24 January 2015

'Repent . . . believe . . . follow me.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Jacob Willemsz de Wet the Elder
Private collection [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Speaking in Rome to members of ecclesial movements on the evening of Saturday 17 May 2013, the Vigil of Pentecost, Pope Francis told this story:

One day in particular, though, was very important to me: 21 September 1953. I was almost 17. It was 'Students’ Day', for us the first day of spring — for you the first day of autumn. Before going to the celebration I passed through the parish I normally attended, I found a priest that I did not know and I felt the need to go to confession. For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened, I can’t remember, I do not know why that particular priest was there whom I did not know, or why I felt this desire to confess, but the truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. I was convinced that I should become a priest.

In an interview with Sergio Rubin, an Argentinian journalist, in 2010 the then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ of Buenos Aires said:

In that confession, something very rare happened to me. I don’t know what it was, but it changed my life. I would say that I was caught with my guard down. … It was a surprise, the astonishment of an encounter. I realized that God was waiting for me. From that moment, for me, God has been the one who precedes [to guide me]. … We want to meet him, but he meets us first.

What is striking is that the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio experienced God's call to the priesthood unexpectedly and within the context of confession.

Drawing by Rembrandt, c.1655 [Wikipedia]

The First Reading, from the Book of Jonah, shows the people of Nineveh, from the King down, believing the reluctant prophet and then fasting and repenting.

In the Gospel Jesus preaches, Repent, and believe in the good news. It is in the context of that proclamation to the people in Galilee that Jesus invites Simon and Andrew, James and John, to follow him. Each of the four could make the words of Pope Francis their own: For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened . . . I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. That call was to lead the four of them to leave everything to follow him, a decision that was to bring three of them to martyrdom. The young Jorge Mario Bergoglio could not have had the slightest idea that listening to God's call would lead him to Rome.

Twelve or thirteen years ago I did a mission appeal in a parish in England where the then recently appointed parish priest had inherited a filthy rectory/presbytery/convento from his predecessor. He had managed by then to clean up only his own bedroom. He could not invite me to stay at his place because the guest room was filthy and so had me put up by a neighbouring parish priest.

The people of Nineveh cleaned up the the 'room' of their inner heart by turning away from sin and allowed the word of God to enter. The Gospel suggests that the two sets of fishermen-brothers had done the same and were able to hear and respond to the call of Jesus there and then.

There is nothing to suggest in the Pope's story about his encounter with the Lord at the age of 17 that he was a great sinner. But it was while confessing his sins and receiving absolution, that great act of the mercy and compassion of God, the theme of his recent visit to us in the Philippines, that he heard God's call to the priesthood very clearly.

Caravaggio, 1599-1600 [Wikipedia]

Pope Francis spoke to the young people assembled at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, about the painting above. It was on the feast of St Matthew that he had that encounter with the Lord in confession. In his impromptu speech he said:

Think of Saint Matthew. He was a good businessman. He also betrayed his country because he collected taxes from the Jews and paid them to the Romans. He was loaded with money and he collected taxes. Then Jesus comes along, looks at him and says: 'Come, follow me'. Matthew couldn’t believe it. If you have some time later, go look at the picture that Caravaggio painted about this scene. Jesus called him, like this (stretching out his hand). Those who were with Jesus were saying: '[He is calling] this man, a traitor, a scoundrel?' And Matthew hangs on to his money and doesn’t want to leave. But the surprise of being loved wins him over and he follows Jesus. That morning, when Matthew was going off to work and said goodbye to his wife, he never thought that he was going to return in a hurry, without money to tell his wife to prepare a banquet. The banquet for the one who loved him first, who surprised him with something important, more important than all the money he had.

Perhaps very few experience God's call to their vocation in life, whether it is to marriage, to the consecrated life as a religious or as a lay person, to the priesthood, to remaining single, in as clear a way as Jorge Mario Bergoglio did. But in order to hear God's call, in order to respond to God's will, in order to live out God's call till the end of our life it is necessary to have a pure and uncluttered heart.

This is expressed in the Lord's Prayer: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . . forgive us our trespasses . . .

The Our Father sung in Tagalog during the meeting of Pope Francis with young people at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, on 18 January. [There was no Mass celebrated on this occasion.]

Repent . . . believe . . . follow me.

18 January 2015

My mother's 100th birth anniversary

Mary Coyle (née Collins)
18 January 1915 – 29 April 1970

I was told by a childhood and lifelong friend of my mother, Maureen, that this studio photo was taken when my mother was 19. They both had their photos taken the same day.

On 18 January 1915 an event happened in Dublin that was to have some consequences for me. Annie Dowd presented William Patrick Collins with the third of their ten children, seven girls and three boys. T
hey named her Mary. She in turn, on 20 April 1943, presented her husband, John Coyle, with the first of their two children, both boys. The photo above was taken in a studio shortly after their honeymoon. They were married on 6 July 1942.

The video above shows scenes of the Dublin into which she was born, all in the city centre. Apart from the volume and nature of traffic not too much has changed there in the last hundred years.

From what she and others told me I know that my mother was a very lively person when young. She told me more than once, with a smile, that when she was 12 she won a Charleston contest but was afraid her father would find out. I don't know if he ever did.

As a young adult my mother appeared in a number of amateur stage productions and on at least one occasion she appeared in one of Dublin's leading theatres, The Olympia, singing Vienna, City of My Dreams. I think she would have liked this version in the original German and performed in Vienna itself.

I can say that I grew up with music, thanks to both my parents. Neither played an instrument but they had me take piano lessons from the time I was five or six. And we listened to the same popular music on the radio as there was only one station in the Republic of Ireland in those days, though we could pick up some BBC stations as well.

My mother's 'party piece' was Because and her favourite recording of it was that by Deanna Durbin, who sang it in a 1939 movie called Three Smart Girls Grow Up, a sequel to the 1936 film Three Smart Girls. She often referred to these, with a smile on her face.

There used to a video of the song on YouTube taken from the movie but it's not there anymore.

Mam hated school and left the day she turned 14, as the law allowed. However, I think she regretted that. She and my father, who left school at 15 to become an apprentice carpenter, made sure that my brother and I got a good education. The husband of a cousin once said to me, 'One of the most important decisions in your life was your parents' decision to send you to O'Connell's School.' He was right and I think my mother was the driving force in that. I think that they both hoped I would be able to get a permanent job in the civil service but they never told me what to do. When they asked me one night, not long before I did my Leaving Certificate, the state examination at the end of secondary schooling, what I wanted to do and I told them that I wanted to be a missionary priest, they gave me their full blessing.
Ordination Day with my parents and brother Paddy

When I was four or five my mother, who had been a very fit person until then, not at all bothered by pushing a pram for miles, developed bronchitis, which was to plague her for the rest of her life. She told me after my ordination on 20 December 1967 that she had prayed that she would live long enough to see that day. I was sent in 1968 to study music at Manhattanville College, Purchase, New York. I got an unexpected opportunity to spend six weeks at home over Christmas 1969 and New Year 1970. That turned out to be the last time we were to meet. She died in her sleep on 29 April 1970.

My mother, though she was quick-tempered, wasn't one who showed other emotions openly. However, someone, possibly my father, told me that after my parents saw me off on my way back to New York that last time that she cried, the only time she had ever done so when I was going away.

A photo I took of my parents in the summer of 1968

After my mother's sudden death I gradually came to see so many unexpected blessing before she died, including the long visit home at Christmas. I've seen such blessings since in my own life and in those of others. I call this the 'thoughtfulness' of God.

The last song I heard my mother sing at a party, maybe during that long Christmas break, wasn't her usual 'party piece' but a song that has been adopted by the Irish as one of their own, even though it was written in 1875 by a German-American, Thomas P. Westendorf. 'Kathleen' is an Irish form of 'Catherine'. Here is Deanna Durbin, who had a beautifully pure voice, singing it, appropriately, in a movie called For the Love of Mary, made in 1948. It was her last film, though she lived to be 91 and died two years ago in Paris.

More than once my father told me how good my mother was at budgetting. Whatever it was, food or clothing, she always bought good quality, though not the most expensive. From both my parents I learned the values of honesty, responsibility and hard work. I learned not to spend money I don't have. I also learned to be trustworthy - because of their trust in me.

Mam, may your mezzo-soprano voice add to the heavenly choir!

17 January 2015

Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B; Feast of the Santo Niño (Philippines)

From The Gospel of John, directed by Philip Saville

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,  and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Links to the readings and some reflections for the Feast of the Santo Niño  are further down.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

God calls each of us to our particular vocation in life in a unique way. Pope Francis has told us, for example, that it was on the occasion of going to confession when he was 17 that he saw clearly that God was calling him to be a priest. A couple at whose wedding I officiated some years ago were members of the same Catholic organisation in the university they attended. They became an 'item', as they say here in the Philippines, when they were the only members of the group to turn up at the appointed time for an outing. While waiting for the others to arrive they discovered that they were more than just casual friends. Now they are happily married.

I'm always amused by the Second Reading from the Office of Readings for the feast of St Anthony the Abbot, today, Saturday, as I write this. St Athanasius tells us: He went into the church. It happened that the gospel was then being read, and he heard what the Lord had said to the rich man 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'

The young man Anthony, whose parents had died about six months previously, took these words to heart and went to live in the desert. He became, without planning it, the 'Father of Monasticism' in the Church. And perhaps if he had not been late for Mass that day the Gospel might not have struck him as it did. He was to be 'later' than most in another sense in that he was 105 when he died, a remarkable age to live to now but even more remarkable in the fourth century! Unlike the married couple above whose punctuality led them to discover God's call for them, it was through being late for Mass that Anthony discovered what God had in mind for him.

Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, in 1964 invited two men with learning disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, who had been living in institutions, to live with him in a small cottage that he bought and renovated in France. Having done so he realized that he had made a commitment to these two men and that his commitment involved remaining single. He had no intention of founding a movement but, in God's plan, that's what came about.

Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar, a great theologian from Switzerland, much admired by St John Paul II, in reflecting on today's Gospel from the First Chapter of St John, links it to an incident in the last chapter, John 21: 15 ff [starting at 0:55 in the video below].

Fr von Balthasar writes: In the last chapter of the book Peter will be the foundation stone to such a degree that he will also have to undergird ecclesial love: 'Simon, do you love me more than these?'

John 21:15-17 was the gospel read at the Pope's Mass in Manila Cathedral yesterday, Friday, with priests, religious, consecrated persons and seminarians. This passage shows what is at the heart of every call from God, whether to marriage, to the priesthood, to the consecrated life, to the single life. The call is above all to an intimate relationship with Jesus. Pope Francis highlighted this in his homily yesterdayFor us priests and consecrated persons, conversion to the newness of the Gospel entails a daily encounter with the Lord in prayer. The saints teach us that this is the source of all apostolic zeal! For religious, living the newness of the Gospel also means finding ever anew in community life and community apostolates the incentive for an ever closer union with the Lord in perfect charity. For all of us, it means living lives that reflect the poverty of Christ, whose entire life was focused on doing the will of the Father and serving others.

Pope Francis also said, The poor. The poor are at the center of the Gospel, are at heart of the Gospel, if we take away the poor from the Gospel we can’t understand the whole message of Jesus Christ.

Living the Gospel within the context of a deep personal relationship with Jesus the Risen Lord involves seeing reality through the eyes of those with little. Pope Francis showed this in a beautiful way by an unplanned - at least it wasn't on the official schedule - to a group of very poor children at TNK in Manila, near the Cathedral. ('Tulay ng Kabataan' means 'A Bridge to Children').

That video can act as a bridge to the celebration in the Philippines this Sunday and the gospel that will be read.

In the Philippines the Feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child) is celebrated this Sunday. This year it coincides with the visit of Pope Francis. He will celebrate the Mass of the feast in Manila.

The original image, at the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño de Cebú. [Wikipedia]

You will find the readings for the feast, with the exception of the Gospel, and some reflections here.

Gospel: Mark 10:13-16

And people were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

15 January 2015

Columban Fr Daniel Baragry RIP

Fr Daniel M. Baragry
11 May 1930 - 9 January 2015

Fr Daniel ('Dan') Baragry was born on 11 May 1930 in Tipperary Town, County Tipperary, Ireland. Educated at Christian Brothers School, Tipperary, and The Abbey School, Tipperary, he came to St Columban's, Dalgan Park, Navan, in September 1948 and was ordained priest on 21 December 1954.

Main Street, Tipperary Town [Wikipedia]

Father Dan was assigned to the Philippines and spent the next 45 years happily working in that country. The first 35 years were all spent in parishes in the southern island of Mindanao. He served in Pagadian City (Zamboanga del Sur), Mahinog (Camiguin Island), Malabang (Lanao del Sur), Tangub City (Misamis Occidental), Bacolod (Lanao del Norte), Anakan (Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental), Alubijid (Misamis Oriental), Marihatag (Surigao del Sur) and Linamon  (Lanao del Norte).

Pagadian City, on Illana Bay [Wikipedia]

A man of prodigious energy, he served for example in Anakan, a very rough, rugged, mountainous parish, which had a logging camp and a total of eighty-three small scattered communities. Dan was out almost every day on his motor-bike, visiting one or other community. On his return to the parish house, after a short rest, he had the energy to play tennis, and after a shower and supper, there was always the designated prayer time. A former superior said of him 'Dan always wanted the hard assignments;  he worked hard, played hard and prayed hard'. When the new area of Tandag was taken on, Dan was one of the first to volunteer, even though his assignment was an eight-hour drive from the Columban Central House in Cagayan de Oro.

San Agustin Cathedral, Cagayan de Oro City [Wikipedia, Shubert Ciencia]

In the early 1990s, Father Dan took some units of Clinical Pastoral Education. Later, residing in the formation house in Cebu City,  he undertook a new apostolate with patients, and their families of the psychiatric wing of Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, a government hospital.  In this apostolate he served those most neglected by society. By the year 2000 his own health required care and he spent a year in Manila before returning home to Ireland in April 2001. As long as he was active he did some book-keeping work in the farm office before being confined to the Dalgan Nursing Home where he died on 9 January after participating in the morning Eucharist. Father Dan was a quiet, dedicated, loyal Columban with a gentle sense of humour. 

May he rest in peace.

Slievenamon is the unofficial anthem of Tipperary people and is sung here by the late Frank Patterson, from Clonmel, County Tipperary.

Slievenamon, County Tipperary [Photo:Wikimedia Commons user Trounce]

Bishop Nereo P. Odchimar of Tandag, which covers the province of Surigao del Sur, wrote in an email to Fr Pat Raleigh, Columban Regional Director in Ireland: Kindly convey to the Columban Fathers and to Fr Dan's family condolence and prayers from the Diocese of Tandag. Thanks for giving us a great missionary who was an inspiration for our younger priests.

Fr Raleigh noted that on the night that Dan died the nurse on duty, Ruby, and one of the carers, Susanne, were from the Philippines. How appropriate. 

Elma Guia O'Connell, a Filipina who served as a Columban lay missionary in Taiwan and is now married in Ireland, emailed me, We are on the way back to Dungarvan from Navan where we attended the funeral of Fr Dan Baragry yesterday in Dalgan. I don't know much about Fr Dan but once you know one Columban who dedicated his life to the Filipino people, it feels like you know them all.

Father Dan and I spent some years together on the formation team in Cebu City. He experienced real joy in spending every morning from Monday to Friday with the patients in the psychiatric wing of the hospital where he worked. He had great patience and remarkable kindness, a kindness that his late brother, Fr Frank Baragry who died in 1997, also had. Father Frank spent 40 years in Mindanao as a Columban missionary. Their nephew, Fr Dan Baragray CSsR, the newly-elected Provincial of the Dublin Province of the Redemptorists, also worked in the Philippines, first as a student and later as a priest. Long-distance phone-calls between the two Dan Baragrys used to cause some confusion when they had to be done through an operator!

Something I will always remember about Father Dan is his very firm and welcoming handshake.

Basílica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebú [Wikipedia]

13 January 2015

Freedom of speech in Paris? In Europe?

Some people are calling for the resignation of BBC reporter Tim Willcox because of a comment he made to a Jewish woman whom he was interviewing on air during the rally for freedom of speech and national unity in Paris on Sunday.

His did indeed cut across the woman when she was answering a question he had put to her and made a comment that was somewhat irrelevant. In that comment he referred first to 'Israel's policy' and then equated Israel with 'Jewish hands'.

The kosher grocery store in Paris clearly was a specific target just as the office of Charlie Hebdo was. Those murdered in the grocery store were killed simply because they were perceived to be Jewish while those murdered in the Charlie Hebdo offices were killed because of the perception that they had mocked Islam, as indeed some of them had, just as they had mocked Judaism and Christianity. The Jewish customers were murdered simply for being what they were, while the cartoonists and journalists were killed because of the perception of what they were doing.

None of these murders can be justified in any way. They were utterly evil acts.

Charlie Hebdo regularly mocked Judaism and Christianity, to the extent of being vilely blasphemous, as you can see on the blog of Fr Ray Blake, a priest of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton in the south of England, though in doing so it wasn't breaking French law.

But there is a certain irony in the fact that some want a journalist to be fired because he was exercising his right to freedom of speech during a march in support of freedom of speech.

Mr Willcox wasn't engaged in a studio interview but reporting 'live', when it is so easy to make an awkwardly expressed comment or question. But every issue and every item in Charlie Hebdo is planned and premeditated. 

I wonder how many who have been saying Je suis Charlie are aware that they are supporting blasphemy.

Yes! Freedom of Speech during a march in support of Freedom of Speech!

Meanwhile, last May, BBC Radio Devon sacked veteran DJ David Lowe because of a 'racist' word on a recording made in 1932 that he broadcast in his weekly 'golden oldies' programme. The station would not allow him to make an on-air apology for what was a genuine mistake. At the time the recording was made the word in question was not perceived to be racist, though it is now.

I don't think that there are any plans yet in the UK to destroy all copies of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice or of Dickens's Oliver Twist, or to forbid stage or TV productions of the former or of the musical version of the latter, Oliver!, despite the unattractive Jewish character central to each work.

Rocco Buttiglione [Wikipedia]

Rocco Buttiglione, an Italian politician, was rejected in 2004 as a commissioner of the European Union because of his views on homosexuality. 'I may think that homosexuality is a sin, and this has no effect on politics, unless I say that homosexuality is a crime,' said the Italian as he pledged to nonetheless defend the rights of gays.

Yes, indeed, 'Freedom of Speech'!