28 February 2018

'I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple 
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)

Gospel John 2:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

The readings for Year A may be used instead of those above.

Bus Éireann buses [Wikipedia]

Last Sunday afternoon I took the Bus Éireann bus from Dublin Airport to St Columban's, Dalgan Park, where I'm living, a journey of about one hour and twenty minutes. As I was getting off I told the driver that I love travelling by bus because I see so many acts of kindness and humanity and that he himself was a good example of that. Almost everyone in Ireland says 'Thank you' to the driver as they get off, an act of kindness and gratitude, but I could see that the driver I spoke to was surprised and delighted at my compliment.

One of his acts of thoughtfulness and kindness was at Dunshaughlin, a small town near our place. Nobody was waiting at the stop there and nobody on the bus had rung the bell to indicate that they wished to get off there. However, when we had to stop at the traffic lights about 100 metres ahead two young men approached the driver and sheepishly told him that they had missed the stop and asked him if he could let them off there. 'I think we can manage that', he said, and opened the door.

It was a simple act of kindness and the driver wasn't causing any danger to anyone or holding up traffic. But he could easily have said to the young men that he would let them off at the next stop about 400 metres away. After all, it was their mistake, not his. 

However, he was a man with a sense of service, with a sense of humour and with a sense of decency. In Ashbourne, another town we passed through, when an elderly man got on the driver had a brief chat with him making the man feel that he was a 'fellow pilgrim on the journey through life', as it were, not just an anonymous passenger travelling to Navan.

Over my years in the Philippines I heard far too many stories of officials who make it extremely difficult for members of the public, especially poorer ones, and who use delaying tactics unless something is passed across the counter. Sometimes it may be that an official is over-strict or just officious. Today's media in Ireland and Britain (27 February) carry a story about a five-year-old girl who was turned away at a doctor's office in Britain, despite it being an emergency, because she was late. The girl died later in hospital.

In today's Gospel Jesus uses physical force to show his utter disgust at the Temple being used as a market. He knew that some of these people took advantage of those who were poor. There are such persons in every community, some who are corrupt, some who are over-officious, with a sense of power.

Jesus was emphasising the sacredness of the Temple, the only place where Jews offered sacrifices to God. 

But the First Reading links worship with daily life. It gives us the Ten Commandments, which spell out how our relationship with God and our relationship with those around us are intertwined. When the connection is not made evil follows, as the death of Floribert Bwana Chui in the video above shows.

I knew of a provincial engineer in the Philippines who was never promoted. The reason? He used all the money allotted to build an excellent road about 50 years ago between two towns, by far the best at the time in his own and in the neighbouring provinces. No 'brown envelopes'. No kickbacks. Every centavo allotted went into the road. Many of my fellow Columban priests knew this man and told me of his deep faith and integrity.

When we truly worship God at Mass and on other occasions in the church or other designated sacred places, we come to see that every place, every situation, is meant to be sacred also. My mother more than once in scolding me said, House devil, street angel! In effect she was calling me to integrity, the kind of integrity I saw, for example, in my father's life.

St Paul, so to speak, nails the life of the follower of Jesus to the Cross in today's Second ReadingWe proclaim Christ crucified. The sacrifices offered in the Temple foreshadowed the Sacrifice of Jesus in which all of us share each time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God calls some, after strengthening their faith especially through the Eucharist and his Word, to share literally in the Sacrifice of Jesus. Floribert Bwana Chui was one of those. 

Pope Francis has spoken frequently about the martyrs of our time. On 6 February 2015, the feast day of the Martyrs of Japan, he saidI think of our martyrs, the martyrs of our times, men, women, children who are being persecuted, hated, driven out of their homes, tortured, massacred.  And this is not a thing of the past: this is happening right now. It would do us good to think of our martyrs. Today, we remember Paolo Miki, but that happened in 1600. Think of our present-day ones! Of 2015.

We can see clearly the martyrdom of someone killed simply for being a Christian. There have been many such martyrs in recent years in the Middle East, in parts of Africa and Latin America. What we don't see so clearly, perhaps, is that a person who is killed for refusing to give a bribe, for refusing to tell a lie, for refusing to cooperate in crime, for demanding and working for justice, is also a martyr. There are many such persons such as Floribert Bwana Chui. 

Clement Shahbaz Bhatti [Wikipedia]
(9 September 1968 - 2 March 2011)

Another such is Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani politician assassinated on 2 March 2011. I wrote about him last week but on the occasion of his death anniversary I wish to highlight his life and death again because he saw his life as a politician as his vocation in following Christ, a vocation he discovered on a Good Friday when he was 13:

My name is Shahbaz Bhatti. I was born into a Catholic family. My father, a retired teacher, and my mother, a housewife, raised me according to Christian values and the teachings of the Bible, which influenced my childhood. Since I was a child, I was accustomed to going to church and finding profound inspiration in the teachings, the sacrifice, and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was his love that led me to offer my service to the Church.

The frightening conditions into which the Christians of Pakistan had fallen disturbed me. I remember one Good Friday when I was just thirteen years old: I heard a homily on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to his love by giving love to my brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially of the poor, the needy, and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country.
I have been asked to put an end to my battle, but I have always refused, even at the risk of my own life. My response has always been the same. I do not want popularity, I do not want positions of power. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.
Floribert Bwan Chui, whom I learned about three years ago, and Shahbaz Bhatti, whom I have written about many times, understood how the Temple and the 'Marketplace' - the latter in its proper 'location' - are related in terms of following Jesus. And they both embodied fully the vision of Vatican II for the lay person:
For man, created to God's image, received a mandate to subject to himself the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness; a mandate to relate himself and the totality of things to Him Who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and Creator of all. Thus, by the subjection of all things to man, the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth.
This mandate concerns the whole of everyday activity as well. For while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society. They can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the Creator's work, consulting the advantages of their brother men, and are contributing by their personal industry to the realization in history of the divine plan (Gaudium et Spes, 34).

The poem in the video above, with the text below, is in the edition of The Divine Office (The Breviary) used in Australia, England & Wales and Ireland.

Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

Is this a fast,—to keep
    The larder lean,      
        And clean     
From fat of veals and sheep?    

Is it to quit the dish              
    Of flesh, yet still      
        To fill     
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,    
    Or ragg’d to go,               
        Or show
A downcast look, and sour?     

No! ’t is a fast to dole  
    Thy sheaf of wheat,
        And meat,              
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,       
    From old debate      
        And hate,—  
To circumcise thy life.         

To show a heart grief-rent;      
    To starve thy sin,    
        Not bin,—     
And that ’s to keep thy Lent.     

21 February 2018

'I just want a place at the feet of Jesus.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Transfiguration, Blessed Fra Angelico [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 Mark 9:2-10 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

Assumpsit Iesus Petrum
Sebastián de Vivanco (Ávila, 1551 - Salamanca, 1622)
Música Reservata de Barcelona directed by Bruno Turner

Assumpsit Iesus Petrum, et Iacobum et Ioannem fratrem eius, et duxit eos in montem excelsum seorsum, et transfiguratus est ante eos.

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.

Et ecce vox de nube dicens: His est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi bene complauci, ipsum audite.

And from the cloud there came a voice, ‘Thisis my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ (Mark 10: 2,7).

Clement Shahbaz Bhatti [Wikipedia]
(9 September 1968 - 2 March 2011)

In today's first reading God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son 'on a height that I will point out to you'. We can only imagine the heartbreak of Abraham being asked by God to give offer his only son by Sarah his wife, born when both of them were very old. But God wasn't looking for the life of Isaac but for Abraham to submit himself to God's will, no matter the consequences. Abraham's sacrifice of his own will made him 'our Father in faith', as the Roman Canon says, the Father of countless Jews and Christians.

From the time of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, down to our own day, God has been calling certain individuals to give up everything that is precious to them, including life itself, for the sake of others.

The struggle of Abraham is a sign of the struggle that Jesus would have to go through. Last Sunday we got a glimpse of his struggle in the desert where he was tempted by Satan, basically to abandon the mission the Father had given him. During Holy Week we will see his awful struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane and his cry from the Cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Each of us in some way has to share in that struggle, to let go of our own will in something big or small for the sake of others and to do what God want us to do.

Shahbaz Bhatti was living in a situation where he knew that God might ask him to give up his own life. Less than two months before his own death, Governor Salmaan Taseer of Punjab, a Muslim, was murdered by one of his own security guards because of his opposition to Pakistan's Blasphemy Law.

Mr Bhatti was deeply committed to working for groups discriminated against, including the Christian minority in Pakistan. He gave as the reason for his commitment, I just want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and say that I am following Jesus Christ. He was gunned down on 2 March 2011.

About a month before his death he gave an interview on TV, the concluding part of which is in this video. Below the video is a transcript of what Mr Bhatti said.

Minister Bhatti, you forgot one question in the interview. Your life is threatened by whom and what sort of threats are you receiving?

The forces of violence, militant banned organizations, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, they want to impose their radical philosophy on Pakistan. And whoever stands against their radical philosophy that threatens them, when I’m leading this campaign against the Sharia Law, for the abolishment [abolition] of [the] Blasphemy Law, and speaking for the oppressed, marginalized and persecuted Christian and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me.

But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of [the] Cross and I am following of the Cross and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community and suffering people and will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles. I will prefer to die for my principle and for the justice of my community rather to compromise on these threats.

Sts Peter, James and John, as they came down the mountain after having seen the Transfigured Jesus, wondered what 'rising from the dead' meant. A few weeks after the assassination of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti the bishops of Pakistan petitioned the Holy See to declare him a martyr. Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, who drafted the petition, said, We Christians in Pakistan want to transform the death of Shahbaz Bhatti into a prophecy of the Resurrection. It was only after the Crucifixion that the Resurrection could occur and it was only after Easter Sunday that the Apostles found the answer to their question. On 2 March 2016, the fifth anniversary of his death, the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi began collecting testimonies about Shahbaz Bhatti to inquire into his martyrdom and sanctity.

May each of us pray for the grace to make these words of Shahbaz Bhatti our own: I just want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (detail)
Velásquez [Web Gallery of Art]

‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part which will not be taken away from her.' (Luke 10: 41-42).

I just want a place at the feet of Jesus. (Shahbaz Bhatti).

19 February 2018

Columban Fr John Lagomarsino RIP

Fr John Lagomarsino [Source]
(6 November 1939 - 3 February 2018)

John Lagomarsino was born on 6 November 1939 in Sacramento, California, USA, to Louis L. Lagomarsino and Helen (Higgins) Lagomarsino. He is survived by his older brother, Dr Paul Lagomarsino, and his younger sister Mrs Lucia Foster. He attended Sacred Heart Grade School, and later Christian Brothers High School (1953-55) as well as Sacramento Senior High School (1955-57). Afterwards, he attained a BA in History from Sacramento State College.

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Sacramento  [Wikipedia]

In 1961 John joined the Peace Corps and was among the first group assigned to the Philippines. There he met the Columbans while teaching English as a Second Language in Ilog, Negros Occidental.

He returned to the United States in 1963 and applied to the Columban seminary. He began his studies at St Columban’s College and Seminary in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. His Spiritual Year (1964-65) was spent at the Columban seminary in Bristol, Rhode Island, now a retirement home for Columbans. Later, he studied Philosophy and Theology at St Columban’s Major Seminary, Milton, Massachusetts. He completed theology studies at St John Archdiocesan Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts, where he received a Bachelor of Divinity degree in December 1969. With his Columban classmates he participated in the deaconate program in the Diocese of St Thomas, which covers the American Virgin Islands, under the guidance of Frs George Nolan and Thomas Normanly.

St Thomas, US Virgin Islands [Wikipedia]

Father John was ordained on 13 June 1970, at Sacred Heart Church, Sacramento, by Most Rev. Alden J Bell, Bishop of Sacramento. In September of that year, he returned to the Philippines where he began parish work in Isabela, Negros Occidental. After two years he went to Kabankalan and then to Dacongcogon. He later served as President of Binalbagan Catholic College and as Bursar at the Columban House in Batang, Himamaylan.

In 1977 he returned to the United States and, after doing a course in Clinical Pastoral Education, began a program in spiritual direction at the Center for Religious Development in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After the completion of the program he received a ThM degree from Weston School of Theology in May 1979. Upon returning to the Philippines, he was assigned to Ozamiz City, Mindanao, where he became the spiritual director for Columban seminarians on an Overseas Training Program.

Loading sugar cane, Bais, Negros Oriental [Wikipedia]
A familiar sight in the island of Negros

In 1980 Father John returned to the United States where he did promotion and vocation work in San Francisco from October through December. He then began accounting studies at Creighton University, Omaha, and served as Assistant Regional Bursar. Later, in March 1983 he became the Regional Bursar.

After the death of his mother in March 1982, Father John and his father took a trip to Italy. They stayed at the Columban house in Rome, and then went to Genoa to visit their ancestral home village of Lagomarsino. 

From May 1989 until April 1991 Father John was engaged in Mission Awareness and Vocation work in Quincy, Massachusetts. However, wishing to be near his elderly father, he asked permission to do parish work in the Sacramento area, and was assigned as Parochial Vicar to St John the Evangelist Parish in Carmichael, California. His father died in February 1992. In 1996 Father John became the administrator of the parish where he served until his retirement in 2005.

During his time in St John the Evangelist Parish and later in retirement, Fr Lagomarsino dealt with several health issues. Then, he fell and broke his hip last December, which exacerbated those health issues. As a consequence, he was moved from Sacramento, California, to Saint Elizabeth Manor, Bristol, Rhode Island, at the end of January. The Regional Health Care Coordinator, Pam Serbst, ensured that he received the support and care he needed during his final illness. His classmate, Fr Chuck Lintz, and Fr Jim Dwyer were with him at the time of his death at Philip Hulitar Hospice Center, Providence, Rhode Island.

Father John’s funeral Mass took place on 16 February at St Columban’s, Bristol, Rhode Island, with Fr Mark Mengel as the principal celebrant and Fr Chuck Lintz as the homilist; the burial afterwards was in St Mary’s Cemetery, Bristol. May he rest in peace.

Statue of St Columban
St Columban's, Bristol, Rhode Island

14 February 2018

'Their blood confesses Christ.' Sunday Reflections, First Sunday of Lent, Year B

The Temptation of Christ, Tintoretto [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 Mark 1:12-15 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

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.’

Ordination of Columban to the Priesthood

Please pray for the Reverend Erl Dylan J. Tabaco who will be ordained to the priesthood on Saturday 17 February in Holy Rosary Parish, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, where Columbans worked for many years. May the Lord grant him many fruitful years as a Columban missionary priest.

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

One of my teachers in the Columban seminary in the 1960s was a saintly priest, Fr Edward McCormack. Father Ted, as we knew him, spent most of his life as a priest teaching Scripture to Columban seminarians in Ireland and the USA. But he taught our class Latin.

I vividly remember one occasion when he celebrated our community Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. In the Old Mass Matthew 4:1-11 was always read. That's now the Gospel for Year A. As he was preaching  it was clear that he had a deep, personal sense of the horror of Satan tempting Jesus, God who became Man, of Evil trying to prevail over Love, God himself.

We have daily examples of the power of evil.One is the murder on 12 February 2015 of 2o Coptic Christians, Egyptian men working in neighbouring Libya and one other man, Matthew Irigia, either from Chad or Ghana - like the countless OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) - working abroad. They were beheaded simply because they were Christians.

In a meeting four days later with a delegation from the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, Pope Francis said the following.

I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today, I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: 'Jesus, help me!' They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.

Coptic icon of St Mark [Wikipedia]

The vast majority of Christians in Egypt are Coptic Christians and according to tradition they trace their origins to St Mark preaching the Gospel in Alexandria in the very early days of the Church. A minority of Coptic Christians are in full communion with Rome as the Coptic Catholic Church. They number fewer than 200,000.

These are the men who were martyred:

  • Bishoy Adel Khalaf           
  • Samuel Alhoam Wilson  
  • Hany Abdel-Masih Salib
  • Melad McCain Zaky         
  • Abanoub Ayad Attia       
  • Ezzat Bushra Nassif
  • Yousef Shokry Younan   
  • Kirillos Shukry Fawzy      
  • Majid Suleiman Shehata
  • Somali Stéphanos Kamel              
  • Malak Ibrahim Siniot       
  • Bishoy Stéphanos Kamel
  • Mena Fayez Aziz              
  • Girgis Melad Siniot          
  • Tawadros Youssef Tawadros
  • Essam Badr Samir             
  • Luke Ngati           
  • Jaber Mounir Adly
  • Malak Faraj Abram          
  • Sameh Salah Farouk       
  • Matthew Irigia.

A note in the Wikipedia entry about these martyrs says of Matthew Irigia: He was from Chad. He was not originally a Christian, but he saw the immense faith of the others, and when the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said, 'Their God is my God', knowing that he would be martyred. Other sources spell his name as Matthew Ayariga and say that he was from Ghana.

Coptic Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt, Cairo [Wikipedia]

We can easily shake our heads in disgust at actions that are clearly evil, such as the murders of these 21 men, particularly when they are done 'in the name of God'. But we can overlook our own sinfulness which adds to the culture where evil often prevails. Fr Ted McCormack in preaching to us in the seminary 50 or so years ago conveyed a sense of that. Jesus speaks to each of us individually, not 'to my neighbour' but to meRepent, and believe in the good news.

The priest may say those words when he puts the ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a personal invitation from Jesus to each one of us, and to all of us as his brothers and sisters, to let ourselves be driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness as he was, to let our hearts be transformed by the Spirit.

I remember Father Ted telling us one day that when he was young his brother was constantly playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on the gramophone - on old 78s. 'I couldn't stand it,' he told us. 'Then one day it all came together and I could experience the beauty of it. But now I can only hear the faults in it.' 

Jesus calls us in Lent to discover the beauty of our faith in him, to discover where that beauty may lead us as we carry on his mission. And just as Father Ted had let go of the majestic power and beauty of Beethoven's music, the Lord may ask us to let go of everything, even of life itself, with his name on our lips, like the 21 Coptic Christians murdered simply because they were Christians.

Their deaths were horrific. Their murders were utterly evil. But those men whose blood confesses Christ, as Pope Francis said, are a testimony to the greater power of God's love.

Jesus, help me!

A Coptic hymn, Lord Jesus, help me, sung in Arabic

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra 
Conductor:  정명훈 Chung Myung-Whun