20 July 2012

'Come away . . . and rest a while'. Sunday Reflections, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Jesus, detail from The Calling of St Matthew, Caravaggio, 1599-1600

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Mark 6:30-34 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves. Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them. As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Tagaytay, Philippines

I posted the video below last Monday, a kind of follow-up to last week's Sunday Reflections. But it reminds me very much of the first part of the Sunday's gospel. Jesus had sent out the Twelve Apostles on a mission. We don't know how long they were away but when they came back they were probably tired but excited, wanting to tell Jesus what had happened.

Last Wednesday I had six visitors for dinner, four from Ireland and two from here in Bacolod. Father Michael Murphy is a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Tuam in the west of Ireland, Séamas Mac Eachmharcaigh a teacher in a secondary school, Karen Commins and Rachel Tierney students who have just finished their first year at university. The four live in County Mayo. They are form the same diocese and same county as Fr John Blowick, Co-founder of the Columbans. and are here under the auspices of SERVE

Joey Puerta spent some years in Ireland as a lay missionary with the Redemptorists, working in Belfast in Northern Ireland and later in Cork in the south of the Republic of Ireland. Five years ago he came home and married Michelle. They have one child, Jose Antonio.

The four from Ireland are part of a larger group working on two projects with the Presentation Sisters here. The first Presentation Sisters came from Ireland to the Diocese of Bacolod in 1960 at the invitation of the later Fr Michael Doohan, a Columban. They have two schools in what used to be the Columban area in the southern part of the Diocese of Bacolod but that is now the Diocese of Kabankalan. They also run Scala Retreat House here in Bacolod City, owned by the Redemptorists. The Redemptorists came to the Philippines from Ireland in 1906. Later some came from Australia. But most of the Redemptorists and most of the Presentation Sisters are now Filipinos.

Tara Talbot, the current Rose of Tralee, was born in Ireland of an Irish father and Filipino mother and grew up in Australia (SERVE website)

You can find more photos of the group here.

My four Irish visitors have been conducting two three-day retreats for college students who will graduate in March from Binalbagan Catholic College, owned by the Presentation Sisters. Father Mike will stay here for another week for two more retreats, with another three of the Irish group who will fly from Cebu on Sunday morning on the plane that will carry Séamas, Karen and Rachel back to Cebu.

In Cebu the three will continue with the others on the project in Cebu City with the Badjao people with which Presentation Sisters Evelyn Flanagan from Ireland has been very much involved. The SERVE website gives some information about this project here and here.

Though I was aware of the Badjao project I knew nothing about it. When I met Father Mike for the first time last Sunday he told me of the progress he had noticed since he was last here five years ago and of the hope among the people that he hadn't seen before.

As someone from Ireland who gets discouraged at times with what I see happening there, meeting these volunteers, who have raised their own funds with SERVE in all kinds of imaginative ways to come here, I feel a sense of hope.

When I listen to the three young people on the video below I hear part of the reality of the mission of the Church today in a country where most Filipinos can hardly believe that real poverty exists, the USA.

Michael Bialorucki, a college student,  speaks of his first impressions of a place of 'death' with 'things falling apart. Aimee Logsdon, a college freshman, speaks of a beautiful early morning walk with two of her companions, discovering the beauty of God's creation,  knowing that they were there 'to bring Christ to all the people that were in the area' and how she and her two friends 'grew together as sisters - but in that we were doing God's work'.

And God's work for them, as the video shows, involved some hard physical work, as does the Badjao project for the Irish SERVE volunteers.

Michael's reflection on the sadness he witnessed in Kentucky leads him to a simple, direct act of faith in the 'new, beautiful Christ' after his Resurrection. This is at the very heart of our faith. he also talks about hiking up a mountain with a buddy of his and talking about God. Surely the Apostles as they went out in pairs did something similar and 'grew together as brothers', in an experience similar to that of Aimee. And the beautiful spring weather spoke to Michael of the Resurrection, of hope. He speaks of a feeling of anticipation, of something better, just as Father Mike has seen a tremendous change in the life of the Badjao community in Cebu City in five years.

I don't know who interviewed the young Americans but I can imagine Jesus inviting the Twelve to speak to him as they did to the interviewer and to really listen to what they were saying and, in doing so, leading them into a deeper understanding of faith and service.

There are those who would question the idea of 'bringing Christ to others'. But that is what we are meant to do as followers of Jesus. But as we grow older we also see more and more how Christ is present to us in others, especially among those on the margins - and not only with the 'good' people there. When Jesus, in the parable of the Last Judgement, speaks of us visiting him in prison he doesn't distinguish between those unjustly jailed and those who actually committed crimes. He's one with all.

The volunteers in Kentucky discovered that we 'Find God in the Poor', that we 'Find God in Nature' and that each is called to 'Find God in Your Brother and Sister'. These young people spent their spring break from college serving others because of the inspiration of Fr Ralph Beiting, about whom I wrote in my last Sunday Reflections, who continues to draw out the best in young people though he is now 88. I saw that for myself in the four periods in 1969 and 1970 when I worked with him. I know that friends I made then have continued to be strengthened in their faith by what they experienced there, as I continue to be strengthened in mine.

Listening to the young Americans in the video and listening to my new friends from Ireland lifts my heart. And doesn't Jesus, through the priest at the beginning of the Preface of the Mass, tell us very clearly, 'Lift up your hearts'? And can we doubt that when Jesus listened to the Twelve after their mission their hearts were lifted too?

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