23 November 2012

From Bangor to Bobbio with Pope Benedict on the feast day of St Columban

St Columban, c.543 - 23 November 615. Statue in Luxeuil, France

This is my final post before going on retreat in Cebu City tomorrow until 1 December. You will find Sunday Reflections for the Solemnity of Christ the King here and for the First Sunday in Advent Year C here. May I ask you to pray for me during my retreat. Thank you.

Sometimes people ask me why this blog is named Bangor to Bobbio. The reason is that I'm a member of the Missionary Society of St Columban, known as the Columban Fathers, especially in the USA, the Columbans, the Maynooth Mission to China, the original name when the Irish bishops in 1916 approved a mission of the Irish Church to China. We became the Society of St Columban two years later. St Columban was chosen as our patron mainly because of the great devotion that Fr Edward Galvin, later Bishop of Hanyang in China, one of our two co-founders, the other being Fr John Blowick, had for the saint. And it happened too that Fr Galvin was born on the saint's feast day, 23 November, in 1882.

And by a very happy coincidence, our newly-elected Superior General, Fr Kevin O'Neill, and Australian, and his twin brother Father Peter, also a Columban, are celebrating their 50th birthday today.

Back to Bangor to Bobbio. St Columban was a monk in the monastery in Bangor, on the northeast coast of Ireland, in what is now County Down, Northern Ireland. When he was around 50 St Columban, who had been persisting in asking his abbot's permission to leave Ireland for even on a Peregrinatio pro Christo, a Pilgrimage for Christ,  was finally allowed to go - and given twelve companions besides. He founded a number of monasteries in mainland Europe, the most famous being Luxeuil, France, and Bobbio, Italy, where he died. But his travels took him and companions to different places in what we now call France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.

The statue of St Columban above is in Luxeuil.

In his General Audience on Wednesday 11 June 2008 Pope Benedict gave as fine a summary of the saint's life and of his influence as I have ever read. 

Basilica of St Columban, Bobbio, built between 1462 and 1522

In his General Audience on Wednesday 11 June 2008 Pope Benedict gave as fine a summary of the saint's life and of his influence as I have ever read. I have highlighted some parts and [added comments].

Wednesday, 11 June 2008
Saint Columban

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to speak about the holy Abbot Columban, the best known Irishman of the early Middle Ages. Since he worked as a monk, missionary and writer in various countries of Western Europe with good reason he can be called a "European" Saint. With the Irish of his time, he had a sense of Europe's cultural unity. The expression "totius Europae - of all Europe", with reference to the Church's presence on the Continent, is found for the first time in one of his letters, written around the year 600, addressed to Pope Gregory the Great (cf. Epistula I, 1).

Columban was born c. 543 in the Province of Leinster in southeast Ireland. He was educated at home by excellent tutors who introduced him to the study of liberal arts. [This means he studied the Greek and Roman Classics among other subjects.] He was then entrusted to the guidance of Abbot Sinell of the community of Cleenish in [modern-day] Northern Ireland, where he was able to deepen his study of Sacred Scripture. [His writings show the influence of this.] At the age of about 20 he entered the monastery of Bangor, in the northeast of the island, whose abbot, Comgall, was a monk well known for his virtue and ascetic rigour. In full agreement with his abbot, Columban zealously practiced the severe discipline of the monastery, leading a life of prayer, ascesis and study. While there, he was also ordained a priest. His life at Bangor and the Abbot's example influenced the conception of monasticism that developed in Columban over time and that he subsequently spread in the course of his life.

When he was approximately 50 years old, following the characteristically Irish ascetic ideal of the"peregrinatio pro Christo", namely, making oneself a pilgrim for the sake of Christ, Columban left his island with 12 companions to engage in missionary work on the European Continent. We should in fact bear in mind that the migration of people from the North and the East had caused whole areas, previously Christianized, to revert to paganism. [Not unlike contemporary Europe.] Around the year 590, the small group of missionaries landed on the Breton coast. Welcomed kindly by the King of the Franks of Austrasia (present-day France), they asked only for a small piece of uncultivated land. They were given the ancient Roman fortress of Annegray, totally ruined and abandoned and covered by forest. Accustomed to a life of extreme hardship, in the span of a few months the monks managed to build the first hermitage on the ruins. Thus their re-evangelization began, in the first place, through the witness of their lives. With the new cultivation of the land, they also began a new cultivation of souls. The fame of those foreign religious who, living on prayer and in great austerity, built houses and worked the land spread rapidly, attracting pilgrims and penitents. In particular, many young men asked to be accepted by the monastic community in order to live, like them, this exemplary life which was renewing the cultivation of the land and of souls. It was not long before the foundation of a second monastery was required. It was built a few kilometres away on the ruins of an ancient spa, Luxeuil. This monastery was to become the centre of the traditional Irish monastic and missionary outreach on the European Continent. A third monastery was erected at Fontaine, an hour's walk further north. [The monastery at Luxeuil was to last until the French Revolution, whcihc occurred between 1789 and 1799].

Columban lived at Luxeuil for almost 20 years. Here the Saint wrote for his followers the Regula monachorum - for a while more widespread in Europe than Benedict's Rule - which portrayed the ideal image of the monk. It is the only ancient Irish monastic rule in our possession today. Columban integrated it with the Regula coenobialis, a sort of penal code for the offences committed by monks, with punishments that are somewhat surprising to our modern sensibility and can only be explained by the mentality and environment of that time. With another famous work entitled: De poenitentiarum misura taxanda, also written at Luxeuil, Columban introduced Confession and private and frequent penance on the Continent. [This has influenced our experience of the Sacrament to this day]. It was known as "tariffed" penance because of the proportion established between the gravity of the sin and the type of penance imposed by the confessor. These innovations roused the suspicion of local Bishops, a suspicion that became hostile when Columban had the courage to rebuke them openly for the practices of some of them. The controversy over the date of Easter was an opportunity to demonstrate their opposition: Ireland, in fact, followed the Eastern rather than the Roman tradition. [The Saint had a 'thing' about the date of Easter but even today Christians cannot agree on a common observance]. The Irish monk was convoked in 603 to account to a Synod at Chalon-sur-Saône for his practices regarding penance and Easter. Instead of presenting himself before the Synod, he sent a letter in which he minimized the issue, inviting the Synod Fathers not only to discuss the problem of the date of Easter, in his opinion a negligible problem, "but also all the necessary canonical norms that - something more serious - are disregarded by many" (cf. Epistula II, 1). At the same time he wrote to Pope Boniface IV - just as several years earlier he had turned to Pope Gregory the Great (cf. Epistula I) - asking him to defend the Irish tradition (cf. Epistula III).

Intransigent as he was in every moral matter, Columban then came into conflict with the royal house for having harshly reprimanded King Theuderic for his adulterous relations. This created a whole network of personal, religious and political intrigues and manoeuvres which, in 610, culminated in a Decree of expulsion banishing Columban and all the monks of Irish origin from Luxeuil and condemning them to definitive exile. They were escorted to the sea and, at the expense of the court, boarded a ship bound for Ireland. However, not far from shore the ship ran aground and the captain, who saw this as a sign from Heaven, abandoned the voyage and, for fear of being cursed by God, brought the monks back to dry land. Instead of returning to Luxeuil, they decided to begin a new work of evangelization. Thus, they embarked on a Rhine boat and travelled up the river. After a first stop in Tuggen near Lake Zurich they went to the region of Bregenz, near Lake Constance, to evangelize the Alemanni.

However, soon afterwards, because of political events unfavourable to his work, Columban decided to cross the Alps with the majority of his disciples. Only one monk whose name was Gallus stayed behind; it was from his hermitage that the famous Abbey of St Gall in Switzerland subsequently developed. Having arrived in Italy, Columban met with a warm welcome at the Lombard Royal Court but was immediately faced with considerable difficulties: the life of the Church was torn apart by the Arian heresy, still prevalent among the Lombards, and by a schism which had detached most of the Church in Northern Italy from communion with the Bishop of Rome. Columban entered authoritatively into this context, writing a satirical pamphlet against Arianism and a letter to Boniface IV to convince him to take some decisive steps with a view to re-establishing unity (cf. Epistula V). [He was never afraid to enter a controversy and probably would be blogging if he were around today!] When, in 612 or 613, the King of the Lombards allocated to him a plot of land in Bobbio, in the Trebbia Valley, Columban founded a new monastery there which was later to become a cultural centre on a par with the famous monastery of Monte Cassino. Here he came to the end of his days: he died on 23 November 615 and to this day is commemorated on this date in the Roman rite.

St Columban's message is concentrated in a firm appeal to conversion and detachment from earthly goods, with a view to the eternal inheritance. [First things first]With his ascetic life and conduct free from compromises when he faced the corruption of the powerful, he is reminiscent of the severe figure of St John the Baptist. His austerity, however, was never an end in itself but merely the means with which to open himself freely to God's love and to correspond with his whole being to the gifts received from him, thereby restoring in himself the image of God, while at the same time cultivating the earth and renewing human society. I quote from his Instructiones: "If man makes a correct use of those faculties that God has conceded to his soul, he will be likened to God. Let us remember that we must restore to him all those gifts which he deposited in us when we were in our original condition. "He has taught us the way with his Commandments. The first of them tells us to love the Lord with all our heart, because he loved us first, from the beginning of time, even before we came into the light of this world" (cf. Instructiones XI). The Irish Saint truly incarnated these words in his own life. A man of great culture - he also wrote poetry in Latin and a grammar book - he proved rich in gifts of grace. He was a tireless builder of monasteries as well as an intransigent penitential preacher who spent every ounce of his energy on nurturing the Christian roots of Europe which was coming into existence. With his spiritual energy, with his faith, with his love for God and neighbour, he truly became one of the Fathers of Europe. He shows us even today the roots from which our Europe can be reborn. [Europe surely needs a re-birth in the Christian faith].

Statue of St Columban, St Columban's, Bristol, Rhode Island, USA

22 November 2012

'Watch at all times.' Sunday Reflections. First Sunday of Advent Year C

Ships in Distress in a Raging Storm, Ludolf Backhuysen, c.1690

We begin Year C, which highlights St Luke's Gospel.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 21:25-28, 34-36 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to his disciples, "And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. 

"But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man."

Entrance Antiphon  Cf Psalm 24[25]:1-3

Latin Gregorian chant

Ad te Domine levavi animam meam, 
Deus meus in te confido, non erubescam. 
necque irrideant me inimici mei. 
etenim universi qui te exspectant, non confundentur.

In you, I lift up my soul, O my God.
In you, I have trusted, let me not be put to shame.
Now let my enemies exult over me,
and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

I am preparing this early before going on retreat from 24 November till 1 December. Here is Pope Benedict's Angelus Talk on the First Sunday of Advent, 29 November 2009.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday, by the grace of God, a new Liturgical Year opens, of course, with Advent, a Season of preparation for the birth of the Lord. The Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution on the Liturgy, affirms that the Church "in the course of the year... unfolds the whole mystery of Christ from the Incarnation and Nativity to the Ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the Coming of the Lord". In this way, "recalling the mysteries of the redemption, she opens up to the faithful the riches of her Lord's powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time; the faithful lay hold of them and are filled with saving grace" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 102). The Council insists on the fact that the centre of the Liturgy is Christ, around whom the Blessed Virgin Mary, closest to him, and then the martyrs and the other saints who "sing God's perfect praise in Heaven and intercede for us" (ibid., n. 104) revolve like the planets around the sun.

This is the reality of the Liturgical Year seen, so to speak, "from God's perspective". And from the perspective, let us say, of humankind, of history and of society what importance can it have? The answer is suggested to us precisely by the journey through Advent on which we are setting out today. The contemporary world above all needs hope; the developing peoples need it, but so do those that are economically advanced. We are becoming increasingly aware that we are all on one boat and together must save each other. Seeing so much false security collapse, we realize that what we need most is a trustworthy hope. This is found in Christ alone. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, he "is the same yesterday and today and for ever (Heb 13: 8). The Lord Jesus came in the past, comes in the present and will come in the future. He embraces all the dimensions of time, because he died and rose; he is "the Living One". While he shares our human precariousness, he remains forever and offers us the stability of God himself. He is "flesh" like us and "rock" like God. Whoever yearns for freedom, justice, and peace may rise again and raise his head, for in Christ liberation is drawing near (cf. Lk 21: 28) as we read in today's Gospel. We can therefore say that Jesus Christ is not only relevant to Christians, or only to believers, but to all men and women, for Christ, who is the centre of faith, is also the foundation of hope. And every human being is constantly in need of hope.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Virgin Mary fully embodies a humanity that lives in hope based on faith in the living God. She is the Virgin of Advent: she is firmly established in the present, in the "today" of salvation. In her heart she gathers up all past promises, and encompasses the future. Let us learn from her in order to truly enter this Season of grace and to accept, with joy and responsibility, the coming of God in our personal and social lives. 

After the Angelus the Pope added these words for World AIDS Day, which this year is 1 December.

The first of December is World AIDS Day. My thoughts and prayers go to every person afflicted by this illness, especially the children, the poorest and those who are rejected. The Church never ceases to do her utmost to combat AIDS, through her institutions and personnel dedicated to this mission. I urge everyone to make his/her own contribution, with prayer and practical attention, to ensure that all who are affected by the HIV virus may experience the presence of the Lord who gives comfort and hope. Lastly, by redoubling and coordinating our efforts I hope it will be possible to eradicate this disease.


Pope Benedict celebrating First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent on the evening of Saturday 29 November 2009, the first liturgical celebration of the new liturgical year.

étenim univérsi qui te exspéctant non confundéntur.

'Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.' Sunday Reflections. Christ the King, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer. 

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 18:33b-37 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Pilate said to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?" Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice."

Christ Before Pilate, Nicolas Maes, 1649-50 (Web Gallery of Art)

Entrance Antiphon  Revelations 5:12; 1:6

Dignus est Agnus qui occísus est, accípere virtútem, et divinitátem et sapiéntiam, et fortitúdinen, et honórem. Ipsi glória et impériun in sæcula sæculórum. 

[V. (Ps. 71: 1) Deus, judícium tuum Regi da: et justítiam tuam Fílio Regis. v. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.]

How worthy is the Lamb who was slain, 
to receive power and divinity, 
and wisdom and strength and honour. 
To him belong glory and power for ever and ever.


Fr Gabriel Harty OP (above) is an Irish Dominican friar is now 91. He blogs under the title Irish Rosary Priest. In the November issue of Pioneer, the excellent monthly of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, he writes about losing his job.

As National Director of the Rosary apostolate for almost sixty years, I realise that I had made a name for myself in certain quarters and that I had, as it were, built up a little kingdom of my own. then one day I heard the news, that I was no longer to be in control. A big white van came down from the North to clear everything out of what was once my office, my home, my sanctuary to establish the Rosary Centre elsewhere. I c onfess that I felt angry. Like so many at this time of recession who find themselves redundant, or like those who have to move aside to let the young take over, I went through a process of grieving. I confess that I failed to recognise the times, or come to terms with my own declining years.

In the midst of a time of darkness, it was the Lord's own prayer that helped me. Unable to run around the country anymore preaching to the crowds, I took time to walk up and down the Gethsemane back-garden of a dear friend who understood my predicament. As I would begin the Our Father, it would slowly dawn on me, that it was not my name that mattered or my kingdom that had to be preserved . . .

Father Gabriel was sharing in some of the humiliation of Jesus as he stood before Pilate, a humiliation captured so movingly by Nicolas Maes in the painting above. The only person in the foreground looking at Jesus is one showing mock veneration and concern.

In many Western countries in the last twenty years or so the Church has been going through a process of humiliation, much of it brought on by priests and religious who misused their positions of authority and power to abuse young people. And it would seem that many of their superiors refused to use their positions of authority and power to stop the abusers and protect those being abused. Not all of this failure was due to malice. Some followed the best advice they could find at the time, advice that would be found wanting now, and acted as responsibly as they could.

But the Church has lost its moral authority to a large degree, its ability to announce the Gospel, its ability to teach, to guide, to lead, to encourage, to heal. 

I grew up in the Republic of Ireland at a time when around 95 percent were Catholics and where the authority of bishops and other authority figures in the Church held sway. This was not by any means as negative as some say. But it did mean that many authority figures, if they ever considered it, could say with Father Gabriel that I had, as it were, built up a little kingdom of my own. 

This can happen when one is truly working for the Lord just as much as when one sets out to be in control no matter who suffers. It can happen to parents who thwart their adult children's desires, hopes and plans for their future. I remember a parish here in the Philippines where the people in one section of the city wanted to have a priest of their own. They had a chapel and were willing to support a priest. The committee elected by the people went to see the bishop. When the son of the committee's chairman expressed a desire to enter the diocesan seminary his father forbade him.

In the 1990s a parish priest visiting from Ireland told some of us of an incident that hurt him deeply. It was during a time when cases of priests abusing children were in the news with sickening frequency. One morning when he was walking along a street in his parish he saw a parishioner who had been at Mass that morning coming towards him and then, very deliberately, crossing the road to avoid him.

That has not been my experience in Ireland or in the Philippines but I'm well aware of the sense of humiliation that so many good Catholic feel at times, of the sense of disappointment at having been let down by those they trusted, of the sense at times that it doesn't really matter whether we're Catholics or Christians 'as long as we're nice to one another'.

A few months ago I re-read  The Laughter and the Weeping by the late Fr Luke O'Reilly, a Columban who, like many others, was expelled from China in the early 1950s after having spent some time in jail. I can't recall whether it was about himself or another Columban but when the priest in question was being walked through the town before being expelled and the people lined up to mock and humiliate him - they didn't have much choice - there were one or two who quietly showed their support and gratitude.

Catholics and other Christians in some countries live with humiliation and danger daily. They are sometimes a very small and despised minority. They can identify with the Jesus in the painting of Maes. But for those of us who have grown up in communities where the Church was powerful and for the most part used its power and influence for the good of the people, and who now see that same Church as having little or now outward power of influence, we have to choose to stand with the humiliated Jesus and walk with him to Calvary.

We have to choose to live by the values of the Gospel, by the teachings of the Church. We have to do that in societies where marriage as taught by the Bible, the Word of God, as taught explicitly by Jesus, is no longer considered a norm or even desirable. We have to do that in societies where the unborn child is not considered to be worthy of full protection. We have to do that in a world where God's own creation is exploited and destroyed to the detriment of all, often causing great poverty and suffering.

The image of Christ the King of Maes is a true image and the measure of God's love for us, the measure of the love of Jesus, God who became Man, for us.

Hail Redeemer King Divine - Catholic Cathedral Christchurch, New Zealand, November 1999

Sometimes a very building may share in the humiliation of Jesus. The above recording was made in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch, New Zealand. It, along with the Anglican Cathedral, was largely destroyed by the earthquake that hit that city on 4 September 2010.

Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2005

Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, 2011, a year after the earthquake

Hail Redeemer, King Divine! (music by Grattan Flood, 1859 – 1928, words by Fr Patrick Brennan CSsR, 1877 – 1952)
Hail Redeemer, King divine!
Priest and Lamb, the throne is thine;
King, whose reign shall never cease,
Prince of everlasting peace.
Angels, saints and nations sing :
“Praise be Jesus Christ our King;
Lord of life, earth, sky and sea,
King of love on Calvary!”
Verse 2
King, whose name creation thrills,
rule our hearts, our minds, our wills;
till in peace, each nation rings
with thy praises, King of kings.
Verse 3
King most holy, King of truth,
guard the lowly, guide the youth;
Christ the King of glory bright,
be to us eternal light.
Verse 4
Shepherd-king, o’er mountains steep
homeward bring the wandering sheep;
shelter in one royal fold
states and kingdoms, new and old.
[Extra verses
Crimson streams, O King of grace,
drenched thy thorn-crowned head and face;
floods of love’s redeeming tide
tore thy hands, thy feet, and side.
Eucharistic King, what love
draws thee daily from above,
clad in signs of bread and wine :
feed us, lead us, keep us thine!
Sing with joy in ev’ry home :
“Christ our King, thy kingdom come!
To the King of ages, then,
honour, glory, love : Amen!”]

The words of this stirring hymn remind us who Christ the King really is: King of love on Calvary.

Here is another setting of the hymn by Charles Rigby (1901 – 1952)

St Cecilia, Johann Sebastian Bach, and the Swiss connection

St Cecilia and the Angel, Carlo Saraceni, c.1610 (Web Gallery of Art)

St Cecilia, whose feast day it is today,22 November, is the patron saint of musicians. She was martyred probably in Sicily between 176 and 180 and is included in the second list of martyrs in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I).

Whether the angels play only Bach praising God, I am not quite sure. I am sure, however, that en famille they play Mozart. So said Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth (1886 - 1968). 

A younger Swiss contemporary of Barth, Catholic theologian Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905 - 1988) who died two days before Blessed Pope John Paul II was to have made him a cardinal, wrote: Before the beautiful—no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers. He not only 'finds' the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it.

Very recently I came across a Swiss cellist with a very 'un-Swiss' name, Wen-Sinn Yang, whose parents came from Taiwan. He is a cellist and his instrument is a cousin of that which the angel in Saraceni's painting is holding. That seems to be a six-stringed double bass. Modern instruments in the violin family have only four.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 -1750) wrote an enormous amount of music, much of it for Sunday worship in the Lutheran churches in Leipzig. Among his works are six cello suites, which didn't really become known until the last century. Here Wen-Sinn Yang plays Bach's Cello suite No 1 in G major.

During the month of November we pray for the dead in a special way. I often think that we forget to pray for public and historical figures. We should pray for the soul of Johann Sebastian Bach and live in the hope that we will join him in praising God for all eternity. Praising God through music was at the very centre of his life on earth and his music continues to give us some experience of the beauty of God.

The grave of Johann Sebastian Bach in St Thomas' Church, Leipzig, Germany

A Happy Thanksgiving Day to American Readers!

19 November 2012

How Music Can Save Young People

Thursday 22 November is the feast of St Cecilia, patron of musicians. The video above is a BBC Scotland production made in 2008. It was only last year or earlier this year that I first heard of Gustavo Dudamel or of El Sistema, 'The System', a product of the vision of Dr José Antonio Abreu. Both men are from Venezuela.

The programme has since been introduced to other countries such as Scotland and the Republic of Korea.

On 16 April 2007 Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR in a concert at the Vatican in honour of Pope Benedict XVI whose 80th birthday it was. Dudamel was only 26 at the time, an extraordinary young age for an internationally recognised conductor.

16 November 2012

'My words will not pass away.' 33rd 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 13:24-32 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to his disciples, "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”.

Connor Eberhard (left) with two friends after their graduation earlier this year at Blessed Trinity Catholic Secondary School, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada, earlier this year.

Connor Eberhard, 17, whose mother Cathy I have known since she was five, posted this on his Facebook last Tuesday, 13 November:

As some of you may well know, my family and I are battling through a very tough time. I have been diagnosed with a rare Liver Cancer. When I type it on a keyboard, it still doesn’t register. The past week has felt like a horrible nightmare, and I can’t wake up. Your thoughts and prayers have meant a lot to me, and I want to truly thank each and every one of you. Your continued support gives me the strength and courage I need to go on. Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. It is a word, not a sentence. 

Love always, 
Connor Eberhard

Connor's family are devastated. This Sunday's gospel speaks of such devastation affecting the whole community. Every experience of desolation in a community affects each family, each individual. The gospel speaks of Jesus coming again in judgment at an hour that 'only the Father' knows.

The gospel is one that can frighten us or that can encourage us to be always ready for an unexpected serious illness, for our death and for the return of the Lord at the end of time.

The texts for today's Mass are filled with joy and hope. The Collect reads:

Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God, 
the constant gladness of being devoted to you, 
for it is full and lasting happiness 
to serve with constancy 
the author of all that is good.

The response to the psalm reads, in the New American Bible lectionary, You are my inheritance, O Lord! and in the Jerusalem Bible lectionary, Preserve me, O God, I take refuge in you. The verses from Psalm 16 (15) are words of joy and hope: Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices . . . You will show me the path of life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever (NAB).

Jesus assures us in the gospel, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

I have been blessed on a number of occasions to have been with persons in a situation like that of Connor. One was when I was working in a hospital in the USA. Another was with a dear friend still in her 20s. Neither situation was one of gloom but of hope, joy and, with my friend, even of celebration.

I know too that a situation like this is a time of very special grace to the individual, of God's presence in a family and in the wider family and social circle.

The Entrance Antiphon of today's Mass give us words of hope from Jeremiah: The Lord said: I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction. You will call upon me, and I will answer you, and I will lead back your captives from every place. Jeremiah is speaking to the Jewish people in a situation of calamity. But the word of God speaks to each of us, to our families, to our communities, in our particular form of 'captivity'.

Each Sunday Mass in Ordinary Time has two alternative Communion Antiphons, either of which may be used. The first is usually from the Old Testament and the second from the New. The first this Sunday is Psalm 72:28, a text of joy and hope: To be near God is my happiness, to place my hope in God the Lord.

That from the New Testament gives us words of Jesus himself encouraging us to pray in hope:

Communion Antiphon (Mark 11:23-24)

Amen, I say to you: Whatever you ask in prayer, 
believe that you will receive, 
and it shall be given to you, says the Lord.

Latin text:

Amen, dico vobis, quidquid orántes pétitis, 
crédite, quia accipiétis, 
et fiet vobis, (dicit Dominus).

Connor's family have asked for prayer through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II and sent this prayer which has the ecclesiastical approval of the Diocese of Rome:

O Blessed Trinity,
we thank you for having graced the Church with Blessed John Paul II
and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care,
the glory of the Cross of Christ,
and the splendour of the Spirit of love,
to shine through him.

Trusting fully in your infinite mercy
and in the maternal intercession of Mary,
he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd,
and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life
and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you.

Grant us, by his intercession,
And according to your will, the grace we implore:
Connor Eberhard's complete healing,
hoping that he, Blessed Pope John Paul II, 
will soon be numbered among your saints. Amen.

May I also suggest two other intercessors, both of them among the patrons for World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901 - 1925), A Saint on Skis (above), and Blessed Chiara Luce Badano (1971 - 1990), The Saint Who Failed Math, an only child (below).

After the Way of the Cross on 19 August 2011 during World Youth Day in Madrid Pope Benedict said to the young people gathered:

Dear young friends, may Christ’s love for us increase your joy and encourage you to go in search of those less fortunate. You are open to the idea of sharing your lives with others, so be sure not to pass by on the other side in the face of human suffering, for it is here that God expects you to give of your very best: your capacity for love and compassion. The different forms of suffering that have unfolded before our eyes in the course of this Way of the Cross are the Lord’s way of summoning us to spend our lives following in his footsteps and becoming signs of his consolation and salvation. “To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves — these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself” (ibid.).

Let us eagerly welcome these teachings and put them into practice. Let us look upon Christ, hanging on the harsh wood of the Cross, and let us ask him to teach us this mysterious wisdom of the Cross, by which man lives. The Cross was not a sign of failure, but an expression of self-giving in love that extends even to the supreme sacrifice of one’s life. The Father wanted to show his love for us through the embrace of his crucified Son: crucified out of love. The Cross, by its shape and its meaning, represents this love of both the Father and the Son for men. Here we recognize the icon of supreme love, which teaches us to love what God loves and in the way that he loves: this is the Good News that gives hope to the world.

Both Blessed Pier Giorgio and Blessed Chiara Luce lived out these words joyfully through suffering. Blessed John Paul II had an extraordinary love for young persons. May the intercession of these three 'blesseds' obtain for Connor Eberhard the healing he and his family are asking for and a deepening and strengthening of their faith in Jesus Christ, a faith I have seen grow through many years of friendship.

Connor with his American cousin Caitlin Devlin. Caitlin's Dad, Peter, is a brother of Connor's Mom, Cathy.