 April 1842 - 9 March 1857, a student of St John Bosco

I have always laboured out of love

First of all, if we wish to appear concerned about the true happiness of our foster children and if we would move them to fulfil their duties, you must never forget that you are taking the place of the parents of these beloved young people. I have always laboured lovingly for them, and carried out my priestly duties with zeal. And the whole Salesian society has done this with me.

My sons, in my long experience very often I had to be convinced of this great truth. It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them. [So often I've seen young persons respond positively and with gratitude to kind firmness, what may be called at times 'tough love'.]

I give you as a model the charity of Paul which he showed to his new converts. They often reduced him to tears and entreaties when he found them lacking docility and even opposing his loving efforts. [No young person has ever reduced me to tears by his or her behaviour but I have been close to tears on occasion when a young person has thanked me for being firm and showing care.]

See that no one finds you motivated by impetuosity or wilfulness. It is difficult to keep calm when administering punishment, but this must be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling out our anger. [This echoes last Sunday's gospel, Mark 1:21-28, where the people recognised the inner authority of Jesus.]

Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. Let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. [The Handbook of the Legion of Mary, written by its founder, the Venerable Frank Duff, urges a similar approach to persons.] Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better. [Elected officials and anyone in a position of authority might take this to heart.]

This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalised, and still others to hope for God’s mercy. [Read an extraordinary instance of this in yesterday's post in Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ.] And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.

They are our sons, and so in correcting their mistakes we must lay aside all anger and restrain it so firmly that it is extinguished entirely.

There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement.

In serious matters it is better to beg God humbly than to send forth a flood of words that will only offend the listeners and have no effect on those who are guilty.

Blessed Laura Vicuña (5 April 1891, Chile – 22 January 1904, Argentina, educated by the Salesian Sisters, Patron of victims of abuse

29 January 2012

Pleasing your wife, pleasing your husband

Officiating at a wedding in the Philippines

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband.

This is a sort of appendix to Sunday Reflections for today. The above verses, 1 Corinthians 7: 32-34, are from today's Second Reading. My friends in Worldwide Marriage Encounter are probably sick and tired of my emphasising that the basic vocation in marriage is to be a spouse, not a parent. The latter is a consequence of the former. In this brief passage St Paul doesn't mention parenthood at all but the priority of pleasing one's spouse. I truly believe that  a spouse who gives first priority to that will be a good parent.

I was invited to a wedding recently and the officiating priest asked me to preach. I told the couple that their wedding day didn't mean the end of dating but rather the beginning. I went on to speak of the spousal relationship as being the fundamental one.

The wedding was at 4pm. Before 9pm, the last item during the reception was a short video of the ceremony. I was delightedly surprised when it opened with my words about dating and made the spousal relationship the basic theme, rather than only showing various shots of the wedding.

I have seen marriages break up where both spouses were doing everything they could 'for the sake of the kids'. I think that break-ups are much less likely when a husband's priority is, in St Paul's words, how to please his wife, and a wife's priority how to please her husband.

I have seen in so many families how children truly feel loved when their parents' priorities are such. One adult daughter told me how her father, when he was dying, said goodbye to all his children and then asked them to leave so that he could spent his last moments with his wife.

27 January 2012

'He taught them with authority.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Moses, Carlo Dolci, painted 1640-45

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:21-28 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.

In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit, and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.

An Soiscéal Marcas 1:21-28 (Gaeilge, Irish)

When I was 16 I joined Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (Local Defence Force), part of the Irish Army Reserve (cap badge above). Membership was voluntary. We trained on Sundays and there was a two-week summer camp. However, I didn’t stay in it long enough to experience that.

I remember two individuals very clearly, not by name but by rank. One was a corporal and the other a sergeant. The corporal took delight in shouting and swearing at everyone. He was in his early 20s and we mostly between 16 and 18. We did what he told us to do. But none of us had any respect for him. 

The sergeant, also in his early 20s, while strict, never shouted at us and the strongest word he ever used was ‘damn’. While in its fullest meaning this really is a curse, usage over the centuries has made it a very mild expression, with hardly any connection to its dictionary definition. We did what the sergeant told us to do, and with genuine respect for him. He respected us and because of that his authority came primarily from his person, not from his rank.

I am always struck by the way St Mark highlights the authority Jesus had. It wasn’t from any position he held but from the Truth that he is. He tells us in St John’s Gospel that he is ‘the way, the truth and the life’. The people recognised this: his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority; ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’

I remember our rector in the seminary, Fr Joseph Flynn, once saying to us, ‘Let us at least be hypocrites’. What he meant was that if we fall short of what we believe and profess, and know that we are falling short and ask God’s forgiveness, we will still have something of the authority of Jesus himself. The tax collector who prayed in the Temple, ‘Lord, have mercy on me a sinner’, still carries authority whereas the hypocritical Pharisee doesn’t.

Yesterday I had an email from a recovering alcoholic who told me he ‘went into a blank space’ when he learned of the death of a priest who had also been a recovering alcoholic. This priest had been very close to him during the first years of his recovery. I know that the priest had occasional lapses but sought the help of others in AA when he did. That’s what gave him the authority he had with fellow 'strugglers'. 

Some saints, such as St Thérèse of Lisieux (above, aged 15), carry the authority of the purity of their lives. Some, like St Augustine of Hippo, carry the authority of a person who has, with God’s grace, overcome a life of sin. Moses, who speaks to us in the first reading today, carries the authority of a great leader who acknowledged his own impatience and who accepted the consequence of this, that he would lead his people to the Promised Land, see it, but never enter it himself.

  St Augustine and St Monica, by Ary Scheffer (painted 1846)

San am sin chuaigh Íosa isteach i gCafarnáum. Agus lá na sabóide féin, ar dhul isteach satsionagóg dó, thosaigh sé ag teagasc.Agus bhí ionadh orthu faoina theagasc; á dteagasc a bhí sé mar dhuine a mbeadh údarás aige, níorbh ionann agus na scríobhaithe.

Bhí, san am sin, duine sa tsionagóg a raibh smacht ag spiorad míghlan air, agus scread sé amach: “Há, cad ab áil leat dínn, a Íosa Nazairéanaigh? Chun ár millte a tháinig tú. Is eol dom cé hé thú: Naomh Dé.” Labhair Íosa leis go bagrach: “Bí i do thost, agus gabh amach as.” Bhain an spiorad míghlan rachtaí as an duine, ghlaoigh amach go hard agus d’imigh as. Agus bhí alltacht chomh mór sin ar chách go raibh siad ag fiafraí dá chéile: “Cad é an rud é seo?” deiridís: “teagasc nua á dhéanamh le húdarás; na spioraid mhíghlana féin, fógraíonn sé orthu agus déanann siad rud air.” Agus níorbh fhada gur leath a chlú go fada gearr ar fud cheantar uile na Gailíle.


26 January 2012

A 'spirited' young Massgoer!

I came across this on Facebook. We'll have to wait in the Philippines, in Hong Kong and, I think, New Zealand, until next Advent for this.

24 January 2012

Please pray for Julie

Mrs Julie Lamb with grandchildren Erin and Patrick O'Brien

Yesterday I received an email from a good friend in London, Ontario, Laura O'Brien. Laura asked me to pray for her mother, Mrs Julie Lamb. Julie has lung cancer and has been 'given weeks to a couple months to live'.

I've known Laura since 1981 when I was studying in Toronto. She and her husband Danny - Laura had the good sense to marry an Irishman! - were members of a prayer group that used to meet in St Basil's in the heart of  this remarkably cosmopolitan city. (The 1980 census showed that 44 per cent of the population of Metro Toronto had been born outside of Canada).

I met Julie for the first time in 2010 during a visit to Canada. She is a delightfully alive person.

Laura wrote, 'She is getting great care, and all the family have pulled together to ensure she has all her needs met'.

Please remember Julie and her family in your prayers

20 January 2012

'At once they left their nets and followed him', Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Calling of Peter and Andrew, Duccio di Buoninsegna, painted 1308-11
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Gospel Mark 1:14-20 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’
As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending their nets. He called them at once and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him.

An Soiscéal Marcas 1:14-20 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Tar éis Eoin a bheith tugtha ar láimh, tháinig Íosa go dtí an Ghailíl ag fógairt soiscéal Dé agus ag rá: “Tá an tréimhse caite agus tá ríocht Dé in achmaireacht. Déanaigí aithrí agus creidigí sa soiscéal.”

Bhí sé ag imeacht leis cois farraige na Gailíle nuair a chonaic sé Síomón agus Aindrias deartháir Shíomóin agus iad ag caitheamh eangaí san fharraige, mar iascairí a bhí iontu. Dúirt Íosa leo: “Tagaigí i mo dhiaidh, agus déanfaidh mé díbh iascairí ar dhaoine.” D’fhág aid na líonta láithreach agus lean aid é. Bhuail sé ar aghaidh beagán eile agus chonaic sé Séamas mac Zeibidé agus Eoin a dheartháir, iad ina mbád féin ag ceartú na líonta, agus ghlaoigh sé iad láithreach. D’fhág aid a n-athair Zeibidé sa bhád, é féin agus an lucht pá, agus ghabh aid leis.

The young Fr Edward Galvin in China

One hundred years ago a 29-year-old Irishman who had been working in Brooklyn, New York City, wrote a letter to his mother in his native County Cork. Nothing unusual in that. There were countless young Irishmen and women in the USA who had gone there because there was no work for them at home. That was the case with this young man. He had been ordained in 1909 for his own Diocese of Cork but his bishop had so many priests that he loaned the young man, Fr Edward Galvin, to the Diocese of Brooklyn.

While there he felt a desire to be a missionary. This led him to head off to China in February 1912 from Toronto, Canada, with a Canadian priest, Fr John Fraser, instead of going home to Ireland.

Here is his letter, written in Toronto:

Photocopy of letter (Thanks, Father Rex)
Dear Mother,

I am sorry, dear Mother, to have to write this letter, but God’s will be done. Everything is in His hands. Mother, don’t grieve, don’t cry. It is God’s will. God has called and I had to obey.

I am not going back to Ireland. I am going as a missionary to China. May God’s will be done. God knows my heart is broken, not for myself but for you whom I love above all the world.

Mother, you know how this has always been on my mind. But I thought it was a foolish thought – a boyish thought; that it would pass away as I grew older. But it never passed, never, never, never.

Why should God ask me to do this thing that is breaking my heart to do? I don’t know. God knows best. May His will be done. “If any man will come after me let him take up his cross and follow me.” Oh yes, but oh my God I never thought that it was so hard to follow. I have tried to follow when you called. I ask you in return to console my poor mother, to comfort her, to help her to make the Sacrifice I am making and spare her until we meet again.’

Frs Edward Galvin, John Blowick (seated) and Owen McPolin shortly after the arrival of the first group of Columbans in China. They left Ireland in 1920. Fr Blowick, the first Superior General, returned to Ireland to direct the Society and to teach in the Columban seminary.

Fr Fraser was to found the Scarboro Foreign Mission Society, with its headquarters in Scarborough, Ontario, now part of Metro Toronto, and the young Fr Galvin was to co-found with Fr John Blowick, another Irish diocesan priest and more than five years younger, what was first known as the Maynooth Mission to China in 1916 and formally became the Society of St Columban in 1918. Both societies had China as their original mission and both are societies of secular priests, not religious.

Father Galvin thought his idea of becoming a missionary was ‘a foolish thought – a boyish thought’. The actual moment when God called him as starkly as Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John, in today’s gospel happened on his weekly day off when he had planned to go to the office of the Propagation of the Faith in New York City to explore the idea of becoming a missionary. Two unexpected sick calls came that morning, which he responded to, leaving it too late for him to do what he had planned. Then Fr John Fraser arrived unannounced at the rectory and it was this meeting the led Edward Galvin to China shortly afterwards.

The cover of The Far East, the Columban magazine in Ireland, was the same for many years and the Chinese junk symbolised the Columbans for the Irish people and touched the imagination of many a future Columban missionary, including my own while I was still in kindergarten.

I don’t know what went on in the hearts of Peter and Andrew when, as St Mark tells us, ‘at once they left their nets and followed’ Jesus, or in the hearts of James and John who 'leaving their father Zebedee . . . went after him’. That decision was to lead ultimately to the martyrdom of three of them and to John standing at the Cross of Jesus and taking on the care of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Father Galvin recalled years later what it had cost him to set off for China, starting from New York City: I still remember the pain of parting on that grey, dreary morning. When the train got underway for Toronto, I crumpled up in the coach and cried as if my heart would break.’

He was to become Bishop of Hanyang in China where he was to experience natural calamiteis such as great floods, the Sino-Japanese War, World War II and the Communist takeover, leading his expulsion in 1952. Born on the feast of St Columban, 23 November 1882, he died on 23 February 1956, the feast of the great martyr-bishop St Polycarp of Smyrna who knew St John the Evangelist who, with his brother James, had left his father to follow Jesus.

The cover on The Far East after the death of Bishop Galvin.

You can read more in an article by English Columban Fr Pat Sayles, Edward J. Galvin: a Trailblazer for God. 

17 January 2012

'Some loved him as a son . . .' St Anthony the Abbot

St Anthony Distributing his Wealth to the Poor, Master of the Ozzervanza, c.1440

St Anthony the Abbot, also known as St Anthony of Egypt and St Anthony the Hermit has had an enormous influence on the life of the Church, touching the lives of nearly all of us. When he went off into the desert as a young man he had no idea that this would lead to the spread of monsticism, which in turn led to other forms of religious life of which there are many variations. He died in 356 at the great age of 105. There were monasteries before St Anthony, so he didn't start this but his life helped to spread it.

There is a lovely reading in the Office of Readings today from the Life of St Anthony by St Athanasius. It ends with these words: And so all the people of the village, and the good men with whom he was associated was what kind of man he was, and they called him 'The friend of God'. Some loved him as a son, and others as though he were a brother

It's conventional enough to describe a saintly man as a brother or as a father, though St Athanasius didn't use the latter. However, I'm always touched by the words Some loved him as a son. There must have been something very special about St Anthony that led St Athansius to describe him in that way.

St Athanasius also lets us know that the young Anthony was late arriving at Mass when he heard the words of the gospel that changed his life: It happened that the gospel was then being read, and he heard what the Lord had said to the rich man 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me'.

This passage is from Matthew 19:16-26, which is recommended for the Mass of the saint. Here it is in the Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition.

And behold, one came up to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."


O God, who brought the Abbot Saint Anthony
to serve you by a wondrous way of life in the desert,
grant, through his intercession,
that, denying ourselves,
we may always love you above all things.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

16 January 2012

Two million honour the Santo Niño (Holy Child) in Cebu City

I probably underestimated the faith of Filipinos in my Sunday Reflections for the Feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child), Let the Children Come to Me, which I didn't post on this blog but on Misyon, the online magazine of the Columbans in the Philippines of which I am editor.

The Sun*Star, a daily newspaper published in Cebu, carries a story today, Almost 2 million join solemn procession in Cebu. The video above is included in the paper's online report.

The traditional religious procession, which commemorates the beginnings of the Catholic Christian faith in the Philippines, takes place on Saturday. The commercial parade, which started only in 1980, takes place on Sunday.

The Sinulog dance, two steps forward and one back, is said to resemble flowing water, is a religious dance. The first time I saw it was in a mountain barrio in Mindanao nearly 40 years ago when, after the fiesta Mass and baptisms, the grandmother of one of the newly baptised took the child in her arms and danced in front of an image of the Santo Niño. I have seen what has happened to St Patrick's Day in Ireland in recent where the main celebrations have little or nothing to do with the Christian faith, a faith that more and more Irish people are rejecting, and I have a fear that the same thing is happening here in the Philippines.

Last Saturday's celebration in Cebu, the genuine one, shows that maybe my fear is misplaced. I hope so.

The fluvial procession that precedes the procession through the streets of Cebu City in the video above.


13 January 2012

'Come and see'. Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

St Andrew, Francois Duquesnoy, 1629-33

This Sunday is observed in the Philippines as the Feast of the Santo Niño or Holy Child. You can find the Sunday Reflections for that feast here. 

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

 Gospel John 1:35-42 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

As John stood with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher – ‘where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.

One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – meaning Rock.

An Soiscéal Eoin 1;35-42 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin bhí Eoin ina sheasamh ansiúd agus beirt dá dheisceabail. Agus ag stánadh dó ar Íosa ag gabháil thart dúirt sé: “Seo é Uan Dé.” Chuala an bheirt deisceabal é ag rá na cainte agus lean rin Íosa. D’iompaigh Íosa, chonaic iad á leanúint agus dúirt sé leo: “Cad tá uaibh?” D’fhreagair rin é: “A raibí” – is é sin le rá “a mháistir” – “Cá bhfuil cónaí ort?” “Tagaigí agus feicigí,” ar sé leo. Tháinig rin dá bhrí sin agus chonaic rin cá raibh cónaí air, agus d’fhan rin fairis an lá sin. Bhí sé timpeall an deichiú huair.

Duine den bheirt a chuala Eoin agus a lean Íosa a ba ea Aindrias, deartháir Shíomóin Peadar. Fuair seisean ar dtús a dheartháir féin Síomón agus dúirt sé leis: “Fuaireamar an Meisias” – is é sín le rá an tUngthach. Thug sé leis é chun Íosa. D’fhéach Íosa go rin air agus dúirt: “Is tú Síomón mac Eoin. Tabharfar ort Céafas” – focal a chiallaíonn Carraig.


God’s call can come in the most unexpected ways. One of my Irish Columban confreres, Fr Bobby Gilmore, has written about discovering his call to be a missionary priest by the visit of a famous Welsh rugby player, Cliff Morgan, to his boarding school in the 1950s, St Joseph’s, Garbally Park, Ballinasloe, County Galway, owned by the Diocese of Clonfert. Rugby was the main sport in Garbally Park and the young Bobby’s passion. The school invited Cliff Morgan to speak to the students. Afterwards there was a question and answer session. Someone asked the guest what his priorities in life were. To the utter astonishment of Bobby, rugby was only the third or fourth priority of the great player. This led him to question his own priorities and led to his becoming a Columban priest.

Late in 2000 I did a mission appeal for the Columbans in the place where Cliff Morgan was born and where he is still a legend. Unfortunately, I didn’t know Father Bobby’s vocation story at the time. He spent many eyars in Mindanao and Camiguin in the Philippines before going to Jamaica. He later worked with Irish immigrants in England. He is now based in Ireland and is President and one of the founders of Migrants Rights Centre Ireland. MRCI was st up in 2000.

Trebanog, south Wales, where Cliff Morgan was born in 1930. I celebrated Sunday Mass in a school there late in 2000 while doing a mission appeal for the Columbans. The parish church is in a larger town.

In a talk he gave in August 2009 in Arizona to a convention of the Knights of Columbus Cardinal-designate Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York (above) spoke of four practical challenges the Church currently faces in preaching the Gospel to all people, the first being the instability of marriage and family.

‘That’s where we have the real vocation crisis,’ he remarked, noting that ‘only 50% of our Catholic young people are getting married. We have a vocation crisis to life-long, life-giving, loving, faithful marriage. If we take care of that one, we’ll have all the priests and nuns we need for the church,’ he said.

Last year the Central Statistics Office in the Republic of Ireland reported that nearly half of first tie births take place outside of marriage, 28 per cent of births of a second child and 22 per cent of births of a third child.

God may indeed call a child from that background to the priesthood, to religious life, to the sacrament of marriage but the chances of that child discovering his or her call from God is surely greatly reduced, since that child most likely has little or no faith context.

When the late Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston was ordained bishop he proudly showed his episcopal ring to his widowed Irish mother, She pointed at her wedding ring and said to him, ‘If it wasn’t for this, you wouldn’t be wearing that’.

This video of a march in Dublin on 17 December is from the website of MRCI. These are working people who want to play a full part in Irish society. The Irish government is trying to get the government of the USA to regularise Irish people there who are in a similar position. Eleven days before the march Dublin City Council unanimously passed this resolution:

This Council supports the undocumented Irish campaign in the US to introduce an earned regularisation scheme. This Council also notes with concern the high numbers of undocumented families and children living in Ireland without rights and under tremendous stress and fear. This Council supports the introduction of an earned regularisation scheme in Ireland, based on criteria set down by the Department of Justice, so that undocumented migrants living in Ireland can participate fully in the social, political and economic affairs of the country. This Council asks that the Minister for Justice be written to upon the passing of this motion to inform him of Dublin City Council's support for an earned regularisation scheme.

If the rugby-mad Bobby Gilmore had not been so astonished by the priorities in life of a young Welsh rugby player 55 or so years ago perhaps he would never have worked as a priest in the Philippines, Jamaica and England and would not now be involved in enabling immigrants to his native Ireland to be truly at home there.

God's call can indeed come in unexpected ways. Had St Andrew not listened to the words of St John the Baptist, accepted the invitation of Jesus to 'come and see', he probably would have spent the rest of his life catching fish instead of 'catching men' with the Gospel in a country not his own and dying on a cross as Jesus did. 

12 January 2012


The title of this post is a text message I received from a friend whose daughter and grandchildren survived Typhoon Sendong that hit northern Mindanao a week before Christmas. I use it in Pulong ng Editor, 'Editor's Word', in the January-February issue of Misyon, which I edit for the Columbans here in the Philippines.

My friend is no stranger to suffering. When he was a small child his father was murdered. Yet he powerfully expresses his faith in a simple text message, an expression of the resilience of the faith of so many Filipinos.

11 January 2012

Update on aftermath of Sendong/Washi on Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City

A Report by Fr Pat O'Donoghue

Fr Pat O'Donoghue is the Regional Director of the Columbans in the Philippines. He visited Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan Ciy last week. He wrote this report on 8 January, the Solemnity of the Epiphany here in the Philippines.

I arrived in Cagayan de Oro in the early afternoon of Monday, 2 January. The signs of the calamity were visible from the air as we approached the airport, but the full extent of the damage hits you when you stand on the river bank or visit those places where whole neighborhoods were simply washed away.

The damage to the water system was such that most of Cagayan still did not have running water when I arrived. On the way from the airport we saw groups of people surrounding trucks or fire hydrants where water was being dispensed while others were coming and going with all kinds of water containers – the innovative spirit of people once more shining through the difficulties. Drinking water was also being dispensed at points set up by the Red Cross and others who had large water purifying machines. The lack of water leads to many difficulties one of which is the difficulty people have in doing any kind of cleaning up. Water was restored to the western side of Cagayan by Thursday, January 5, a big help.

Holy Rosary Parish, which is served by the Columbans, was affected but, when compared to other parts of Cagayan and Iligan, only relatively so. Fr Paul Finlayson estimates about 100 families are affected with about 30 homes destroyed. Food and other immediate necessities have been provided for these families. At a meeting on Tuesday, January 3, attended by most Columbans in Mindanao, it was agreed that we will continue to cooperate with the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro which are doing a very good job of coordinating the relief operations, without prejudice to the specific needs of the parish.

What is the more pressing need now is that of rehabilitation, which must include relocation for most of those affected. There is little point in rebuilding homes in those areas that could be hit again in the immediate future. Getting this right and utilizing all the help that has been promised by the Government, foreign governments, aid agencies and private individuals is both a priority and a challenge. In the meanwhile, there is a need for some kind of intermediate accommodation so that people can get back to some normality. We will continue to provide any further 'immediate' aid where it is seen to be genuinely needed.

The effort now is to get people out of the evacuation centers which are mostly schools and churches and into temporary accommodation. Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma SJ pastoral letter just before Christmas urged those who were not affected to 'adopt' a family and care for them not only during Christmas but also in the coming months until that family can go to a more permanent home. Of course, relatives are already doing this for their own families, but one of the fears that some people have is that if they leave the evacuation centers now they might lose their status as genuine claimants on the aid that is promised. There are a number of tent communities being set up also to give each family some way of being together.

There is a lot of pain not only for those directly affected but also for those who heard the cries of others for help and were unable to do anything. I’m not sure that time will heal all this, but certainly God can and the faith of many of these people is both challenging and humbling. One eight-year-old boy who lost his mother and two of his siblings had found a photo of her and would look at it and say, 'I will see you in Heaven, Mommy'.

There are the happy stories too: the child who was saved by riding on the back of a neighbor’s Labrador Retriever. The owners of the dog were not at home when the tragedy struck. Or my little friend Cedric, who is all of four years old, who clung to a floating refrigerator when he got separated from his parents. He was found by fishermen several miles away later that morning still astride the fridge.

There is much more that could be added to this, but I simply want to give you some snapshots of the situation as I experienced it. In truth it reduced me to silence, or more accurately perhaps, it called to silence. In so many ways it is overwhelming and yet people do what they can and many have sent help. At times I felt like an intruder, but as I listened to the stories and simply held a hand or embraced the person, I was glad I was there and privileged to be with such people.

I want to thank all those who have sent in money to our fund and to assure you that we will continue to monitor the situation in both Cagayan and Iligan so as to best use the money we have received. As I mentioned above, we see the greater need now to be that of rehabilitation and that is probably where we will use most of the money left in the fund and any that will get added to it. I hope that this is acceptable to all of you.

Finally, on this Feast of the Epiphany, may Jesus show His face to all those who are still suffering so terribly. May He also show His face to those who, by the help they send, the prayers they make or their work on the ground, have become that face of Christ for others.

07 January 2012

'You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.' The Baptism of the Lord

The Seven Sacraments: Baptism, Nicolas Poussin, painted 1641-42  [Web Gallery of Art]

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is observed in Ireland on Sunday 8 January and in other countries that use English widely on Monday 9 January. The Feast brings an end to the liturgical Season of Christmas.
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Gospel Mark 1:7-11 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

 In the course of his preaching John the Baptist 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.'

It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.'

An Soiscéal Marcas 1:7-11 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Agus bhíodh Eoin 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.” Lá de na laethanta sin tháinig Íosa ó Nazarat sa Ghailíl agus fuair baisteadh sa Iordáin ó Eoin. Agus an túisce a tháinig sé aníos as an uisce, chonaic sé na flaithis ag oscailt ó chéile agus an Spiorad mar a bheadh colm ag teacht anuas air. Agus tháinig glór ó na flaithis: “Is tú mo Mhac muirneach; is duit a thug mé gnaoi.”


 14 young women and girls lining up for baptism and confirmation, 28 December 2011

The Irish Examiner carried a story by Gordon Deegan on 29 December, President washed dishes on visits to nuns. Every year during her 14 years in the mainly ceremonial post of president, a job she carried out with distinction and relinquished in November, President Mary McAleese of Ireland went to the Poor Clares monastery in Ennis, County Clare, to make a retreat.

Sister Gabriel, the abbess said, President McAleese has been great. She has been such an inspiration to us. She comes in, no mobile phone, no nothing, she relinquishes everything . . . President McAleese would be washing your dishes and you’re embarrassed, thinking ‘The President of Ireland is washing my dishes!’

In a way this was the only place she was Mary McAleese. She wasn’t the president, she could just be Mary and feed her own inner life to recharge herself for her duties. She is just so ordinary, so real - that is why the world took to her.

This story reminded me of one aspect of the Baptism of Jesus. He lined up anonymously with sinners in order to be baptized by John the Baptist, his cousin. The others in the line would not have known who he was. They would have presumed that he was a sinner like them. They had no idea he was God who had become Man, the Messiah they had all been waiting for.

I’m not suggesting that the Poor Clares in Ennis are noted for their sinfulness, though they are sinners like the rest of us. But the Irish President joined them every year, unknown to anyone apart from the nuns and her own family, to join them in prayer seven times a day, to join them in the silence broken only by for story-telling during recreation in the evening.

Very few of the paintings of the baptism of Jesus I looked at show him as one of a crowd of penitents. Poussin’s painting does to some extent. Can there be anything more extraordinary than God who is Love and who became Man allowing himself to be considered a sinner as he lined up for baptism, a foreshadowing of his death on Calvary, condemned as a criminal?

'I baptise you in the name of the Father . . .'

On 28 December, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, I had the joy of baptising and confirming 14 young women and girls at Holy Family Home in Bacolod City. Nine others joined them in making their First Holy Communion. Although none of us heard any voice from heaven, the reality is that God the Father said to each of those being baptised what he said to Jesus at his baptism, You are my daughter, my beloved; my favour rests on you.

First Holy Communion

The webpage of the Poor Clares in Ennis is here. The excellent website of the Poor Clares in Galway, just over an hour by road from Ennis, is here. It’s well worth exploring, especially to learn the stories of some of the nuns there.

05 January 2012

'They prostrated themselves and did him homage.' Sunday Reflections. The Epiphany.

Adoration of the Magi, Francesco Bassano, painted 1567-69

The Epiphany 

Where the Solemnity of the Epiphany is not to be observed as a Holyday of obligation, it is assigned to the Sunday occurring between 2 and 8 January as its proper day. (The Roman Missal). As far as I know, Ireland is the only country where English is widely used that observes this feast as a Holyday of Obligation. Elsewhere it is observed this year on Sunday 8 January. Thew new English version of The Roman Missal also has a special Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany, though I think the readings are the same as in the Mass During the Day.

Readings (NAB)
Gospel Matthew 2:1-12 (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage."
When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel."
Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

Reflection by Columban Sister Kathleen Coyle
From the November/December 2011 issue of The Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand.

St Matthew reminds us at the end of the Magi story that 'they departed for their country by another way' (Matt 2:12).

It was a journey of transformation for the three stargazers. Having drawn near to the sacred, they were awakened to the mystery of their lives. They are now transformed by the experience of the Christ Child in the manger and ready to live in a new and reflective way.

Just as the Easter liturgy invites us to ask Mary Magdalene, 'Tell us Mary, what have you seen along the way?' so the Christmas and Epiphany liturgies invite us to grasp the significance of the transcendental experience of our travellers from the East. Like Mary they could each reply, 'I have seen the Lord!'

Having been awakened to the mystery of their lives, touched and nourished by the energy of the divine, the Magi return home ready to face the routine of life with new hope and purpose.

Like the Magi, we, too, are led to Jesus. We are invited to come close to the borders of mystery, to search for God in the stable of our hearts.

In Fr Karl Rahner’s words, ‘we are encompassed absolutely by God at the moment of our search as we journey through life by the light of the star.’ Insights from occasional moments of deep prayer, from reading the scriptures, our sensitivity to listening to the pain of a friend, may be for us the star or the brilliant flash of light that leads us to the Child and his mother.

We discover that the real journey isn’t to Bethlehem or to the stable but into our hearts - a journey which is largely shaped by our own experiences. Prayer and meditation enable us to integrate all our experiences into our inner centre, or to partially or completely revise them.

As Meister Eckhart reminds us, we may on occasion experience the brightness of the star as much ‘by the fireside or in the stable’ as we do by devotions, ecstasies and contemplation.

Matthew’s reflection on the visit of the Magi invites us to travel “by another route” (2:12). It also invites us to support those who are searching for God in the humility of a fragile baby and who wish to travel home, transformed. This reflection takes us to a new place. Where that new place is and how God is leading us there, can emerge in our prayer, in our commitment and in our sharing of insights to enrich the community.

The star that shines over our personal mangers prepares us to welcome the Light of the World and to deepen our commitment to mission and mystery. The mystical experience of finding Jesus and of being completely encompassed by God must flow into our personal prayer, liturgies, homes and ministry, so that the mystery of God will spill over into our lives, our world and into history.

Sr Kathleen Coyle, a Columban Sister, has taught theology in the East Asian Pastoral Institute in the Philippines. She now resides in Ireland.

Introit: Ecce advénit Dominátor Dóminus; et regnum in manu eius et potéstas et impérium.

Entrance Antiphon: Behold, the Lord, the Mighty One, has come;
And kingship is in his grasp, and power and dominion. (Cf.Mal3:1; 1 Chr 29:12).