29 July 2013

'I want to become a priest.'

These photos were taken in Rio. I came across them on Facebook and they're from the FB of Zenit, one of the leading Catholic news agencies. Here is the story that goes with the photos.

While the papal entourage made its way through the picturesque Quinta de Boa Vista park, a nine year old boy wearing a Seleçao soccer jersey, jumped the hurdles and made his way through to the white jeep, where he was received affectionately by Pope Francis, and whispered in the Pontiff’s ear: 'I have a very important message for you . . . I want to become a priest.'

At this point the Pope, visibly moved, clutched him to his chest and told the boy. “'dream begins to fulfill today. I will pray for you, but you must pray for me.'

With trembling legs and his hands over his face, full of emotion and excitement, the young boy returned to his father, happy and even more proud of his son for this unique moment.


One of my Irish Columban confreres told me that when he was eight he wrote to Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Ireland and Britain, saying that he wanted to be a Columban priest. The editor took him seriously and wrote him a letter in which he gently pointed out that while he was still too young at that stage to enter the seminary he should continue praying that he would become a priest.

The first stirrings of my own vocation came when I was around seven or so, being attracted by the white habit of the Dominican friars in St Saviour's Church, Dominick Street, Dublin. My father used to take me there occasionally for High Mass.

The boy's football shirt is that of the Brazilian national team, known in Portuguese as Seleção Brasileira.

One of the remarkable things about all World Youth Days is that while young pilgrims from every country are very proud to carry their national flags they all find their common and deepest identity as Catholic Christians as they try to live out their baptism and celebrate that at the various liturgies and gatherings. Just before the closing Mass in Rio all were asked to lower their flags.

My own experience is that when a person with a strong positive sense of self is totally at ease with others who may be different in many ways and makes them feel at home. The same applies to communities with a strong positive sense of identity. When at home with ourselves we can rejoice in the diversity around us.

I'm pretty sure that if the youngster in the photos and Pope Francis were at a football game between Argentina and Brazil they would be on opposite sides in cheerful, good-natured but real rivalry. But here the little boy sees a Holy Father in whom he can confide his dream of becoming a priest.

May that dream come true and may the memory of the Holy Father's embrace be a source of hope to himself and through him to others in the years ahead.
One remarkable thing about the lower photo is that the security men, who have a very serious and difficult job, are smiling. You don't often see that!

26 July 2013

'Lord, teach us to pray'. Sunday Reflections, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

The Lord's Prayer, James Tissot

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

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

Gospel Luke 11:1-13 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation." And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything?' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs.  And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for * a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Blessed John Paul II singing the Pater Noster (Our Father) in Latin

Fr Patrick Ronan, from County Kilkenny in Ireland, was one of four Columbans jailed in China in 1952 by the Communist authorities for 'subversive activities'. Another Columban, Fr Aedan McGrath, spent nearly three years in solitary confinement in China between 1950 and 1953 because of his involvement in the Legion of Mary. All five were expelled in 1953.

Fr Ronan, known to his fellow Columbans as 'Pops', and his three companions, Frs Owen O'Kane, John Casey and Patrick Reilly, were called The Four Felons in a book published in 1958 that told their story. They were in the same prison but in separate cells and were often interrogated in the middle of the night, never knowing when they might be called out.

Unlike his three companions, Father 'Pops' always managed to sleep soundly, no matter how often he was awakened for an interrogation. When the four were eventually released and told to leave the People's Republic he learned why when they arrived in Hong Kong. The woman who had been principal when he was in kindergarten had been praying every day of his captivity for one specific intention: that he would sleep soundly.

Like the wonderful bargaining prayer of Abraham on behalf of his people in the First Reading today that woman's prayer was very down to earth and, like Abraham, she saw God as being down to earth too.

The Four Felons have all gone to their reward now. I was blessed to know two of them in the Philippines, Fr Ronan and Fr Reilly. I happened to be in Ireland when Fr 'Pops' died there in 1991 and his great friend and fellow 'felon' Fr Patrick Reilly told us a story at the funeral Mass that reminded us of the power of the very specific prayer of Fr Ronan's former teacher, though from a somewhat humorous angle. The four travelled home by boat from Hong Kong. The other three often had difficulty trying to waken Fr Ronan in the morning and suggested that he contact his friend in Ireland and ask her to stop praying for him!

I am often deeply touched by friends in the Philippines who ask me to pray for some particular intention, very often for a family member who is sick. When that person gets better they make a point of thanking me for my prayers. There's an reminder in this that, like Abraham, I'm called to pray for the people I serve.

And Pope Francis on the evening he first spoke to use as Pope reminded us of the importance of our prayers for him.

I truly believe that it is impossible for God to refuse to listen to prayer that is in harmony with his will. So many of us older people these days have family members and friends who seem to have fallen away from the Church and, in many instances, from the faith itself. There are two things we can do: live as followers of Jesus as intensely as possible and pray that their faith will be renewed.

The Scallop Shell, traditional symbol of El Camino de Santiago, The Way of St Jamesthe pilgrimage to Santiage de Compostela.

Let us remember in our prayers this weekend the victims of the train crash in Santiago de Compostela last Wednesday, the eve of the great feast of St James in that city named after him. Many on the train must have been pilgrims to the shrine of the Apostle.

Let us pray too for Pope Francis, for the people of Brazil and for all the pilgrims to World Youth Day Rio2013 as it ends this Sunday. The English version of the anthem for this year's WYD is sung by Ooberfuse, the British band whose lead singer Cherrie Anderson is Filipino-British, her mother being from the Philippines. This group has been doing for some years through the medium of contemporary music what the Gospel demands, as the song reminds us: 

Christ invites us:
'Come to me, be my friends'.
Christ, He sends us: 
'Go! Be missionaries'.

19 July 2013

'One thing is needful.' Sunday Reflections, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Johannes Vermeer, 1654-55(?) 

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

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

Gospel Luke 10:38-42 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."

Perhaps the poorest man I've met in my life was Billy Smith. Despite his name, he was a Filipino, though as far as we Columban priests knew his father was an American. He was known to all the Columbans in northern Mindanao where in the 1970s we had many parishes, now staffed by Filipino diocesan priests. Billy would do his rounds of the parishes over a period of months and in each would get some food, some clothing, a little money and a place to sleep. He was tall and thin and in his latter years was going blind. He had a number of illnesses. He carried a sturdy staff. Sometimes children would make fun of him and even throw stones at him.

One afternoon more than 30 years ago in a place where I had been parish priest for a couple of months, the last Columban to serve in that role, but was in charge of a spiritual pastoral formation year for seminarians from five dioceses, I heard the 'clump, clump, clump' of heavy boots coming up the stairs to the living quarters. It was Billy. At the time I had a visitor, a young friend named Patricia who was in Grade 5. She never knew her father as he had died when she was an infant. She 'adopted' me as a father and called me 'Tatay' (Dad) and often dropped by after class before heading home. The family lived in a small house built on stilts that looked as if it might fall over at any minute. Her mother managed to make a living. 

When Patricia saw Billy she immediately went over to him, took him by the hand, sat him down at the table and brought him something to eat and drink. I doubt if Billy had ever received such service in his life. My young friend was unaware that I was taking all of this in.

Patricia had little in life and Billy had even less. But the young girl showed respect, kindness and hospitality to this man of the roads. She did this spontaneously, from the heart. When I told her about this incident years later she couldn't remember it.

The story in the First Reading of Abraham's welcome to the three strangers and the story of the welcome Martha and Mary to Jesus in the Gospel show us how blessed we may be by hospitality. Abraham didn't know that the strangers were visitors from God, who blessed him and Sarah, childless and well beyond the normal age for having children, with a son, Isaac, within the year. It is through Isaac that we can refer to 'Abraham, our father in faith' in Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon).

God blessed Billy through the hospitality of Patricia, a child, and he gave me a lifelong blessing through that same incident.

Very often what a visitor looks forward to is something to eat and drink. And in the Scriptures when it gives us stories of hospitality such as in the First Reading, there is more than enough. Vincenzo Campi's painting below emphasises the extent of Martha's hospitality and the amount of work that faces her. We can understand her frustration with her sister Mary. The painting also shows us something of the generosity of God.

However, there are times when the hospitality needed is simply someone to listen. From what we read about Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus in the gospels of St Luke and St John it would seem that Jesus felt very much at home with them and quite possibly had many meals with them. But on this occasion he simply wants the ear of Mary and Martha. Mary senses this. 

One thing is needful, Jesus tells Martha. That, basically, is to know what God wants from us at a particular time and then to do that. In the last chapter of St John's Gospel Jesus is telling us the same thing in his conversation with St Peter when he asks him three times 'Do you love me?' When Peter says 'Yes' on each occasion Jesus tells him, 'feed my lambs, feed my sheep'. But the basic question is Do you love me?

One thing is needful.

12 July 2013

'Who is my neighbour?' Sunday Reflections, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890 

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

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

Gospel Luke 10:25-37 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?"  And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live." But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii  and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"  He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." 

After lunch today I was talking to a parishioner from St Columba's Cathedral, Oban, here in the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles in western Scotland, surely one of the most scenic dioceses in the world. He told me about some of his Irish ancestors. About four generations back one of them was widowed and married a second wife who bore him four children. Sadly, her husband died when the children were still young. The family of her husband's first wife managed to throw her and her children out so that they could keep the house.

The young widow and children took to the road and headed north. In a village not too far away they met a family who saw their plight and took them in, giving them a new home. Some years passed and one of the widow's children married one of the children in their host family. The man who told me this is descended from that couple.

His story shows two extremes, rejection based on greed and welcome based on generosity, a willingness to get involved in the sufferings of others and to offer them a way out of their situation.

In his homily last Monday at Mass in Lampedusa, the tiny Italian island where so many refugees from north Africa have landed while others died in trying to reach it, Pope Francis referred to this Sunday's gospel: 'Where is your brother?' Who is responsible for this blood? . . . Today no one in the world feels responsible for this; we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility; we have fallen into the hypocritical attitude of the priest and of the servant of the altar that Jesus speaks about in the parable of the Good Samaritan: We look upon the brother half dead by the roadside, perhaps we think 'poor guy,' and we continue on our way, it’s none of our business; and we feel fine with this. We feel at peace with this, we feel fine! The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference. In this world of globalization we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business.

Further on Pope Francis asks,  'Who among us has wept for these things, and things like this?' Who has wept for the deaths of these brothers and sisters? Who has wept for the people who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who wanted something to support their families? We are a society that has forgotten the experience of weeping, of 'suffering with': the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!

The Good Samaritan, like the Prodigal Son, is as real to us as are the members of our our own family. Yet he exists only in a story, but one that touches our hearts and challenges our values, if we allow it to do so. It's not a story about 'them' doing something helpful to others 'out there' but about one individual, a member of a group that Jews generally looked down on, taking personal responsibility in helping another individual suffering right in front of him.

Fr Patrick McCaffrey, 1944-2010. Photo by Fr Gary Walker, April 2010

Fr Pat McCaffrey was a classmate of mine who died suddenly in Pakistan on 18 May 2010. His first mission was Fiji, where he worked especially with Indian-Fijians and becoming fluent in Hindi. He was then part of the pioneering Columban group that went to Pakistan in 1979. Later he worked with people of Pakistani origin in northern England, living in Bradford. He celebrated Mass once a month with Pakistani Catholics in Nelson. Much of his work in Bradford was with refugees from the troubled Middle East. He was then reassigned to Fiji. But his final posting was back to Pakistan.

Father Pat's niece Siobhan McCaffrey describes his death in Following in Father Pat's Footseps, an article she wrote after visiting Pakistan: On our last day, we travelled to the town of Murree, a seven hour drive from Lahore, situated on the side of a steep hill, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Murree was where Father Pat died. He had been visiting lay missionaries there. He had left the convent [of the Presentation Sisters where he had just celebrated Mass] around 6:00am to catch a bus to Rawalpindi. He was rushing to catch the bus when he died. The only person around was a street-sweeper, considered the lowest of the low in Pakistan’s caste system.

This man had seen Father Pat holding on to the rails outside the compound and then fall back onto the road. He went to his aid but was unable to help. He raised the alarm at the convent and the Sisters came.

We thanked the street-sweeper for trying to help our uncle. He apologized for not being able to save him and explained that it was his moral duty to try, but that God had decided to take him and there was nothing he could do.

Father Pat's whole life was that of a follower of Jesus who had never forgotten the experience of weeping, of 'suffering with' the poor. And God surely blessed him in allowing him to celebrate Mass just before he died and in sending a man from the poorest of the poor to be the first to come to his aid, a Muslim who, like Father Pat himself, had never forgotten the experience of weeping, of 'suffering with' others.

Siobhan McCaffrey (left) at her Uncle's grave

05 July 2013

'Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.' Sunday Reflections, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Madonna and Child, Cornelis Van Haarlem, 1617 [Web Gallery of Art]

As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms,
and fondled in her lap;
as a mother comforts her child, 
so will I comfort you (Isaiah 66:12, [NAB], First Reading)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

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

Gospel Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

After this the Lord appointed seventy  others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. And he said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. In the house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house!' And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.'  I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." 

During some of my summer vacations in my seminary years I went on Peregrinatio Pro Christo  - Pilgrimage For Christ - with the Legion of Mary. 'PPC', as Legionaries usually call it, was partly inspired by the spirit of Irish monks such as St Columbanus (Columban) and St Columcille (Columba) who left Ireland for other beautiful countries, Columban to the European mainland and Columba to Iona, Scotland, in the modern Diocese of Argyll and the Isles where I'm spending two months.

Legionaries go to another country or to another region in their own country for at least a week, usually at the invitation of a particular parish. In 1963 I was in a parish near the centre of Liverpool, around the time the Beatles, from that city, were becoming known throughout the world. Two years later I was in a parish in Paisley, very near Glasgow, and in 1966 in Pewsey, a lovely village in rural Wiltshire in England's beautiful West Country. I arrived there on the day England won the World Cup in football against Germany and watched the game in a cafe in Bristol.

On PPC most of the Legionaries have never met each other before but they establish a close bond very quickly. Instead of a weekly meeting, as they have in their own praesidium, as a branch is called (the Legion takes its terminology from the ancient Roman Legions) they meet daily. Each meeting includes prayers at the beginning, the middle and the end, reading from the Handbook, reporting on work done, a short talk or allocutio, from the spiritual director, and assignments for the coming week, two hours for senior members.

On PPC this takes place every day, as does the work. And it is usually much longer than two hours, Most of those taking part give up part of their own holidays and pay their own way, though they are usually hosted by local families, just like the 72 in the gospel.

Just like the disciples in today's Gospel, Legionaries work in pairs. They may never work alone. If one doesn't turn up the assigned work can't be done. One of the central works of the Legion of Mary is to visit homes. In Liverpool the parish priest asked us to do a parish census. This served two purposes. It helped the parish update its list but, more importantly, it was an opportunity for personal contact with them, especially with those who had lapsed.

I remember one particular home that I visited with my assigned partner. The parish index card noted that the family who lived their had become quite bitter towards the Church, why, I didn't know. But I felt nervous when I pressed the doorbell. When the door was opened one of us said that we were from the Legion of Mary and that we were visiting on behalf of the local parish.

Instead of angry words or having the door being slammed in our faces, we got a big smile from the man who had opened the door when we introduced ourselves and he said, 'O, you're from Ireland!' He then told us of holidays that he and his family had spent in Ireland and that they had received a warm welcome wherever they went.

I took this as a cue to speak of the hospitality and friendliness of the Irish people as being an expression of their Catholic faith. We had a long chat in which the man, who had, as I recall, asked his wife to meet us, expressed no bitterness at all towards the Church and it was clear when we were leaving that he was very grateful for the visit. 

I don't know if he and his family went back to the Church but he had experienced a welcoming Church through our visit. In a very real way we had done what Jesus had asked the 72 to do: Heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'  The sickness in question wasn't a physical one but a spiritual one.

Our faith is a precious gift from God that must be shared. Otherwise it will die. In the gospel the 72 are given a specific mission. That is what happens on PPC. But we're on mission all the time and we may never know how we can lead others to the faith. 

A few years ago when visiting Canada I was invited to give a talk to a prayer group. Afterwards over coffee I was chatting with one of the members, an immigrant from Germany. She had been a Lutheran but for years had been thinking of becoming a Catholic. However, she couldn't take the final step. One day she was passing a Catholic church and felt drawn to go in. As she was trying to share her hesitation with the Lord a group of teenage boys came in, genuflected to the Blessed Sacrament, spent a couple of minutes in silent prayer, got up, genuflected again and went on their way. This for her was the moment of grace when she let go of her hesitations. She didn't know who the boys were and they had no idea of the powerful impact their visit to the Lord had made on this woman.

Last Sunday here in St Mun's Church, Ballachulish, where I'm spending some time during the summer, I concelebrated Mass with Bishop Joseph Toal of Argyll and the Isles as he baptised and confirmed James Campbell MacPherson and gave him his First Holy Communion. Campbell, as he is known to everyone, is married and his wife Mary and their children are Catholics. I've no doubt that it was their influence and that of the parishioners in this small parish that gently led him to the faith.

Whether we're 'on duty' as missionaries, as the 72 were and as I was on PPC, or 'off duty' the lives we lead can truly remind others that the kingdom of God has come near to you. The people that the Liverpool family met in Ireland, bus drivers, waitresses, newspaper vendors, so many others, probably weren't aware that they were gentle reminders of God's love to them. When we honestly try to follow Jesus despite our sinfulness and weakness we can take heart in the words he spoke to the 72 as they reported what had happened during their mission, rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Rally for Life in Dublin, 2pm Saturday 6 July

Tomorrow, Saturday, a Rally for Life will take place in Dublin, starting at the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, and marching to Leinster House, where the Dáil (Parliament)and Seanad (Senate) chambers are.

Before the rally there will be Mass in near St Saviour's Church, the Dominican church just around the corner from Parnell Square, with Coadjutor Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin as the main celebrants

Earlier this week the main governing party, Fine Gael, expelled four of its members from the parliamentary party, Deputies Billy Timmins, Terence Flanagan, Peter Mathews and Brian Walsh. As Mr Timmins pointed out in The Irish Times The party itself broke a pledge to the electorate that it would not legislate for the X case because, in the words of former taoiseach John Bruton, it would legislate for abortion. The issue was not in the Programme for Government, so certainly from that aspect, I feel a little bit hard done by.

In other words, these four TDs (members of parliament), have been thrown out - they had to vacate their offices the morning after the vote - for being faithful to the programme their party put before the electorate.

The Visitation, Mariotto Albertinnelli, 1503 [Web Gallery of Art]

The GENERAL SCHEME OF THE Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 is online.

Under 'Head 1 Interpretation', on page 3, it says: (1) In this Act . . . “neonate” means a baby who is 4 weeks old or younger.

Two words there are used only for human beings: 'baby' and 'who'. In other words, the bill clearly sees the child in the mother's womb in the first few weeks of her pregnancy as a human being.

The Government persists in including the threat of suicide by the mother as a valid reason to allow an abortion right up to the time of birth despite the clear medical and psychiatric advice that abortion is not a 'cure' for suicidal thoughts. A Supreme Court judgement made in 1991 that has no basis in medical science or psychiatry surely isn't a basis for allowing the taking of one life to 'save' another.

The Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution Act, 2001, approved by the people on 27 March 2002, forbids the use of the death penalty. Perhaps this should be brought to the attention of the legislators since the 'Protection of Life' Bill - what a misleading title - if passed would condemn to death innocent and voiceless beings already implicitly defined as humans in the bill.

04 July 2013

Abraham, Isaac, Caravaggio and Wilfred Owen's 'The Parable of the Old Man and the Young'

The Sacrifice of Isaac, Caravaggio, c. 1596 [Web Gallery of Art]

The other day the July-August issue of Misyon, the online magazine I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines, went online. Peace by Peace features an item on the story of the command to Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. As it happens, the first reading in today's Mass, Thursday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time Year I, is this same story. 

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide” as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.
English poet Wilfred Owen, killed in action at the age of 25 on 4 November 1918 a week before the end of the Great War – his mother got the telegram informing her of his death as the church bells pealed to announce the Armistice – sees ‘Abraham’, the political leaders of the day, making a different choice:
The Parable of the Old Man and the Young