29 October 2015

'Rejoice and be glad . . .' Sunday Reflections, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day

The Coronation of the Virgin, Fra Angelico, 1434-35
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy [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) 

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”

Dublin buses [Wikipedia]

When I go home to my native Dublin I use public transport all the time. I often find God's presence in in those around me, passengers and drivers. So does Columban Sr Mary Nolan, now based in Dublin, who worked for many years in Peru and also served a term as Congregational Leader of the Missionary Sisters of St Columban. Here she shares such a moment on the 150 bus - and by chance Wikipedia has a photo of a 150 bus!

Coming from the city on the 150 bus recently I shared a seat with a woman whom I had never met before. Her name is Breda.  She told me she has been a widow for the past 29 years; her Dad suffers from Alzheimer’s and her Mom cares for him down in their home near Carlow.  Breda’s daughter Ashling was 11 years old when her father died.  There was another little girl four years younger who died of hepatitis at 7 months.  Ashling was traumatized but gradually came through it and did well at her studies.  She is a churchgoer, and a turning point for her was when she attended YOUTH 2000.  At that youth celebration Ashling met her future husband, a young man who is spina bifida.  They’re happily married since last year.

By the time I had heard that story my bus had arrived at St Agnes’ Road, where our convent is, and it was time to part from Breda.  I was amazed that such a happy faith-filled woman could have come through so much suffering. 

The Solemnity of All Saints celebrates the countless saints whom the Church has never canonized and never will, people who have gone before us who in their lifetime, like Breda on the 150 bus in Dublin, accepted whatever life brought, sadness and joy, believing in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ for them and in doing so being an inspiration to those around them.

I think that Ashling, Breda's daughter, attended one of the four-day faith festivals organised each summer by YOUTH 2000. The video above is a promo for this year's.

Songs for All Saints' Day

Here is a rousing version of For All the Saints, words by Anglican Bishop William Walsham How and music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The video is taken from an edition of the BBC's weekly progamme Songs of Praise, which has been running since 1961.

A poem for All Saints' and All Souls' Days

I don't know much about the faith of Scottish poet Norman MacCaig (1910 - 1996). Wikipedia tells us that he described it as 'Zen Calvinism' - 'a comment typical of his half-humorous, half-serious approach to life'.

A favourite poem of mine is Country Postman. It expresses for me something of the reality of the Communion of Saints that we celebrate and remember in a special way on these two days. I've no idea if Norman MacCaig was thinking of the Communion of Saints when he wrote it. But it captures something of what holds us all together as a community. With email, Facebook and all the ways of communicating in 'this digital continent', as Pope Benedict calls it, perhaps the role of the postman has changed, though he is still vital in rural communities, not only to deliver the mail but to keep an eye on older persons living on their own, some of whom perhaps are reclusive but who still welcome him.

The poem too catches something of the fragility in all of us, especially in those who serve the broader community quietly and generously for so many years. And could Jesus, who turned water into wine at a wedding for people like those whom this mail deliverer served, turn away this poor man who died after probably celebrating a little too much?

It is persons such as MacCaig's Country Postman whom we remember on All Souls' Day and it is our prayers that help them move from being numbered among All Souls to being numbered among All Saints.

Country Postman

Before he was drowned, 
his drunk body bumping down the shallows 
of the Ogle Burn, he had walked 
fifteen miles every day 
bringing celebrations and disasters 
and what lies between them to
MacLarens and MacGregors 
and Mackenzies.

Now he has no news to bring 
of celebrations or disasters, 
although, after one short journey, 
he has reached 
all the clans in the world.

['Burn' here means 'creek'.]

28 October 2015

Columban Fr Patrick Crowley RIP

Fr Patrick J. Crowley 

Fr Patrick (Pat) J. Crowley died suddenly on 25 October, 2015, in St Columban's Nursing Home, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland. Born in Caheragh Parish (Diocese of Cork and Ross), County Cork, on 18 March 1926, he was educated in Dromore National School,  Bantry, and St Colman’s College, Fermoy, County Cork. He joined the Columbans  in Dalgan Park in 1945, was ordained priest on 21 December 1951, and was assigned to Japan.

River Blackwater, Fermoy [Wikipedia]

He soon became Bursar for the Region of Japan and after a term of seven years, he took on the same task in Whitby, England. There followed appointments  as Bursar  in Australia (Essendon and Perth) in 1963, and later in Wellington, New Zealand, before he was reassigned to Britain where he became District Superior in 1972. As he put it himself: 'it was a case of out of the frying pan into another frying pan'.  Finishing that term in 1979  he became Manager of the Mission Office in Ireland, where he computerised the office systems, before being appointed as Director of the Irish Region in 1983 for a term of four years.

Wellington, New Zealand [Wikipedia]

He was appointed General Secretary to the Central Administration of the Society in 1987, and continued working with the General Council for over twenty years, accepting the jobs of Society Archivist and History Coordinator as well.  It was only occasionally that his dedicated and painstaking work could be seen and admired.  In his annual publication of the Society Personnel Directory he tried to keep up with all the personnel changes  across the world.  But it was his bi-annual updating of Those who Journeyed with Us, where he managed to assemble profiles and photos of the more than seven hundred deceased Columbans, that really reflected his many years of determined effort.

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park

This is Fr Pat Crowley's final resting place as it is of so many others whom he lovingly honoured in Those Who Journeyed With Us, the book of obituaries of deceased Columbans, many editions of which he compiled and edited.

After the General Council left Dublin for Hong Kong in 1988, Father Pat remained on to manage the house in Donaghmede, Dublin,  until ill health obliged him to enter the Nursing Home in Dalgan in June 2012. Father Pat left us with memories of  a caring missionary, a quiet-spoken, discrete man with a deadpan sense of humour who served others without thought of reward or recognition. 

May he rest in peace. 

Bantry Bay sung by John McCormack

'Some are gone upon their last logged homing,
Some are left, but they are old and gray,
And we're waiting for the tide in the gloaming,
To sail upon the Great Highway,
To the land of rest unending,
All peacefully from Bantry Bay.'

This song about the people and the place where Father Pat grew up was written by James Molloy. The photo used in the video is by Pam Brophy and taken from Wikipedia. Thanks to Frs Noel Daly and Cyril Lovett for the text of the obituary.

27 October 2015

Columban Fr Oliver C. Kennedy RIP

Fr Oliver Canice Kennedy
(1922 - 2015)

Fr Oliver Kennedy was born in Loughrea, County Galway, Ireland, on 3 November 1922, the year the Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland, separated from the United Kingdom as an independent state. He was educated at St Brendans National School, Loughrea, and St Josephʼs College, Ballinasloe, County Galway. In 1941, he was a member of the first class to be admitted to the new Dalgan Park at St Columbanʼs, Navan, County Meath. He was ordained priest on 21 December 1947.

St Brendan's Cathedral, Loughrea, Diocese of Clonfert [Wikipedia]

His first appointment, in 1948, was to Burma, but because of the difficulties in obtaining a visa he was subsequently appointed to Korea. He was to spend the next twenty years there, working in the
Kwangju area as pastor of Koksung and later of Posong, before becoming director of Catholic Relief Services in Kwangju.

Flag of South Korea [Wikipedia]

In 1989 he was appointed to the General Mission Office in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. He spent almost twenty years there in various roles. Affable and hard-working, he enjoyed good relationships with all the office staff.

Montego Bay. Jamaica [Wikipedia]

The Columbans worked for some years in the Diocese of Montego Bay.

Then, in 1986 he was appointed as a member of the pioneer Columban team to Jamaica. Jamaica was characterised by high levels of violence, and by a lack of family life values, due in large part
to the suffering in slavery of so many of the early inhabitants. After seven years working there, Father Oliverʼs health demanded that he be reassigned to the USA. There he worked once again, for as long as he was able, in the Omaha Mission Office.

St Columban's, Dalgan Park

Father Oliver was in the first group of Irish Columban seminarians to start their studies in this, the 'New Dalgan', when it was opened in 1941. The 'Old Dalgan' in Shrule ahd served as our seminary in Ireland from 1918 until 1941. He studied here for seven years and spent the last two years of his life in the nursing home here.

He was admitted to the Dalgan Nursing Home in June 2013. His last two years were difficult, but he was treated with immense kindness and patience by all the members of the Nursing Home staff. May he rest in peace.

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park

Father Oliver's brother Joseph, also a Columban priest, is buried here too. He was ordained in 1942 and worked on mission in China, Japan, Britain and Peru. He died on 18 February 1997. The light of heaven on both of them. 

22 October 2015

'What do you want me to do for you?' Sunday Reflections, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Christ Healing the Blind, Nicolas Colombel, 1682
Art Museum, St Louis, Missouri, USA [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)

They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.  Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Fr John Burger is an American Columban served as a member of the Columban General Council from 2006 until 2012. He spent the early years of his priesthood in Japan and tells a wonderful story about a blind man who was a member of a prayer group in a parish where he served. Each week the group met to share on the following Sunday’s gospel and to pray. Father John was a little nervous when this Sunday’s gospel came up, wondering how his blind friend would respond.


He and the others were astonished when the man shared that this was one of his favourite passages in the gospels. Why? Because Jesus asked Bartimaeus, What do you want me to do for you? The blind parishioner went on to say that he was quite happy as he was. He had his own apartment and he knew his way around. But if the Lord were to ask him directly, What do you want me to do for you? He would tell him that there were parts of his life where he would like Jesus to shed his light, even though he would hesitate to ask him to do so.


Probably the blind Japanese man had experienced people, with every good intention, wanting to help him when he needed no help. On a pilgrimage to Lourdes in Easter Week 1991 with a group of persons with physical disabilities I shared a room with our leader, Joe, able-bodied, like myself, and Tony and Tom who weren’t. Both needed help in some very personal matters. However, I learned very quickly from Tom not to do something for him when he could do it himself. That was a very good lesson for me.


Jesus didn’t presume that Bartimaeus wanted his sight back. He asked him, What do you want me to do for you? The blind man, who had shouted Jesus, Son of David, a title indicating he was the Messiah, answered, My teacher, let me see again.


Do I allow Jesus to ask me, What do you want me to do for you? And if I allow him do I have the faith of Bartimaeus to tell him what I want him to do for me? Jesus responded to the faith of the blind man: Go; your faith has made you well. And the blind beggar’s response to this was a further expression of his faith: And immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.


On 11 October 2012 in his homily at the Mass marking the opening of the Year of Faith and the 5oth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council Pope Benedict said, The Year of Faith which we launch today is linked harmoniously with the Church’s whole path over the last fifty years: from the Council, through the Magisterium of the Servant of God Paul VI, who proclaimed a Year of Faith in 1967, up to the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, with which Blessed John Paul II re-proposed to all humanity Jesus Christ as the one Saviour, yesterday, today and forever. Between these two Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II, there was a deep and profound convergence, precisely upon Christ as the centre of the cosmos and of history, and upon the apostolic eagerness to announce him to the world. Jesus is the centre of the Christian faith. The Christian believes in God whose face was revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the fulfilment of the Scriptures and their definitive interpreter. Jesus Christ is not only the object of the faith but, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is “the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith” (12:2).

Bartimaeus seemed to have grasped something of this, calling Jesus by a Messianic title, Son of David, putting his faith in him and following him on the way.


Father Cyril Axelrod CSsR  is the only deaf-blind priest in the world. He was born profoundly deaf but became blind more than thirteen years ago from Usher Syndrome. He ministers to people who are deafblind and to people who are deaf. You can read about himhere. In this video Father Cyril speaks to seminarians

When I was in secondary school we studied some of the poetry of John Milton, most of which I disliked. But his sonnet On His Blindness was an exception.

20 October 2015

Dr Anca-Maria Cernea, President of the Association of Catholic Doctors of Bucharest, Romania, speaks at the Synod on the Family

Sts Louis and Zelie Martin

Dr Anca-Maria Cernea,  President of the Association of Catholic Doctors of Bucharest (Romania), made the following intervention at the Ordinary Synod on the Family on Friday, 16 October. Dr Cernea spoke in English.

I have added some [comments] and emphases.

Your Holiness, Synod Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, I represent the Association of Catholic Doctors from Bucharest.

I am from the Romanian Greek Catholic Church.

My father was a Christian political leader, who was imprisoned by the communists for 17 years. My parents were engaged to marry, but their wedding took place 17 years later

My mother waited all those years for my father, although she didn’t even know if he was still alive. They have been heroically faithful to God and to their engagement.

Their example shows that God’s grace can overcome terrible social circumstances and material poverty.

We, as Catholic doctors, defending life and family, can see this is, first of all, a spiritual battle.

Material poverty and consumerism are not the primary cause of the family crisis.

The primary cause of the sexual and cultural revolution is ideological.

Our Lady of Fatima has said that Russia’s errors would spread all over the world.

It was first done under a violent form, classical Marxism, by killing tens of millions.

Now it’s being done mostly by cultural Marxism. There is continuity from Lenin’s sex revolution, through Gramsci and the Frankfurt school, to the current-day gay-rights and gender ideology.

Classical Marxism pretended to redesign society, through violent take-over of property.

Now the revolution goes deeper; it pretends to redefine family, sex identity and human nature. [In my native Republic of Ireland last May voters re-defined marriage under the banner of 'equality' even though everyone was already free to marry, ie, one man and one woman, within the limitations of the law.]

This ideology calls itself progressive. But it is nothing else than the ancient serpent’s offer, for man to take control, to replace God, to arrange salvation here, in this world.

It’s an error of religious nature, it’s Gnosticism.

It’s the task of the shepherds to recognize it, and warn the flock against this danger.

Seek ye therefore first the Kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).

The Church’s mission is to save souls. [Pope Francis reminded the judges and advocates of the tribunal that the highest law is the salus animarum – the salvation of souls.] Evil, in this world, comes from sin. Not from income disparity or 'climate change'.

The solution is: Evangelization. Conversion. [Conversion is a theme that runs through Laudato Si'.]

Not an ever increasing government control. Not a world government. These are nowadays the main agents imposing cultural Marxism to our nations, under the form of population control, reproductive health, gay rights, gender education, and so on. ['Reproductive health' includes abortion, as then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated unequivocally in 2009. In 2013 the Irish government legalised abortion under the name 'Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act' if a mother was threatening suicide. The government totally ignored the advice on this matter given by psychiatrists, advice that it had asked for.]

What the world needs nowadays is not limitation of freedom, but real freedom, liberation from sin. Salvation.

Our Church was suppressed by the Soviet occupation. But none of our 12 bishops betrayed their communion with the Holy Father. Our Church survived thanks to our bishops’ determination and example in resisting prisons and terror.

Our bishops asked the community not to follow the world. Not to cooperate with the communists.

Now we need Rome to tell the world: Repent of your sins and turn to God for the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matthew 3:2).

16 October 2015

'Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.' Sunday Reflections, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. First Columban Centenarian.

Call of the Sons of Zebedee, Marco Basaiti, 1510
Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice [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)

Gospel Mark 10:35-45 (New Revised Standard Version, CatholicEdition, Canada) 

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Christ in the Carpenter's Shop, Georges de la Tour, 1645
Musée du Louvre, Paris [Web Gallery of Art] 

In May 2008 I unexpectedly received an email from Michael in Australia whom I hadn't met or heard from since the summer of 1967 when we were working together on a building (construction) site in Dublin. I had just been ordained subdeacon and was to be ordained priest in December of that year. The general foreman on the site was my father.
In a later email Michael said, Your father was a great role model for me to try and emulate. I remember the first job that I met your father on, as he was the general foreman. It was the first job for me as a journeyman carpenter and it was a pleasant experience coming to work with such a pleasant gentleman giving the instructions.

My father, a week before his sudden death in 1987
I wasn't at all surprised at Michael's words as I had heard others who had worked with my father, John, say similar things. And when I worked under him myself that summer I could see what I had known before: he led by example. He never swore, never shouted at anyone and was most helpful to young workers and to young architects. He sometimes would laugh at home at the lack of experience of the latter in practical matter. But he also knew that you can only learn through experience - and with the help of mentors. And he was a real mentor to the same young architects.
Many times before I took an important examination or was about to do something for the first time Dad would say, The experience will be good for you. There was never the hint of a demanding expectation. And I have found his words to have been true.
But I often heard him speak with gratitude, respect and affection of general foremen under whom he had worked as an apprentice and as a young carpenter. One was Mr Grace, whom I never met. Two of his sons became Capuchin priests and two of his daughters religious sisters. Another was Mr Boyle, whom I did know and who with his wife in their old age were a handsome couple.
Dad was the same at home as he was on the construction site. He never raised his voice to his two sons or to our mother. He was courteous with everyone he met and was just himself in every situation.

His authority came from within. He was responsible and loving in everything he did. Every morning, after returning from a very early Mass, he prepared my mother's breakfast before heading for work. He started work on time and ended on time. But he wasn't a slave to the clock.
L'Arche Daybreak Community, Toronto, 2008 [Wikipedia]
The men who have most influenced me and whom I have most admired are men who are gentle but strong, firm and responsible. One example is Jean Vanier, under whom I have twice made retreats here in the Philippines, in Cebu City in 1991 and in Quezon City in 1996. Now 87, he is the founder of L'Arche and, with Marie-Hélène Mathieu, co-founder of Faith and Light. Jean gave up a career as a university professor of philosophy to devote his life to persons with learning disabilities. He leads by example, showing the deepest respect to those considered unimportant, gentle but firm.

When I was 16 and still at school I spent nearly a year as a member of Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (Local Defence Force), known as the FCA and now called the Irish Army Reserve. We used to train on Sundays. There was one particular corporal, just a few years older than us, who used to roar at us continually with a wide range of unoriginal swear words. Nobody respected him. We had a sergeant whose strongest expression was 'damn', which is considered a very mild expletive in English. He got both our respect and our cooperation. He had a sense of rightful pride in what he and we were doing.

Men like my father, Jean Vanier and my sergeant in the FCA are men in whose lives I have seen the words of Jesus in today's gospel lived out: You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them . . . but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. . .

First Columban Centenarian
Fr Bernard Toal, born 17 October 1915

Fr Bernard Toal, the first Columban to reach the age of 100, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, on 17 October 1915 but grew up in nearby Gloucester, New Jersey. He was ordained in Buffalo, New York, on 18 December 1943. Because of World War II he spent the early years of his priesthood in the USA.
From 1947 to 1951 he was based in Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental, Philippines where he taught in Immaculate Conception College, now La Salle University Ozamiz. From 1951 until 1969 he was in St Columban's, Bristol, Rhode Island, USA, most of that time as Director of Probationers, Columban seminarians on a year of intense spiritual formation.
Fr Toal worked in Peru from 1968 till 1979 when he was reassigned to the USA where he worked in parishes in New Mexico, Texas and California, the last being St Mary's, Fontana, California, where he worked from 2001 until he retired to St Columban's,Bristol, RI, in 2011.
We thank God for Father Bernard's long life and for his faithful service as a Columban missionary priest. Ad multos annos!
Fr Toal, right, on 26 September 2015