24 September 2017

'Or are you envious because I am generous?' Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The Red Vineyard, Van Gogh [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)


Jesus told his disciples this parable:

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

Vineyards with a View of Auvers, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

I spent a grace-filled year in Toronto in 1981-82 doing a sabbatical at Regis College, a Jesuit school. The programme I was in was for persons with pastoral experience. Nearly all of us were priests or religious brothers and sisters, with one or two laypersons. One of the graces of that year was making new friends. 

Five or six of us men used to go for an hour's brisk walk almost every night after supper. One of them was Brother Luke Pearson FMS, a member of the Marist Brothers of the Schools, from New Jersey whose father was a Scottish Presbyterian and his mother an Irish Catholic. Brother Luke identified with his mother in terms of his faith but considered himself Scottish rather than Irish, even though he was American.

In the 1990s Brother Luke came to be a member of the staff at the Marist Asia Pacific Center in Marikina City, part of the urban sprawl that is Metro Manila, where junior professed brothers from the region have ongoing formation. Sadly, he later died of cancer.

At the end of our academic year most of us went to Loyola House in Guelph, Ontario, for what is now called The Full Spiritual Exercises Experience, which includes a retreat of 30 days. Many of the retreatants were persons we hadn't met before. We got to know them a little during the preparatory days before we moved into the total silence of the 30-day retreat, apart from three separate 'repose days' when we were off silence from after breakfast until late afternoon.

I began to notice as each repose day came about that I was finding it harder to remember who had been on the nine-month programme in Toronto and who hadn't. In the silence we were gradually becoming a real community, even though after leaving most of us would never meet each other again.


St Michael's Cathedral, Toronto [Wikipedia]


At the beginning I saw myself and my companions from the Regis College programme as my core group who had borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat, as it were, while the others were those hired about five o’clock.


Unlike the parable, there was no sense of resentment but rather a sense of joy. We were all receiving an abundance of the Lord's unbounded generosity with the graces he was showering on each of us, and on all of us as a community growing in the silence of prayer. 

And my friendship with Brother Luke had grown deeper during that silence.

I recalled all of this while reflecting on and praying with today's Gospel. There's a great freedom in being able to acknowledge and to rejoice in the gifts that God has given others that may be different from those he has given me. When I can do that I will have a sense of gratitude to God not only for the gifts that others have but for those that I have. 

I remember reading an obituary of a Columban who had spent 53 years in Japan and who died in Ireland, Fr Bede Cleary. He was described as a happy, enthusiastic, committed missionary and that people were touched by his friendliness, hospitality and selfless dedication. Among other things, he was  involved with other Christians in bringing on pilgrimages of reconciliation to Japan former prisoners of war from Britain and other places who had suffered cruelly from Japanese soldiers during World War II and who carried bitterness and hatred in their hearts. One of the things that had led to these pilgrimages ws the discovery that young Japanese, born long after the War, were tending the graves of POWs who had died in Japan.

But what I remember most from the obituary written by another Columban in Japan, Fr Eamonn Horgan, now retired in Ireland, was his description of three of the shortest books you could find in a library. One was How to Maintain a Car by Fr Bede Cleary. Father Bede was truly loved by his fellow Columbans as well as by the Japanese people he so faithfully served. But the Columbans in Japan could also see clearly that there were certain gifts he lacked! 

Being able to laugh at what we and others lack while recognizing and thanking God for the many gifts each has is one of the graces that God wants each of us to receive.

If we are truly grateful to God for everything that he has given us, and for what he has given others that we may not have, when we come to receive the usual daily wage, which, if we follow his will, will be eternal life, we won't provoke him to ask, Are you envious because I am generous?



Antiphona ad introitum     Entrance antiphon


Salus populi ego sum, dicit Dominus.
I am the salvation of the people says the Lord.
De quacumque tribulatione clamaverint ad me,
Should they cry to me in any distress,
exaudiam eos, et ero illorum Dominus in perpetuum.
I will hear them, and I will be their Lord for ever.

Ps. 77 [78]:1. Attendite, popule meus, legem meam:
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
inclinate aurem vestram in verba oris mei. 
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
Gloria Patri, et Filio et Spiritui Sancto;
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, in saecula saecolurm. Amen.
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen

Salus populi ego sum, dicit Dominus.
I am the salvation of the people says the Lord.
De quacumque tribulatione clamaverint ad me,
Should they cry to me in any distress,
exaudiam eos, et ero illorum Dominus in perpetuum.
I will hear them, and I will be their Lord for ever.

The text above in bold, in Latin and English, is used in Mass in the Ordinary Form. That and the rest is used in the Mass in the Extraordinary Form on the 19th Sunday After Pentecost.

23 September 2017

Columban Fr Bernard O'Connor RIP

Fr Bernard O'Connor
(1934 - 2017)

Fr Bernard O’Connor was born on 18 April 1934 in Ballymote, County Sligo, Ireland, and educated in Ballymote Boys National School and St Joseph’s College, Ballinasloe, before joining in the Columbans in St Columban's, Dalgan Park, Navan, in 1952.

O'Connell Street, Ballymote [Wikipedia]

Fr O'Connor was ordained in St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, on 21 December 1958 and appointed to the Philippines. After language studies in Tagalog he began his many years of work in the Archdiocese of Manila. His first years were spent in Silang and Binangonan but from 1969 he was engaged in Student Catholic Action. This was a dynamic ministry of leadership-training among university students in Manila founded by Columban Fr Edward J. McCarthy in 1936. Father Barney served, mainly in Far Eastern University, during the turbulent years of Martial Law when all student organizations were suspect and many banned.

Far Eastern University, Manila [Wikipedia]

Having served as Superior in the District of Luzon he returned in 1988 to parish ministry in Our Lady of Remedies, Malate, until he was appointed to Britain in 1995. Mission Awareness and House Manager were two of the roles he carried during his thirteen years in Solihull and, as he put it, up to the last he was still seeking new veins on the coalface of British mission.

'Spaghetti Junction', M6, near Birmingham [Wikipedia]
Father Barney made his way through this many times while going on weekend mission appeals.

During all these years Fr Bernard suffered from poor health and he returned to Ireland to begin dialysis treatment in 2009.

Eventually he needed treatment three days every week but always tried to bounce back as quickly as possible. As one of the first Columbans to develop computer skills along with his cryptic crosswords and stamp collection he always had ways of coping with the long hours of treatment and recovery.
Father Bernard will be remembered for his droll humour, for his hope and indomitable courage, a witness to all of us on how to cope with life’s difficulties.

Irish airmail stamp (1948-65) [Wikipedia]

Fr O'Connor died suddenly on 17 September 2017. May God reward this generous and faithful missionary priest.

May he rest in peace.

'The Hearty Boys of Ballymote'

10 September 2017

'How often should I forgive?' Sunday Reflections, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

St Peter in Penitence, 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)


Then Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’


The Misa Criolla, by Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez (1921-2010), is a Mass for tenor, chorus and orchestra, is based on folk genres such as chacareracarnavalito and estilo pampeano, with Andean influences and instruments. It is also one of the first Masses to be composed in a modern language. Ramírez wrote the piece in 1963-1964. In Latin America 'Kyrie eleison', is translated as 'Señor, ten piedad de nosotros', 'Lord, have mercy on us', whereas in Spain it is 'Señor, ten piedad', 'Lord, have mercy'. Here it is sung by Los Frontizeros and the choir of San Isidro Cathedral, Buenos Aires. I do not know to what extent the Misa Criolla has been used in worship, as distinct from concert performances.   

Fr Werenfried van Straaten OPraem [Wikipedia]

Today's gospel brings us in touch with what is perhaps its most difficult demand: to forgive. El Greco's painting shows us St Peter praying with hope and trust in God's merciful and forgiving love. The setting by Ariel Ramírez of the Kyrie expresses the same thing. 

Two examples come to mind. One is that of Fr Werenfried van Straaten OPraem (1913-2003), about whom I posted on 6 June 2011. A Dutchman, he appealed to his fellow Dutch citizens who had suffered greatly from the Germans during World War II to help German refugees after the war by supplying food and other necessities. He was also deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of the refugees. His request, especially to those who had family members killed by German soldiers, pushed some of his listeners to the limit. But they acted according to today's gospel and found hatred and anger replaced by pity and love.

Another is an extract from a letter of Fr William Doyle SJ, an Irish priest who died in August 1917 while serving as a chaplain in the British Army in World War I. The extract is taken from a post in a wonderful blog called Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ.

Father Doyle writes to his father in Dublin about events of 5 September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme:

In the bottom of one hole lay a British and a German soldier, locked in a deadly embrace, neither had any weapon, but they had fought on to the bitter end. Another couple seemed to have realised that the horrible struggle was none of their making, and that they were both children of the same God; they had died hand-in-hand praying for and forgiving one another. A third face caught my eye, a tall, strikingly handsome young German, not more, I should say, than eighteen. He lay there calm and peaceful, with a smile of happiness on his face, as if he had had a glimpse of Heaven before he died. Ah, if only his poor mother could have seen her boy it would have soothed the pain of her broken heart.

To Father Doyle no German soldier was an enemy. Indeed, one of the remarkable things in the literature that came out of the Great War is that soldiers didn't seem to have hatred for the official 'enemy'. It was more often against their own generals and bullying corporals. Photos and videos from the war show prisoners of war, especially wounded ones, being treated with the same kindness and consideration as others.

Father Doyle's description of the British and German soldiers holding hands in death illustrates poignantly and powerfully what Jesus asks of us. 

Christ Carrying the Cross, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).




07 September 2017

'Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.' Sunday Reflections, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Prayer before a Meal, Adriaen Jansz van Ostade [Web Gallery of Art]

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Matthew 18:20).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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


Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’


Today's gospel looks at forgiveness, mainly from the point of view of helping someone to acknowledge a wrongdoing and thereby asking for and receiving forgiveness. I often think about a Christian Brother who taught me in Dublin and one incident involving him that I witnessed and another I heard about years later. I'll simply copy from a previous post, with one or two slight changes.

During my primary school years I came to know an exceptional person, Brother Mícheál. S. Ó Flaitile, known as ‘Pancho’ from the sidekick of the Cisco Kid, a syndicated comic-strip [above] that we used to read in The Irish Press, an Irish daily newspaper that no longer exists. Our 'Pancho', like the Cisco Kid's friend, was on the pudgy side, though minus the hair and moustache. He organized an Irish-speaking club during my primary school years and arranged for me to be secretary. I don’t think I was too happy at the time to get that job but I realized later that he had spotted my ability to write. Other teachers had encouraged me in this too.

My class was blessed to have had Brother Ó Flaitile in our last two years in secondary school, 1959 to 1961, when we were preparing for our all-important Leaving Certificate examination. He taught us Irish and Latin. He probably should have been teaching at university level. What I remember most of all about him was his character. Everyone described him as ‘fear uasal’, the Irish for 'a noble man' – as distinct from 'a nobleman’. A stare from him made you feel humbled, but not humiliated. He had the kind of authority that Jesus had, that we read about in the gospels.

I remember one event in our last year. ‘Pancho’ used to take the A and B sections for religion class together during the last period before lunch every day. One day he scolded a student in the B section for something or other that was trivial and the student himself and the rest of us took it in our stride and forgot about it. We were nearly 70 boys aged between 16 and 18. 'Pancho' was probably around 60 then. The next day Brother Ó Flaitile apologized to the boy in question and to the rest of us because he had discovered that the student hadn’t done what he had accused him of. Whatever it was, it had been very insignificant. But ‘Pancho’s apology was for me a formative moment. I mentioned it to him many years later when he was in his 80s. He told me he didn’t remember the incident, but he smiled. He died in the late 1980s.

The Merciful Christ (detail), Montañés [Web Gallery of Art]


Some years ago a classmate told me about an incident between himself and Brother Ó Flaitile in 1959 when we were on a summer school/holiday in an Irish-speaking part of County Galway. If my friend had told me the story at the time I would not have believed him. He got angry with ‘Pancho’ over something or other and used a four-letter word that nobody would ever express to an adult, least of all to a religious brother and teacher whom we revered. The lad stormed back to the house where he was staying and almost immediately felt remorse. He went back to ‘Pancho’ and apologized. The Brother accepted this totally and unconditionally and never referred to the incident again.

After my father, I don't think that anyone else influenced me more for good when I was young than 'Pancho'.

Looking back on the first incident I figure that the student in question must have gone to 'Pancho' afterwards and explained to him what had really happened. Brother Ó Flaitile was the kind of authority figure whom you felt free to approach in such a situation. If that is what happened, and I believe it was, then the opening words of today's gospel were what we all experienced in class the following day: If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 

Brother Ó Flaitile's asking for forgiveness that day was all the more powerful because he was more than three times our age, an authority figure, a religious brother and a truly revered person. What he did showed why he was revered, as did the 'four-letter word incident' with my classmate.

For me 'Pancho' exemplified the Christian leadership that Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche and, with Marie-Hélène Mathieu, co-founder of Faith and Light, talks about in the video below. He knew and called each of us by name and loved each of us, especially when we were 'the enemy', wrongdoing or perceived to be such, and led us by example, most powerfully of all when he asked our forgiveness for having judged one of us wrongly.




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Schola Bellarmina, Brussels, Belgium


Antiphona ad introitum  Entrance Antiphon  Ps 118[119]:137, 124

Iustus es, Domine et rectum iudicium tuum;
You are just, O Lord, and your judgement is right;
fac cum servo tuo secundum misericordiam tuam.
treat your servant in accord with your merciful love.

Ps 118[119]:1. Beati immaculati in via: qui ambulant in lege Domini. 
Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum, Amen! 
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen!

Iustus es, Domine et rectum iudicium tuum;
You are just, O Lord, and your judgement is right;
fac cum servo tuo secundum misericordiam tuam.
treat your servant in accord with your merciful love.

[The text in bold is what is in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. The fuller text is used in the Ordinary Form when it is sung.]