31 January 2018

'They brought to him all who were sick.' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Christ Raises the Daughter of Jairus
Friedrich Overbeck [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)

As soon as they left the synagogue, Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Pope Benedict with children [Source]

This week I will simply copy Pope Benedict's words on today's gospel during his Angelus talk on this same Sunday in 2012. I will highlight what particularly strikes me. 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday’s Gospel presents to us Jesus who heals the sick: first Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who was in bed with a fever and Jesus, taking her by the hand, healed her and helped her to her feet; then all the sick in Capernaum, tried in body, mind and spirit, and he “healed many… and cast out many demons” (Mk 1:34). The four Evangelists agree in testifying that this liberation from illness and infirmity of every kind was — together with preaching — Jesus’ main activity in his public ministry.

Illness is in fact a sign of the action of Evil in the world and in people, whereas healing shows that the Kingdom of God, God himself, is at hand. Jesus Christ came to defeat Evil at the root and instances of healing are an anticipation of his triumph, obtained with his death and Resurrection.

Jesus said one day: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mk 2:17). On that occasion he was referring to sinners, whom he came to call and to save. It is nonetheless true that illness is a typically human condition in which we feel strongly that we are not self-sufficient but need others. In this regard we might say paradoxically that illness can be a salutary moment in which to experience the attention of others and to pay attention to others!

However illness is also always a trial that can even become long and difficult. When healing does not happen and suffering is prolonged, we can be as it were overwhelmed, isolated, and then our life is depressed and dehumanized. How should we react to this attack of Evil? With the appropriate treatment, certainly — medicine in these decades has taken giant strides and we are grateful for it — but the Word of God teaches us that there is a crucial basic attitude with which to face illness and it is that of faith in God, in his goodness. Jesus always repeats this to the people he heals: your faith has made you well (cf. Mk 5:34, 36).

Even in the face of death, faith can make possible what is humanly impossible. But faith in what? In the love of God. This is the real answer which radically defeats Evil. Just as Jesus confronted the Evil One with the power of the love that came to him from the Father, so we too can confront and live through the trial of illness, keeping our heart immersed in God’s love.

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano [Source]
(29 October 1971 - 7 October 1990)

We all know people who were able to bear terrible suffering because God gave them profound serenity. I am thinking of the recent example of Blessed Chiara Badano, cut off in the flower of her youth by a disease from which there was no escape: all those who went to visit her received light and confidence from her! Nonetheless, in sickness we all need human warmth: to comfort a sick person what counts more than words is serene and sincere closeness.

Dear friends, next Saturday, 11 February, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, is the World Day of the Sick. Let us too do as people did in Jesus’ day: let us present to him spiritually all the sick, confident that he wants to and can heal them. And let us invoke the intercession of Our Lady, especially for the situations of greater suffering and neglect. Mary, Health of the Sick, pray for us!

Next Sunday, 11 February, is this year's World Day of the Sick.

Blessed Chiara [Source]

On a pastoral visit to Palermo, Italy, on 3 October 2010 Pope Benedict had this to say about Blessed Chiara [emphases added]: I do not want to start with a discussion but with a testimonial, a true and very timely life story. I believe you know that last Saturday, 25 September, a young Italian girl, called Chiara, Chiara Badano, was declared Blessed in Rome. I invite you to become acquainted with her. Her life was a short one but it is a wonderful message. Chiara was born in 1971 and died in 1990 from an incurable disease. Nineteen years full of life, love and faith. Her last two years were also full of pain, yet always of love and light, a light that shone around her, that came from within: from her heart filled with God! How was this possible? How could a 17 or 18-year-old girl live her suffering in this way, humanly without hope, spreading love, serenity, peace and faith? This was obviously a grace of God, but this grace was prepared and accompanied by human collaboration as well: the collaboration of Chiara herself, of course, but also of her parents and friends.

You may read more about Blessed Chiara Luce Badano in The Saint Who Failed Math by Richelle Verdeprado  published in the September-October 2010 issue of MISYONonline.com, the magazine of the Columbans in the Philippines of which I used to be editor. 

The whole of Pope Benedict's address to the young people and families of Sicily is well worth reading and reflecting on in the context of this year's World Meeting of Families in Ireland in August.

27 January 2018

'He taught them as one having authority.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

4th-century synagogue, Capernaum [Wikipedia]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

O'Connell School's crest and motto
('Ciall agus Neart' is Irish for 'Sense and Strength')

For the last two years of my secondary education in O'Connell School, Dublin, the A and B sections had the same set of teachers. Heading that group was a member of the Irish Christian Brothers, now often known as Edmund Rice Brothers after their founder, Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, Brother Mícheál S. Ó Flaitile whom we called 'Pancho' after a character in a cartoon strip, The Cisco Kid, in the now defunct Irish Press.

'Pancho' used to take the A and B sections together for Religions, the last class in the morning. He was in his late 50s at the time while we were progressing from 16 to 18 over the course of those two years.

One day I learned a lesson for life from 'Pancho'. He apologised for having accused a student in the B section the previous day of having done something or other wrong. I don't recall the particular 'misdemeanour'. Whatever it was, it was trivial. But Brother Ó Flaitile had discovered that the student had not done what he had accused him of. Next day at the beginning of class he told us he was sorry and that the student whom he had accused had not done anything wrong. The apology was a genuine one, not of the 'If I have hurt anyone . . .' variety. He acknowledged that he had misjudged a student and that he had been wrong to do so.

Years later I mentioned this incident to Brother Ó Flaitile while on  a home visit from the Philippines. He said he didn't remember it - but he smiled.

I've always been struck in today's gospel by what St Mark highlights twice: They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes and ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority!' 

All of us had the deepest respect for 'Pancho', though we sometimes played tricks on him. And I think that we recognised his sanctity, though I don't recall any of us using that word at the time. My own respect for him went even deeper that day when he apologised to us - more than 60 teenagers who were 40 years or so younger than he was.

For me Brother Ó Flaitile taught us as one having authority, the authority of his integrity, the authority of his faith in Jesus Christ, with the authority of Jesus himself who is the way, and the truth, and the life.

Christ with a Staff, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

A Christian's inner authority does not come from being 'faultless'. It comes from being rooted in Christ. The saintly Fr Willie Doyle SJ, killed in the Great War in 1917 while trying to rescue a wounded soldier, wrote to someone who had sought his advice: I am convinced from a pretty big experience that perfection, that is sanctity, is only to be won by repeated failures. If you rise again after a fall, sorry for the pain given to our Lord, humbled by it since you see better your real weakness, and determined to make another start, far more is gained than if you had gone on without a stumble.

I have no doubt that Brother Ó Flaitile grew in sanctity when he acknowledged his mistake and when he apologised to us. His words that day were for me those of one having authority and they still speak to me with the authority of Jesus himself nearly 60 years later.

Responsorial Psalm (New American Bible Lectionary)

24 January 2018

Columban Fr Donal O'Farrell RIP

Fr Donal Gerard Patrick O’Farrell
(29 October 1928 - 22 January 2018)

Father Donal was born in Limerick on 29 October 1928 when the family lived in Dungarvan, County Waterford, Ireland. He was educated at Presentation Convent, Lismore, Christian Brothers' School, Lismore and St Joseph’s College, Ballinasloe, County Galway. He entered St Columban's College, Dalgan Park, in 1946 and was ordained priest there on 21 December 1953.

St Senan's, Cahiracon, County Clare

Father Donal suffered from tuberculosis, and while being treated for it he spent the first years after ordination in Ireland doing temporary pastoral work in Ardee, County Louth, in Clonfert, County Galway, and later serving for a four- year period as chaplain to the Columban Sisters at St Senan's, Cahiracon.

In 1965, he was appointed to the United States and served in New Jersey, and then Philadelphia, before being transferred to Los Angeles where he served as bursar, superior, and in every other role over a twenty-year period.

St Columbans, Bellevue, Nebraska, USA

In 1989 he was transferred to St Columban's, Omaha, Nebraska where he spent the following five years. In 1995 he asked for an appointment to Jamaica where he served as a gracious host in the Columban central house. However this appointment did not last very long as Central Administration soon began preparations for closing the Jamaica mission for lack of personnel.

Father Donal returned once again to Omaha where he would spend the next ten years doing as much as his fragile state of health permitted. Finally in 2010 he returned to the Dalgan Retirement Home where he was  a gentle, undemanding presence until his death.

St Columbans, Nebraska

Over the years there have always been individual Columbans who, because of ill health or because of their outstanding talents in promotion or office management, never got much of a chance to serve on overseas mission. The work they did was essential for the success of the whole Columban mission venture. The best of them, and that included Father Donal, accepted their roles wholeheartedly without complaint or bitterness. His was a quiet, gentle, affirming presence in every appointment right to the end.

May he rest in peace.

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park

Father Donal had his chair specially positioned near the window to give him a full view of the garden and various shrubs outside his room in St Columban's Retirement Home, Dalgan Park.

Flowering Garden, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

23 January 2018

Columban Fr Matthew Reilly RIP

Fr Matthew Reilly
5 April 1934 - 17 January 2018

Fr Matthew ('Mattie') Reilly was born in Bellair, Moynalty, County Meath, Ireland, on 5 April 1934. Educated at Moynalty National School and St Finian's College, Mullingar, he entered St Columban's, Dalgan Park, in September 1952 and was ordained priest there on 21 December 1958. He was a younger brother of the late Columban Fr Patrick Reilly who died in 1998.

Moynalty [Wikipedia]

Father Mattie's first appointment, in 1959, was to Korea where he was to spend twelve years. After language studies he worked in the Kwangju area, spent some time as secretary to the Papal Nuncio, completed a course in catechetics atthe East Asian Pastoral Institute, Quezon City, Philippines, and served as pastor of Youngsanpo, Gwangju, before doing pastoral work in Seoul.

Gwangju at sunset [Wikipedia]

From 1972 to 1978 Father Mattie did pastoral work in the Diocese of Meath, serving as chaplain to Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, and as spiritual director to various praesidia of the Legion of Mary and to the Society of St Vincent de Paul. 

St Bede's, Widnes [Wikipedia]

From 1978 to 1984 he served at St Bede's, Widnes, then a Columban parish, in the Archdiocese of Liverpool, England, where he is still fondly remembered.

Old chapel, St Columban's, Solihull

After a brief period in office work at the Columban house, Solihull, near Birmingham, he was involved as pastor and counsellor to alcohol and drug addicts in Clouds House, East Knoyle, Wiltshire, now part of Action on Addiction. He returned to Solihull in 1986 and served there as office manager until 1992. During that time he was responsible for extending the offices.

Father Mattie returned to Ireland in 1992 and did pastoral work in the Diocese of Meath along with being a part-time chaplain in the Mater Hospital in Dublin. From 1995 to 2003 he was chaplain to St Francis Private Hospital, Mullingar. Because of his own many illnesses he got great fulfillment from chaplaincy work and the care of the sick. As his health deteriorated he could do less work but he loved to help in parishes in the Diocese of Meath whenever he could.

Vase with Cornflowers and Poppies, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

During his years in St Columban's Nursing Home, Dalgan Park, Father Mattie developed the cultivation of flowers as a hobby.He created magnificent seasonal displays of flowers in the corridors, chapels and out of doors especially for Cemetery Sunday, Jubilee Days, Easter and Christmas.

Fr Cyril Lovett

This hymn was sung after Communion during Father Mattie's funeral Mass, at his request. The words are based on a Latin antiphon sung at Requiem Masses as the body is being taken out of the church: 

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; 
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, 
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. 
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, 
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem..

Solas na bhFlaitheas ar a anam dílis
The Light of Heaven on his faithful soul.

According to family members, the song The Old Bog Road was a favourite of Father Mattie and he would sing it on occasion.

19 January 2018

'Repent . . . and follow me.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Calling of Peter and Andrew
Duccio di Buoninsegna [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 after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Speaking in Rome to members of ecclesial movements on the evening of Saturday 17 May 2013, the Vigil of Pentecost, Pope Francis told this story:

One day in particular, though, was very important to me: 21 September 1953. I was almost 17. It was 'Students’ Day', for us the first day of spring — for you the first day of autumn. Before going to the celebration I passed through the parish I normally attended, I found a priest that I did not know and I felt the need to go to confession. For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened, I can’t remember, I do not know why that particular priest was there whom I did not know, or why I felt this desire to confess, but the truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. I was convinced that I should become a priest.

What is striking is that the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio experienced God's call to the priesthood unexpectedly and within the context of confession. In today's Gospel the call of Simon and Peter, of James and John to follow Jesus is within the context of a call to conversion: repent, and believe in the good news

In the First Reading God sends a very reluctant Jonah to Nineveh to call the people there to repentance. And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

An old photo of Portobello Bridge, Dublin [Wikipedia]

Last Monday on  Nationwide on RTÉ, Ireland's national radio and TV service, a young Irish Dominican friar, Fr David Barron OP, told how he remembered the very moment when he decided to give up his job in banking, in which he was very happy, to become a Dominican priest: One evening, coming on the bus from Trinity (Dublin University) into Rathmines, coming over Portobello Bridge, I still remember, I finally gave in and said, 'I'll give it a go' [11:17 - 11:29 in the video].

The Prophet Jonah Before the Walls of Jericho
Rembrandt [Wikipedia Commons]

The First Reading, from the Book of Jonah, shows the people of Nineveh, from the King down, believing the reluctant prophet and then fasting and repenting.

In the Gospel Jesus preaches, Repent, and believe in the good news. It is in the context of that proclamation to the people in Galilee that Jesus invites Simon and Andrew, James and John, to follow him. Each of the four could make the words of Pope Francis their own: For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened . . . I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. That call was to lead the four of them to leave everything to follow him, a decision that was to bring three of them to martyrdom. The young Jorge Mario Bergoglio could not have had the slightest idea that listening to God's call would lead him to Rome.

About 16 years ago I did a mission appeal in a parish in England where the then recently appointed parish priest had inherited a filthy rectory/presbytery/convento from his predecessor. He had managed by then to clean up only his own bedroom. He could not invite me to stay at his place because the guest room was filthy and so had me put up by a neighbouring parish priest.

The people of Nineveh cleaned up the 'room' of their inner heart by turning away from sin and allowed the word of God to enter. The Gospel suggests that the two sets of fishermen-brothers had done the same and were able to hear and respond to the call of Jesus there and then.

May we do likewise, with God's grace, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation / penance / confession.

Jesus calls each of us through baptism into an intimate, personal relationship with him. He eventually reveals to us, within that relationship, the specific vocation to which he invites us - to marriage, to the priesthood, to religious life, to remaining single. We can only hear that specific invitation from Jesus if we constantly repent of our sins and accept his loving forgiveness and mercy.

Responsorial Psalm
New American Bible Lectionary (Philippines, USA)

10 January 2018

'Jesus said to them,"Come and see".' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

From The Gospel of John, directed by Philip Saville

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed. He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

St Andrew the Apostle, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

God calls each of us to our particular vocation in life in a unique way. Pope Francis has told us, for example, that it was on the occasion of going to confession when he was 17 that he saw clearly that God was calling him to be a priest. A couple at whose wedding I officiated some years ago were members of the same Catholic organisation in the university they attended. They became an 'item', as they say in the Philippines, when they were the only members of the group to turn up at the appointed time for an outing. While waiting for the others to arrive they discovered that they were more than just casual friends. Now they are happily married with four children.

I'm always amused by the Second Reading from the Office of Readings for the feast of St Anthony the Abbot, 17 January. St Athanasius tells us: He went into the church. It happened that the gospel was then being read, and he heard what the Lord had said to the rich man 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'

The young man Anthony, whose parents had died about six months previously, took these words to heart and went to live in the desert. He became, without planning it, the 'Father of Monasticism' in the Church. And perhaps if he had not been late for Mass that day the Gospel might not have struck him as it did. He was to be 'later' than most in another sense in that he was 105 when he died, a remarkable age to live to now but even more remarkable in the fourth century! Unlike the married couple above whose punctuality led them to discover God's call for them, it was through being late for Mass that Anthony discovered what God had in mind for him.

Raphaël Simi, Jean Vanier and Philippe Seux, 2014

In 1964 Jean Vanier invited two men with learning disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, who had been living in institutions, to live with him in a small cottage that he bought and renovated in France. Having done so he realized that he had made a commitment to these two men and that his commitment involved remaining single. He had no intention of founding a movement but, in God's plan, that's what came about: L'Arche. Raphaëand Philippe are now considered, with Jean, co-founders of L'Arche.

Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar, a great Swiss theologian much admired by St John Paul II, in reflecting on today's Gospel from the First Chapter of St John, links it to an incident in the last chapter, John 21: 15 ff [starting at 0:55 in the video below].

Fr von Balthasar writes: In the last chapter of the book Peter will be the foundation stone to such a degree that he will also have to undergird ecclesial love: 'Simon, do you love me more than these?'

John 21:15-17 was the gospel read at the Pope's Mass in Manila Cathedral on 16 January 2015 with priests, religious, consecrated persons and seminarians. This passage shows what is at the heart of every call from God, whether to marriage, to the priesthood, to the consecrated life, to the single life. The call is above all to an intimate relationship with Jesus. Pope Francis highlighted this in his homilyFor us priests and consecrated persons, conversion to the newness of the Gospel entails a daily encounter with the Lord in prayer. The saints teach us that this is the source of all apostolic zeal! For religious, living the newness of the Gospel also means finding ever anew in community life and community apostolates the incentive for an ever closer union with the Lord in perfect charity. For all of us, it means living lives that reflect the poverty of Christ, whose entire life was focused on doing the will of the Father and serving others.

Pope Francis also said, The poor are at the centre of the Gospel, are at heart of the Gospel; if we take away the poor from the Gospel we can’t understand the whole message of Jesus Christ.

Living the Gospel within the context of a deep personal relationship with Jesus the Risen Lord involves seeing reality through the eyes of those with little in life. Pope Francis showed this in a beautiful way by an unplanned - at least it wasn't on the official schedule - to a group of very poor children at TNK in Manila, near the Cathedral. ('Tulay ng Kabataan' means 'A Bridge to Children').