30 April 2015

'I am the vine, you are the branches.' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) directed by Philip Saville

Today's Gospel, John 15:1-8 [0:00 - 1:22]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

The Virgin of the Grapes, Pierre Mignard, 1640s
Musée du Louvre, Paris [Web Gallery of Art]

Around this time twenty years ago I paid my only visit to the Holy Land, at the insistence of a friend of mine, Ninfa, whom I had met at a charismatic gathering in Tagum, Davao del Norte, Mindanao, in 1977. When Ninfa worked for a family in Israel she began to organise pilgrimages to the holy sites for her fellow Filipino workers, Overseas Filipino Workers, or 'OFWs', as they are known here in the Philippines.

Ninfa had arranged for us to stay for some nights in Jerusalem in a school run by Salesian Sisters. It was during the long vacation so there were no students there. During dinner the first evening I discovered that among the 14 or 15 visitors in the dining room, pilgrims from many parts of the world, all strangers, apart from Ninfa, there were three who knew persons I knew. Not for the first time I felt in a very personal way the reality that we as Christians truly are one. I am the vine, you are the branches.

Pope Benedict, in a homily during Mass at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on 22 September 2011 reflects on this: 

If we consider these beati and the great throng of those who have been canonized and beatified, we can understand what it means to live as branches of Christ, the true vine, and to bear fruit. Today’s Gospel puts before us once more the image of this climbing plant, that spreads so luxuriantly in the east, a symbol of vitality and a metaphor for the beauty and dynamism of Jesus’ fellowship with his disciples and friends – with us.

In the parable of the vine, Jesus does not say: 'You are the vine', but: 'I am the vine, you are the branches' (John 15:5). In other words: 'As the branches are joined to the vine, so you belong to me! But inasmuch as you belong to me, you also belong to one another.' This belonging to each other and to him is not some ideal, imaginary, symbolic relationship, but – I would almost want to say – a biological, life-transmitting state of belonging to Jesus Christ. Such is the Church, this communion of life with Jesus Christ and for one another, a communion that is rooted in baptism and is deepened and given more and more vitality in the Eucharist. 'I am the true vine' actually means: 'I am you and you are I' – an unprecedented identification of the Lord with us, with his Church.

This last week here in the Philippines brought people together in prayer for an OFW, Mary Jane Veloso, the mother of two young boys, who was due to be executed by firing squad in Indonesia, along with eight others, all having been found guilty, in separate cases, of bringing illegal drugs into that country or trying to smuggle them out. Most people, including myself, believe that she was duped and was unaware of what she was carrying in a new suitcase given her. She had been led to believe, like many others, that a good job awaited her. At the last minute, some hours after she had said goodbye to her family and was preparing for the worst, she was told that the execution had been postponed because of new information from the Philippines. An hour after she learned this the other eight, involved in different cases of smuggling of illegal drugs, were taken out and shot.

One of those was a Brazilian, Rodrigo Gularte, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, apparently did not understand that he was to be executed. This was told by Fr Charlie Burrows OMI, who has been working in the area where the executions took place since the 1970s. He has been present at executions in the past. He also told how guards present when Mary Jane Veloso was bidding goodbye to her children broke down crying.

I discovered that Fr Burrows is from Dublin, is the same age as myself and went to the same school, though he was a year behind me and I can't claim to have known him. But again I was struck by how we are related through our baptism. An Irish priest in Indonesia spending so much time with a Brazilian facing execution there and apparently spending time with Mary Jane Veloso, though there were Filipino priests who were helping her and her family. I am the vine, you are the branches.

All of these were united through their faith in Jesus Christ, a faith received as a precious gift at baptism.

During the last visit of her family to Mary Jane they prayed together and sang, at her request, a hymn written for the Great Jubilee of 2000 by a namesake, Mary Jane C. Mendoza, better known as Jamie Rivera.

Open your hearts to the Lord and begin to see the mystery
That we are all together as one family.
I am the vine, you are the branches.

 Antiphona ad Communionem Communion Antiphon Cf. John 15:1,5

Ego sum vitis vera et vos palmites, dicit Dominus;
I am the true vine and you are the branches, says the Lord.
qui manet in me et ego in eo,
Whoever remains in me, and I in him,
hic fert fructum multum, alleluia.
bears fruit in plenty, alleluia.

Rosary and Scapular [Wikipedia]

The month of May is traditionally one of special devotion to Our Blessed Mother. That is still very strong in the Philippines. It used to be very strong in Ireland. The late Irish tenor Frank Patterson here sings a very popular hymn to Our Lady.

Bring Flowers of the Rarest (Queen of the May)

Attributed to Mary E. Walsh in 1883

Bring flowers of the rarest
bring blossoms the fairest,
from garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling
the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Oh, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers,
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue


Sing gaily in chorus;
the bright angels o'er us
re-echo the strains we begin upon earth;
their harps are repeating
the notes of our greeting,
for Mary herself is the cause of our mirth.


24 April 2015

'I know my own and my own know me.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Easter, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) directed by Philip Saville

Today's Gospel, John 10:11-18 [1:19 - 2:30]

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

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Fr Barry Cairns with a First Communicant in Japan

Fr Barry Cairns is a Columban priest from New Zealand who was ordained in 1955 and went to Japan in 1956 where he still is. He writes frequently for our various Columban magazines. I met him only once but I know him to be the kind of joyful proclaimer of the Gospel that Pope Francis so often speaks about. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and I thought that this article of Father Barry, published inthe April issue
of The Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand, was very appropriate.

I do think it necessary that we pray for our priests, for those preparing for the priesthood and for those being called by God to the priesthood.

We priests have taken a battering in recent years because of wrongdoing by some. There is no excuse for that. But since Vatican Two it seems that the vocation of the priest has been 'downgraded' by many in an effort to highlight the dignity of the vocation of lay persons to be fully involved in the mission of the Church. Father Barry gets the balance right below: It happened that I was hijacked into doing a Marriage Encounter with another priest. In an open-sharing session a married man said, It is seeing you priests living a celibate life that helps me remain faithful in my married life. It is this prayerful solidarity with married couples which I believe is important for priests in their vocations. We share a journey.

Fr Barry Cairns

50 Years of Holy Disquiet

Being a Missionary Priest at 80 years of age

Fifty years ago when I was a very young priest, I read a prayer composed by Romano Guardini that went like this, O Lord give me the gift of holy disquiet…take my hand; help me to cross over to you. This is a healthy disquiet because it leads not to discouragement but to reliance on the Lord. I still value this prayer.

I ask the reader (of this article) these questions:
  • Do you somehow feel dissatisfied with life at the moment?
  • Do you have an unfulfilled yearning in your heart?
  • Do you feel there is something missing in your life?
  • Do you want for something in life, more than what you have?
At various times in my 50 years as a Columban missionary priest, I have answered yes to all of these questions. There are various strategies to escape from facing the disquiet. It is so easy for a priest to get very busy. Among other escapes, I used to flee to the wide open spaces of the Arizona desert with a Louis L’Amour western!

As a young priest

When I was a young priest, full of first fervor, I prayed that I would 'stay on the rails'. Then came the stark realisation that I could leave the priesthood tomorrow, especially when faced with the loneliness of living in another culture. I had realized that to be a faithful, celibate priest was absolutely impossible on my effort alone. It was a total gift from God, I was just called to cooperate. I became free! I was called to rely on Christ’s strength.

In my 50s

In my 50s, as time wore on, I was doing the priestly thing every day – Mass, Sacraments, Homily, instructions for Baptism and so on. It happened that I was hijacked into doing a Marriage Encounter with another priest. In an open-sharing session a married man said, It is seeing you priests living a celibate life that helps me remain faithful in my married life. It is this prayerful solidarity with married couples which I believe is important for priests in their vocations. We share a journey.

This Holy Disquiet seems to hit me every 10 years! 

In my 60s

It was in my 60s that I was asking myself, Is my enthusiasm for overseas mission waning? It is my personal experience, that it is not the actual work of the missionary priest that leads to stress, burn out and early retirement. Rather it is the mistaken notion that the priest has to do everything himself. That kind of responsibility is draining.
Fr Barry Cairns with Izumi and Mina, two 20-year-old parishioners celebrating Coming of Age Day.

In my 70s
My turning point came at 70. I had just been appointed by my Bishop to an inner city parish in Yokohama, Japan. Our bishop in a pastoral letter had used the difficult word "subsidiarity" (even more difficult in Japanese!). I was asked to explain what this word meant during a meeting with Japanese priests, in our inner city deanery. I said that 'subsidiarity' means delegating authority and various jobs to others and trusting them to do the job given. The parish priest gives me encouragement from the sideline, "and it is very much a team effort". The parish priest is the symbol and source of unity for all the various jobs, especially in the liturgy.

Having studied this theory, I decided to consciously put it into practice. Within two years, in a deeper way, our community became missionaries in their own milieu. They became more united, more welcoming to the stranger and more concerned for the poor. They became just plain happy, and our liturgy became vibrant.

In my 80s

A lovely side effect of all this, is that at 80 I felt free from stress. I feel that I am a far more effective missionary than the days of my 'do-it-yourself' youthful vigor! My prayer is still, O Lord keep causing holy disquiet and keep giving me the courage to face it.

(23 January 1876 - 1 November 1945)

This German Jesuit priest was another Good Shepherd. He volunteered to be a chaplain in the German Army during the Great War (1914-18) during which he lost a leg. He was highly critical of Hitler and the Nazi regime and for that he spent time in a concentration camp.

He died of a stroke while celebrating Mass.

The song below is based on a prayer of Blessed Rupert.

Music by Fr Manoling Francisco SJ, performed  by Bukas Palad

Lord, what You will let it be so
Where You will there we will go
What is Your will help us to know

Lord, when You will the time is right
In You there's joy in strife
For Your will I'll give my life

To ease Your burden brings no pain
To forego all for You is gain
As long as I in You remain

Because You will it, it is best
Because You will it, we are blest
Till in Your hands our hearts find rest
Till in Your hands our hearts find rest

The lyrics of this song are by Blessed Rupert Mayer, S.J. a contemporary Jesuit recently beatified. Moved by the text, Father Manoling wrote the music during a retreat in Baguio.

Lyrics Blessed Rupert Mayer, SJ
Music Manuel V. Francisco, SJ
Arrangement Arnel d C. Aquino, SJ

These are but two of countless Good Shepherds whom God has called to serve his people as priests.

Pope Benedict XVI [Wikipedia]

Collect, Mass for Priests

Lord our God, who in governing your people 
make use of the ministry of Priests, 
grant to these men 
a persevering obedience to your will, 
so that by their ministry and life 
they may gain glory for you in Christ, 
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.

23 April 2015

Centennial ANZAC Day

Anzac Day Dawn Service, King's Park, Western Australia, 25 April 2009

I have posted this a number of times, with slight variations. I made my first visit to Australia 25 years ago at this time when the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Australia New Zealand Army Corps, 'ANZACs', arrived in Gallipoli, Turkey. That was an occasion for the people of Australia and the people of New Zealand to look back on this event in a new way. Gallipoli was a formative moment for the modern Australian and New Zealand nations.

This year the Centennial of the event is being marked on Saturday 25 April.

My great-uncle Lawrence Dowd, an older half-brother of my maternal grandmother, fought in Gallipoli as a member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. However, he survived that campaign and was to die on 6 August 1917 'In Flanders Fields'. I was the first relative to visit his grave, 84 years later.

The Columbans arrived in Australia in 1919 and in New Zealand two years later. Our arrival in those two countries was only a few years after the landing in Gallipoli, Turkey, on 25 April 1915, during the Great War, World War I. The battle in Gallipoli had a huge impact on the people of Australia and New Zealand of European origin, mainly British and Irish at the time. Many of my Columban confreres are from these two countries and because of that, their history is part of mine.

I paid my first visit to Australia just after Easter 1990. I was there for the 75th anniversary of the landing of the first members of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, the 'Anzacs', in Gallipoli. That particular anniversary generated new interest in this event. The Australian government flew a group of Gallipoli veterans, some of them aged more than 100, to Gallipoli to mark the event. Since then many young Australians have been going there for the anniversary ceremonies.

The landing at Anzac Cove, painting by George Lambert

On one TV discussion while I was there a participant pointed out that the iconic symbol of the Great War and Gallipoli for Australians wasn't one of soldiers killing or being killed, but of one saving lives: Private John Simpson, a stretcher-bearer, born in England, who was with the first group that landed, and his donkey, which he 'recruited' in Gallipoli and which acquired the name 'Duffy'. He had worked with donkeys as a youth during summers in England.

Private Simpson, centre, with his donkey and a wounded soldier (a Turk?)

John Simpson died on 15 May from machine gun fire, less than a month after he had arrived. He was 22. He quickly became a legend In Australia and his exploits were somewhat exaggerated, rather like some of the legends about the Church's martyrs. But there's no doubt about his bravery and that he saved many men.

Australian director Peter Weir's 1981 Gallipoli is one of the most memorable and moving films I have ever seen. It is built around the friendship of two young runners, Archy Hamilton, played by Mark Lee, and Frank Dunne, played by Mel Gibson. They meet as rivals in a 100-yard sprint but quickly become close friends or 'mates' and acquire more mates when they enlist in the army. Part of the movie's power is the detail paid to characters with small parts, every one a real human being, some attractive, some not.

Another is the wonderful use of music, especially of the Adagio in G minor by Venetian composer Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671-1751). It is used with poignant effect at the end of the movie, with Frank  running back from the general to tell the major in charge of the group to which he and Archy belong that he was 're-considering the whole situation', ie, that he didn't want to have the soldiers go 'over the top' just yet. However, before he can reach the major a colonel has ordered that the soldiers go into attack immediately. The ending is unbearably sad,  the realisation of Frank that he is too late and his friend Archy going to his death.

The scenes in the trench before the soldiers go 'over the top' show their fear and their bravery. It shows them writing final letters, sharing a last cigarette and one praying the rosary. Archy recalls the words of his coach, his uncle. Here is that desperately poignant final scene.

Here is a beautiful video of Albinoni's Adagio played by the Franz Lizst Chamber Orchestra and recorded in Pannonhalma Archabbey, Hungary:

Eric Bogle, a Scottish singer-songwriter, wrote And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda in 1971, two years after he emigrated to Australia. The interpretation of the late Irish singer Liam Clancy is the best I have heard. Few could interpret a ballad as he did. War is not glorious for those who are maimed for life.

This year ANZAC Day falls during the Easter Season, but this song is more of a Good Friday one, recalling the words of Isaiah read on that day: He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;  and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Opening Prayer, Mass on ANZAC Day

Lord our God, boundless provider,

source of peace that the world cannot give,

kindly hear our constant prayer

for those who bore witness to your own fidelity

by giving their lives for those they loved.
Resurrect them in our true homeland
and perfect that peace for which they longed and died.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

From The Fallen by Laurence Binyon

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

In the video below The Ode is recited in Maori and in English.

You can listen to a musical setting of these words by Fr Christopher Willcock SJ from his Mass for the Fallen, commissioned by Allan and Maria Myers.

Audio here.