17 January 2017

'The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light . . .' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Neubrandenburg, Caspar David Friedrich [Web Gallery of Art]

The people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    
light has dawned (Matthew 4:16, NRSVCE).


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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



Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.’
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
 [As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.]

Missa Brevis in G Major, Kyrie, Mozart
Lumen Choir, conducted by Jooyoung Kim
'Once upon a time', 5th Annual Concert (1 December 2012)
Moonjeong-dong Catholic Church, Seoul, South Korea

Last Sunday here in the Philippines was the the Feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child). The gospel was Matthew 18:1-5, 10 in which Jesus tells us Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I saw his words come to life at the end of Mass in Holy Family Home for Girls here in Bacolod City where I live.

In January 2014 four new girls came to the home. One, whom I'll call 'Josie', was aged 14 and profoundly deaf. Her main way of communicating was Sign Language. The Sisters, staff and some of the girls began to learn some Sign Language. The other three new girls included two aged ten and one aged six.

At the end of Mass I saw 'Josie' sitting and quietly crying. I wasn't quite sure why. One of the ten-year-old new girls, rather small for her age but very lively and whom I'll call 'Grace', went over to 'Josie' and put her arms around her to comfort her. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The majority of the girls in Holy Family Home have had horrific experiences, in most cases within their own family circle. They truly have sat in darkness.

['Josie' was able to go home last year. We discovered that she had some hearing and, with hearing aids, she has improved her speech and hearing considerably. The other three girls are still at Holy Family Home].

The Virgin and Child with St Martina and St Agnes, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

I will celebrate Mass again in Holy Family Home on Monday evening to mark the feast of St Agnes, 21 January. Each year in the Home we combine a celebration of St Agnes the Martyr (c.291 - c.304), patron saint of chastity, of young girls and of rape victims, and Blessed Laura Vicuña (1891 - 1904), a patron of abuse victims who offered her life for the conversion of her mother and whose feast day is 22 January. (We moved the celebration this year to 23 January for liturgical reasons). 

Each year I tell the girls that the life of Blessed Laura, whose father died when she was young, was so like their own and that she became a saint in the midst of and through her sufferings, especially the cruelty of her stepfather who wasn't married to her mother. Despite her young age she had the maturity, generosity and holiness to offer her life so that her mother would return to the Lord. She told this to her mother when she was dying. It was the physical abuse of her stepfather that led to her death. Laura's prayers were answered.

Blessed Laura Vicuña aged 10 [Wikipedia]

Laura understood the stark reality of the words of Jesus in today's gospel: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. She also understood the power of God's mercy. Repentance and God's mercy are central to the preaching and teaching of Pope Francis. Since Blessed Laura, born in Santiago, Chile, and died in Argentina he must be familiar with her life that embodied what he has spoken about so many times.

Holy Family Home exists because of the sins of adults against girls, some only small children. It is a place where most of the girls have sat in the region and shadow of death. I have brought many visitors there and the one word they nearly all have used to sum up their experience is 'joy', a joy they find among the girls and among the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family and the staff. Those who live there are a testimony to the truth of the words of Isaiah that we listen to in the First Reading and the Gospel this Sunday and that we listened to at the Mass During the Night at Christmas: 

The people who sat in darkness    
   have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death   
   light has dawned.

+++

Call of the Sons of Zebedee, Marco Basaiti [Web Gallery of Art]

The second part of today's gospel tells us of the call of the first disciples who were later called to be apostles, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. Though Immediately they left their nets . . . Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him we know from the gospels that they continued to fish from time to time and to encounter stormy weather.

Here in the Philippines most fishermen are poor and go to sea in very small boats. In some countries larger boats go far from land and often encounter very dangerous weather. And a very large percentage of international seafarers - the largest group, I think - are Filipinos.

In Britain and Ireland the members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) mostly volunteers, and their counterparts throughout the world, often put their lives in danger to save those in danger at sea. Irish Lifeboats covers both the RLNI in Ireland and Community Rescue Boats Ireland (CRBI). Last September Caitriona Lucas (41) a volunteer in the Irish Coast Guard and mother of two, died during a search-and-recovery operation off the west coast.

Irish musician and songwriter Phil Coulter, who lost a brother in a drowning accident, wrote a wonderful song about those who risk their lives at sea to save the lives of others, Home from the Sea. Here is a video of the song with Phil Coulter's musicians, a choir of members of the RNLI and the late Irish singer Liam Clancy, than whom there was no one better to put across a ballad.

In our prayers today let us remember our fishermen, our seafarers and those involved in rescue work at sea. Let us remember too the members of a number of European navies who have saved countless refugees in the last couple of years travelling in unsafe boats from north Africa to southern Europe. Tragically, many refugees never made it.



On a cold winter's night, with the storm at it's height,
A lifeboat answers a call.
They pitched and they tossed, 'till we thought they were lost,
As we watched from the harbour wall.
'Tho the night was pitch black, there was no turning back,
For someone was waiting out there,
And each volunteer had to live with his fear
As we joined in a silent prayer.


Chorus:
Home, home, home from the sea,
Angels of mercy, answer our plea.
And carry us home, home, home from the sea,
Carry us safely home, from the sea.
As they battled their way past the mouth of the bay
It was blowing like never before.
As they gallantly fought everyone of them thought
Of loved ones back on the shore.
Then a flicker of light and they knew they were right.
There she was on the crest of a wave.
She's an old fishing boat and she's barely afloat.
Please God, there are souls we can save.


Chorus.................
And back in the town, on a street that runs down
To the sea and the harbour wall.
They had gathered in pairs at the foot of the stairs,
To wait for a radio call.
Then just before dawn, when all hope was gone,
Came a hush, and a faraway sound.
'Twas the coxswain, he roared, 'All survivors on board,
Thank God, and we're homeward bound'.


Chorus....................

+++

Then just before dawn, when all hope was gone,
Came a hush, and a faraway sound.
'Twas the coxswain, he roared, 'All survivors on board,
Thank God, and we're homeward bound'.



The people who sat in darkness    
   have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death   
   light has dawned.

12 January 2017

'I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’ Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Madonna and Child with the Lamb of God
Cesare da Sesto [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)



The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’  And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

Sunday Reflections for the Feast of the Santo Niño (Philippines) are here.

San Alfonso de Liguori Parish, Rome, 6 January 2014.
Some wonderful photos of Pope Francis with the lamb here.

My friend Frances Molloy in England, founder and project manager of Pastoral Care Project, a ministry in the Archdiocese of Birmingham to persons with dementia and to their carers, told me a beautiful story in an email just after Christmas:

Behold . . . My granddaughter aged 4 was playing with 'Jesus' family', as they are known to her, our hand-knitted nativity set, and she noticed the empty manger. A little later she came to me and said, 'Grandma, I've put the lamb in the manger'. Quite a moment . . .

The Lamb of God is one of the names of Jesus, pointing towards his sacrificial death on Calvary. St John the Baptist, who introduces Jesus to us with the words Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! was to be martyred not long afterwards. The purpose of the mission of St John the Baptist was that he [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel. This is the mission to which each of us is called.

In his letter to the ten new cardinals he announced in January 2014 Francis writes: And, although this may appear paradoxical, the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant.

St John the Baptist followed that path: After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me. His mission was to lead people towards Jesus. One of the ten new cardinals was Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo OMI of Cotabato where just more than half of the 12,000,000 plus people are Catholics. Most of the others are Muslims.

Fr Nelson Javellana OMI
'Martyr of clean and honest elections', 3 November 1970 [Source]

The first Oblates came to the Philippines in 1939 from North America and included Canadians and Americans. They went to parts of Mindanao with a large Muslim population. Like the Columbans, to which I belong, they have their martyrs, as Fr Eliseo Mercado Jr OMI writesThe OMIs have had their share of martyrs in their 70 years in the Philip­pines. The first martyr was election-related. Fr Nelson Javellana and his volunteers of the first Philippine move­ment for clean and honest elections were ambushed near Tambunan, Cotabato on 3 November 1970. Three martyrs shed their blood in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. They are Bishop Benjamin de Je­sus on 4 February 1997, Fr Benjamin Inocencio on 28 December 2000 and Fr Jesus Reynaldo Roda on 15 January 2008.

Bishop Benjamin de Jesus OMI
'Martyr of Jolo', 4 February 1997 [Source

Cardinal Quevedo, who has been deeply involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue in Mindanao for many years, would have known those four men very well. He knows what is is to follow the same path of the Lord.

Below is an article published in MISYONonline.com, the Columban magazine I edit here in the Philippines, in May-June 2008, the first online-only edition. The author, Fr Roberto C. Layson OMI, whose ordination on 10 December 1988 I attended, was working with Bishop Benjamin de Jesus when he was murdered in 1997. Here he writes about his friend and confrere Fr Jesus Reynaldo A. Roda OMI whose life and death proclaimed Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 


by Fr Roberto C. Layson OMI

Fr Jesus Reynaldo A. Roda OMI, ‘Father Rey’, expected it all along. But not the people of Tabawan, whom he had served for ten years before his brutal murder on 15 January at the hands of his abductors. One of Father Rey’s Muslim scholars described the immediate reaction of the local people: ‘It was as if a big bomb was dropped in our midst and we got the shock of our lives. The whole island mourned. Some lost their appetite. Some kids don’t want to go to school anymore’.

Father Rey
'Martyr of Jolo', 15 January 2008

Desecration of Sacred Grounds
Tabawan is one of the beautiful islands of Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost province of the Philippine archipelago. It is inhabited by peace-loving Samals and prides itself on being a peaceful and tolerant society. That is why the brutal murder of a missionary priest in this island is hard for the local inhabitants to accept. Ultimately, they saw it as a desecration of their sacred ground.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary congregation, started to establish mission stations in the Muslim-dominated provinces of Cotabato, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi in 1939. Since then, they have been living with Muslims while serving the minority Christian population of the islands.
After World War II, the Oblates put up Notre Dame Schools in the islands to respond to the increasing demand for education in the region. These were welcomed by the local Muslims. Not only that. Over the years, the local people also started to develop strong affection for the missionaries. This was especially true in the case of Fr Leopold Gregoire OMI, a Canadian.
Fr Gregoire was the director of Notre Dame School in Tabawan for 20 years until his death. He died many years ago but until now, not only the Notre Dame community celebrates his birthday every year but the entire island. The celebration is called ‘Father Gregoire Day’ and goes on for three days with a lot of fanfare. The town has a population of more or less 20,000, with only thirty Christians.
For Love of Others
It was around 7:30 in the evening. Father Rey was praying inside the chapel, as he used to do after supper, when he was taken forcibly by his captors. When he refused to go with them, they shot him dead. The Oblates in the Vicariate have agreed among themselves not to go with the attackers in the event of a kidnapping attempt. The reason is that in many kidnapping incidents in Mindanao, the subsequent military operations usually take their toll not only among the combatants but also among the civilians. Father Rey chose to sacrifice his life in order to prevent the loss of more lives.
There were some students at the campus at the time of the killing. They were taking a computer class. The class is held in the evening because it’s the only time that the school generator is running. There is no electricity on the island. When the armed men left, they took Mr Taup, a Muslim teacher, with them.

Fr Benjamin Inocencio OMI
'Martyr of Jolo', 28 January 2000 [Source]

Losing one of their own
Ordained on 10 May 1980, Father Rey had deep compassion for the poor. He was in the forefront of justice and peace work in the Diocese of Kidapawan during the Martial Law days. Prior to his assignment in Tabawan, he was a missionary in Thailand where he interacted with Buddhist society. In Tabawan, he not only directed the school and supported many scholars but also implemented several socio-economic projects for the poor in close coordination with a number of NGOs and government agencies. In 2003, he was actively involved during the surge of deportees from Sabah, Malaysia, providing them with food and shelter.
The death of Father Rey brought back to my memory that fateful day, 4 February 1997, when Bishop Benjamin de Jesus OMI was murdered in front of Mt Carmel Cathedral in Jolo. This was followed nearly four years later by another tragedy when Fr Benjamin Inocencio OMI was murdered at the back of the same cathedral on 28 December 2000.
Just like what happened after the deaths of Bishop Ben and Father Benjie, the Muslims mourned. They also mourned Father Rey’s death, especially the people of Tabawan whom he had learned to love. They literally had lost one of themselves.
One in Sorrow
I saw Samud being interviewed by Ces Drilon on ABS-CBN TV. He is the same convento boy, a Muslim, whom I met when I was based in Bongao from 1990 to 1994. The day after the killing, Fr Raul M. Biasbas OMI, a classmate of Father Rey on another island in Tawi-Tawi, called Samud by cellphone to ask what had really happened. ‘I’m very sorry, Father, I was not able to protect Father Rey,’ he answered in tears.
I spoke to Wija, one of Father Rey’s scholars, also a Muslim. She called him ‘Tatay’, ‘Dad’. During the commotion at the convento with the armed men, she rushed to help him but he shouted at her, ‘Anak, tumakbo ka na!’, ‘Run, daughter!’ She accompanied the body of Father Rey from Tabawan to Cotabato on board a military helicopter provided by the Philippine Air Force. She brought with her an album containing pictures of Father Rey and herself, which she keeps with fondness.
In Bongao island where Father Rey was waked for two days, Muslims and Christians filled Holy Rosary Church. The Muslims even brought food during the wake. In Cotabato City, Muslims and Christians were crying along the highway as Father Rey’s remains were transported from Awang Airport to a funeral parlor in the city. Many Muslims also came during the wake and attended the burial at the Oblate cemetery in Tamontaka.
This was very consoling. While we grieved for the death of Father Rey, we found solace not only in the support of fellow Christians but also in the support given by Muslims, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and several NGOs, through their personal condolences and public condemnations of the murder.
Boundaries Transcended
To me, this outpouring of support reveals that human goodness transcends even religious boundaries. Indeed, it is possible for Muslims and Christians to work together to create a peaceful society if only we learn to shed our human biases and focus on doing God’s will for his people.
We do not exactly know what Father Rey was telling God when he was praying inside the chapel. Perhaps, he was telling Him about his many dreams for the people of Tabawan. Now that he is gone, only the memory of Father Rey remains in the hearts of the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of this island.

Father Rey [Source]
Father Rey would have turned 54 on 5 February, less than a month after his murder.



Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29), Authorized [King James] Version). From Handel's Messiah.