26 November 2015

'Be on guard . . . be alert at all times.' Sunday Reflections, First Sunday of Advent, Year C

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston [Web Gallery of Art]

We begin Year C, which highlights St Luke's Gospel.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 21:25-28, 34-36 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said to his disciples:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Conditor Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars of Night)
An ancient Advent hymn sung by the Christendom College Choir & Schola Gregoriana

Here is Pope Benedict's Angelus Talk on the First Sunday of Advent, 29 November 2009.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday, by the grace of God, a new Liturgical Year opens, of course, with Advent, a Season of preparation for the birth of the Lord. The Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution on the Liturgy, affirms that the Church "in the course of the year... unfolds the whole mystery of Christ from the Incarnation and Nativity to the Ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the Coming of the Lord". In this way, "recalling the mysteries of the redemption, she opens up to the faithful the riches of her Lord's powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time; the faithful lay hold of them and are filled with saving grace" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 102). The Council insists on the fact that the centre of the Liturgy is Christ, around whom the Blessed Virgin Mary, closest to him, and then the martyrs and the other saints who "sing God's perfect praise in Heaven and intercede for us" (ibid., n. 104) revolve like the planets around the sun.

This is the reality of the Liturgical Year seen, so to speak, "from God's perspective". And from the perspective, let us say, of humankind, of history and of society what importance can it have? The answer is suggested to us precisely by the journey through Advent on which we are setting out today. The contemporary world above all needs hope; the developing peoples need it, but so do those that are economically advanced. We are becoming increasingly aware that we are all on one boat and together must save each other. Seeing so much false security collapse, we realize that what we need most is a trustworthy hope. This is found in Christ alone. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, he "is the same yesterday and today and for ever (Heb 13: 8). The Lord Jesus came in the past, comes in the present and will come in the future. He embraces all the dimensions of time, because he died and rose; he is "the Living One". While he shares our human precariousness, he remains forever and offers us the stability of God himself. He is "flesh" like us and "rock" like God. Whoever yearns for freedom, justice, and peace may rise again and raise his head, for in Christ liberation is drawing near (cf. Lk 21: 28) as we read in today's Gospel. We can therefore say that Jesus Christ is not only relevant to Christians, or only to believers, but to all men and women, for Christ, who is the centre of faith, is also the foundation of hope. And every human being is constantly in need of hope.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Virgin Mary fully embodies a humanity that lives in hope based on faith in the living God. She is the Virgin of Advent: she is firmly established in the present, in the "today" of salvation. In her heart she gathers up all past promises, and encompasses the future. Let us learn from her in order to truly enter this Season of grace and to accept, with joy and responsibility, the coming of God in our personal and social lives. 

Christ Healing the SickIstván Dorffmeister, 1779
Fresco, St Joseph Chapel, Balf, Hungary [Web Gallery of Art]

After the Angelus the Pope added these words for World AIDS Day, which is observed on 1 December.

The first of December is World AIDS Day. My thoughts and prayers go to every person afflicted by this illness, especially the children, the poorest and those who are rejected. The Church never ceases to do her utmost to combat AIDS, through her institutions and personnel dedicated to this mission. I urge everyone to make his/her own contribution, with prayer and practical attention, to ensure that all who are affected by the HIV virus may experience the presence of the Lord who gives comfort and hope. Lastly, by redoubling and coordinating our efforts I hope it will be possible to eradicate this disease.


Antiphona ad introitum  Entrance Antiphon Cf Ps 24[25]:1-3

Ad te Domine levavi animam meam,
To you, I lift up my soul, O my God, 
Deus meus in te confido, non erubescam.
In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame. 
Neque irrideant me inimici mei. 
Nor let my enemies exult over me;
etenim universi qui te exspectant, non confundentur.
and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

Ps. Vias tuas, Domine, demonstra mihi: et semitas tuas edoce me.
Your ways, 0 Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths. 
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. 
Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. 
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Ad te Domine levavi animam meam,
To you, I lift up my soul, O my God, 
Deus meus in te confido, non erubescam.
In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame. 
Neque irrideant me inimici mei. 
Nor let my enemies exult over me;
etenim universi qui te exspectant, non confundentur.
and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

The text in bold is used in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. The longer text is used in the Extraordinary Form and may be used in the Ordinary Form.

Sonata K213 by Domenico Scarlatti played by Gabriel Guillén in St Joseph Chapel, Balf, Hungary, where the fresco of Christ Healing the Sick (above) is located.

25 November 2015


By Sister Mariana Reyes HGS
Blessed Migeul Pro SJ, praying before his execution
(13 January 1891 - 23 November 1927)

The feast day of Blessed Miguel Pro SJ is celebrated in Mexico and the USA on 23 November, which is also the feast of St Columban. Below is an article we published in MISYON, now MISYONonline.com, the magazine of the Missionary Society of St Columban in the Philippines of which I have been editor since October 2002.
I first learned about Blessed Miguel Pro back in 1955 when the Irish Independent had a special supplement to celebrate 50 years of the paper's existence. The supplement had a photo of an important event in each year of the paper's existence. The one they used for 1927 was the photo below taken just before Blessed Miguel was executed by firing squad, the moment when with crucifix in one hand and his rosary beads in the other he said very clearly, Viva Cristo Rey - Long Live Christ the King. That photo is the only one I remember from that supplement and it stimulated my interest in this great priest.
A contemporary martyr-priest, also 36 when he was murdered, is Iraqi priest Fr Ragheed Ganni, about whom I have written here a number of times, most recently last July.
Fr Ragheed Ganni (left)
(20 January 1972 - 3 June 2007)

Sister Mariana came to the Philippines in 2000. She is a member of the Hermanas Guadalupanas de la Salle founded in Mexico in 1946 by Brother Juan Fromental Coyroche, a De La Salle Brother from France. The Sisters follow the charism of St John Baptist De La Salle and are involved in the promotion of Christian Education. Their spirituality in the service of God inspires them to look to Our Lady of Guadalupe in her role as evangelizer of the people they serve. They arrived in the Philippines in 1984. Other countries in which they work include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Madagascar, Peru and Thailand.
Martyr: we have often heard the deep meaning of this word. Witness: to suffer for the God who has kept you alive, and, if required, to give up your life also. The word makes us recall the Witness par excellence: Jesus Christ. The word ‘martyr’ recalls for us the many believers in the early Church who, rather than give up their faith and to show their love, trust and faith in God, faced death.
But here is a modern witness, facing his killers wearing a suit and tie. It’s November 23, 1927, during the religious persecution in Mexico. He is Father Miguel Agustin Pro SJ.
Pursuing his vocation
José Ramon Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez was born on 13 January 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico, one of 11 children of Don Miguel and Josefa. As a child he had been dangerously ill for a year. Don Miguel held his son before an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe and said, ‘Madre mia, give me back my son.’ Despite not being particularly religious young Miguel found his vocation at 20 and entered the Jesuits despite his fragile health, which meant more suffering. His vocation involved leaving his loving family behind, fleeing to foreign lands, strange languages and customs, as he couldn’t study in Mexico because of the persecution. He studied in the USA, in Nicaragua, Spain and Belgium where he was ordained in 1925.
Father Pro had a number of operations for a bad stomach. He also suffered because of his concern for his family who went through great financial hardship during the persecution. His superiors assigned him to work at home in 1926.
His sense of humor
Returning to Mexico he showed with passion that he understood the words ‘The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.’ He knew well that any priest found propagating Catholicism could face the death penalty. Many were executed. But we see something really special in Father Pro – his ability to inject into his adventures the cheerfulness that characterized him: one word, one gesture was many times enough to see him escape from the police. In spite of the danger he never lost his sense of humor which he saw as a gift from God. As a child he was musical and a practical joker.
His disguise
Earthly powers weren’t able to stop his priestly zeal. His cheerfulness made him try one and another way of deceiving the detectives assigned to detect violators of the law. He wore many disguises in order to administer the sacraments, celebrate Mass or lead a recollection. There’s a photo of him dressed as a mechanic. On one occasion on his way to anoint an old person he spotted the detectives. A young Catholic woman whom he knew happened to pass by. He linked arms with her and the police thought they were sweethearts.
Persecution of the Church
Meantime, the persecution continued. Churches were closed, Catholic schools suppressed, convents expropriated, religious communities persecuted. So many priests, religious, lay persons died. This was Mexico, the land Our Lady visited on 1531 in her apparition to the indigenous St Juan Diego. It seemed that this land had changed its patron. But the blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians, and the execution of hundreds was not enough to eradicate the Catholic faith from Mexican soil.
Sentenced to death
Now it was the moment Divine Providence destined for Father Pro to bear the supreme testimony of his faith. In November 1927, the authorities arrested Father Pro, along with his brothers Humberto and Roberto. The government authorities linked them to an assassination attempt on the presidential candidate General Álvaro Obregón through an old car that had once belonged to Humberto. (General Obregón had been president from 1920 to 1924 when he was replaced by his ally Plutarco Elías Calles who was the real power. General Obregón was assassinated after being re-elected in 1928.) The authorities were well aware that the brothers were innocent. But because they considered Catholic priests their enemies, the government saw in Padre Miguel and his brothers the perfect scapegoats. Without due process or trial, they sentenced them to death.
The government had a photographer to cover the execution to show up Catholics as cowards. The photos had the opposite effect and later the government made it a crime to possess them.
Martyr’s death
Father Miguel was given a couple of minutes to pray before his execution. He rejected the traditional blindfold and said to the firing squad, ‘May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. Lord, you know that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.’ Serene, he stretched out his arms in the form of a cross, holding a rosary in his left hand, a crucifix in his right. With his last breath he said quietly but clearly, ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’ ‘Long live Christ the King!’ This cry was the assurance that the persecuted and suffering Church of Mexicans was owned by Christ its King.
The testimony of his life
The effect of the news was the opposite to what the government had expected. Thousands turned out for the funeral of Father Miguel and his brother Humberto — Roberto had been released. An old blind woman in the crowd who came to touch his body left with her sight restored. The fervor of the Catholic faithful grew stronger and their fear lessened because of the testimony of the martyrdom of this man of God, this committed priest, selfless in his generous ministry of the Word and the Sacraments; a creative, fun-loving joker, despite his serious demeanor in photos.
Sometime before his death he said to a friend that if he came upon any somber-looking saints in heaven, he’d do the Mexican Hat Dance to cheer them up. How well he used his gifts to live and die with passion for Christ and his Gospel. May we find in this witness, an inspiration to see that it is possible to live our faith with creativity and face the challenges of modern times in a concrete, loving way.

23 November 2015

1,400th Death Anniversary of St Columban

St Columban (c.540 - 23 November 615)
Statue by Claude Grange, Luxeuil-les-bains, France [Wikipedia]

Today is a special day for all Columban Missionaries, priests, Sisters and Lay Missionaries. It is the 1,400th anniversary of the death of our patron, St Columban (Columbanus).

Stamp issued in Ireland to mark the 1,400th anniversary of the death of St Columban.
The €1.05 stamp was designed by acclaimed Dublin-based illustrator and designer Steve Simpson. It features an image of St. Columban, taken from a stained glass window in Mount St Joseph's Abbey, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary.

Here is the editorial in the November-December issue of MISYONonline.com, the online magazine of the Missionary Society of St Columban and of which I am editor.

The death notice of Columban Fr Patrick J. Crowley who died suddenly on 25 October notes: ‘Late of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Ireland.’ Fr Crowley’s obituary appears in this issue as does that of Columban Sister Mary O’Dea. Her death notice notes ‘USA and Peru’. Her brother Father Donal, who preached at her funeral Mass, spent more than 60 years here in the Philippines. Before he moved back to Ireland two or three years ago he pointed out to us that he was one of relatively few Columban missionaries who spent all their lives on mission in one country.
There are many different reasons why a missionary might move from one country to another. It might be because of a new mission taken on by the Columbans. It might be for reasons of health. It might be because a particular missionary is expelled from his country of mission, as has happened to quite a few, particularly those who worked in China before.Fr Michael A. Healy, who died in 2012 aged 91, was the only Columban, as far as I know, to have been expelled from two countries, China and Burma, now known as Myanmar.
But Columban missionaries are working again in China and Myanmar and there are Columban seminarians from both of those countries.
St Columban himself, who died 1,400 years ago on 23 December in Bobbio, northern Italy, was also expelled by a king who didn’t like the implications of the Gospel message that the Irish monk was preaching.
The last third of St Columban’s life of 72 to 75 years – we’re not sure of the date of his birth – was spent on Peregrinatio pro Christo, on a Pilgrimage for Christ, that took him probably through Cornwall in the southwest of Britain on his way to the European Mainland where he was to found monasteries and travel in modern-day France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. So his many followers today, Columban priests, Sisters and Lay Missionaries who have found themselves moved from one country to another or from one place to another in their country of assignment, are imitating our great Patron Saint.
It is also part of the reality of being a missionary that one is often better known in the country or countries where one is working than in one’s native place. The same applies to St Columban. Pope Benedict in a general audience on 8 June 2008 began with these words: ‘Today I would like to speak about the holy Abbot Columban, the best known Irishman of the early Middle Ages. Since he worked as a monk, missionary and writer in various countries of Western Europe with good reason he can be called a "European" Saint. With the Irish of his time, he had a sense of Europe's cultural unity. The expression "totius Europae - of all Europe", with reference to the Church's presence on the Continent, is found for the first time in one of his letters, written around the year 600, addressed to Pope Gregory the Great.’
But Columban Fr Aidan Larkin in a biography of the great Irish missionary points out, ‘St Columbanus is the best known and best loved of the Irish saints in continental Europe, especially in France, Italy, Austria, Germany and Switzerland . . . sadly, he is less well known in Ireland.’
May the words from St Columban’s Instructiones XI, which Pope Benedict quoted in his audience, be an inspiration to all involved today in whatever way under the patronage of St Columban in the mission of the Church: ‘If man makes a correct use of those faculties that God has conceded to his soul, he will be likened to God. Let us remember that we must restore to him all those gifts which he deposited in us when we were in our original condition. He has taught us the way with his Commandments. The first of them tells us to love the Lord with all our heart, because he loved us first, from the beginning of time, even before we came into the light of this world.’
St Columban, pray for us.
Stained glass window by Harry Clarke, 1931. The stamp above is based on this.

At the tomb of St Columban, Bobbio, northern Italy, June 2015

There is a dossier of obituaries of Columban priests and Sisters who have died within the last year in the current issue of MISYONonline.com.

20 November 2015

'My kingdom is not from this world.' Sunday Reflections. Christ the King, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer. [John 18:33-37, today's Gospel]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Pilate said to Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Christ Before Pilate, Tintoretto, 1566-67
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice [Web Gallery of Art]

Last Saturday Pope Francis referred to the attacks in Paris the night before as  'piece' of the 'Piecemeal Third World War'. In recent weeks hundreds have died because of attacks by terrorists, in Egypt, when a plane carrying mostly Russian holidaymakers returning home exploded and crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, in Beirut where more than 40 were killed by suicide bombers, 129 murdered in Paris and since then more than 40 in attacks in Nigeria, in one instance a suicide bomber reported to be a girl aged 11.

Last April 148 persons, most of the students, were murdered in an attack on Garissa University College in Kenya. Two years ago 67 people, from 13 different countries and from every continent, were killed in an attack by terrorists on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

None of these incidents, all with an international dimension, reflect the values of the Kingdom of Christ the King.

But it is essential that we recognize that Kingdom where it is a reality. And it is a reality, though 'not from this world' but present in this world.

While editing an article by a Columban seminarian from the Philippines, Erl Dylan J. Tabaco, who is on his two-year First Mission Assignment in Peru as part of his preparation for the priesthood, I came across evidence of the reality of the Kingdom of Christ being a reality in our world, specifically in this instance in Lima.

A profoundly deaf young boy in Lima learning to speak in Manuel Duato School

Manuel Duato School was started by Columban Missionary priests more than 30 years ago to respond to the needs of the many young people among the poor of Lima with learning and other disabilities.

‘Team Duato: Two Schools, One Family’
Students in St Christopher's School, Melbourne

The school is now twinned with St Christopher's Primary School in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia.

[Thanks to Renae Gentile and Elizabeth Moran of St Christopher's Primary School for this video]

The Kingdom of Terrorism, the Kingdom of Satan, is international. The Kingdom of Christ is Universal. The children and teachers in Manuel Duato in Lima, Peru, and those in St Christopher's, Airport West, Victoria, not far from the Columban central house in Australia, are building the Kingdom of Christ and at the same time growing in the values of that Kingdom.

Jesus tells us, Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs (Mark 10: 14). May we learn from the children of Manuel Duato and the children of St Christopher's where the Kingdom of God is present among us, that Manuel Duato es Amor, 'Manuel Duato is love'. Our broken world needs the hope and healing that Christ the King gives through such as 'Team Duato: Two Schools, One Family.’


This is a very special weekend for all Columban missionaries. Here in the Philippines the Reverend Kurt Zion Valdemoza Pala will be ordained to the priesthood. Among those present will be Fr Michael Cuddigan, a Columban now based in Hong Kong but who spent many years in the Philippines, who officiated at the wedding of Father Kurt's parents. And Father Michael himself is a link with the beginning of the Columban mission in the Philippines as his uncle, also Fr Michael Cuddigan, was the very first Columban to arrive in Manila in 1929 when the Columbans took over Our Lady of Remedies Parish, Malate, Manila, where we still work. Father Kurt has spent time there as a deacon and will spend some time there as a priest before leaving for his mission in Myanmar in 2016. He has already spent two years in Fiji as a seminarian on First Mission Assignment.

Monday 23 November is the Feast of St Columban and also the 1,400th Anniversary of his death in Bobbio, northern Italy. The stamp above was issued by An Post in Ireland to mark the occasion. Australian Columban Fr Ray Scanlon reflects on a pilgrimage in the footsteps of our patron in St Columban, My Brother. Please keep all Columban missionaries in your prayers. Thank you.

Tomb of St Columban, Bobbio

Christi simus, non nostri – Go mba le Críost sinn agus nach linn féin – Let us be of Christ, not of ourselves (St Columban)

Responsorial Psalm [Philippines, USA]