30 December 2015

'And they knelt down and paid him homage.' Sunday Reflections. The Epiphany

The Adoration of the MagiVelázquez, 1619
Museo del Prado, Madrid [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

The readings above are used both at the Vigil Mass and at the Mass during the Day. Each Mass has its own set of prayers and antiphons.

In countries where the Epiphany is observed as a Holyday of Obligation on 6 January, eg, Ireland, the Mass of the Second Sunday after the Nativity is celebrated. The same readings are used in Years A, B, C:

Readings (Jerusalem Bible)

Alleluia and Gospel for the Epiphany

Alleluia, alleluia!
Vidimus stellam eius in Oriente,
We have seen his star in the East,
et venimus cum muneribus adorare Dominum.
and have come with gifts to adore the Lord.
Alleluia, alleluia!

The same text (cf. Matthew 2:2), without 'Alleluia, alleluia,' is used as the Communion Antiphon at the Mass during the Day.

Gospel Matthew 2:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Adoration of the Magi (detail), Filippino Lipi, 1496
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence [Web Gallery of Art]

While based in Britain from 2000 till 2002 I was able to spend Christmas with my brother and his family in Dublin, a short flight from England, in 2000 and 2001. During the holiday in 2001 I saw a documentary on RTÉ, Ireland's national broadcasting service, about Filipino nurses in Ireland. These began to arrive in 2000, initially at the invitation of the Irish government to work in government hospitals. Very quickly there was an 'invasion' of Filipino nurses and carers, now to be found in hospitals and nursing homes in every part of the country.

One of the nurses interviewed told how many Filipinos, knowing that the Irish celebrate Christmas on the 25th, unlike the Philippines where the culmination of the feast is on the night of the 24th, offered to work on Christmas Day so that their Irish companions could be with their families. This also helped to dull the pain of being away from their own families.

I was moved to tears at the testimony of one nurse, from Mindanao as I recall, speaking about her job and her first Christmas in Ireland in 2000. She spoke very highly of her employers, of her working conditions and of her accommodation, which she compared with that of the Holy Family on the first Christmas night. She spoke of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in this situation as if they were members of her own family, as in a very deep sense they are, or we of their family.

Here was a young woman from the East powerfully proclaiming, without being aware of it, that the Word became flesh and lived among us. The fact that she wasn't aware of it, that she was speaking about her 'next door neighbours', made her proclamation of faith all the more powerful. She would have known many in her own place, and very likely knew from her own experience, something of what Joseph and Mary went through in Bethlehem. Her faith in the Word who became flesh and lived among us wasn't something in her head but part of her very being.

For much of the last century thousands of Catholic priests, religious Sisters and Brothers left Europe and North America to preach and live the Gospel in the nations of Africa, Asia and South America. Some of the countries and regions from which they left, eg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Quebec, have to a great extent lost or even rejected the Catholic Christian faith. The Jewish people had, in faith, awaited the coming of the Messiah for many centuries. But when He came it was uneducated shepherds who first recognised him and later Simeon and Anna, two devout and elderly Jews who spent lengthy periods in prayer in the Temple.

Today's feast highlights wise men from the east, not 'believers' in the Jewish sense, led by God's special grace to Bethlehem to bring gifts in response to that grace, explaining, We . . . have come to pay him homage.They reveal to us that God calls people from every part of the world to do the same and to bring others with them.

Will nurses from the Philippines and from Kerala in India, migrants from Korea and Vietnam, from the east, bring the gift of faith in Jesus Christ once again to the many people in Western Europe and North America who no longer know him in any real sense? Will they by the lives they lead as working immigrants gently invite those in the West who have lost the precious gift of our Catholic Christian faith to once again come to pay him homage?

An arrangement by John Rutter of the old carol

29 December 2015

Mary, the Holy Mother of God. New Year's Day. World Day of Peace

The Virgin Mary, El Greco, 1594-1604
Museo del Prado, Madrid [Web Gallery of Art]

The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, is a holy day of obligation on the universal calendar of the Church. However in some countries the bishops have decided not to observe it as such. But I know for sure that in the Philippines and in the USA it is observed as a holy day of obligation.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

The shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
National Gallery, London [Web Gallery of Art]
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

World Day of Peace

Today is the Church's 49th World Day of Peace. Here is the conclusion of the message of Pope Francis for this day.

I would like to make a threefold appeal to the leaders of nations: to refrain from drawing other peoples into conflicts or wars which destroy not only their material, cultural and social legacy, but also – and in the long term – their moral and spiritual integrity; to forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poorer nations; and to adopt policies of cooperation which, instead of bowing before the dictatorship of certain ideologies, will respect the values of local populations and, in any case, not prove detrimental to the fundamental and inalienable right to life of the unborn.

I entrust these reflections, together with my best wishes for the New Year, to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, who cares for the needs of our human family, that she may obtain from her Son Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the granting of our prayers and the blessing of our daily efforts for a fraternal and united world.

The Virgin and Child with St Martina and St Agnes  (detail)            El Greco, 1597-99
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC [Web Gallery of Art]

As he has done many times before, Pope Francis stresses the fundamental and inalienable right to life of the unborn.

I have used the video above a number of times. It's message is not only the powerful words of the Beatitudes given us by Jesus but the dignity of those who proclaim them here. Some say, in all sincerity, that if it is known before birth that a child has a disability, especially a mental one, better that that child not be born. They are really saying that the persons in this video, whose names appear at the end, were not worthy of being born, or would have been spared a life of suffering had they been aborted. Pope Francis is speaking to those who see things in this way.

Miggy and Gee-Gee with Mikko and Mica, 2009

I have close friends whose first child, a son, was born with severe mental and physical disabilities, due to something that went wrong during his birth. Mikko lived for seven years. There is no way that his parents, Miggy and Gee-Gee, or his younger sister Mica regret his birth.  His parents loved him to bits from the moment of his birth, indeed from the moment they knew their first child was on his way. And Mica loved her older brother to bits in the same way.

How often persons who are pro-life in word and in deed are taunted or dismissed as caring only for the lives of the unborn! Miggy and Gee-Gee took care of Mikko, with professional help, 24/7. That included many days in the ICU over the years of his life, including one Christmas. There are countless others caring with all their hearts for those in need.

The words of Pope Francis are a message of hope to the many who lovingly care for persons with special needs at whatever stage of life and he is telling them that they are truly peacemakers. He is also quietly challenging those who see things differently.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us

23 December 2015

'Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.' Sunday Reflections. The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Renante and Christine Alejo-Uy with Kiefer Thomas, their first born in 2007. At the time Renante and Christine were active members of Couples for Christ in Bacolod City, Philippines
The cover of Misyon, now MISYONonline.com, the magazine of the Columbans in the Philippines, November-December 2007.
Renante and Christine, 2015, with Kiefer Thomas now 8 and Ysabella Alexis 1. The couple are still involved with Couples for Christ but now in Thailand.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Now every year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.  After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Christ Among the Doctors, Leonaert Bramer, 1640-45
Private Collection [Web Gallery of Art]

Today is the Feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. On 19 March the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today's gospel refers to Joseph and Mary as the parents of Jesus. Mary says reproachfully to her Son, Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety. To the puzzlement of both Mary and Joseph, Jesus replies, Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?

St Matthew shows clearly the role of St Joseph in the life of Jesus: An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).

Joseph's first responsibility was to be the husband of Mary and, as such, was to name her Son, thereby becoming his legal father. In some paintings of the Nativity St Joseph is a background figure, or partly hidden in the dark, but clearly protective of Jesus and Mary, and in an attitude of worship towards the Infant.

The Nativity, El Greco, 1603-05
Hospital de la Carridad, Illescas, Spain [Web Gallery of Art]

But in depictions of the Flight into Egypt, of which there are many, we often find St Joseph leading the way, as in this woodcarving. 

The Flight into Egypt, Unknown Flemish Master, c. 1515
Riksmusesum, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]

The Greek-born Doménikos Theotokópoulos, (1541 – 7 April 1614) who settled in Toledo, Spain, as a young man where he became known as 'El Greco', 'The Greek', captures the role of St Joseph as a protective parent.

Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo, Spain [Web Gallery of Art]

As a child I saw my parents as my father and mother. Now I remember them not only as that but as a married couple. And sometimes I think that the Church over-emphasises the importance of the family at the expense of marriage, which is the foundation of the family. St Joseph's primary responsibility was to be the husband of Mary and, as such, to be the one known as the father of Jesus, even though Mary's Son wasn't his. 

And in today's gospel Mary painfully discovers that, in a sense, he isn't hers either, as he says, Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house? At the beginning of his adolescence Jesus was, in his humanity, coming in touch with his heavenly Father's will. The mystery of Jesus being both God and Man is something we cannot fathom. St Paul says that Jesus though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6).

But this incident shows us that Mary and Joseph as parents suffered the same pain that every parent of an adolescent goes through. They were learning that they did not 'own' Jesus, that they would have to let him go at some stage.

I recall some incidents involving my father. One was when I was no more that three, possibly only two. Like St Joseph, he was a carpenter and made a little saddle that he put on the crossbar of his bicycle, on which he went to work every morning. I recall him taking me for a 'spin', probably on a Saturday afternoon, in the area where we lived at the time, I sitting joyfully on the little wooden saddle he had made. It's like a photo in my mind that captures a moment of delight between father and son.

Then when I was around ten he taught me how to ride a bicycle. I borrowed that of a cousin a little older than me. Dad held the back of the saddle tightly so that I wouldn't lose balance and stayed with me patiently. Then at a certain point I realised that he wasn't holding it anymore and that I was moving forward without falling. He knew when to let go. 

He taught me how to swim around that same time, with the same approach. He gave me a sense of security - but didn't cling on when I didn't need that kind of security anymore.

My parents taught me what trust was by trusting me. In Ireland the symbol of adulthood was - and maybe still is, I don't know - the key to the house. I was given the key when I was only 13. None of my friends had that privilege. Even on one occasion three years later when I came home very late on my bicycle from a dance and they were waiting at the door sick with worry - nobody on our street had a telephone and mobile phones probably weren't even in the imaginations of science-fiction writers - all I got was a well-deserved scolding. They still trusted me to use my key responsibly.

I saw too that on occasions when there might be a combination of heat and coldness in their relationship for a few days, they still took care of each other. After attending a very early Mass Dad would come home, prepare my mother's breakfast and bring it to her in bed before heading off for work. And when he came home in the evening his dinner would be always ready. I remember his amusement on the only occasion in their married life when my mother didn't have it ready. She had been delayed by something unexpected and was really embarrassed. Dad just laughed.

In Worldwide Marriage Encounter one of the things we emphasise is that Love is a Decision. It's not a feeling, though feelings are related to it, of course. I saw that in my parents' lives and I also saw that they made important decisions together. One example was when I was 13. My father was asked to take on a job for six months in a town in the south of Ireland. This meant that he would be able to come home only one weekend per month. I know that my parents discussed this thoroughly and also spoke to us, their two sons, about it, before deciding that Dad should take on the job.

This cartoon, which I found on a friend's Facebook, captures in a humorous way what Love is a Decision means. (I think that the cartoon has been been to many places in cyberspace.)

As I look back now, I see clearly that my parents were husband and wife first, and father and mother second. That did not mean that they saw parenthood as being of lesser importance but that they saw it as being a consequence of being married. I think they had their priorities right.

The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that marriage is the root of the family. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).

The liturgical Season of Christmas continues until the Feast of The Baptism of the Lord on Sunday 10 January. The Huron Carol was written by St Jean de Brébeuf SJ in 1623 and set to a French folk tune. Jesse Edgar Middleton translated it into English in 1926. St Jean, a Frenchman, was martyred in Canada on 16 March 1649

Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim and wondering hunters heard the hymn,
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round
But as the hunter braves drew nigh the angel song rang loud and high
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free, O seed of Manitou
The holy Child of earth and heaven is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy who brings you beauty peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria

St Jean de Brébeuf, Martyrs' Shrine, Midland, Ontario, Canada [Wikipedia]

Canada celebrates Christmas in the depths of winter but Australia celebrates it in high summer. Just now I came across this delightful Australian carol, The Three Droverscomposed in 1948 by John Wheeler and William G. James. These drovers would be the Australian counterparts of the shepherds who went to the stable in Bethlehem on the first Christmas night.

Across the plains one Christmas night
Three drovers riding blithe and gay,
Looked up and saw a starry light
More radiant than the Milky Way;
And on their hearts such wonder fell,
They sang with joy. 'Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!'

The air was dry with summer heat,
And smoke was on the yellow moon;
But from the heavens, faint and sweet,
Came floating down a wond'rous turn;
And as they heard, they sang full well
Those drovers three. 'Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!'

The black swans flew across the sky,
The wild dog called across the plain,
The starry lustre blazed on high,
Still echoed on the heavenly strain;
And still they sang, 'Noel! Noel!'
Those drovers three. 'Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!'

22 December 2015

Columban Fr John Vincent Gallagher RIP

Fr John Vincent Gallagher
(24 December 1923 - 18 December 2015)

Fr John Vincent Gallagher, known to his fellow Columbans as 'John V', died peacefully on 18 December 2015 in St Columban’s Nursing Home, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland.  Born on 24 December 1923, in Glasgow, Scotland, but raised in Dún Lúiche (Dunlewey), Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore), County Donegal, Ireland. 

St Andrew's Catholic Cathedral, Glasgow [Wikipedia]

He was educated in Dunlewey National School, Meenaclady National School, and St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny. He went to St Columban's, Dalgan Park, in 1944 and was ordained there on 21 December 1950.

Poison Glen, near Dunlewey [Wikipedia]

Assigned to the Philippines, he had a series of appointments in his first three years to Silang, Cavite, Lingayen and Olongapo, and this was followed by a four-year stint as assistant in Malate Church, Manila. In 1960 he was appointed to Student Catholic Action in the Archdiocese of Manila. His capacity for relating with young people, his sense of humour and his dedication meant that he was very successful in this ministry where he spent the next eleven years. He then spent four years as Chaplain at Makati Medical Centre where he was deeply appreciated by both patients and staff.

Nuestra Señora de Remedios, Our Lady of Remedies
Malate Church, Manila [Wikipedia]

This was followed by a period as Director of the Student Pastorate in Baguio City; at the same time he proved a generous host as he took charge of the Columban Vacation House in that city. 

Baguio City [Wikipedia]

After Baguio, it was back to the lowlands again, with years spent first in Morong and later in Jalajala, Rizal, before being assigned once more to Malate, Manila.

In 1990, he was appointed to the Mission Promotion Team in Ireland. His abiding interest in people, his extraordinary memory for names and his gift for relating to young schoolchildren, made him a very valuable asset to the team. He returned once more to the Philippines in 1995 and spent his last three years there in pastoral work. When he returned to Ireland in 1998, he was available for all sorts of tasks, including radio interviews, in Irish and English, on all news events to do with the Philippines.

Father John V.  was a dedicated missionary, a fascinating companion and  a unique character. People who met him once never forgot him. He will be sadly missed by all of us. He was buried on 21 December from the chapel in St Columban's where he had been ordained priest exactly 65 years before.

May he rest in peace. Ar dheis  go raibh a anam uasal - May his noble soul be on the right hand of God.

The obituary, slightly edited here, was written by Fr Cyril Lovett.

Fr Patrick Raleigh, Regional Director of the Columbans in Ireland, mentioned in an email that the lunch after the burial was followed by a sing-song mostly of songs dealing with Donegal. The song above, The Green Fields of Gweedore, is sung by Clannad, the members of which are from the place. The opening line refers to the townland where Father John V grew up: Down past Dunlewey's bonnie lakes.

Gleanntáin Ghlas' Ghaoth Dobhair, 'The  Green Glens of Gweedore', is sung by Altan, the lead singer of which, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, is also a native of this beautiful place. She sings in Irish (Gaelic), Father John V's native tongue, the ancestral language of most Irish people. The readings at the funeral Mass and the traditional decade of the Rosary at the graveside were in Irish. 

Both songs are songs of exile about the singer's native place and both videos show scenes around Gweedore.