29 September 2016

'We have done only what we ought to have done!' Sunday Reflections, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Boy ploughing with water buffalo, Laos (Luke 17:7) [Wikipedia]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

The Mulberry Tree, Van Gogh, 1889 [Wikipedia]

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

In the summer of 1964, after my third year in the seminary, I spent a couple of weeks working in the Morning Star Hostel in Dublin. It was within walking distance of my home. I had been in the Legion of Mary for most of my five years in secondary school and used to rejoin my praesidium during summer vacations. In the summer of 1963 I spent a week on Peregrinatio pro Christo in a parish in Liverpool and in 1965 did the same in a parish in Paisley, Scotland. My last experience of Peregrinatio was in Pewsey, Wiltshire, in the southwest of England in 1966.

Morning Star Hostel has had a small number of what are called 'indoor brothers' taking care of the men who stay there. These are laymen, Legionaries who devote themselves full-time to this work. I remember two from 1963, Tom Doyle and Sid Quinn. The webpage about the Morning Star gives a short biography of Tom, along with a photo. It describes him in these terms: Tom Doyle was the manager of the hostel for about 50 years and he is regarded as an unknown saint by most if not all the people who knew him.

Tom Doyle (1905 - 1992)

I didn't get to know Tom or Sid well, certainly not their inner lives. Sid knew my father as they had grown up in the same area, where I also grew up. Most of the people in our neighbourhood were what were called 'working class'. But I saw the utter dedication of Tom and Sid, or 'Brother Tom' and 'Brother Sid' as they were know within the hostel. During Legion meetings and Legion work members address and refer to each other as 'Brother' and 'Sister' but not outside of that.

As Pope Francis might put it, Tom and Sid well knew 'the smell of their sheep'. That might be the smell of alcohol, the smell of unwashed bodies. Sometimes for Tom it might be the smell of his own blood: Rows and scuffles and fist fights were regular occurrences and poor Tom had the responsibility of calming every storm. No doubt Tom who was small in stature was on the receiving end of some of those blows and it is well known that near the end of his life one of the residents very badly beat him up so that he had to spend time in hospital but when he came out he made himself the best friend of that resident! 

When I read the words 
We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done! in today's gospel I immediately thought of Tom Doyle and Sid Quinn. The words of Jesus seem to be in contrast with what he says elsewhere, especially in St John's Gospel, where he calls us friends, where he asks Peter, Do you love me? Feed my lambs.

Assisi, 4 October 2013, Feast of St Francis of Assisi

There are countless individuals around the world who gladly say, We have done only what we ought to have done! They may be adult children taking care of aged parents.

Dimayuga Family, 2009

They may be parents such as Miggy and Gee-Gee, my former assistant editor at Misyon, taking care of their son Mikko, born with multiple disabilities,with the help of their daughter Mica. Mikko went straight to God in 2014 and his parents brought his remains home from Atlanta, Georgia, where they live to be buried here in Bacolod City where Gee-Gee is from.

They may be those helping homeless people, refugees, drug addicts, alcoholics, those without work cope with their situation, attending to their urgent, basic needs and offering them hope.

They may be those taking care of the young persons with disabilities whom Pope Francis visited in Assisi three years ago on, the feast of St Francis. In the video above the Holy Father reminds us very strikingly, On the altar we worship the Flesh of Jesus. In the sick we see the wounds of Jesus. We find Jesus hidden in the Eucharist. Jesus can be found through your wounds. He needs to be listened to. We need to say: These wounds cannot be ignored.

Tom Doyle chose to worship the Flesh of Jesus every morning at Mass at 6, very early in Ireland, especially in winter. In the homeless men who came to Morning Star Hostel he was able to see the wounds of Jesus. He would have nodded in agreement with Pope Francis speaking directly to the young people with disabilities: Jesus can be found through your wounds. He understood that Jesus needs to be listened to in the men he served each day.

Despite having to go to hospital when already an old man because he was beaten up by a resident of Morning Star Hostel, Tom would have understood what Pope Francis said, These wounds cannot be ignored. Though conscious of his own physical wounds Tom was even more conscious of the inner wounds of the man who had attacked him as he showed when he came out of hospital and made himself the best friend of that resident! 

Thank God for the countless, largely anonymous, Tom Doyles throughout the world who, if asked about their unselfish commitment to others in need would answer, We have only done what was our duty. They are living examples of the words of St Francis, which Pope Francis repeated when answering the questions of young people in Assisi three years ago, Always preach the gospel. And if necessary use words. [Video below].

Pope Francis then asked the young people - and he is putting the same question to each of us in the name of Jesus - Can you preach the Gospel without words? Yes! Leading by example. First by example, then with words.

Pope Francis answers young people in Assisi, 2013

25 September 2016

Sts Cosmas and Damian and the doctors of Aleppo, Syria

Arciconfraternità della Misericordia, Florence [Web Gallery of Art]

Tomorrow, 26 September, is the feast of Sts Cosmas and Damian. We don't know too much about them but they were martyred around the year 287. They were physicians and believed to have been twins. They lived and served the people in the ancient Roman province of Syria and were known as the 'unmercenaries' because they didn't charge for their services.

Devotion to them is strong among both Eastern and Western Christians and they are mentioned in the Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer). They are patron saints of doctors, pharmacists, surgeons and barbers.

Channel 4 News (England) 17 August 2016
There are many other videos of the same hospital, its staff and patients on YouTube.

O Physicians of souls, Saints Cosmas and Damian, stand before the Lord of All and ask Him to heal me and all those dear to me of any spiritual ills we may endure. 

Drive away from us all sin and sadness of mind, all darkness and despair.  Make us then willing and loving servants of Christ, following your holy example of detachment from the things of this world and care for the needs of our neighbors.
On the glorious day of the Universal Resurrection may we shine with you in the full health of our nature restored by the mercies of Jesus who lives and reigns forever and ever. 


Channel 4 News (England) 9 May 2016

Living in Aleppo is a martyrdom project. We think of ourselves as living martyrs. If you're in Aleppo you expect to die at any time in your home or in the street.

Please pray for all hospital workers in Aleppo through the intercession of the Syrian martyrs and physicians Sts Cosmas and Damian.

Sts Cosmas and Damian, Matteo de Pacino, 1370-75
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh [Web Gallery of Art]


May you be magnified, O Lord,
by the revered memory of your Saints Cosmas and Damian,
for with providence beyond words
you have conferred on them everlasting glory,
and on us, your unfailing help.
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.

22 September 2016

‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets . . .' Sunday Reflections, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Parable of Dives and Lazarus, Unknown Master, c.1420
Musée Cluny, Paris [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 said to the disciples: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.  The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 

“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—  for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’  Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’  He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Lazarus lives today in Aleppo, Syria

Missionaries of Charity [Wikipedia]

An Indian Missionary of Charity who was based in Hong Kong for some years told me of something that happened there shortly before Christmas 2009. Yang was what Sister called a ‘street-sleeper’, ie, someone living on the streets. Strictly speaking he wasn’t, as he had a little place where he lived with his mother. Both were Buddhists. Yang was in poor health and couldn’t get a job. He mixed mostly with those who were ‘street-sleepers’.

He first came across the Missionaries of Charity when they were distributing lunch-boxes to very poor people in the street. He began to come to their place regularly for a meal and made a point of coming to the annual Advent celebration when gifts would be distributed and a meal provided. Yang’s mother often wondered where he got his regular meals. ‘From Sister’ was his answer to her queries but she didn’t know who ‘Sister’ was.

Yang didn’t attend the Advent celebration in 2009 because he was in hospital but he asked his mother to go in his place. When she arrived the celebration was over but the Sisters had kept one meal in case someone would arrive late. So they gave it to her.

A day or two later, around 19 0r 20 December, Yang died. Some time after that his mother came to the Sisters to express her profound gratitude to them for their kindness and hospitality to her son and to herself.

Yang and his mother experienced the personal love of Jesus for them through the Missionaries of Charity who took care of the many Lazaruses outside their door. And Sister told me that food never ran out. It was constantly supplied by hotels and restaurants.

Syrian refugees and migrants, Slovenia, 2015 [Wikipedia]

Jesus gives a name to Lazarus but not to the rich man, though 'Dives', the Latin for 'rich', is often used as a name for him, such as in the ballad below. It is difficult to give a name to each person in a refugee camp where there may be tens of thousands, a sight we are all too familiar with. Yet people are extraordinarily generous when a calamity occurs, whether caused by nature or by man. And there are many who leave the comfort of their own home and homeland to take care of those in such places who have nothing.

Lazarus also lives today in Dublin, Ireland

Each person in a refugee camp has a name, a family, a history, hopes, God-given talents, an invitation to live with God for ever in heaven. And even in the relatively affluent West many are in need because of the economic situation. The Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin, for example, which initially helped individuals really down on their luck, as we say in Ireland, is now helping families that in the past didn't experience hardship. 

There is much to be done to bring the Gospel to change the lives of the many Lazaruses throughout the world - working for peace, working for justice at the level of legislation and so on. God calls some to serve Lazarus in this way. But while the slow work of peace-building and the rest goes on, Lazarus is outside our door each day in need of sustenance to help him survive till the following day.

'Dives' is the Latin word for 'rich'. Though Jesus gave a name only to the beggar in the parable, Lazarus, 'Dives' is often used as a name for the rich man. Above is an old English ballad based on the parable. Some of you may recognise the melody as the same one used for the Irish song The Star of the County Down. I found the lyrics of the song here but adjusted them in places. Ballads have variations'Divès' becomes 'Diverus' at times.

As it fell out upon a day,
Rich Divès made a feast,
And he invited all his friends,
And gentry of the best.

Then Lazarus laid him down and down
And down at Divès' door:
'Some meat, some drink, brother, Diverus,
To bestow upon the poor.'

'Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus,
Lie begging at my door;
No meat, no drink will I give to you,
Nor bestow upon the poor.'

Then Divès sent to his merry men,
To whip poor Lazarus away;
They had no power to strike one stroke,
But flung their whips away.

Then Lazarus laid him down and down
Even down at Divès' gate:
'Some meat, some drink, brother, Diverus,
For Jesus Christ’s sake."

"Thou art none of my brother, Lazarus,
Lies begging at my gate;
No meat, no drink will I give to you,
For Jesus Christ’s sake.'

Then Divès sent his hungry dogs,
To bite him as he lay;
They had no power to bite at all.
They licked his sores away.

As it fell out all on a day,
Poor Lazarus sickened and died;
There came an angel out of heaven,
His soul therein to guide.

'Rise up! rise up! brother Lazarus,
And go along with me;
For you've a place prepared in heaven,
To sit on an angel's knee.'

As it fell out all on a day,
Rich Divès sickened and died;
There came two serpents out of hell,
His soul therein to guide.

'Rise up! rise up! brother Diverus,
And go with us and see;
A dismal place prepared in hell
From which thou canst not flee.'

Then Divès looked up with his eyes
And saw poor Lazarus blest;
'Give me one drink, brother Lazarus,
To quench my flaming thirst.

'O, was I now but alive again
In the space of one half hour!
O, then my peace would be secure
The devil should have no power.'

15 September 2016

'Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.' Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, c.1685
Mauritshuis, The Hague [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 Luke 16:1-13 (or 10-13)  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)

[Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’  Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’  Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.]

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

Woman Sewing, Van Gogh, Oct-Nov 1881, Etten
Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Netherlands [Web Gallery of Art]

Three years ago while on vacation in Ireland I dropped by the house of Brian, a childhood friend in Dublin. Over coffee we chatted about many things, ranging from the current situation of the Church in Ireland to the days when we were growing up.

In the course of our conversation the small Jewish community in Dublin came up. It has never quite reached 4,000 in Ireland and the majority of the now fewer than 2,000 live in Dublin. I told Brian that my father, who spent all his working life as a carpenter on building/construction sites, most of those years as a highly respected general foreman, had built a house for a wealthy Jewish couple in the late 1950s. 

Our house was the one on the right, 44 Finn St, Dublin

Shortly after the house was finished a very expensive car stopped outside our house, in a street of terraced houses, exactly like those in the photo above, where nobody had a telephone and very few had cars. The driver knocked on our door and turned out to be the owner of the new house my father had built. He came to invite our family to dinner the following week in his new home. My father had helped build many new homes over the 54 years of his working life but this was the only occasion when he had been thanked in such a way.

We enjoyed the gracious hospitality of the family and it was the only time I ever visited a Jewish home in Ireland.

Brian then told me a story about his father Jimmy, whom I had known well, a house painter and decorator. He had painted and decorated the houses of many Jewish families in Dublin over the years. This was mainly due to an incident the first time he was asked to work in a Jewish home. While scraping the old paint from the stairs he found a diamond ring stuck in a corner. He immediately brought it to the owner and said 'I found this on the stairs'. 'I know', said the owner, 'I put it there!' 

The word spread through the Jewish community that Jimmy was trustworthy. Over the years he had many Jewish clients. 

Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.

Jewish Museum, Dublin [Wikipedia]

When I told the story of Jimmy and the diamond ring to my sister-in-law Gladys she told me that her engagement ring had been stolen while she and my brother Paddy were having renovations done to their home a few years ago.

I remember too how upset my father was when he was renovating a Georgian house in Dublin. He discovered that the knocker on the front door had disappeared and it could only have been one of his workmates who took it. He was unable to trace the knocker or find out who the thief was.

Whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

Georgian doors, Dublin [Wikipedia]

When I wrote these reflections three years ago the major story in the Philippines was the 'pork barrel scam'. PHP10 billion - roughly US$200,000,000 or €200,000,000 - of taxes paid by the people had disappeared. Some senators and members of Congress were alleged to have been beneficiaries of this along with others.

Today's gospel speaks to situations like this. Corruption on such a vast scale begins in the classroom when a child learns that though cheating isn't right the main thing is not to be caught. The man who stole my sister-in-law's engagement ring and my father's workmate who walked away with the valuable knocker from the front door of the Georgian house were earning salaries. What values were they passing on to their families?

One thing that both my parents instilled in me was that I must not keep anything that isn't mine. When I was a toddler I came home from a park up the road from where we lived at the time with a leather football. This was in the mid-1940s, around the time World War II ended when such things would have been very scarce and expensive. They asked around the neighbourhood and it was only when nobody claimed the ball that our family kept it.

Honesty and trustworthiness at such basic levels are  a foundation for justice. I've known of individuals 'working for justice' who weren't paying their own workers a proper wage. I've known many others such as my father, such as Jimmy, who didn't talk much about justice. They simply behaved in a just and honest manner and treated others with respect.

God invites every single one of us to share for ever in the riches of eternal life. Eternal life begins in the here and now. We make our choices in the here and now.

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Antiphona ad Communionem / Communion Antiphon (John 10:14)

Ego sum pastor bonus, dicit Dóminus;
et cognósco oves meas, et cognóscunt me meae.

I am the Good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.

Engagement and wedding rings [Wikipedia]

I mentioned two diamond rings above. I couldn't find a painting with a diamond ring but Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring is a work of such extraordinary beauty that I used it instead.