26 January 2024

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


Christ as Teacher (Cristo Docente)
Fourth Century Roman Sculptor [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:21-28 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

[Jesus and his disciples] went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately 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, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

O'Connell Primary School, Dublin [Source]

The stadium in the background is Croke Park, the renovation of which was completed in 2005. One of the main events of the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland in 2018 took place there.

In September 1953 the school building above was opened. O'Connell Schools - there is both a primary and secondary school - were founded in 1828 and named after Daniel O'Connell, the outstanding figure in Irish history in the first half of the 19th century, known as 'The Liberator'. He was a major benefactor in the building of the original school. He was also largely responsible for the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 in Westminster which abolished most of the Penal Laws against Catholics in the United Kingdom, of which the whole of Ireland was part at the time.

I was in Fourth Class (Grade Four) in 1953-54 and was blessed to have a wonderful teacher named John Galligan. I didn't realise until about twelve years later when I was in the seminary what a wonderful teacher and mentor he was. He was around the same age as my father at the time, 40 or thereabouts. All my other teachers in the primary school, both Irish Christian Brothers and laymen, were in their 20s.

John gave us a great grounding in the grammar of both Irish and English. He encouraged us to read the newspapers - and not just the sports pages. He stimulated my interest in writing and in reading, though I was already an avid reader at that stage, borrowing books from Dublin's public libraries. And he taught with a delightful sense of humour.

He was forever talking about his wife Mary. Their son Bernard was in our class and John treated us all with the same respect. One day he brought in Mary so that we could meet her.

At that time in Ireland children made their confirmation once they reached the age of ten. John prepared us for the sacrament which we celebrated in March 1954 in St Agatha's, North William Street, the parish in which our school was located. He was also sponsor or godfather to all of us when we were confirmed.

Mr Galligan, as he was known to us boys (the school was only for boys), also taught us how to use the hand missal in Latin and English that many had so that we could participate fully in the Mass, which in those days, as it had been for centuries, was what is now often referred to as the Traditional Latin Mass.

During my seminary years it dawned on me that not only had John Galligan been a first-class teacher, but a first-class mentor of the faith. The way he prepared us for confirmation and the way he taught us how to use the missal were not 'mechanical' acts but expressions of his living faith. His love for his wife Mary was a living out of the Sacrament of Matrimony that they had conferred on one another on their wedding day.

Whenever I read or hear these words in today's gospel, And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes . . . What is this? A new teaching with authority!, I think of John Galligan and others like him. He spoke to us youngsters in Fourth Class not only with the authority of his being our teacher but, much more importantly, with the authority of the integrity of the way he lived his Catholic Christian faith. He was quite probably unaware of that.

I have used this Reflection before but while preparing it this time it struck me that John Galligan's inner authority was in full harmony with that of my father, also John, who spent all his working life on construction sites where he was a general foreman for many years. I worked with him during the summer of 1967, a few months before my ordination to the priesthood. Though there was much swearing, which didn't surprise or shock me, none of it came from my Dad. The workers respected him because he respected them. And like John Galligan he was a great mentor to young workers and to young architects. And he often spoke of two particular foremen under whom he had worked as a young carpenter. The qualities he saw in them were the qualities I and others saw in him. 

John Galligan and John Coyle were men of deep Catholic Christian faith.

What the people in Capernaum saw in Jesus was his inner authority. That was the only authority he had, which came from the reality that he was God who became Man, doing the will of the Father. Each of us through baptism and confirmation is called to share in that authority of Jesus in the way we live our daily lives.

One of my regrets is that I did not invite John Galligan to attend my First Mass. However, in the 1980s I was invited to write a weekly column for The Freeman, a daily newspaper in Cebu City. My second column was an appreciation of John Galligan. I sent a copy of it to him through the school, though he he had retired by then. This led to my visiting him and Mary a number of times while home from the Philippines, a delightful experience.

I am grateful to God for John Galligan - and for many others, especially my Dad -  who taught me the faith as one who had authority, the authority of Jesus himself.

O Salutaris Hostia
Latin text by St Thomas Aquinas

This Eucharistic hymn is often sung when Benediction is celebrated.

O salutaris Hostia,
Quae caeli pandis ostium: 
Bella premunt hostilia,
Da robur, fer auxilium.
Uni trinoque Domino 
Sit sempiterna gloria,
Qui vitam sine termino 
Nobis donet in patria.

O saving Victim, opening wide,
The gate of heaven to man below!
Our foes press on from every side;
Thine aid supply, thy strength bestow.

To Thy great name by endless praise,
Immortal Godhead, one in Three;
Oh, grant us endless length of days,
In our true native land with Thee. Amen.

St Thomas Aquinas
Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

The Feast of St Thomas Aquinas is observed on 28 January. However, as that falls on Sunday this year it will not be celebrated by the Universal Church. The painting above is by his fellow Dominican friar, Blessed Fra Angelico.

Traditional Latin Mass

Septuagesima Sunday

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 1-28-2024 if necessary).

Epistle1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 10:1-5. Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16.  

The Grape-Picker
Bernhard Keil [Web Gallery of Art]

For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard (Matthew 20:1; Gospel).

Isn't that a marvellously alive portrait of the grape-picker?

23 January 2024

St Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of the Deaf.

The feast of St Francis de Sales is celebrated on 24 January. He was an outstanding bishop, theologian, a Doctor of the Church, that is, someone recognised as having brought us to a deeper understanding of the teaching that Christ gave to St Peter and the Apostles to be passed on to each generation. This great saint is a patron saint of journalists and writers - and of the Deaf and hearing impaired. Below is something I posted originally on 24 January 2009 and again four years later. This time I've added [some comments].

originally posted the following on 24 January 2009.

Today is the feast of St Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Bishop and Doctor of the Church, patron of journalists and of the Deaf. So he is my patron on both counts, since I edit Misyon [phased out in 2018] and have been working with the Deaf on a part-time basis since 1992 and frequently celebrate Mass in Sign Language. Above all, he was a man who lived the fulness of the priesthood as a bishop faithfully. Maybe he would be a blogger if he were around today. [My Sign Language was never fluent.]

The following information, which I found here, is from the National Catholic Office for the Deaf, located in Washington, DC.

St Francis De Sales: Patron of the Deaf and Hearing-impaired

In 1605, an indigent young man named Martin, a deaf-mute from birth, came almost daily to a house in Roche, France, where Bishop de Sales was staying, to ask for alms. He was a strong young man fit for all kinds of work, and the Bishop's housekeeper often allowed him to help her in payment for the Bishop's generosity. One day a servant introduced Martin to the Bishop.

As a result of his handicap, Martin, who was about 25 years old, had never received any kind of education -- or instruction in the Catholic faith. (It was presumed by all of the educated people of that age, the 17th century, that a deaf-mute was a mentally handicapped person and that trying to educate or trying to communicate religious truths to such a person would be a waste of time.)

At the time of their meeting, St Francis de Sales was visibly disturbed and touched with pity for the unfortunate Martin. St Francis realized that the poor man would remain forever ignorant of God and the rich mysteries of the Faith and that his lack of instruction would forever keep him from receiving the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

After considering young Martin's deprived condition for a time, St Francis determined that he would undertake the instruction of the young man.

By using signs that he formed with his hands and fingers, St Francis personally began to teach Martin about the Catholic Faith. Martin, as was soon clear, was highly intelligent and a very good pupil. After a period of time, through his gentle patience and persistence and with the signs and gestures he had invented for the purpose, St Francis succeeded in instructing Martin about God and His love for all men. All went so well that eventually Martin was able to receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time in 1606. Two years later, Martin was confirmed.

St Francis eventually hired Martin as his gardener and brought him along with him when he returned to his episcopal household in Annecy, France.

Martin's devotion to the Bishop of Geneva was second only to his devotion to God. Martin prayed fervently, examining his conscience every evening before retiring, regularly confessed his sins to the Bishop, and assisted devoutly at the Bishop's Mass whenever he could.

Sixteen years later, no one would be more affected by the death of St Francis de Sales than his faithful servant Martin, who would visit his master's last resting place almost every day until the day he himself died.

The above account uses a term that is not used anymore: 'deaf-mute'. As a literal matter of fact, people who are deaf aren't mute, since they have voices and many can learn to speak.

Neither is the word 'handicap' used much now but rather 'disability'. I don't like the term 'differently-abled'. It cannot hide the reality that a person who is deaf or blind, for example, does have a disability that creates difficulties for that person in some situations. Deaf people prefer the word 'Deaf', with a capital 'D' to describe themselves as a group. Being profoundly deaf from birth is different from becoming hearing-impaired from old age, for example. [I now fit into that category and use hearing aids, as do many of my companions here where I now live in Ireland.]

Those of us who can see and hear tend to think that blindness is a greater disability than deafness. But deafness, whether from birth or coming with old age, is a disability that isolates in a way that blindness doesn't. Most deaf people here in the Philippines don't share a language even with their own family. And the only 'native signers' I know here are the hearing children of deaf parents.

St Francis saw how isolated Martin was and broke through that isolation.


I added this on 24 January 2013. Here is the only deaf-blind priest, Fr Cyril Axelrod CSsR, speaking to seminarians and priests.

Fr Cyril Axelrod CSsR CBE

You can read Father Cyril's extraordinary story here. He was born profoundly deaf and began to go blind when he was already a priest due to Usher syndrome.

The needs of those who are profoundly deaf are widely recognised now in many countries. Here in Ireland, for example, Irish Sign Language became an official language of the State in 2017. However, I think that the Catholic Church needs to respond much more to the needs of the profoundly deaf as did St Francis de Sales to Martin.

Part of a Tutorial on Celebrating Mass in American Sign Language. 
(Archdiocese of Washington)

17 January 2024

'Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B; Feast of the Santo Niño in the Philippines

Calling of Sts Peter and Andrew

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:14-20 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Willie Bermingham 
(29 March 1942 - 23 April 1990)
[Source: ALONE]

During the cold winter of 1976, Willie Bermingham and his colleagues found the bodies of a number of older people in tenements throughout the city. They had died in appalling conditions. Willie was so shocked by this that he, and a small group of friends and colleagues began distributing food, fuel and blankets to those older people who were most in need. They also started a campaign to raise awareness of these ‘forgotten old’ in the media and to the government. Today ALONE continues its work providing direct services to thousands of older people as well as campaigning for the rights of older people in our society.

Willie Bermingham himself recalled one of those incidentsLike many old men and women he had been cast away on the scrap heap. He was left to face loneliness, cold, hunger and depression behind the closed doors of a capital city. He had been sentenced to death, alone and in misery. It shocked me so much that I set up a society called ALONE.

This particular aspect of poverty, living and dying alone, is almost unimaginable in the Philippines, where I spent most of my adult life.

Willie Bermingham, a Dubliner, worked in the ambulance service of Dublin Fire Brigade. Like Simon (Peter) and Andrew, James and John in today's Gospel, he experienced a turning point in his life. For him this was through those experiences of finding elderly persons who had died alone in poverty. He felt in a very real way the words of Jesus, Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.

In Willie's case, with the full support of his wife Marie and their five children, along with colleagues, he was to be a 'fisher' of elderly men and women living alone in dire conditions in his native city. And he has been followed  by many, not only in Dublin, but in other Irish cities in doing this work. 

This work is a living out of the words of Jesus: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to meThen the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25:35-40).

The call of Peter, Andrew, James and John in today's gospel comes just after a call to repent and believe in the gospel. This is not only a call to turn away from sin but a call to see things as Jesus Christ sees them. This is reinforced by the response to the responsorial psalm: Lord, make me know your ways (JB Lectionary), Teach me your ways, O Lord (NAB Lectionary).

Willie Bermingham responded to a need he saw so clearly through his work with the ambulance service of Dublin Fire Brigade, while living out his basic vocation as a husband and father. In the early years of ALONE the office was the living room in his own home.

Another aspect of Willie's life was his ecumenism. At this time, 18-25 January, we are observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Historian Donal Fallon writesAn inspiring friendship blossomed between Bermingham and Dean Victor Griffin of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral [the National Cathedral of the (Anglican) Church of Ireland]. Griffin, much like the earlier Dean Swift, had a distaste for injustice and a strong belief in social duty. In a remarkable life, Griffin protested to save Viking Dublin from demolition, demonstrated against Apartheid [in South Africa] and was denounced as a ‘Fenian’ during his time serving the Church of Ireland in Derry.

Griffin and Bermingham came from different religious traditions – Willie came from a Catholic family – yet Griffin opened Saint Patrick’s Cathedral to provide services, complete with choirs, to the homeless and elderly of the city. It was a beautiful act not forgotten, and Bermingham’s own funeral service took place at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Willie Bermingham didn't try to 'save the world'. He responded from his Christian faith to the needs of individuals whose situations he knew of through his work, needs that he and others could respond to. Jesus began his mission, now the mission of the Church, by calling four individuals, two sets of brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, to follow me

Repent and believe in the gospel . . . follow me.

Santo Niño (Philippines)

Santo Niño de Cebú

First Reading Isaiah 9:1-6

Second Reading  Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18

Gospel Mark 1o:13-16

And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child  will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

You will find a reflection for the Feast of the Santo Niño in the Philippines here. The First and Second Readings are the same but the Gospel this year - Year B - is the one above.

Traditional Latin Mass

Third Sunday after Epiphany

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 01-21-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: Romans 12:16-21. Gospel: Matthew 6:1-13. 

The Martyrdom of St Maurice and his Legions (detail)
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art

St Maurice, an Egyptian, became a senior officer in the Roman army and was martyred along with many of his companions in the third century.

As [Jesus] entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress (Matthew 8:5-6; Gospel).

12 January 2024

'I waited, waited for the Lord and he stooped down to me.' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B


From The Gospel of John, directed by Philip Saville

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel John 1:35-42 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Apostle St Andrew
Zurbarán [Web Gallery of Art]

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother (John 1:40; Gospel)

The Memorial of St Anthony the Abbot (c.251-356) is observed by the Church on 17 January, this coming Wednesday. His story is very much connected with the First Reading and Gospel of today's Mass the main theme of which is vocation, one's specific call from God.

Each year the Second Reading in the Office of Readings for St Anthony the Abbot in the Breviary makes me smile as it seems that the young Anthony discovered God's call by being late for Mass. Here is how St Athanasius tell us this story in his Life of Anthony, which he wrote around 360.

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 - Matthew 19:16-26 - 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. It was through being late for Mass that Anthony discovered what God had in mind for him.

The reading from St Athanasius ends with a detail that always touches me: And so the people of the village, and the good men with whom he associated saw what kind of man he wasand they called him 'The friend of God'. Some loved him as a son, and others as though he were a brother.

St Anthony the Abbot
Zurbarán [Web Gallery of Art]

In 2007 I officiated at the wedding of a young couple in the Philippines (photo below) whose punctuality eventually led them to the altar. While at university they belonged to a Catholic association that planned an outing for a particular day. They were the only ones to turn up at the designated time and while waiting for the others to arrive their conversation led them to see that they were more than just members of the same association.

Officiating at the wedding of friends in 2007
[M & J now have five children, God bless them]

A vocation is very personal and often comes through another. The young Samuel heard God's voice calling him three times, thinking it was the voice of Eli, who eventually realised that it really was God's voice that Samuel had heard. The reading concludes with these words: Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his placeAnd the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

The description of St Anthony the Abbot by those who knew him as The friend of God goes to the heart of what a Christian vocation is. It is to come to know oneself as a friend of God, as one whom God loves personally and who is called to know God intimately. That is how it was with the two disciples in the Gospel, Andrew and John the Evangelist, who never uses his own name in his gospel. They felt a desire to come to know Jesus, who read their hearts and invited them to where he was staying. 

That was the turning point in their lives. And Andrew was so excited that he ran to tell his brother Simon. When he met Jesus he found himself with a new name: You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter). This means 'Rock' and was his specific vocation, to be the Rock upon which Jesus would build his Church. And before he got his new name Jesus looked at him. Some translations add the word 'intently' or 'hard' to 'looked'. Clearly Jesus was looking with great love into the soul of Peter. About four years ago I heard a married woman share with a group of married couples that the first time she met the man who was to become her husband, at a party, he looked at her and for the first time in her life she realised her own self-worth. In that look God was leading her and the man to discover their vocation in life.

The verses of the Responsorial Psalm are taken from Psalm 39 [40]. The opening verse is expresses both our desire for God and God's desire for us: I waited, waited for the Lord and he stooped down to me. He heard my cry. He put a new song into my mouth, praise of our God.

He stooped down to me reminds me of the line in Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem God's GrandeurBecause the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

And the Second Reading, which is not linked by theme to the First Reading and Gospel, tells us more about our very dignity as Christians and, indeed, the source of our vocation. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

By baptism each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit and it is the Holy Spirit Who leads us to discover our specific vocation in life by leading us into an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus and allow him to look at us as He looked at Simon before giving him his new name / vocation.

Central to the spirituality of St Columban, patron saint of the Missionary Society of St Columban to which I belong are the words of St Paul in the Second Reading: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. St Columban wrote: Christi simus non nostri Let us be of Christ, not of ourselves. And we are also living in a world where so many do not glorify God in their bodies and where humans are treated as commodities, millions being killed before they are even born, with pressure now to kill off those who are old and 'useless'.

A while ago I came across a Chinese proverb that says: A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. Our song is praise of our God. Our very vocation as Christians is to sing praise of our God by the way we live. That is why genuinely saintly people attract us so much. 

The Prologue of the Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it all up: "FATHER, . . . this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). "God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4). "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12) - than the name of JESUS.

God's Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ
Performed by Lance Pearson

Traditional Latin Mass

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 01-14-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: Romans 12:6-16. Gospel: John 2:1-11.  

The Marriage at Cana
Marten de Vos [Web Gallery of Art]

'Do whatever he tells you' (John 1:5; Gospel).