25 August 2017

'Following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church.' Sunday Reflections, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Apostle Peter in Prison, Rembrandt [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)

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Pope Benedict XVI
World Youth Day Madrid 2011 [Wikipedia]

The closing Mass of WYD Madrid 2011  was celebrated on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, 21 August, with the same readings we are using this weekend. Below is the Pope's homily, with emphases added. In his homily, though he is speaking to the young pilgrims in Madrid, Pope Benedict is speaking to us all, reminding us of two central things: 'Faith . . . leads to a closer and more intense relationship with Jesus' and 'We cannot follow Jesus on our own'.

Dear Young People,

In this celebration of the Eucharist we have reached the high point of this World Youth Day. Seeing you here, gathered in such great numbers from all parts of the world, fills my heart with joy. I think of the special love with which Jesus is looking upon you. Yes, the Lord loves you and calls you his friends (cf. Jn 15:15). He goes out to meet you and he wants to accompany you on your journey, to open the door to a life of fulfilment and to give you a share in his own closeness to the Father. For our part, we have come to know the immensity of his love and we want to respond generously to his love by sharing with others the joy we have received. Certainly, there are many people today who feel attracted by the figure of Christ and want to know him better. They realize that he is the answer to so many of our deepest concerns. But who is he really? How can someone who lived on this earth so long ago have anything in common with me today?

The Gospel we have just heard (cf. Mt 16:13-20) suggests two different ways of knowing Christ. The first is an impersonal knowledge, one based on current opinion. When Jesus asks: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, the disciples answer: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. In other words, Christ is seen as yet another religious figure, like those who came before him. Then Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responds with what is the first confession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Faith is more than just empirical or historical facts; it is an ability to grasp the mystery of Christ’s person in all its depth.

Yet faith is not the result of human effort, of human reasoning, but rather a gift of God: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”. Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life. Faith does not simply provide information about who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation. So Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?”, is ultimately a challenge to the disciples to make a personal decision in his regard. Faith in Christ and discipleship are strictly interconnected.

And, since faith involves following the Master, it must become constantly stronger, deeper and more mature, to the extent that it leads to a closer and more intense relationship with Jesus. Peter and the other disciples also had to grow in this way, until their encounter with the Risen Lord opened their eyes to the fullness of faith.

Benedict XVI with pilgrims, WYD 2011 [Wikipedia]

Dear young people, today Christ is asking you the same question which he asked the Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” Respond to him with generosity and courage, as befits young hearts like your own. Say to him: “Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God, who have given your life for me. I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your word. You know me and you love me. I place my trust in you and I put my whole life into your hands. I want you to be the power that strengthens me and the joy which never leaves me”.

Jesus’ responds to Peter’s confession by speaking of the Church: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”. What do these words mean? Jesus builds the Church on the rock of the faith of Peter, who confesses that Christ is God.

The Church, then, is not simply a human institution, like any other. Rather, she is closely joined to God. Christ himself speaks of her as “his” Church. Christ cannot be separated from the Church any more than the head can be separated from the body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12). The Church does not draw her life from herself, but from the Lord.

Dear young friends, as the Successor of Peter, let me urge you to strengthen this faith which has been handed down to us from the time of the Apostles. Make Christ, the Son of God, the centre of your life. But let me also remind you that following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church. We cannot follow Jesus on our own. Anyone who would be tempted to do so “on his own”, or to approach the life of faith with that kind of individualism so prevalent today, will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus.

Having faith means drawing support from the faith of your brothers and sisters, even as your own faith serves as a support for the faith of others. I ask you, dear friends, to love the Church which brought you to birth in the faith, which helped you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and which led you to discover the beauty of his love. Growing in friendship with Christ necessarily means recognizing the importance of joyful participation in the life of your parishes, communities and movements, as well as the celebration of Sunday Mass, frequent reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and the cultivation of personal prayer and meditation on God’s word.

Friendship with Jesus will also lead you to bear witness to the faith wherever you are, even when it meets with rejection or indifference. We cannot encounter Christ and not want to make him known to others. So do not keep Christ to yourselves! Share with others the joy of your faith. The world needs the witness of your faith, it surely needs God. I think that the presence here of so many young people, coming from all over the world, is a wonderful proof of the fruitfulness of Christ’s command to the Church: “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). You too have been given the extraordinary task of being disciples and missionaries of Christ in other lands and countries filled with young people who are looking for something greater and, because their heart tells them that more authentic values do exist, they do not let themselves be seduced by the empty promises of a lifestyle which has no room for God.

'Salve Regina' at WYD Madrid, 2011

Dear young people, I pray for you with heartfelt affection. I commend all of you to the Virgin Mary and I ask her to accompany you always by her maternal intercession and to teach you how to remain faithful to God’s word. I ask you to pray for the Pope, so that, as the Successor of Peter, he may always confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith. May all of us in the Church, pastors and faithful alike, draw closer to the Lord each day. May we grow in holiness of life and be effective witnesses to the truth that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the Saviour of all mankind and the living source of our hope. Amen.

Closing Mass, WYD Madrid, 2011
This video includes part of the homily above

Pope Francis in 2015 [Wikipedia]

Collect from Mass for the Pope

O God, who in your providential design 
willed that your Church be built 
upon blessed Peter, whom you set over the other Apostles, look with favour, we pray, on Francis our Pope 
and grant that he, whom you have made Peter's successor, may be for your people a visible source and foundation 
of unity in faith and of communion.
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 August 2017

Columban Fr David Padrnos RIP

Fr David Padrnos
7 September 1944 - 18 August 2017

The son of Joseph E. and Rosalie (Bueltel) Padrnos, Father Dave grew up in Holy Name Parish in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. He had two sisters, Teresa (who preceded him in death) and Sally, as well as a brother, Wayne.

Father Dave studied at Holy Name Grade School and Cathedral High School, Omaha, before going on to St Columban’s College and Seminary, Milton, Massachusetts, and St Columbans College and Seminary, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. He did his Spiritual Year at St. Columbans, Bristol, Rhode Island. His theology studies were at St John’s Seminary Brighton, Massachusetts, (while residing at St Columbans, Milton, MA.). He was ordained at St Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha, on 28 May 1971 by Archbishop Daniel Sheehan.

St Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha [Wikipedia]

The young priest arrived in Japan in September 1971 and resided at the central house in Roppongi, Tokyo, during the twenty-two month period in which he was engaged in full-time language studies.

From July 1973 to February 1980 Father Dave was assistant pastor at St Patrick’;s Catholic church in Toshima, Tokyo, while engaging also in studies for a master’s degree in Comparative Cultures at Sophia University in Tokyo.

From 1978 to 1979 he was editor of the Region of Japan Newsletter. From 1978 he also began serving as Regional Education Officer. In September 1980 he set up an Education Office in the central house in Tokyo, where he began working on various education projects. Among these were building a library of books on theology, spirituality, counseling, as well as on Japanese life and culture. He also worked alongside Fr Jose de Vera SJ of Sophia University and Fr Augustinus Takehiro Kunii CP  on a series of videos about the Eucharist.

St Teresa of the Child Jesus Church, Sawara

In February 1981 Fr Padrnos was appointed pastor of the Catholic Church in the city of Sawara in Chiba prefecture. However, he continued his work as Education Officer. In 1983 he combined these two responsibilities with that of supervisor for Columban seminarians who had come to Japan on an overseas training program (OTP), with membership of the editorial staff of the Japan Missionary Bulletin and working as an assistant to the Scheut Fathers (CICM) who were engaged in a recording project.

Back in the US, from September 1987 until May 1989, Father Dave did a master’s program in spiritual direction at Loyola University in Chicago. (In 1988 he was one of the moderators at the Chapter in Pusan, South Korea.) Then in 1989 he became the US Regional Coordinator for Retirement, working alongside the late Fr Ernest Sullivan. In that role he visited members of the Region to discuss with them their experience of aging as well as their retirement needs. From March 1990 he continued with these responsibilities, while assisting also with the Columban vocation apostolate.

Fujisawa [Wikipedia]

In August 1991 Fr Padrnos returned to Japan and was appointed assistant pastor of the Catholic church in Fujisawa city, Kanagawa prefecture. One year later he became the acting pastor of that community.

From 1993 to 1995 he was back in Chicago, studying at Chicago Theological Seminary where he obtained a Doctor of Ministry degree in pastoral psychotherapy. After graduation he returned to Japan where he was appointed pastor of St Joseph’s Catholic church in Goi city, Chiba prefecture. He served in that position from 1995 until 2003. He combined this role with that of supervisor for both Columban lay missionaries, as well as seminarians engaged in OTP.

St Joseph the Worker Church, Goi [Source]

Father Dave was appointed District Superior of Chiba prefecture in November 1998 and became the Vice Director of the Region of Japan in March 2000. He was a representative for the Region of Japan at the Columban General Assembly in Australia in 2000. In 2006, having completed six years as Vice Director of the Region of Japan, he was appointed Regional Director, and continued in this role until March 2012. From 2003 to 2011 he also served as pastor of the Catholic church in Kisarazu city, Chiba prefecture.

Facing various health challenges, Father Dave retired in 2012 and stayed at the central house in Tokyo. However, as his health declined further, in spring 2014 he was assigned to the US Region, and soon after became a resident at St Elizabeth Manor in Bristol, Rhode Island. There, both his physical and mental health continued to deteriorate, and in the early morning of Friday 18 August he entered into eternal life.

Bristol Harbor, Bristol, RI [Wikipedia]

A man of considerable intellectual ability, Father Dave was known for his dedication to learning in a wide variety of disciplines. In his ministry, he was committed not only to his Japanese parishioners, but also provided a warm welcome and pastoral support to migrants. Furthermore, he actively encouraged other priests, seminarians and lay missionaries to be more responsive to the various needs of migrants. During his final years hee bore his on-going debilitation with patient acceptance and was grateful for the concern and kindness of those who accompanied him ‘through the valley of the shadow of darkness’.

Father Dave’s final resting place is in his hometown of Omaha. May he find eternal light, peace and joy in the risen Lord.

浜辺の歌 Hamabe no Uta - Song of the Seashore

The text of the obituary was supplied by the US Region of the Missionary Society of St Columban. It has been slightly edited here.

17 August 2017

'Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.' Sunday Reflections, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The Canaanite Woman, 
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry [Wikipedia]

For Readings and Reflections for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A,  click on the following: 

Sunday Reflections for this Sunday three years ago links the situation of the Canaanite woman in the gospel with the situation of Christians in war-torn Iraq and Syria. The video above features the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, after it was liberated from ISIS last October.

The vast majority of Catholics in Iraq and Syria belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church and Syrian Catholic Church. There are more than twenty Eastern Catholic Churches, though the vast majority of Catholics worldwide are Roman (or Latin) Catholics. All are equally Catholic and all are in full communion with Rome. Archbishop Mouche (also spelled Moshe), belongs to the Syrian Catholic Church.

May we continue to pray for the Church in Iraq and Syria with the persistent faith of the Canaanite woman in today's gospel.

I invite all to pray that Iraq may find peace, unity, and prosperity in reconciliation and in harmony among its different ethnic and religious components. (Pope Francis, 29 March 2017).

16 August 2017

100th Death Anniversary of Fr William Doyle SJ

Fr William Doyle SJ
3 March 1873 - 16 August 1917

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Fr William Doyle SJ, an Irish Jesuit who served as chaplain to Irish regiments in the British Army during the Great War (1914-18) later to be known also as the First World War. 

There is a beautiful post today on Remembering Fr Willie Doyle SJ, the blog of Dr Patrick Kenny, a blog that nourishes one's Catholic Christian faith, with writings by or about Father Willie each day. There are three other posts on the same site today: here, here and here.

Here I simply copy and paste what I posted six years ago. Fr Doyle was killed in Belgium during the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele.

This account of Father Willie Doyle's death in Ypres/Ieper, Belgium, while serving as a chaplain in the British Army during The Great War is from Father William Doyle S.J. by Professor Alfred O'Rahilly and taken from the blog Remembering Father William Doyle SJ. Fr Doyle was from Dalkey, County Dublin.

Fr. Doyle had been engaged from early morning in the front line, cheering and consoling his men, and attending to the many wounded. Soon after 3 p.m. he made his way back to the Regimental Aid Post which was in charge of a Corporal Raitt, the doctor having gone back to the rear some hours before. Whilst here word came in that an officer of the Dublins had been badly hit, and was lying out in an exposed position. Fr. Doyle at once decided to go out to him, and left the Aid Post with his runner, Private Mclnespie, and a Lieutenant Grant. Some twenty minutes later, at about a quarter to four, Mclnespie staggered into the Aid Post and fell down in a state of collapse from shell shock. Corporal Raitt went to his assistance and after considerable difficulty managed to revive him. His first words on coming back to consciousness were: “Fr. Doyle has been killed!” Then bit by bit the whole story was told. Fr. Doyle had found the wounded officer lying far out in a shell crater. He crawled out to him, absolved and anointed him, and then, half dragging, half carrying the dying man, managed to get him within the line. Three officers came up at this moment, and Mclnespie was sent for some water. This he got and was handing it to Fr. Doyle when a shell burst in the midst of the group, killing Fr. Doyle and the three officers instantaneously, and hurling Mclnespie violently to the ground. Later in the day some of the Dublins when retiring came across the bodies of all four. Recognising Fr. Doyle, they placed him and a Private Meehan, whom they were carrying back dead, behind a portion of the Frezenberg Redoubt and covered the bodies with sods and stones.

On 14 August Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ carried a photo of his last letter to his father, written two days before his death. Read the full post here.

I first learned about Father Willie Doyle from Sister Stanislaus, the Irish Sister of Charity who was principal of the boys' kindergarten I attended in Stanhope St, Dublin. She also prepared us for First Holy Communion. I learned mor about him in my first year in St Columban's College, Dalgan Park, when I entered the seminary there in September 1961. Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ is a blog that is a work of love and a reminder to me of what a priest is called to be.

Prayer for Priests by Fr Doyle

O my God, pour out in abundance Thy spirit of sacrifice upon Thy priests. It is both their glory and their duty to become victims, to be burnt up for souls, to live without ordinary joys, to be often the objects of distrust, injustice, and persecution.

The words they say every day at the altar, 'This is my Body, this is my Blood,' grant them to apply to themselves: 'I am no longer myself, I am Jesus, Jesus crucified. I am, like the bread and wine, a substance no longer itself, but by consecration another.'

O my God, I burn with desire for the sanctification of Thy priests. I wish all the priestly hands which touch Thee were hands whose touch is gentle and pleasing to Thee, that all the mouths uttering such sublime words at the altar should never descend to speaking trivialities.

Let priests in all their person stay at the level of their lofty functions, let every man find them simple and great, like the Holy Eucharist, accessible to all yet above the rest of men. O my God, grant them to carry with them from the Mass of today, a thirst for the Mass of tomorrow, and grant them, ladened themselves with gifts, to share these abundantly with their fellow men. Amen.

12 August 2017

'This is the struggle of our life - to let Christ rule.' Sunday Reflections, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Salvation of Peter, Andrea da Firenze [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)

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Fr William Doyle SJ
3 March 1873 - 16 August 2017

Father William Doyle SJ, killed on 16 August 1917 in the Third Battle of Ypres, Belgium, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, wrote this commentary on today's Gospel.

About the fourth watch of the night he cometh to them

Christ did not show himself until the fourth watch of the night. How often is this same history repeated in our own case! There is no encouragement, no comfort. We are wearied waiting. There is no sign of approaching help. Why not give up! Surely we never bargained for this. We never believed things would come to such a pass! Oh, the anguish of these moments, when in the midst of struggle, depression and loneliness Christ withholds his sensible presence. 

Christ delays to come. But he is watching all the time; he would only test us. Let him not be disappointed. This is a moment of tremendous grace. If we are stout of heart and bear our trial manfully, we will emerge from the crucible with well-nigh herculean strength. These are moments that disentangle us from many of the trappings that weaken and weigh us down. After they have passed, invariably we find our vision clearer and our appreciation of the value of things truer.

Walking upon the sea

Thus does he come to us also walking upon the sea with these words upon his lips. 'Have a good heart, fear not. It is I.' And we whisper to ourselves, 'It is the Lord.' Yes, then we understand. Then everything goes easy and we wonder that we should ever have doubted. Then we are ashamed of our wavering. What a beautiful tribute to Christ our trust would have been. So we determine next time we will understand. We decide that when next the tide of our life runs high, when our heart-boat is lashed by a rugged sea, we will understand that Christ is near, watching us and we fight fearlessly and cheerfully. Thus, little by little, troubles and crosses will serve to clamp the trust in Christ that will steady our hearts and like St Peter will will cry out: 'Lord if it be thou, bid me come to thee across the waters.' O the joy of our hearts as the master says 'Come.' And we go. We really walk upon the sea. We do wonders until some tremendous sorrow-wave dashes up between us and Christ, and for a moment we lose heart and cry out 'Lord save me'.

Immediately he spoke with them

Immediately - that word is full of love - stretching forth his hand he takes hold of me. And when He has come into my heart-boat the wind ceased. But it is only after Christ has been given full control of our heart-boat that the winds cease. This is the struggle of our life - to let Christ rule.

So long as he must come over the waters to us there will be many a lonely struggle. But when through great generosity on our part we have emptied our lives of everything likely to raise a tempest in the heart, then Christ will sit at the helm and the waves may toss, the winds may roll and blow about the boat. We are calm. We have no cause to fear. Christ sits at the helm and rules.

The reflection above was taken from pages 182-184 of To Raise the Fallen, compiled and edited by Patrick Kenny and published by Veritas. The book launching took place on 10 August at Hodges Figgis, Dublin.

Soldiers Burying their Dead, Bissen [Web Gallery of Art]

Fr Doyle fulfilled one of his duties – and also one of the corporal works of mercy – by burying the dead. His own body was never recovered.

What Happened at the Battle of Passchendaele?


As the current stand-off between North Korea and the USA continues let us pray for a peaceful resolution to the situation.

O God, who show a father's care for all, 
grant, in your mercy, 
that the members of the human race, 
to whom you have given a single origin, 
may form in peace a single family 
and always be united by a fraternal spirit. 
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.

Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice (The Roman Missal).

04 August 2017

'I was able for once to offer the Holy Sacrifice on my knees.' Sunday Reflections, The Transfiguration, Year A

Transfiguration of Christ, Paolo Veronese [Web Gallery of Art]

As the Feast of the Transfiguration is a feast of the Lord  it is celebrated today instead of the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

Father Willie Doyle SJ, in a letter, writes about the Mass he celebrated on Monday 6 August 1917 in the trenches during the Third Battle of Ypres, Belgium, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele.
For once getting out of bed was an easy, in fact, delightful task, for I was stiff and sore from my night’s rest. My first task was to look round and see what were the possibilities for Mass. As all the dug-outs were occupied if not destroyed or flooded, I was delighted to discover a tiny ammunition store which I speedily converted into a chapel, building an altar with the boxes. The fact that it barely held myself did not signify as I had no server and had to be both priest and acolyte, and in a way I was not sorry I could not stand up, as I was able for once to offer the Holy Sacrifice on my knees.
It is strange that out here a desire I have long cherished should be gratified, viz. : to be able to celebrate alone, taking as much time as I wished without inconveniencing anyone. I read long ago in the Acts of the Martyrs of a captive priest, chained to the floor of the Coliseum, offering up the Mass on the altar of his own bare breast, but apart from that, Mass that morning must have been a strange one in the eyes of God's angels, and I trust not unacceptable to Him

British trench, Battle of the Somme, 1916
One keeping watch while the others sleep [Wikipedia]

It is clear that Fr Doyle, an Irish Jesuit who had volunteered to serve as a chaplain in the British army during the Great War (1914-1918) and who was assigned to Irish regiments - the whole of Ireland was then part of the United Kingdom - had a profound sense of the presence of God as he celebrated Mass in the tiniest of spaces in a trench unfit for human habitation. He had a deep sense of being graced by God with a deep inner silence despite the noise of shells being fired by both the German and British armies. It was, in a sense, a Transfiguration moment for him.

Peter, James and John got a brief glimpse of the divinity of Jesus Christ when he took them up the mountain. It was a grace for the present and for the future. This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him! It was a grace from God the Father that gave them the courage to preach the Gospel after Pentecost and, for Peter and James, to lay down their lives for the it.

Stretcher bearers, Passchendaele, August 1917 [Wikipedia]
Fr Willie Doyle was more than familiar with scenes such as that in the photo above. He spent much of his days and nights trying to reach wounded and dying soldiers, sometimes including Germans, in order to anoint and give them absolution, to speak a last word of comfort, to assure them that God was not absent from the hell that the First World War was. More than three million soldiers died and more than eight million were wounded in the fighting on the Western Front, of which the Battle of Passchendaele was part, between 1914 and 1918.

One of those who died was my great-uncle, Corporal Lawrence Dowd, an older half-brother of my maternal grandmother, Annie Dowd Collins. He was killed on the day that Father Doyle celebrated Mass in his trench and that he wrote about above, the feast of the Transfiguration, and in the same area. So this Sunday is the 100th anniversary of his death. I do not know if Uncle Larry and Father Willie ever met but my uncle must have known who this heroic priest was as he was known and loved by all the Irish soldiers, Catholic and Protestant, fighting in Flanders.

Fr William Doyle SJ (3 March 1874 - 16 August 1917)

Fr Doyle was killed ten days after my great-uncle. To Raise the Fallen, compiled and edited by Patrick Kenny  and very recently published by Veritas, describes what happened: The precise details surrounding Fr Doyle's death are unclear. But at some time in the late afternoon of 16 August 1917, a group of soldiers led by Lieutenants Marlow and Green got into trouble beyond the front line, and Fr Doyle ran to assist them. It seems that Fr Doyle and the two officers were about to take shelter when they were hit by a German shell and killed. His body was never recovered.

Mass in an Austrian military hospital, 1916 [Wikipedia]

Sir Percival Philips, a war correspondent, wrote in the Daily Express (London) in August 1917: The Orangemen (members of a Protestant organisation, mainly in what is now Northern Ireland) will not forget a certain Roman Catholic chaplain who lies in  a soldier's grave in that sinister plain beyond Ypres. He went forward and back over the battle field with bullets whining about him, seeking out the dying and kneeling in the mud beside them to give them absolution, walking with death with a smile on his face, watched by his men with reverence and a kind of awe until a shell burst near him and he was killed. His familiar figure was seen and welcomed by hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place. Each time he came back across the field he was begged to remain in comparative safety. Smilingly he shook his head and went again into the storm. He had been with his boys at Ginchy and through other times of stress, and he would not desert them in their agony. They remember him as a saint - they speak his name with tears. (To Raise the Fallen, page 187).

To the hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place - and to wounded and dying Germans he encountered - Fr Doyle's presence was something of a 'Transfiguration experience'. Through this brave Catholic priest they saw something of the divinity of a loving God, that loving God that he had experienced so many times in unexpected ways and places, the loving God whose presence he was so conscious of as he celebrated Mass on his knees in a muddy hole in a trench ten days before his death.

If we have eyes to see and ears to hear we can see flashes of God's divinity in the actions of those around us, sometimes in the midst of tragedy, of evil, sometimes in the midst of very ordinary events of daily life, sometimes in the midst of joyful circumstances. May God open our eyes and ears to those flashes of his divinity.

At the grave of my Great-uncle Lawrence Dowd in Potijze Chateau Cemetery, Ieper, Belgium, September 2001. Uncle Larry, my maternal grandmother's older half-brother, was killed on the Feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August 1917. I was the first relative to visit his grave, in September 2001.