29 May 2019

'They . . .returned to Jerusalem with great joy.' Sunday Reflections, The Ascension, Year C

The Ascension of Christ, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

Ascension, Year C
The Ascension is celebrated on Ascension Thursday, 30 May, in England & Wales, Scotland. In the USA it is celebrated on Ascension Thursday in the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, Philadelphia, elsewhere on Sunday 2 June. In all of these areas Ascension Thursday is a Holyday of Obligation.

The Ascension is observed on Sunday, 2 June, in Aotearoa-New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Philippines.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 24:46-53 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C
These readings are used in countries and regions where the Ascension is celebrated on Ascension Thursday, 30 May.
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 17:20-26 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus looked up to heaven and said:
‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

The Ascension, Theophanes the Cretan [Web Gallery of Art]

The Sunday on which the Ascension is now celebrated in many countries is also the Church's World Communications Day. The first was in 1967. Jesus tells the disciples in today's Gospel - and through them tell us - You are witnesses of these things. Jesus is asking us to use all modern means of communication so that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

When I went home to Ireland on vacation from the Philippines in 1994 before beginning six years as vocation director I took a short course for missionaries in the use of computers given by a religious sister who had worked in an African country for many years. She wasn't the best teacher I've ever had in teaching the 'mechanical' basics of her subject but she was a wonderful motivator. Although the internet was still in its infancy she told us stories of how it had helped save lives in the country where she worked.

Eleven or twelve years ago when checking my email in the Philippines I found myself 'chatting' with a friend, a Filipina married to a Westerner and living in her husband's country. I'll call her Maria. It was clear to me very quickly that she was going through a crisis and thinking of doing the worst to herself. At the time she 'hated' everyone except me and 'didn't believe' in God anymore.

I was able to help Maria see that the issue wasn't any of the things she mentioned but was within herself. I also got her to agree to meet a priest in her own area, someone I had never met and still haven't. But I was able to contact him through email, having got his address from someone else whom I have never met in person. 

I learned later that that meeting with the priest was to be a turning point for my Maria. She was able to face the world again with hope and hasn't looked back since.

At the time this happened I had come to know a 16-year-old girl in the Philippines who had been made pregnant by her boyfriend. I'll call her Ana. I'm not sure to what degree she had consented to the activity that led to her carrying a baby. She was from another part of the country but was welcomed by religious sisters who run a home for girls, most of whom have had pretty bad experiences. Ana was was very angry and part of that anger was directed at the baby she was carrying.

I told Maria about Ana. One of the ironies was that Maria couldn't have a child, a great sorrow to her and her husband. Despite her 'not believing' in God I asked her to pray for Ana, something she readily agreed to do, and told her that I would ask Ana to pray for her. When I met Ana a day or two later she too readily accepted her mission of prayer.

VisitationLuca della Robbia [Web Gallery of Art]
Shortly after that we celebrated the feast of the Visitation, 31 May, this year the day after Ascension Thursday. After Mass I asked Ana if she would like me to bless her and the baby in her womb. She was happy with this and later told me that she had felt the baby moving for the first time. More importantly, her anger had disappeared. Some time later she was able to go home to her own family and delivered her baby there.

This incident opened my eyes to the truth of what the Sister who gave us classes on the use of computers and the internet had told us. Here was I at my computer in the Philippines when 'by chance', the 'chance' being undoubtedly the Holy Spirit, giving crisis counselling to a friend on another continent and helping her to meet someone I had never met who could listen to her in person.

Pope Francis in Palo, Philippines, 2015 [Wikipedia]

The theme of Pope Francis's message forWorld Communications Day this year is, 'We are members one of another' (Eph 4:25). From social network communities to the human community. In the opening paragraph of the message Pope Francis writes: I would like to invite you once again to reflect on the foundation and importance of our being-in-relation and to rediscover, in the vast array of challenges of the current communications context, the desire of the human person who does not want to be left isolated and alone.

Both Maria and Ana felt isolated and alone. Ana was welcomed by the Sisters and the girls in the home where she stayed before going home. Maria knew me personally and at that critical moment fully trusted me. But it was the marvel of modern communications, which can be used for good or for bad, that enabled us to communicate with one another in a way that a generation ago most of us could not even have imagined. The internet made it possible for me to arrange for Maria to meet a priest face-to-face in the area where she lived.

Ana went home to her own family, her basic community, to have her baby, having been part of a temporary but genuine, welcoming community during her crisis. Maria got through her crisis and has been doing well since. Being part of a social network community enabled her to become again part of the human community, enabled her to leave her isolation of near despair and to experience something of the great joy the Apostles felt after Jesus left them.

That is the great joy  of which we are witnesses and which Jesus calls us to share, a great joy . . . to be proclaimed in his name to all nations

Antiphonary (Cod. Cor. 3, folio 59) 

Lorenzo Monaco [Web Gallery of Art]

Folio 59 contains the Ascension in an initial V, which begins the introit to the Mass for the Ascension [Viri Galilaei, 'Men of Galilee'] below.

Antiphona ad introitum  Entrance Antiphon Acts 1:11

Viri Galilaei, quid admiramini aspicientes in caelum? [alleluia].
Men of Galilee, why gaze in wonder at the heavens? [Alleluia].
Quemadmodum vidistis eum ascendentem in caelum, ita veniet, alleluia [alleluia, alleluia].
This Jesus whom you saw ascending inot heaven will return as you saw him go, alleluia [alleluia, alleluia].

21 May 2019

'We will come to them and make our home with them.' Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday of Easter, Year C

The Trinity, El Greco [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 14:23-29 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

John 14: 23-29 in Filipino Sign Language

Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud of Marawi
(1931 - 1987)

The late Bishop Bienvenido 'Benny' S. Tudtud of Marawi, Philippines, visited my Dad (below) in Dublin some time in the early 1980s. As it happened, Dad was about to leave for the wedding of a cousin of mine but he was able to entertain his unexpected guest for a while. Later on he told my brother, 'The bishop made me feel at home'. My brother laughed and said to him, 'You were the one supposed to make him feel at home!' But my Dad was always himself no matter whose company he was in and so was Bishop Tudtud, whose Christian name is the Spanish for 'Welcome'. They were both to die suddenly in 1987, Bishop Tudtod in a plane crash in the Philippines on 26 June and Dad at home on 11 August from a heart attack, right where I'm preparing this. He had been at Mass that morning, as he had been every day of his adult life. The photo below was taken a week before his death.

My father hadn't expected Bishop Tudtud. But he made him feel welcome. The bishop felt free to just turn up because I had worked with him and had asked him to drop by my Dad if he had time. I have found over the years that there are friends' homes to which I need no invitation. These are friends with whom I truly feel at home and who feel at home with me.

Sometimes we feel fully at home with someone whom we have just met. Sometimes that being at ease with each other comes after being together many times, maybe through working together.

In the gospel of this Sunday's Mass Jesus makes the extraordinary statement, Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

The Father and Jesus are not only coming for a visit but to make their home with us. And the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Counselor/Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will come and will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

Fr Anselm Moynihan OP, an Irish Dominican friar who died in 1998, wrote a short book in 1948 about the Blessed Trinity living in our hearts, The Presence of God. Here is an extract: Awareness of God, whether it come to us thus by a dazzling rending of the heavens or through the gentle whisper of his voice in our conscience, is at the beginning and end of our spiritual life, at the beginning and end of all religion.  It is the root of what is truly the most radical division of mankind, one to which Holy Scripture constantly reverts, that between the 'wise' who keep God before their eyes and the 'fools' who ignore him.  The first awakening of the soul to God's reality brings with it that fear of the Lord which is the 'beginning of wisdom'; the end of life should bring with it the 'wisdom of the perfect,' the fruit of charity, whereby a man will experience God's living presence within himself and be filled with longing for that full awareness of God which is the vision of his face in heaven.

Supper at Emmaus (detail) 1606, Caravaggio [Web Gallery of Art]]

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus invited Jesus to join them and they pressed him to have supper with them at the inn, as it was getting dark. It was through their welcoming him that they discovered who their unknown companion was, the Risen Lord. And, in the intimacy of the breaking of the bread when they recognised him and he disappeared from their sight, they felt his presence even more strongly, even more intimately. He was now dwelling in their hearts, just as he dwells in ours, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Communion Antiphon John 14:15-16
Setting by Thomas Tallis (1505 - 1585)

English text used by Tallis: If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth. (John 14:15-17a, King James Version).

Text in the Roman Missal: If you love me, keep my commandments, says the Lord, and I will ask the Father and he will send you another Paraclete, to abide with you for ever, alleluia.

17 May 2019

'Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C

The Last Supper, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Today's Gospel is from the Last Supper Discourse of Jesus.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 13: 3i-33a, 34-35 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)  

When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer.” 
‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

John 13: 3i-33a, 34-35 in Filipino Sign Language

A familiar sight until a couple of months ago here in St Columban's, Dalgan Park, Ireland, where we have a community of more than 70 Columban priests, mostly retired and many in our nursing home, was that of Fr Jim Gavigan, now 92, pushing the wheelchair of Fr Paddy Hurley, then 94. Only two years ago Father Jim was using a wheelchair himself for a while after a hip operation.

Father Paddy went to his reward on 15 April. He had spent more than 60 years in the Philippines on the island of Negros. His two Columban brothers, the late Fathers Dermot and Gerry, had spent many years in Fiji. That's where Fr Jim Gavigan had worked all his active years, being a member of the pioneering Columban group that went there in 1952, as was Fr Gerry Hurley.

In the last few days I've seen Father Jim 'driving' another priest's wheelchair. (We have professional staff here who do this work very efficiently and with great care but sometimes others chip in.)

In all of this I see today's gospel being lived out. It is a gospel that is central to the Missionary Society of St Columban.

Frs Owen McPolin, John Blowick, Edward Galvin 
China 1920

On the evening of 29 January 1918 an extraordinary event took place in Dalgan Park, Shrule, a remote village on the borders of County Mayo and County Galway in the west of Ireland. At the time Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, which was engaged in the Great War. Thousands of Irishmen were fighting in the trenches in France and Belgium. Many, including my great-uncle Corporal Lawrence Dowd, never came home. There was a movement for independence in Ireland that led to the outbreak of guerrilla warfare in Ireland later in 1918. There was widespread poverty in the country, particularly acute in the cities.

Despite all of that, on 10 October 1916 the Irish bishops gave permission to two young diocesan priests, Fr Edward J. Galvin and Fr John Blowick to have a national collection so that they could open a seminary that would prepare young Irish priests to go to China. The effort was called the Maynooth Mission to China, because Maynooth, west of Dublin, is where St Patrick's National Seminary is, where Fr Galvin had been ordained in 1909 and Fr Blowick in 1913.

The seminary opened that late winter's evening with 19 students and seven priests. Many of the students were at different stages of their formation in Maynooth but transferred. The seven priests belonged to different dioceses but threw in their lot with this new venture which, on 29 June 1918, would become the Society of St Columban.

This Sunday's gospel was part of what the new group reflected on as they gathered in the makeshift chapel in Dalgan Park, the name of the 'Big House' and the land on which it was built. Among the seven priests was Fr John Heneghan, a priest from the Archdiocese of Tuam, as was Fr Blowick, and a classmate of Fr Galvin. Fr Heneghan never imagined that despite his desire to be a missionary in China he would spend many years in Ireland itself teaching the seminarians and editing the Columban magazine The Far East. But his dream was to take him to the Philippines in 1931 and to torture and death at the hands of Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Manila in February 1945, when 100,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed and most of the old city destroyed.

Fr John Blowick emphasised the centrality of the words of Jesus in this Sunday's gospel, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. The second sentence there was written into the Constitutions of the Society, drawn up the following year.

To this particular Columban these words of Jesus from the Gospel of St John are the greatest legacy of Fr John Blowick to the many men from different countries who have shared his dream and that of Bishop Galvin to this day. 

And not only men, but women too, as Columban Sisters and as Columban Lay Missionaries

The Society of St Columban was born in the middle of the First World War because of the vision of two young men who saw beyond that awful reality and who took Jesus at his word. Down the years Columbans have lived through wars, in remote areas where their lives and the lives of the people they served were often in danger. Some have been kidnapped and not all of those survived. Among those who did was Fr Michael Sinnott, kidnapped in the southern Philippines in October 2009 when he was 79 and released safely a month later on 12 November. He is now one of our community here in Dalgan Park.

Fr Michael Sinnott in Manila on the day of his release

Father John Blowick's insistence on the words of Jesus in this Sunday's gospel becoming part of the very fibre of the being of Columbans sustained Fr John Heneghan, Fr Patrick Kelly, Fr John Lalor and Fr Peter Fallon, as Japanese soldiers took them away from Malate Church, Manila, on 10 February 1945, and their companion Fr John Lalor who was working in a makeshift hospital nearby who with others was killed there by a bomb three days later. 

Frs Lalor, Kelly, Francis Vernon Douglas, Fallon, Monaghan and Heneghan
Fr Douglas died, most probably on 27 July 1943,  after being tortured  by the Japanese in Paete, Laguna.

The words By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another are not only the hallmark of Columbans but of countless other groups, of countless families. They are meant to be the hallmark of every Christian.

JeanVanier with John Smeltzer, a member of L'Arche Daybreak, Toronto, 2009 [Wikipedia]

Two of those 'countless groups' are L'Arche and Faith and Light, which I have often mentioned on this blog. Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche and, with Marie-Hélène Mathieu, co-founder of Faith and Light, died in Paris on 7 May. 

I watched part of his funeral Mass yesterday, Thursday, on Facebook and was very struck by something that was said after the Mass by a group from L'Arche in which they thanked Jean for washing their feet - and for allowing them to wash his feet.

Today's gospel comes just after Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles. In both L'Arche and Faith and Light the washing of the feet has a great significance, a ritual that Jean Vanier developed over the years and which I experienced in a retreat he gave in Metro Manila in 1995. A whole afternoon was given to a reflection on what Jesus did. This ended in small groups forming circles where each washed the feet of the person on their left and had their feet washed by the person on their right. I remember that my friend Lala, about whom I have blogged many times, washed mine. 

Lala with Jordan, L'Arche, Cainta, Rizal, Philippines

I am blessed to be a member of the Missionary Society of St Columban for whose members today's Gospel is foundational and to have been involved, mainly on the fringes, with Faith and Light and with L'Arche, in the Philippines and in Ireland.

Jean Vanier embodied today's gospel. May he rest in peace. 

Antiphon ad communionem  Communion Antiphon Cf John 15, 1, 5

Ego sum vitis vera et vos palmites, dicit Dominus;
I am the true vine and you are the branches, says the Lord.
qui manet in me et ego in te, hic fert fructum multum, alleluia.
Whoever remains in me, and I in him, bears fruit in plenty, alleluia.

15 May 2019

'Bring Flowers of the Rarest'

Garland of Flowers with Madonna and Child
Christiaen Luyck [Web Gallery of Art]

Bring Flowers of the Rarest

This hymn, very popular in Ireland particularly in May, was written by Mary E. Walsh in the late 1800s. The words are here. It was sung by the late Irish tenor Frank Patterson at the Faith of Our Fathers concert in Dublin in 1997. Frank was a deeply committed Catholic and died in 2000 at the age of 61. May he rest in peace

The Virgin and Child in a Garland of Flowers

Missa IX, Cum Jubilo

This Gregorian chant setting of the Mass is sung on Solemnities and Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is sung here by the Schola Gregoriana Mediolanensis, Milan.

Virgin and Child in a Stone Niche, Surrounded by Garland of Flowers
Gaspar Peeter Verbruggen the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]