29 September 2012

'He that is not against us is for us.' Sunday Reflections, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

St John the Evangelist, El Greco, painted 1610-14 (Web Gallery of Art)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched". 


In August 1982, after a year’s study in Toronto and before three months of Clinical Pastoral Education in Minneapolis, I supplied in a number of parishes for short periods in the Diocese of Boise, which covers the whole of the state of Idaho in the western USA. One of my purposes for this was to visit the Abbey of Our Lady of the HolyTrinity, Huntsville, Idaho, where I had spent ten days or so in August 1970. There I had met some of the monks who were to be part of the team that would open the first Trappist foundation in the Philippines, in Guimaras island, now the Abbey of Our Lady of the Philippines

I spent a week in one parish where the parish priest was from India, there were  reservations of two different Native American tribes, many Spanish-speaking immigrants working on farms in the area and a majority of the people in the town proper of the Mormon faith. The local newspaper carried photos of young Mormons going on mission to other countries.

Just after lunch one day the doorbell rang. A young woman asked me to go to the hospital where an old woman, a Catholic and a relative of hers, had been in a coma for a long time, and was dying. I immediately went to the hospital and, to my surprise, the patient was fully awake and participated joyfully in the Last Sacraments, including viaticum, as I had brought the Blessed Sacrament with me. I learned later that she died about twenty minutes after I left.

The young woman who had asked me to go to the hospital was a Mormon.

When I was a child we lived in a street of terraced houses in Dublin where no one had a telephone. One time one of our neighbours, Jem Norris, got gravely ill in the middle of the night. Charlie Brooks who lived across the road went for the priest, whose house was about a kilometre away.

Charlie was a Protestant.

I have probably posted in Sunday Reflections before about a Mass in Belsen concentration camp, Germany, shortly after it was liberated in 1945. The account, published in 2004 in The Daily Telegraph (London) is by James Molyneaux, then a young officer in the British Army and later leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland and now a member of the House of Lords. He wrote:

The most moving experience came on the second morning as I was walking from what had been the luxury SS barracks which our troops had transformed into a hospital. My attention was drawn to two packing cases covered by a worn red curtain. A young Polish priest was clinging to this makeshift altar with one hand, while celebrating Mass. Between his feet lay the body of another priest who probably died during the night. No one had had the energy to move the body.

I had no difficulty in following the old Latin Mass, having been educated at St James's Roman Catholic School in County Antrim, and, although an Anglican, I had gained a working knowledge of all the rituals. Still supporting himself against the altar, the young priest did his best to distribute the consecrated elements (editor's note: the Body of Christ). Some recipients were able to stumble over the rough, scrubby heathland. Others crawled forward to receive the tokens (editor's note: to receive the Body of Christ) and then crawled back to share them with others unable to move. Some almost certainly passed on to another - probably better - world before sunset. Whatever one's race or religion one can only be uplifted and impressed by that truly remarkable proof of the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
When I first read this article I was deeply moved in a number of ways. I was surprised to discover that the author had gone to a Catholic school in a community where, at least since the latter 1800s, there has been a deep divide between Catholics and Protestants, for historical reasons that are not entirely theological. But here was an Anglican from that background giving a powerful testimony to the Mass as the Holy Sacrifice. And he noticed how those who were barely able to crawl shared the Body of Christ with those who couldn't move at all.
I find in the three stories above an illustration of the response of Jesus to the complaint of St John, Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us. Jesus says, For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.

St John's complaint reflects that of Joshua to Moses in the first reading. the response of Jesus reflects that of Moses: Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!

A memorial stone erected near the ramps where prisoners for Belsen were unloaded from goods trains
James Molyneaux's article also illustrates the reality of hell that Jesus speaks about today. He writes:
On arrival at Tactical Headquarters, we had been briefed on the discovery of the Belsen prison camp nearby. In company with our RAF medical unit and the two 2nd Army Field hospitals, we wasted no time. Briefed though we were, the shock excelled all the horrors of the battles of the 12 months since Normandy.
As we passed through the camp gates, the Royal Military Police requested us to drive very slowly to avoid the numerous disoriented prisoners. We were handed adhesive tape to put over the vehicle horns in order to prevent them going off accidentally, lest the shock would cause still more deaths. [This little detail is surely telling.]
The British liberators were staggered and shocked by the inhuman behaviour of some of the former guards, who continued to abuse and torment prisoners nearing death when they assumed we were looking the other way. I confess that on such occasions I may have breached the Geneva Convention to prevent further ill treatment of helpless victims. Their behaviour after we had arrived contradicted the excuse that the SS had forced them to carry out orders. Our new orders to them were "Stop acting like savages".
The 'Thousand Year Reich' of Hitler was in ruins after twelve years, and millions dead all over the world. These deaths, like countless deaths since, were caused by persons who chose evil over good. Each choice we make for sin is not at the level of choosing the evil of Belsen but it moves us towards that. Other dictators have tried their hand at their own version of Hitler's distorted vision and people have gone along with them.
Each of us likes to have power. We may not be conscious of this and in many instances there's no sin at all. I remember once  seeing in a Catholic magazine a cartoon  of people assembled for Mass where you were asked to 'spot the errors'. One was the proverbial 'little old lady' kneeling in the middle of a pew instead of blocking it at one end. There are times, especially as I grow older, when I can see the 'little old lady' in myself, trying to subtly ensure that things are done my way. Indeed, in the parish in Idaho where that kind young Mormon woman asked me to go to the dying elderly woman, the housekeeper asked me what time I'd like to have dinner at each day. I told her - but she always served it thirty minutes earlier.
But if I am a spouse, a parent, a teacher, a boss, a priest who doesn't listen to the other, who rules my little domain with a heavy hand, the words of Jesus are directed at me. 
What is the 'hand', the 'foot', the 'eye' that causes me to sin, especially in the use of power?

World Maritime Day

World Maritime Day was observed on 27 September but this Sunday is National Seafarers' Day in the Church in the Philippines. Here is a link to an interview on Vatican Radio with John Green, Director of Development of the Apostleship of the Sea Great Britain. Mr Green speaks of the chaplains and crew on board the Costa Concordia, which ran aground earlier this year in Italy and of the priests on the Titanic, which sank in 1912.

A huge percentage of the world's international seafarers are Filipinos. Misyon, the Columban magazine in the Philippines that I edit, carried a story about some of them in the November-December 2007 issue, Christmas in Teesport. In September-October 2006 Misyon published Evangelizing Seafarers, a title that can be understood in two different ways. The opening paragraph expresses one of those:

Father Arsenio ‘Dodo’ Redulla from Bohol, Philippines, now a priest of the Diocese of Lubbock, Texas, USA, worked for some years with the Columbans in Ireland. Early one Sunday morning he was driving out of the small southeastern port city of Waterford to celebrate Mass in a nearby town and to speak about the work of the Columbans. As we say in Ireland, ‘There wasn’t a sinner to be seen’ – the Irish aren’t early risers on Sunday morning – except for a young Filipino thumbing a lift. At the time there were very few Filipinos in the country and Father ‘Dodo’ was the only Filipino priest there. Of course, he stopped. To his amazement the young man said, ‘I was hoping someone would take me to a church for Mass.’ His ship had just docked and he had never been in Ireland before.

Please remember all seafarers in your prayers.

One of my favourite poems in school was John Masefield's Sea-Fever. Here it is read by Fred Proud. There is some controversy as to whether the first line in each stanza should read 'I must down . . .' or 'I must go down . . .' Fred Proud opts for the former.

I must down to the seas again, 
to the lonely sea and the sky,
and all I ask is a tall ship 
and a star to steer her by,
and the wheel's kick and the wind's song 
and the white sail's shaking,
and a grey mist on the sea's face 
and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, 
for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call 
that may not be denied;
and all I ask is a windy day 
with the white clouds flying,
and the flung spray and the blown spume, 
and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again 
to the vagrant gypsy life.
To the gull's way and the whale's way 
where the wind's like a whetted knife;
and all I ask is a merry yarn 
from a laughing fellow-rover,
and a quiet sleep and a sweet dream 
when the long trick's over.

John Ireland's setting of the poem, sung here by Michael Lampard, opts for 'I must go down . . .'

27 September 2012

Happy Birthday, Lala, VERY IMPORTANT PERSON!

I first wrote the post below for the short-lived Negros Times in October 2008. I have re-posted it a number of times because Lala's story is one that should be told over and over again. This evening she will be celebrating her 33rd birthday with a quiet dinner at Punla, Ang Arko, the only L'Arche community in the Philippines, in Cainta, Rizal, part of the metropolitan sprawl of Manila.

Lala, with Jordan
Let us show our service to the poor, then, with renewed ardour in our hearts, seeking out above all any abandoned people, since they are given to us as lords and patrons.(St Vincent de Paul, used in the Office of Readings for his feast day, today.)

Both Lala and Queen Elizabeth II have have two birthdays, the real one and the official one. Lala’s official birthday is 27 September and she turns 33 today. Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday is celebrated in 53 Commonwealth countries, but not on the same date. Only the Falkland Islands observes her official birthday on her real one, 21 April. In the United Kingdom the Queen’s official birthday can be on the first, second or third Saturday in June. She turned 86 on her last birthday.

While there’s no confusion about the date of birth of Queen Elizabeth, there is about that of Lala. The young Princess Elizabeth was born in a palace in London. Lala was found shortly after birth in a trashcan in Cebu city in the central Philippines. Those who found her took her to the Asilo De La Milagrosa, the orphanage of the Daughters of Charity there. The Sisters noticed that the little girl had Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) and took her in and raised her. Since they didn’t know who her parents were they had to choose a name for her.

St Vincent de Paul (24 April 1581 - 27 September 1660)

The Sisters chose 'Vicente' as her family name, in honor of St Vincent de Paul, and 'Louilla' as her Christian name, in honor of St Louise de Marillac. The two saints founded the Daughters of Charity in France in 1633. Lala, as all her friends know her, probably has something else in common with St Louise. She was almost certainly born out of wedlock, as the saint was, and, like St Louise, never knew her mother. I suspect that Lala’s mother, probably very young and unmarried, panicked – this possibly added to when she saw that her daughter wasn’t 'normal' - and left her baby where someone could find her and take care of her.

St Louise de Marillac (15 August 1591 - 15 March 1660)

I first met Lala in Cebu in 1992 at a Faith and Light celebration. We had just begun a community there, after a retreat given by the co-founder of the movement, Jean Vanier, a Canadian layman, in Holy Family Retreat House, Cebu City, in October 1991. During the retreat he gave a public talk in the auditorium of St Theresa’s College, as I recall, and a group of interested people got together after that. The gathering at which Lala was present included members of Faith and Light from Manila who had come to tell us more about the movement.

I could see immediately that Lala had a special gift – she’s a natural 'ice-breaker'. Though she seldom says anything, she lights up any group into which she comes, unless she’s in a bad mood, which happens from time to time.

Lala became a member of our Faith and Light community in Cebu but I lost contact with her when I went to Lianga, Surigao del Sur, in 1993 as parish priest and to Manila the following year to become vocation director of the Columbans. But one day when I visited the L’Arche community in Cainta, Rizal, known as 'Ang Arko', I was surprised to see Lala there. L’Arche, the French for 'The Ark' as in Noah’s Ark, was founded by Jean Vanier, in 1964 when he invited two men with learning disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, who had been living in an institution, to join him in a small cottage he had bought and was renovating in the town of Trosly-Breuil, France. Jean had no intention of founding anything, but he realized very quickly that he had made a commitment to these two men. One of them, I forget which, chose to live independently some years later, something he could never have done had he stayed not met Jean. Out of these small beginnings has grown an international movement of about 130 residential communities where those with learning disabilities are enabled to live in a family-type situation and to develop their abilities to the greatest extent possible.

Jordan and Raymon, now young men, were welcomed by Ang Arko when they were very young. Both have physical as well as learning disabilities. The original house was in Manila but the community moved later to Cainta.

Lala and Hachiko, each looking more content than the other!

In Holy Week 2001 I attended the international pilgrimage of Faith and Light to Lourdes as chaplain to the group from the Philippines. Lala was one of the twelve or so Filipinos.

The Easter Vigil was celebrated in the underground basilica. Some of the Old Testament Vigil readings were dramatized. During the account of creation when the words 'God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him' were read, a spotlight shone on a young man in a wheelchair. But what moved me most was when 'Lala' was part of a group dramatizing the reading of the Exodus.

I simply marveled at the fact that a young woman who should never have been born, according to the 'wisdom' of so many, left after birth among garbage, was on the other side of the world helping to proclaim the Word of God to thousands of people, many like herself, and doing so with the joy that permeates her soul.

Queen Elizabeth, Queen of Canada, in Toronto in 2007. (Ever since I was a small child I've just loved the scarlet jackets of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I used to draw Mounties with crayons but never evolved into an El Greco or a Van Gogh.)

Queen Elizabeth has been blessed by God with a long and healthy life, in which she continues to serve her people with dignity. Though Queen Elizabeth is among the richest people in the world, Lala, also with her two birthdays, enjoys even greater riches, because the words of Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, have been revealed in her life: 'God has lifted up the lowly'.

The Visitation, El Greco painted 1610-13. (From Web Gallery of Art.)

Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles.

He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly (Luke 1:52, Grail translation.)

From Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643).

15 September 2012

Columban Father Michael A. Healy RIP

Fr Michael A. Healy (2 February 1921 - 10 September 2012)
Fr Michael Healy was born in County Cork, Ireland. He was a nephew of Columban Fr Edward J. McCarthy, founder of Student Catholic Action of the Philippines in the 1930s. His late brother Columban Fr Olan Healy spent the difficult years of World War II in Mindanao.
Many Columbans have been expelled from ther mission but Father Michael was expelled from China in 1952 and from Burma in 1966. He was able to visit China again in 1990 and Burma, now Myanmar, in 1998.
Ordained in December 1943 he spent the first part of his priesthood in the Diocese of Menevia, Wales, as Columbans coud not go to any of our regular missions because of World War II. He later spent many years 'on the road' in Britain, doing mission appeals in England, Scotland and Wales. Indeed, when your editor was assigned to Britain in 2000 to do that kind of work Father Michael was still doing appeals. He retired to Ireland in 2001 when he was 80.
He had an enormous capacity for friendship and never took the direct route when travelling. He took to the highways and byways to visit friends. He was also a cheerful, joyful person. You would know he was around because you'd hear him singing.
One song I remember him singing around the Columban house in Solihull, near Birmingham, England, was Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye, written by Welshman Harry Parr-Davies, which was very popular during World War II in Britain. The video below, in which Gracie Fields sings the song, shows photos from the England of that time. Though north Wales, where Father Michael worked during the last year of the war, had been spared, nearby Liverpool hadn't. Hearing him sing this song was for me one of many illustrations of the great love and respect he had for people wherever he served. This, I think, is because he was so at home in himself.
May this great priest, the embodiment of all that is best in the vocation of the Columban, rest in peace.
You will find an obituary and the funeral homily of Fr Cyril Lovett on the website of the Columbans in Ireland here.

'Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.' Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolas Maes, painted 1652-53

I am posting this early as I will be giving a retreat to Missionaries of Charity in Tagaytay City, south of Manila, from tomorrow, 17 September, until 25 September. I won't be online there. I would appreciate your prayers for the retreatants and for myself. Thank you.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Mark 9:30-37 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he would not have any one know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."

Scripture commentary on readings by Fr Martin McNamara MSC here.

In the late 1960s when I was a young priest and studying near New York City I met Betsy. She was at the younger end of a large Italian-American family. Her father Joe was a photographer and her mother Lee a homemaker. The family invited me to Betsy's First Holy Communion. I wasn't able to go to the Mass but went to her home that evening with another Columban priest for dinner. We were the only visitors. None of the furniture in the house was new but it was clearly a well lived-in home.

First Holy Communion at Holy Family Home for Girls, Bacolod City

As is the custom in some places, including Ireland, Betsy had visited her relatives and family friends that day and they had given her money. She had received more than $100, a fortune for her. During the evening Betsy's mother told her that we were missionaries and that missionaries needed financial support. As soon as Betsy heard this she wanted to give us everything she had. We were embarrassed and deeply touched at the same time and made an excuse that we didn't need it right then and there.

Betsy's act was one of pure love.

I think that Jesus is telling us that he makes himself and his Father known us to us through young people like Betsy. Usually the child is totally unaware of this. Some years ago i was travelling on a bus in Dublin - I have found that the Lord likes to travel on the bus - a girl of about 12 was sitting in a seat reserved for older persons or those with disabilities, if there are such passengers, when an elderly woman got on. Without being reminded the girl immediately got up and moved to the seat behind. But that isn't what caught my attention. As soon as the older woman sat down, and it was clear to me that they didn't know each other, the girl began to chat with her.

Again, I felt the presence of the Lord.

A friend of mine, Jacqueline, whom I have known along with her family since she was a child and I a young priest and who is now the mother of a large family, once told me when she was a young adult that she appreciated the fact that when she was a child I had always taken seriously. She wasn't saying that I was always serious with her, because I wasn't, but that I respected her as a person. I had never even thought about this.

I had just come off  the Thirty-Day Spiritual Exercises of  St Ignatius and I could feel the presence of the Lord in my Jacqueline's words.

When I was in kindergarten one of the retired Sisters saw me one day looking at a picture on the wall - I think it might have been of St Peter walking on the water - and reading the inscription beneath. She was so struck by my ability to read that she gave me a holy picture, a stampeta, as we call it in the Philippines. Around the same time my father, who read the morning and evening papers every day but seldom read books, gave me his copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, the full edition, not an abridged one. 

That same year, 1950, when I was seven, the Walt Disney version of Treasure Island came to our local cinema, The Broadway. For the Saturday afternoon show for children the ushers were dressed as pirates and there was to be a raffle before the main movie, the admission ticket being also the ticket for the raffle. When I got to the box-office I couldn't find the sixpence my parents had given me in any of the pockets of my brown corduroy suit. I began to cry and to head down the steps in front of The Broadway. The manageress, dressed in her regular reddish uniform and not as a pirate, came after me and asked what was wrong. I told her. She let me in free, God bless her, but I still wanted to get a ticket for the raffle. During the preliminary short movies I found it, with the same kind of excitement as that of the woman in the parable of Jesus who found the lost coin. I ran out to the ticket office, bought my ticket - but didn't win any prize in the raffle.

But I have never forgotten the kindness of that manageress who felt for a child crying with disappointment. That was 62 years ago and I'm sure she has since gone to her reward, and that the Lord has been as kind to her as she was to me.

Children haven't always been respected and cherished. Child labour is still widespread, as it was in the England of William Blake (1757 - 1827).

Columban missionaries are enabling children to develop their God-given abilities.

12 September 2012

'You are the Christ.' Sunday Reflections, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Saint Peter, El Greco, painted 1610-13
[Web Gallery of Art]

Readings(New American Bible: Philippines, USA) 

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

Gospel Mark 8:27-35 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." And he charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men." And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 

Scripture commentary on readings by Fr Martin McNamara MSC here.

Our Father sung in Syriac, a form of Aramaic used by Christians that is the official liturgical language of the Maronite Church.

Pope Benedict is making an apostolic journey to Lebanon this weekend, 14-16 September. About 40 percent of Lebanon's population of about 4,250,000 are Christians and more than half of these are Maronite Catholics. These trace their origins to St Maron, a fifth century monk. They have always been in fully communion with the Catholic Church and, unlike other Easter churches, have no Orthodox counterpart.

Statue of St Maron, St Peter's Basilica, Rome

Though the Holy Father will be visiting Lebanon only his journey is a follow up to the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops held in the Vatican in October 2010.

The Middle East has experienced much conflict. Lebanon went through a civil war from from 1975 till 1990, ending on 13 October that year. While none of the current or recent conflicts are anti-Christian as such, Christians have on occasion found themselves being asked in a very direct and violent way, 'But who do you say that I am?' Some have given St Peter's answer, 'You are the Christ' with their lives. They include Fr Ragheed Ganni and Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq.

Fr Ragheed Ganni (20 January 1972 - 3 June 2007)

Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, (20 November 1942 - February or March 2008)
[Photo: Assyrian International News Agency]

Pope Benedict's message to the people of Lebanon and the Middle East (9 September 2012) here.

On Sunday 21 October Pope Benedict will canonise a number of new saints. Among them will be Blessed Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino catechist martyred in Guam in 1672 when he was maybe 17 or 18, and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, of Mohawk-Algonquin parentage, born in what is now New York State, who died eight years later in what is now Canada aged 24. Both said very clearly 'You are the Christ', Blessed Pedro by his martyrdom and Blessed Kateri, 'The Lily of the Mohawks, by her life of penance and prayers. Read more about them in The Palm Branch and the Lily.

Here is what Blessed John Paul II said about Blessed Pedro at his beatification on 5 March 2000: [highlighting added]] "If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven" (Mt 10: 32). From his childhood, Pedro Calungsod declared himself unwaveringly for Christ and responded generously to his call. Young people today can draw encouragement and strength from the example of Pedro, whose love of Jesus inspired him to devote his teenage years to teaching the faith as a lay catechist. Leaving family and friends behind, Pedro willingly accepted the challenge put to him by Fr Diego de San Vitores to join him on the Mission to the Chamorros. In a spirit of faith, marked by strong Eucharistic and Marian devotion, Pedro undertook the demanding work asked of him and bravely faced the many obstacles and difficulties he met. In the face of imminent danger, Pedro would not forsake Fr Diego, but as a "good soldier of Christ" preferred to die at the missionary's side. Today Bl. Pedro Calungsod intercedes for the young, in particular those of his native Philippines, and he challenges them. Young friends, do not hesitate to follow the example of Pedro, who "pleased God and was loved by him" (Wis 4: 10) and who, having come to perfection in so short a time, lived a full life (cf. ibid., v. 13). 

Only known portrait from life of Catherine Tekakwitha, circa 1690 by Father Chauchetière

After Blessed John Paul II beatified Kateri Tekakwitha in 1980 he spoke to the North American Indians who had gone to Rome for the occasion: [highlighting added]  But today is also a day of great happiness for the Church throughout the world. All of us are inspired by the example of this young woman of faith who died three centuries ago this year. We are all edified by her complete trust in the providence of God, and we are encouraged by her joyful fidelity to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In a true sense, the whole Church, together with you, declares in the words of Saint Paul: "Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever". (Eph. 3:20-21 ) The Church has declared to the world that Kateri Tekakwitha is blessed, that she lived a life on earth of exemplary holiness and that she is now a member in heaven of the Communion of Saints who continually intercede with the merciful Father on our behalf.

H.er beatification should remind us that we are all called to a life of holiness, for in Baptism, God has chosen each one of us "to be holy and spotless and to live through love in his presence". (Eph. 1:4) Holiness of life-union with Christ through prayer and works of charity - is not something reserved to a select few among the members of the Church. It is the vocation of everyone.

My brothers and sisters, may you be inspired and encouraged by the life of Blessed Kateri. Look to her for an example of fidelity; see in her a model of purity and love; turn to her in prayer for assistance. May God bless you as He blessed her. May God bless all the North American Indians of Canada and the United States.

Jesus continues to ask each of us, But who do you say I am? He calls each of us to say You are the Christ by the life we lead. And he calls individuals in every part of the world, of every age, bishops, priests, lay persons, to be outstanding models who can encourage all of us,:persons like Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a north American Indian, Blessed Pedro Calungsod, from one of the Visayan islands in the centre of the Philippines - we're not even sure which one - along with Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and his secretary Fr Ragheed Ganni, an engineer who became a priest, martyred in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

Each of these answered, You are the Christ. These all made their own the words of St Ignatius of Loyola.

Take and receive, O Lord, my liberty
Take all my will, my mind, my memory
All things I hold and all I own are Thine
Thine was the gift, to Thee I all resign.

Do Thou direct and govern all and sway
Do what Thou wilt, command, and I obey
Only Thy grace, Thy love on me bestow
These make me rich, all else will I forego.

(Translation and music by Fr Manuel Francisco SJ).


10 September 2012

Death of Sr Mary Pilar L. Verzosa RGS, founder of Pro-Life, Philippines

Sr Mary Pilar Lahoz Verzosa RGS (24 September 1944 - 9 September 2012)
Sister Pilar died yesterday morning. She suffered an aneurysm last Thursday afternoon while giving a seminar at De La Salle University – Dasmariñas, Cavite. She was the founder of Pro-Life Philippines. May she rest in peace. Please remember her in your prayers.
Sister Mary Pilar L. Verzosa RGS was one of the great Filipinos of our time. She founded Pro-Life Philippines and was tireless in her work for women and girls who found themselves in difficult situations. The Religious of the Good Shepherd for many years in the Philippines have provided home for unmarried women who find themselves pregnant. You can get a good idea of what Sister Pilar committed her life to here.

Last February Sister Pilar was one of the recipients of the Mystery of Life Award from the Archdiocese of Seoul.

I met her a number of times and, on occasion, exchanged emails with her. I went to see her in Manila a couple of months ago to talk with her about Rachel's Vineyard. She was involved in a number of ministries for women who had abortions. Despite her very busy schedule she gave me her full attention and encouragement for an hour or so.

Here is a clip from a rally in the Philippines where Sister Pilar leads the participants in The Angelus, in Tagalog. After the prayer she leads all in signing Happy Birthday in thanksgiving for the birth of each.

The name 'Pilar', quite common in the Philippines, is from the Spanish Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Our Lady of the Pillar. Under that title Mary is Patroness of Hispanics and also of Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines.

Please remember Sister Pilar in your prayers.

Here is the death notice from the website of the Religious of the Good Shepherd, Philippines.

+ Sr. M. Pilar L. Verzosa RGS

“And she shall live in the house of the Lord forever.”
Psalm 23

SR. MARY PILAR L. VERZOSA RGS(Pilar Lahoz Verzosa) of Vigan, Ilocos Sur

September 24, 1944 – September 9, 2012

On September 9, 2012, our dear Sister Mary Pilar peacefully joined Jesus,
the Good Shepherd, after 45 years in religious life.
The Religious of the Good Shepherd, apostolic and contemplative,
her bereaved family and relatives
are grateful for your prayerful remembrances.
The wake is at the Good Shepherd Chapel, 1043 Aurora Boulevard,
Quezon City.
Masses at 8 p.m. on September 9, 10, 11, 2012
The Mass of the Resurrection is on Wednesday, September 12 at 3:00 p.m.
Inurnment follows at the Good Shepherd Columbary.

06 September 2012

'He even makes the deaf hear.' Sunday Reflections, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Mark 7:31-37 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Then Jesus returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak."

Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic church in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya.

Profound deafness is the most isolating of all physical disabilities. A child born deaf cannot learn the language of his parents unless they and he study Sign Language. In my involvement with the Deaf in the Philippines since 1991 the only 'native signers' I have met are the hearing children of deaf parents. The same would apply to deaf children of deaf parents.

In today's gospel Jesus brings  the deaf man from his isolation into full participation in the community. We find Jesus doing the same in other miracle stories, eg, the woman with the bleeding for twelve years, the lepers he healed. these too were excluded from society by ritual laws of purification. Even today we isolate patients with certain contagious diseases to protect them and others.

I often celebrate Mass in Sign Language, though my knowledge of it is limited. And, like speaking languages, there are many sign languages. What I use is basically a mixture of Signed English and American Sign Language. On some occasions after such a Mass hearing people have told me how moved they were. But I've also heard of people complaining that the priest's Sign Language or that of an interpreter were 'distracting'. And I've known of the practice of having an interpreter at certain Masses being dropped because of such complaints.

We seldom reflect on the fact that all of us use a form of sign language with the gestures we make, the way we call people with our hands, gestures of friendship and gestures that insult. A form of sign language is used in stock exchanges throughout the world. And in every sport the referee or umpire has a set of signs that both players and spectators understand. Each sign has a very specific meaning.

Many of us tend to see Deaf people as in need of 'help'. (Those who are profoundly deaf describe themselves as a group as 'The Deaf', with an upper-case 'D'. They don't use the term 'hard of hearing', which more accurately describes the many whose hearing deteriorates as they grow older.)

The Deaf need to be enabled to play their full part in the community, including that of the Church. It is a fact that here in the Philippines fundamentalist groups make a very specific target of young deaf people. They are an easy target as the Catholic Church to a large degree ignores them, though not wilfully.

And a signing person can sometimes help a hearing person to listen more profoundly to what he himself is saying, as this story shows. Dr Frank Brennan is a palliative physician in Sydney, Australia. On 25 September 2006 he was interviewed on national radio by Norman Swan. The programme was repeated on 17 February 2007. [You will find a link to the podcast there.] Here Dr Brennan tells the moving story of how he spoke to the family of a dying man who had a daughter who was profoundly deaf and who was married to a deaf man. Their hearing daughter interpreted Dr Brennan's words for them - and he found himself listening to what he was saying in a way he had never done before. I have highlighted some parts.

Norman Swan: And of course what you learn I assume is the value and you spoke about it in the last story, language and communication, and there's a paradox in this next story which in fact you've called Silence.
Frank Brennan: Yes.
For years the hostilities had continued. Sometimes there were small successes. Hope rose and fell with his energy. Once he yearned for victory or at least a negotiated truce. Repeatedly now they sat and told him the news. It worsened by the week. They spoke of perseverance, he dreamt of peace.
He was due to have chemotherapy the next day. He had been deteriorating gradually but was, over the last days, much worse. He was weaker, eating less, sleeping more. It was time to discuss the future. When I arrived at his room I was pleased to see his wife, her presence would make communication easier - we could all talk through things together.
I began by saying that, as they could both see he was becoming too weak to continue with the chemotherapy. I said that I thought that his time was coming, that death was approaching. Sometime over the next week or two he would begin to sleep longer until eventually he would go into a deep sleep. I said that from now on, the most important things were to keep him comfortable and for him to share his time with his family. He looked up at me with large blue eyes.
His wife stood at the end of the bed rubbing his feet through the bedclothes. She lifted her hands and opened them, palms facing down the bed toward his face. Expansive hands, open hands. She said, "We've had a great life together you and I. My darling we have".
I was moved by her expressive hands and her phrasing "My darling, we have". He said, "Well if that's it, that's it. Everyone has to go through it I suppose and now" he said, looking up toward her "it's my time". She walked around the bed and lightly placed her left hand on his cheek.
I talked a little more, answered their questions and left the room. A few minutes later she walked out and said, "He wants you to say all that you've just said to the rest of the family. Could you wait here awhile?" I agreed. Shortly I was called back, the family had gathered. The patient and his wife had a daughter who was deaf. She had married a deaf man. They had three daughters who had normal hearing, one held a baby. A cousin had just arrived from New Zealand - we all entered the room.
I walked over to where I had stood earlier that hour. One of his granddaughters Anne, stood opposite me. Her parents stood diametrically across from her at the foot of the bed. As I began to speak I realised that their position was not accidental - Anne stood there to face her parents and sign my words.
I repeated what I told the patient and his wife. I said that I thought he would not suffer any more than he had and that we would do our very best to ensure his comfort. I said that more than any medication we could give, the most important thing now was love - reflecting on their time together as a family and their love for him as a man. That this was a precious time, however long, and it would be best spent preparing.
As I spoke, something unexpected happened. Deliberately I'd slowed the delivery of my speech so that Anne could comfortably sign. With the slowing the individual words abruptly came into focus. These were words I say each day, the slowing revealed their depth. They were no longer grouped or bunched together rushing past phrases too delicate or sensitive. They were now words in isolation, stark for all to hear and see. Somehow the unison of my speech and the signing seemed to allow me to speak the same words at a pace and a depth that began to resonate like stones dropped in a well.
I was reminded of the deep significance of those words, the words and our roles as health professionals, words such as death and dying, hope and reflection, love and dignity. I had begun by speaking to this family in the territory of facts, now I was in a different territory altogether. A patient recently said to me, "Never underestimate the power of your concern". That concern may manifest in all possible ways. There is a season for silence and a season for language and at its pinnacle all manner and form of concern is indivisible.
I noticed the effect on Anne, committed to signing, she was doing three things simultaneously. She was hearing my words, fateful, sad and reflective, she was signing the words to her parents knowing what those words meant to them and she was looking into their eyes all without preparation. I looked up to watch the long arc of her hands, the sweep of her fingers, the crisp slide of one cupped palm on another. I looked beyond her hands to her face, her cheeks were wet, she signed, she cried, her hands and her tears in unison.
The rhythm and grace of her hands signed the words, shaped the words and became the words until eventually my voice, her signing, and their faces had become one. As a doctor I may have spoken with more eloquence but never with more resonance.
I stopped speaking. I looked back into the eyes of the patient. "Go on doctor" he seemed to say, "you're doing alright". I started again, not daring to look up. I could not face the fluency of her hands and the sight of her face. It seemed almost too intimate to witness. I stepped away and stood in a corner of the room. Each member of the family took turns to come up to him. They leant over to look directly into his eyes. Each spoke quietly, some in a whisper, one to gently tease him, and others in low tones of fondness. And each kissed him, some on his forehead and some to his lips. It was a ceremony of immeasurable grace.
As unobtrusively as I could I began to leave the room. The deaf mute man, Anne's father, now carrying the baby turned from the huddle surrounding his father-in-law. He stepped toward me, reached out and shook my hand. He mouthed the words "thank you". I wept, I wept for the singular beauty of what I had seen that afternoon, for the courage Anne had shown, I wept for their love, I wept for all the patients, on all the days and for the sadness of leaving. And finally for this small act of decency that a grieving man would interrupt such an intimate moment with his family to turn and thank me. I rarely weep. Long ago I abandoned the question of whether it is professionally appropriate or otherwise. Now, I do not worry either way.
We are humans working in the most human of enterprises. Our tears whether they are shared often, rarely, or never are part of us as much as our skills, our knowledge, and our presence. Anne's father looked at my tears, reached over and rubbed my elbow. He made a sound like the cooing of a dove. At that moment in this room the sound was more eloquent than a dozen speeches. Without a single word he had uttered the striking last line of a poem.
The baby, mirroring his action reached out. I lifted the baby into my arms, I thought of a colleague who described seeing an elderly terminally ill woman in an obstetrics and gynaecology ward. The patient had heard the sound from beyond her curtain of a galloping patter. She was told it was the sound of a foetal heartbeat magnified. She looked up and said, as one life is coming into the world, one is going out. I did not want to leave. On a late afternoon in May, this room had become the world. The baby reached back to Anne's father. I gently handed him over, walked out and quietly closed the door behind me.

One of the first prayers that we learned as children was the Hail Mary, where we ask our Blessed Mother to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Here is the prayer signed by three young deaf persons in Mexico.

After posting Sunday Reflections I came across this video of two toddlers, both adopted, signing. The boy on the left is deaf while the other is a little hard of hearing. After six months they have learned American Sign Language naturally as their first language.