27 January 2017

'Blessed are . . .' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Sermon on the Mountain, Károly Ferenczy [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.'

Isenheim Altarpiece (First View)Matthias Grünewald
[Web Gallery of Art]

Quicumque enim vult perfecte vivere, nihil aliud faciat nisi quod contemnat quae Christus in cruce contempsit, et appetat quae Christus appetiit. 

Whoever wishes to live perfectly need do nothing other than despise what Christ despised on the cross, and desire what Christ desired. (St ThomasAquinas).

In the video below Fr Robert Barron (now Bishop Barron, Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles) offers a reflection on the Beatitudes based on St Thomas Aquinas and the painting of the Crucifixion by Matthias Grünewald, part of the Isenheim Altarpiece (First View).

Fr Barron uses the word 'happy' rather than 'blessed'. The Jerusalem Bible uses 'happy' but the New Jerusalem Bible returned to the more widely used 'blessed'. However, Fr Barron explains elsewhereThe Greek term in Matthew’s Gospel is makarios, which is probably best rendered with the simple word 'happy'. The law that the new Moses offers is a pattern of life that promises, quite simply, to make us happy.

Fr Barron's words reflect those of St Paul: When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). 

They reflect the words of Jesus himself: for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me (John 6:38).

They reflect the words of Bishop Edward Galvin of Hanyang, China, Co-founder of the Missionary Society of St Columban to which I belong: We are not here to convert China but to do God's will. The Columbans were founded to preach the Gospel in China but experienced a real sharing in the Crucifixion of Jesus and were all expelled by the early 1950s, including Bishop Galvin himself. (Columbans are working again in China in very different circumstances).

The late Swiss theologian Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar writes  in his book Light of the World about today's gospel: What Jesus says here in programmatic fashion is no generalized morality that anyone could understand, rather, it is the pure expression of his most personal mission and destiny. He is the one who has become poor for our sake, who wept over Jerusalem. He is the nonviolent one against whom all the world's violence rages and is shattered. He is the one who hungers and thirsts for God's justice, who reveals and accomplishes God's compassion on earth. He has the pure heart that always sees the Father; he is, as Paul says, 'our peace' by virtue of having destroyed enmity with his crucified body (Ephesians 2:14-17). He is the one who is persecuted by the entire world because he has incarnated God's righteousness. In all of these he is the blessed one because he perfectly incarnates and mediates the salvation God intends for the world. He exults in this even in the midst of tribulation in the world (Luke 10:21) and he will eternally exult in this as the One who returns to the Father with his mission accomplished. He begins his ministry of proclamation with a self-portrait that invites his listeners to follow him.

God wants us to be our brother’s keeper. To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to instruct the ignorant, at a personal sacrifice, is what God wants us to do. What we give to the poor for Christ’s sake is what we carry with us when we die. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau says: 'When man dies he carries in his clutched hands only that which he has given away'. Peter Maurin.

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.

Les Béatitudes - The Beatitudes sung in French 

25 January 2017

Columban Fr Charles Flaherty RIP

Fr Charles Flaherty
(15 January 1926 - 20 January 2016) [Source]

Fr Charles B. Flaherty, son of Catherine Bowen Flaherty and James F.F. Flaherty, was born on 15 January 1926 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, USA.

Downtown Pawtucket across the Blackstone River [Wikipedia]

His grade school years were spent at St Joseph’s, Pawtucket, RI. Between 1940 and 1944 he went to high school at St Columban’s Minor Seminary, Silver Creek, NY, and in 1944-45 he did his Spiritual Year at St Columbans, Bristol, Rhode Island. From Bristol he transferred to St Columban’s Major Seminary, St Columbans, near Omaha, Nebraska, where between 1945 and 1951 he studied Philosophy and Theology. He was ordained on 23 December 1950 at St Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo, New York, by Bishop John F.  O’Hara.

St Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo [Wikipedia]

After his ordination, Father Charlie returned to St Columban’s Minor Seminary, Silver Creek, NY, this time as teacher, from 1951 to 1953, and then attended Catholic University of America, Washington DC, from 1953 to 1955 where he received an MA in Classics.

From 1955 to 1956 he served as Dean at St Columban’s College and Seminary, Milton, Massachusetts. There he also taught. In 1956 he became Rector of his old high school, St Columban’s Minor Seminary, Silver Creek, NY, and there, until 1962, he oversaw the greatest growth of the student body as well as the expansion and renovation of the seminary buildings. Through participation in the campus sports activities during those years he developed an excellent relationship with the student body.

During his time at Silver Creek Father Charlie was struck with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. It was thought that he would never walk again. However, thanks to his own determination and the help of medical personnel he regained his mobility during a six-month stay in hospital. Some of those medical personnel became life-long friends.

Whitby Harbour, Yorkshire, England [Wikipedia]

Because of his expertise in running a successful high school, Father Charlie was called upon in 1962 to head up a new project, this time in England: a high school for boys in the town of Whitby, Yorkshire. While awaiting the opening of the new school he spent a year teaching Greek and Latin at St Laurence College - the Benedictine college at Ampleforth, Yorkshire - where he got to know the Abbot, Basil Hume. They became fast friends during that year and on Hume’s invitation Father Charlie continued to teach the classics there, one day a week, commuting from Whitby from 1963 to 1967. Their friendship continued long afterward and in 1976, when Hume was made Archbishop of Westminster, London, Father Charlie received from him an invitation to attend his inauguration.

Statue of Basil Cardinal Hume OSB
Newcastle upon Tyne, England [Wikipedia]

Two unforeseen circumstances brought the Whitby project to an end in 1967: first, the mansion purchased for the school was a ‘listed’ building, that is, its external structure could not be legally altered - a revelation that was not made prior to purchase. Secondly, the school’s restricted grounds were completely surrounded by public school property. Therefore there was no possibility of expansion, and without expansion little hope of a future for the school.

So Father Charlie was next appointed to the Columban seminary in Turramurra, New South Wales, Australia, where he taught from 1967 to 1971.

From 1971 to 1974 he was the Education Director for the whole Columban Society. This was a particularly important role in the Society during in the post-Vatican II era. After those years of educational guidance he served from 1974 to 1976 as Rector of St Columban’s Major Seminary, Milton, MA, and following that he served as a member of the U.S. Regional Council from 1976 to 1983. Almost concurrently, he was Vice Rector of St Columban’s Theologate and Director of Spiritual Year at 40 Mt Vernon St Cambridge, MA (1977-83). In June of 1980 he received an MAS degree in Spirituality from the University of San Francisco, California.

After all those years in academe he got an appointment to Vocation work in June of 1983, and worked out of the Columban house in Quincy, MA, where he lived until 1989.

Centre Street, West Roxbury [Wikipedia]

Prior to his retirement in 2001, he served as parochial vicar at St John Chrysostom Parish, West Roxbury, MA. After retirement he did weekend ministry in the same parish, where the content and style of his preaching continued to be appreciated. He developed close friendships with many people in that parish.

While there he helped to provide space for celebrations during reunions of Columbans and former Columbans with their wives and families. At the July 2000 reunion the organizers made him the honoree since he was then celebrating his Golden Jubilee.

With his passing, his welcoming smile and cheerful disposition will be missed by many. May he rest in peace.

St Columban, Bristol, Rhode Island, USA

The obituary was written by Fr Timothy Mulroy, Columban Regional Director, USA, and is slightly edited.

21 January 2017

Columban Fr Michael Harrison RIP

Fr Michael Harrison
(21 March 1924 - 17 January 2017)

Michael Harrison was born on 21 March 1924 at Bunduff, Castlegal, County  Sligo, Ireland. He was educated at Castlegal National School and Summerhill College, Sligo. He came to St Columban’s, Navan, in 1942 and was ordained priest on 21 December 1948. 

Mullaghmore, County Sligo [Wikipedia]
This is near where Fr Harrison grew up

The following year he was appointed to graduate studies in the USA. He completed an MA in history at Fordham University, New York City, and followed this with training in journalism at the Denver Catholic Register.

In 1952 he was appointed to the Philippines as Far East correspondent of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, , the forerunner of today’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops a post he held until 1956. He was then called back to work in the Central Offices of the Columbans in Bellevue, just south of  Omaha, Nebraska, USA, and travelled through Korea and Japan on his way home. He spent the next fifteen years in charge of the Mission Office where he was credited with organising the mail operation to new levels of efficiency.

St Columbans, Belleview, Nebraska [Source]
He is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves shall never fade; and all that he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:3, Grail translation).

From 1972 to 1975 he was editor of the magazine of the Columbans in the USA, now known as Columban Mission. In the years that followed he served in the Columban houses in West Chester, near Philadelphia, in Quincy, near Boston, in Philadelphia and in Westminster, California.  In 1984 he was appointed secretary to the Columban Central Administration in Ireland for three years. 

St Columbans, Belleview, Nebraska [Source]
Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my  God (Psalm 42:1, Grail translation).

There followed appointments to Los Angeles and Omaha before being asked to serve as Superior of Collegio San Columbano in Rome in 1992. Health problems cut short this appointment and he was assigned instead to Bristol, Rhode Island, where he served as vice-superior and bursar. He left Bristol for Ireland in 2011, where, from his room  in St Columban's, Dalgan Park, he relied on modern technology to stay in touch with a wide circle of relatives and friends.

The variety of the tasks entrusted to Father Michael over the years are an indication of his many gifts, his discretion and his quiet competence. Congenial, wise and never judgemental, he was deeply appreciated by his colleagues and by the staff of the many houses in which he served. He transferred to the Dalgan Nursing Home at the end of 2015 and died suddenly there on 17 January 2017.

May he rest in peace.

Perhaps the best know person associated with Fr Harrison's native county is poet WB Yeats (1865-1939). And perhaps his best known poem is Lake Isle of Innisfree.

Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
Isle of Innisfree, Lough Gill, County Sligo [Wikipedia]

17 January 2017

'The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light . . .' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Neubrandenburg, Caspar David Friedrich [Web Gallery of Art]

The people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned (Matthew 4:16, NRSVCE).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.’
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
 [As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.]

Missa Brevis in G Major, Kyrie, Mozart
Lumen Choir, conducted by Jooyoung Kim
'Once upon a time', 5th Annual Concert (1 December 2012)
Moonjeong-dong Catholic Church, Seoul, South Korea

Last Sunday here in the Philippines was the the Feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child). The gospel was Matthew 18:1-5, 10 in which Jesus tells us Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I saw his words come to life at the end of Mass in Holy Family Home for Girls here in Bacolod City where I live.

In January 2014 four new girls came to the home. One, whom I'll call 'Josie', was aged 14 and profoundly deaf. Her main way of communicating was Sign Language. The Sisters, staff and some of the girls began to learn some Sign Language. The other three new girls included two aged ten and one aged six.

At the end of Mass I saw 'Josie' sitting and quietly crying. I wasn't quite sure why. One of the ten-year-old new girls, rather small for her age but very lively and whom I'll call 'Grace', went over to 'Josie' and put her arms around her to comfort her. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The majority of the girls in Holy Family Home have had horrific experiences, in most cases within their own family circle. They truly have sat in darkness.

['Josie' was able to go home last year. We discovered that she had some hearing and, with hearing aids, she has improved her speech and hearing considerably. The other three girls are still at Holy Family Home].

The Virgin and Child with St Martina and St Agnes, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

I will celebrate Mass again in Holy Family Home on Monday evening to mark the feast of St Agnes, 21 January. Each year in the Home we combine a celebration of St Agnes the Martyr (c.291 - c.304), patron saint of chastity, of young girls and of rape victims, and Blessed Laura Vicuña (1891 - 1904), a patron of abuse victims who offered her life for the conversion of her mother and whose feast day is 22 January. (We moved the celebration this year to 23 January for liturgical reasons). 

Each year I tell the girls that the life of Blessed Laura, whose father died when she was young, was so like their own and that she became a saint in the midst of and through her sufferings, especially the cruelty of her stepfather who wasn't married to her mother. Despite her young age she had the maturity, generosity and holiness to offer her life so that her mother would return to the Lord. She told this to her mother when she was dying. It was the physical abuse of her stepfather that led to her death. Laura's prayers were answered.

Blessed Laura Vicuña aged 10 [Wikipedia]

Laura understood the stark reality of the words of Jesus in today's gospel: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. She also understood the power of God's mercy. Repentance and God's mercy are central to the preaching and teaching of Pope Francis. Since Blessed Laura, born in Santiago, Chile, and died in Argentina he must be familiar with her life that embodied what he has spoken about so many times.

Holy Family Home exists because of the sins of adults against girls, some only small children. It is a place where most of the girls have sat in the region and shadow of death. I have brought many visitors there and the one word they nearly all have used to sum up their experience is 'joy', a joy they find among the girls and among the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family and the staff. Those who live there are a testimony to the truth of the words of Isaiah that we listen to in the First Reading and the Gospel this Sunday and that we listened to at the Mass During the Night at Christmas: 

The people who sat in darkness    
   have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death   
   light has dawned.


Call of the Sons of Zebedee, Marco Basaiti [Web Gallery of Art]

The second part of today's gospel tells us of the call of the first disciples who were later called to be apostles, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. Though Immediately they left their nets . . . Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him we know from the gospels that they continued to fish from time to time and to encounter stormy weather.

Here in the Philippines most fishermen are poor and go to sea in very small boats. In some countries larger boats go far from land and often encounter very dangerous weather. And a very large percentage of international seafarers - the largest group, I think - are Filipinos.

In Britain and Ireland the members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) mostly volunteers, and their counterparts throughout the world, often put their lives in danger to save those in danger at sea. Irish Lifeboats covers both the RLNI in Ireland and Community Rescue Boats Ireland (CRBI). Last September Caitriona Lucas (41) a volunteer in the Irish Coast Guard and mother of two, died during a search-and-recovery operation off the west coast.

Irish musician and songwriter Phil Coulter, who lost a brother in a drowning accident, wrote a wonderful song about those who risk their lives at sea to save the lives of others, Home from the Sea. Here is a video of the song with Phil Coulter's musicians, a choir of members of the RNLI and the late Irish singer Liam Clancy, than whom there was no one better to put across a ballad.

In our prayers today let us remember our fishermen, our seafarers and those involved in rescue work at sea. Let us remember too the members of a number of European navies who have saved countless refugees in the last couple of years travelling in unsafe boats from north Africa to southern Europe. Tragically, many refugees never made it.

On a cold winter's night, with the storm at it's height,
A lifeboat answers a call.
They pitched and they tossed, 'till we thought they were lost,
As we watched from the harbour wall.
'Tho the night was pitch black, there was no turning back,
For someone was waiting out there,
And each volunteer had to live with his fear
As we joined in a silent prayer.

Home, home, home from the sea,
Angels of mercy, answer our plea.
And carry us home, home, home from the sea,
Carry us safely home, from the sea.
As they battled their way past the mouth of the bay
It was blowing like never before.
As they gallantly fought everyone of them thought
Of loved ones back on the shore.
Then a flicker of light and they knew they were right.
There she was on the crest of a wave.
She's an old fishing boat and she's barely afloat.
Please God, there are souls we can save.

And back in the town, on a street that runs down
To the sea and the harbour wall.
They had gathered in pairs at the foot of the stairs,
To wait for a radio call.
Then just before dawn, when all hope was gone,
Came a hush, and a faraway sound.
'Twas the coxswain, he roared, 'All survivors on board,
Thank God, and we're homeward bound'.



Then just before dawn, when all hope was gone,
Came a hush, and a faraway sound.
'Twas the coxswain, he roared, 'All survivors on board,
Thank God, and we're homeward bound'.

The people who sat in darkness    
   have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death   
   light has dawned.