28 January 2016

Columban Fr Brendan M Fahey RIP

Fr Brendan M. Fahey

Fr Brendan Fahey died peacefully in the Columban Nursing Home, Dalgan Park, Ireland, on 24 January 2016. Born on 8 May, 1930, in Cloonfad, where three western counties, Roscommon, Mayo and Galway, meet. 

Cloonfad Post Office [Wikipedia]

He was educated at Derrylea National School, Cloonfad National School and St Jarlath's College, Tuam,  before joining the Columbans in 1947.  He was ordained on 21 December 1953 and appointed to Japan. He began his ministry as an assistant in Wakayama Parish and worked there until he became pastor of Chigasaki, Yokohama, in 1962. Ten years later he moved to the parish of Kisarazu in Chiba district. He developed great skills in Japanese language and culture and maintained his links with Japanese friends all his life.

Wakayama [Wikipedia]

He left Japan for the USA in 1978 and took the opportunity to pursue his interest in spirituality and spiritual direction, spending his first month at a House of Intercessory Prayer for Priests and then doing further studies in Cambridge, MA. Father Brendan was then assigned to Britain and to St Bede's Parish in Widnes, Archdiocese of Liverpool.  

St Bede's, Widnes [Wikipedia]

After nearly ten years in that parish, he was appointed to the staff of St Beuno's Centre for Spirituality in Wales where his skills as a lecturer and spiritual director were highly regarded.  Following this, he became pastor of the nearby St Joseph's Parish, Denbigh, where he spent ten happy years. 

St Beuno's Ignatian Spirituality Centre [Wikipedia]

Returning to Ireland in 2002 he made himself available to help out in the Nursing Home and continued to care for less-abled colleagues till he needed that level of care himself.  In Dalgan he was a very esteemed member of the Nursing Home Pastoral Team and much in demand for First Friday Reflections and other Spiritual Conferences. His health deteriorated rapidly in the last few months.

Father Brendan’s quiet and caring personality, made him an attractive and approachable mentor and guide for many people. He left us with memories of a caring missionary, with an impish sense of humour, who introduced many people to the loving God whom he served so well.

May he rest in peace.

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park, Ireland

Obituary prepared by Frs Noel Daly and Cyril Lovett.


The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ studied theology at St Beuno's in the 1870s where he wrote one of his best-known  poems, God's Grandeur.

27 January 2016

'Is not this Joseph's Son?' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Elisha Refusing Gifts from Naaman, Pieter de Grebber, c.1630
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)

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 

He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Prophet Elijah and the Widow of Zarepta, Bernardo Strozzi, 1630s
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna [Web Gallery of Art]

I left home for the first time when I was 11, though only for a month. It was during the summer of 1954 and I spent the four weeks in an Irish-speaking part of County Galway in the west of Ireland, just beyond An Spidéal (Spiddal) on the northern shore of Galway Bay.

The Pier, An Spidéal [Wikipedia]

I was one of around 100 children aged between 10 and 14, all sons and daughters of members of trade / labour unions in Dublin which sponsored a summer-school / holiday each year so that the youngsters involved could become more fluent in the Irish language (Gaelic), which we all studied at school. We used to have outdoor classes in the mornings, unless it rained, and were free in the afternoon. We all stayed in groups of three or four boys or girls with local families. We were excused from class if we went to the bog with our hosts when they were cutting turf (peat).

In the house where I stayed with two other boys a family from Dublin came down for their annual holiday. I had never met them before and they didn't know me. The husband/father, whom I later learned was named Paddy O'Neill, asked me the first time he met me if I was the son of John Coyle. At that time I knew nothing about where we come from, though I knew that children often looked like one or other of their parents but had no idea why. I felt a surge of pride as I said 'Yes' to Mr O'Neill. 

He had seen my father's face in mine. Then he told me that he had worked as a young carpenter with my father, who was older than he was, and that he had found my Dad very helpful to him. Over the years others were to tell me the same thing, how my father was such a great mentor to young men learning their trade. Dad was a carpenter too but became first a foreman of the carpenters and later a general foreman on the building/construction sites where he worked for 54 years.

My father in turn often spoke with great respect and affection of foremen he had worked under and who had helped him. I remember Ned Boyle, who lived near us. He had a big moustache, as I recall, and his wife had beautiful white hair and a lovely smile. They looked like every child's favourite grandparents. My mother often described them as a real 'Darby and Joan' couple. In the song The Folks Who Live on the Hill Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics to Jerome Kern's music include these lines:

We'll sit and look at the same old view,

Just we two.
Darby and Joan who used to be Jack and Jill,
The folks who like to be called,
What they have always been called,
'The folks who live on the hill'.

I remember Dad talking about Mr Grace, another foreman under whom he worked. I never knew him, though I had some contact with some of his sons, all of whom were older than me. Two of them, Fr Ronald and Fr John, became Capuchin priests and were assigned to what is now Zambia. Both have gone to their reward. Another, Mick, died in an accident while building a church in Dublin. He, a married man, was very active in the Legion of Mary. Two sisters of theirs became nuns in the USA. I got the impression from my father that Mr Grace was a man of great integrity, of nobility of character. I could see something of that in his sons.

I could see it in my father and how foremen such as Mr Boyle and Mr Grace had helped to form him as a person, without even being aware of it. 

St Joseph the Carpenter, Georges de La Tour, 1842
Louvre, Paris [Wikipedia]

As I grow older I see more clearly how my parents and others formed me. Very often when I'm writing I think of John Galligan, my teacher in Fourth Class (Grade Four) who gave us a great grounding in the grammar of both Irish and English, encouraged us to read the newspaper critically and gave us many opportunities to write. But above all, he shared his faith as he prepared us for confirmation and as he spoke so often about his wife Mary. I came to know them years later as a friend and saw in them a real 'Darby and Joan' couple.

Is not this Joseph's son? the people in the synagogue asked in wonder before they turned against Jesus and tried to kill him. There's a gap of 18 years between the time when Mary and Joseph, sick with worry, went back to Jerusalem to try to find the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple, where in his humanity his sense of his vocation was beginning to awake. The First Reading, from Jeremiah, has the word of the Lord saying to the prophet, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. Further on the Lord tells Jeremiah, They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you (Jer 1:5, 19).

God the Father had the mission of his Son Jesus, God who became Man, in mind from from all eternity. He knew that many would fight against Jesus, but they shall not prevail against you . . . And the Father called two human beings to prepare Jesus for his mission, Mary to be his very mother and Joseph, her husband, to be like a father to him.

Jesus in his humanity learned from St Joseph how to be a responsible man. The years when Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them and increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor (Luke 2:51, 52) were the years when Joseph and Mary were preparing Jesus for his mission, Mary treasured all these things in her heart but probably neither of them fully realising the importance of daily life in the house, in the carpenter's shop, in preparing Jesus for his mission.

Mr Boyle and Mr Grace were among those who formed my father as an upright man of deep faith. I doubt if any of them ever spoke to each other about their faith, just as my father rarely spoke about it to me. They simply lived it. I'm prouder now, more than 28 years after his death, to be known as 'John Coyle's son' because I can see how much he has influenced me as a priest.

Our influence on each other is for good and for bad. Those who hear someone ask as a compliment about them,  Isn't this the son/daughter of . . .? are blessed. Those of whom it is said that they are saintly, not because they are 'pious' but because there is something Christ-like about their lives, are blessed and are a blessing to others.

When Jesus heard the people in the synagogue ask Is not this Joseph's son? I'm certain that in his humanity he felt deeply blessed because the love and care of Joseph had been central to the loving plan of God the Father for his Son, God who became Man. 

Communion Antiphon Cf Psalm 30:17-18. [Latin]

Illúmina fáciem tuam super servum tuum, 
et salvum me fac in tua misericórdia. 
Dómine, non confúndar, quóniam invocávi te.

Let your face shine on your servant. 
Save me in your merciful love.
O Lord, let me never be put to shame, for I call on you.

In the video above the antiphon is sung in Latin in Gregorian chant. Below is a setting of the Latin text for five voices by Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566 - 1613) sung by a choir in Brno in the Czech Republic.


I mentioned above the song The Folks Who Live on the Hill. I came across this version by Liverpool-born singer Michael Holliday who took his own life at the age of 38 in 1963, a couple of years after he had a nervous breakdown. It seems he suffered badly from stage fright, as his hands seem to indicate during his introduction to the song. Remember him in your prayers. Remember too all who have taken their own lives.

26 January 2016

Porferio D. Matulac RIP, the father of a Columban priest

Porferio D. Matulac was the father of Fr Cireneo 'Dodong' Matulac, a Columban priest ordained a few days after Christmas 2002. Father Dodong started off under my care as a 16-year-old first-year college seminarian in Cebu City, studying at the University of San Carlos. Later in his formation Dodong spent two years on mission in Chile as a seminarian on what we call 'First Mission Assignment'. After his ordination he spent some years in China and is now involved in the formation of Columban seminarians in Quezon City but is currently doing a year's study in Chicago.

I remember being very touched when he told me how his family welcomed each New Year. Shortly after his ordination I asked him to write an article about that for MISYON, now MISYONonline.com, the Columban magazine I edit here in the Philippines. It was published in the January-February 2004 issue. The Matulac Family live in a remote part of southwestern Mindanao, in a small village that is part of the municipality of Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay. Father Dodong was able to spend nearly a month with his family over Christmas and the New Year before returning to Chicago.

The funeral of Porferio takes place in Payao on 30 January at 10am.

How My Family Welcomes The New Year

by Fr Cireneo Matulac

Father Dodong with his parents 'Poping' and 'Vering' on his ordination day

There’s growing excitement in our family as we prepare for the New Year’s celebration. My brother has just left for the población to buy ice cream, the only time we have it, a real New Year’s treat. I feel that this New Year’s celebration will be different. My mother has insisted on baking rice cakes which she hadn’t done for years. My two sisters are preparing their favorite dish and my other brother is preparing his usual pork and chicken barbecue. My family has certainly become a lot bigger. I now have seventeen nephews and nieces, the oldest in his early twenties, and all of them are extremely excited. I’ve heard the younger ones say, ‘Uncle will celebrate Mass for the New Year in Lola’s house.’ ['Lola' is 'Grandma'].
Our time of the year
Celebrating the New Year has always been a happy occasion for my family. We welcome it in a festive manner even in dire times. My father makes sure that everyone is present and leads us in our family para-liturgical celebration, like a family Gagmayng Simbahanong Katilingban, (GSK), or basic ecclesial community. We start at 11pm and finish a few minutes before midnight when we wish each other ‘Happy New Year.’
My father selects a gospel reading and then expounds on it with the passionate homily he has prepared weeks before. His sermon usually revolves around how our family has gone through hardships and difficulties but has always been able to move forward. He attributes this not to any of his strengths and gifts but to prayer that God always answers. He reminds us that every evening my mother leads us in the rosary. I remember that as a child I always fell asleep before we finished. My father speaks of the generosity of God who continues to bless us all the days of our lives. When he comes to this point, my mother seconds him with her sobs and tears. She isn’t particularly sad. Her tears express a joy for which there are no words.
Father Dodong on a recent 'field-trip' in the USA

What binds my family
After our liturgy, we have the family dinner. This is the time when we make wishes for the coming year. When I was a young boy I asked God to make me a little taller. God answered my other prayers but not this one. This New Year, however, I can’t wish for anything more except for our family to be always together.
I know that this New Year will be different. I am the youngest child and I was ordained to the priesthood only a a few days ago. My mother told her grandchildren that this time we would have Mass instead of my father leading the family liturgy. Secretly, to his great delight, I asked my father to prepare the homily. Deep in my heart I know that this is a tradition that sustains us as a Christian family and that my vocation sprang mainly from my parents’ faith articulated by my father in his New Year’s sermon and made a lot more profound by my mother’s sobs and tears. I’m sure that it is going to be a different celebration this year, as my mother has told her grandchildren. But then it’s always different because each time we welcome the New Year we’re growing deeper in our faith in God. This yearly ritual has always been a wellspring of my family’s faith and my vocation to the priesthood.
Every New Year is indeed different and yet a continuation of what we’ve always been doing.

21 January 2016

'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

An extract from Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth [Today's gospel ends at 2:28]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Scroll of the Book of Isaiah [Wikipedia]

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to GalileeSt Luke tells us. Thirty-three years ago in the Diocese of Bacolod on the island of Negros where I now live in the Philippines the Spirit led nine men to jail, three priests and six laymen, all falsely charged with multiple murder. Fourteen months were to pass before the nine were released.

Two of the priests were Columbans, Fr Brian Gore from Australia and the late Fr Niall O'Brien from Ireland. The third was a diocesan priest, Fr Vicente Dangan, now deceased.

The six laymen, all working for the Church during the very difficult Martial Law years in the Philippines, were Jesus S. Arzaga, Peter Cuales, Lydio J. Mangao, Conrado Muhal (RIP), Geronimo T. Perez (RIP) and Ernesto Tajones. They became known as The Negros Nine and you can find their photos here

While the Negros Nine were in jail in Bacolod City the late Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich appointed the three priests as chaplains there. The vast majority of prisoners were from poor backgrounds and their cases were being constantly put back. The three priests, as well as ministering to the spiritual needs of the prisoners were able to get lawyer-friends to follow up on the cases of many of those languishing, wondering if they would ever get out.

As a result of this, many of them did. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives . . . to let the oppressed go free . . .

The Negros Nine in prison, 1983-84
L to R: Lydio Mangao,  Peter Cuales, Jesus Arzaga, Fr Vicente Dangan(+), Geronimo Perez(+), Fr Brian Gore, Conrado Muhal(+), Fr Niall O'Brien(+), Ernesto Tajones

I'm writing this on 21 January. Tomorrow the 43rd annual March for Life will take place in Washington DC.  According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute in  a July 2014 reportFrom 1973 through 2011, nearly 53 million legal abortions occurred. This is the consequence of the infamous Roe v Wade decision in 1973 by the US Supreme Court. 

A charge that is often made is that those who are pro-life when it comes to the unborn and abortion are really only 'pro-birth' and not interested in the lives of children once they are born.

My friend Lala and her friend Jordan, whom I also know, might dispute this if they had the ability to express themselves in such a way. Lala was left in a garbage bin after birth and raised by the Daughters of Charity in Cebu City. Lala was born with Trisomy 21 (Down's Syndrome) and Jordan with intellectual and physical disabilities. They now live in the L'Arche community in Cainta, Rizal, part of the Manila urban sprawl. Over the years those who have chosen to live with Lala, Jordan and others for long periods, enabling them to live normal lives, have come from as far away as Germany and Japan.

Lala feeding Jordan

The late King Baudouin of the Belgians, about whom I've written in the two previous Sunday Reflections wrote in a letter to a young mother about a children's party that he and Queen Fabiola had hosted: 

In one corner there was a group of handicapped children, several of them with Down's Syndrome. I brought a plateful of toffees to a little girl who had scarcely any manual control. With great difficulty, she succeeded in taking a toffee but, to my astonishment, she gave it to another child. then for a long time, without ever keeping one for herself, she distributed these sweets to all the healthy children who could not believe their eyes. What a depth of love there is in these physically handicapped bodies . . .

Lala and the little girl who astonished King Baudouin are truly sisters in Christ. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. King Baudouin and the able-bodied children with whom the little girl with the disabilities shared her toffees were poor in spirit in the sense that St Matthew means in the first of the Beatitudes, ie, they knew their need of God. They recognised God's presence at the party, just as those who know Lala, especially those who live in L'Arche with her, recognise that the scripture has been fulfilled in their presence and is being fulfilled each day.

The Negros Nine were involved in organising Christian Communities where people would work together for the peace and justice that the Gospel demands in an area of awful poverty for many, poverty caused by greed. They suffered with the people because of the demands of the Gospel. Those of the Negros Nine who remain continue to work for justice and peace through the Negros Nine Human Development Foundation. Among other things the foundation is involved in trying to prevent the trafficking of women and minors. To set at liberty those who are oppressed . . .

While looking for a musical setting of the Entrance Antiphon I discovered Cantate Domino in B-flat, a setting of part of Psalm 96 (95) in Latin from which the Antiphon is taken, by Japanese composer Ko Matsushita. This came out of the Sing for Japan Choir Project, an international response to the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011. I had not heard of Ko Matsushita nor had I heard of the Sing for Japan Choir Project. I discovered quite a few videos of Cantate Domino and finally settled on one featuring the Kaohsiung Chamber Choir from southern Taiwan.

The Entrance Antiphon is taken from Psalm 95 [96]: 1, 6. The above is Cantate Domino in B-flat, a setting of verses 1, 2, 4, 5 ,6, 11 by Japanese composer Ko Matsushita. Verses 1 and 6 are highlighted.

Cantate Domino canticum novum,
cantate Domino omnis terra.
Cantate Domino benedicite nomini eius,
adnuntiate diem de die salutare eius;
quoniam magnus Dominus et laudabilis valde
terribilis est super omnes deos;
quoniam omnes dii gentium daemonia
at vero Dominus caelos fecit.
Confessio et pulchritudo in conspectu eius, 
sanctimonia et magnificentia in sanctificatione eius.
Laetentur caeli et exultet terra
commoveatur mare et plenitudo eius.

Entrance Antiphon Cf Psalm 95[96]:1,6

O sing a new song to the Lord, 
sing to the Lord, all the earth. 
In his presence are majesty and splendour, 
strength and honour in his holy place.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor . . .

And in so many ways, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we can say with Jesus, Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Colossians 1:27
51st International Eucharistic Congress, Cebu, Philippines
24-31 January 2016