28 February 2011

A Holy Year for Nuns?

St Brigid of Kildare (c.451-521) is one of the three secondary patrons of Ireland, St Patrick being the principal one. The two other secondary patrons are St Columcille or Columba (521-597), as he is better known in Scotland where he is especially venerated, and St Columban or Columbanus (c.540-615), the patron of the Missionary Society of St Columban to which I belong.

St Brigid invited St Conleth to be the priest for her monastery in Kildare and he became the first bishop of Kildare around 490. He was killed by wolves in 519 as he was setting off on a pilgrimage to Rome. He and St Brigid are patron saints of the Diocese of Kildare to which the Diocese of Leighlin (pronounced 'LOCKlin') was united in 1678.

St Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association is located in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. It aims at safeguarding the rich liturgical heritage of the Catholic Church and promoting its use in the sacramental life of the Church in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. In effect, this means that we seek the full implementation of Summorum Pontificum throughout the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, wherever there is a genuine pastoral need.

In its blog entry on the Feast of St Brigid, 1 February, the first day of spring by ancient Irish reckoning, it made this suggestion:

Following the Holy Year for Priests, it is surely time to pray for consecrated women. Therefore, dear reader, we urge you to ask Ecclesiastical Authorities to dedicate a special year to give thanks to God for Nuns and to pray for Nuns and for more Nuns. What better way to do honour to St Brigid?

Please proclaim a Holy Year for Nuns!

Ora pro populo, interveni pro clero, intercede pro devoto femineo sexu!

25 February 2011

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’. 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 27 February 2011

Today's gospel calls us to trust in God's loving providence. Please pray for the people of Christchurch, New Zealand, which was hit by an earthquake last Tuesday around midday. The city was still recovering from an earthquake last September. 'Sufficient for a day it its own evil', the gospel tell us. May the people of Christchurch find God's love for them through their  care for one another, through the practical help given from many parts of the world, and through their grief and courage.

Prayer for Mass In Time of Earthquake

God our Father,
you set the earth on its foundation.
Keep us safe from the danger of earthquakes
and let us always feel the presence of your love.
May we be secure in your protection and serve you with grateful hearts.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Many Columbans are from New Zealand and the people of that country have supported us generously from the very beginning. They have given one Columban martyr to the Philippines, Fr Francis Vernon Douglas (above), who was tortured by Japanese military police in Paete, Rizal, probably because he refused to break the seal of confession. His body was never found but he is presumed to have died on 27 July 1943.

Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and the USA)

Gospel (Mt 6:24-34, NAB)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’
or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”


On Holy Thursday 1990 I went to Holy Family Retreat House, Cebu City. It’s owned by the Redemptorists. As I was going in, a woman and her daughter, aged about 13, approached me and asked for help. I made an excuse, that I was only visiting, and went in.

After a while, through the glass door, I saw the two sitting on the step outside, the girl with her head on her mother’s shoulder, the two of them clearly tired and hungry. I felt some remorse and on my way out gave them enough to buy breakfast. The girl looked at me with the most beautiful smile I have ever seen and said, in Cebuano, ‘Salamat sa Ginoo!’, ‘Thanks to the Lord!’ She wasn’t thanking me but inviting me to join her and her mother to thank the Lord for his goodness.

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’



Biblical Reflection for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, FEB. 22, 2011 (Zenit.org).- In today's reading from Matthew's Gospel (6:25-34), Jesus does not deny the reality of human needs (v. 32), but forbids making them the object of anxious care and, in effect, becoming their slave.

Those who truly know God as the heavenly Father revealed by Jesus cannot be concerned about human needs in the same way. While disciples have to take reasonable care of themselves and of those for whom they are responsible, such concerns take second place to dedication to the rule of God and the "righteousness" (v. 33) for which it calls.

Verse 25 of today's Gospel indicates two major areas of concern for the human being: sustenance (food and drink) necessary for life, and clothing. Each of the areas is addressed -- food (vv. 26-27), clothing (vv. 28-30) -- in an argument that rests upon a New Testament logic. If God takes such care of the birds in the air, and ensures their feeding, and sees to it that the lilies of the field are magnificently adorned, how much more then will our heavenly Father take pains to see that the disciples shall not go wanting, since they are more precious in the divine sight than the birds of air and the flowers of the field?

In using this analogy, Jesus is by no means making a moral statement, but rather an imaginative appeal.

Full text here. 

Notice the ongoing repair work after September's earthquake.

18 February 2011

'So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.' Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 20 February 2011

Christ as Savior, El Greco, c1600


Gospel (Matthew 5:38-38, New American Bible version)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”


I’ve highlighted below what I find one of the most helpful explanations of the last line of the gospel.

Jesus set the book of nature before me and I saw that all the flowers he has created are lovely. The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. I realized that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness and there would be no wildflowers to make the meadows gay.

It is just the same in the world of souls - which is the garden of Jesus. He has created the great saints who are like the lilies and the roses, but he has also created much lesser saints and they must be content to be the daisies or the violets which rejoice his eyes whenever he glances down. Perfection consists in doing his will, in being that which he wants us to be.

Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be - and becoming that person.

- St Thérèse of Lisieux, from Story of a Soul

St Thérèse of Lisieux in July 1896

St Thérèse’s understanding of perfection is organic. It’s like a flower or plant that is continually growing until it reaches maturity. Each flower, plant or tree is unique. I used to have a ‘blueprint’ understanding of perfection such as when the builder follows the plan of the architect to the letter the resulting building is perfect. But a building isn’t alive. A living organism is. Even though our bodies begin to decline at a certain point, God’s desire for us is that we keep growing more and more according to his will in our inner selves. Pope John Paul II spoke to us in one way when he was elected at the relatively young age of 58, a man who skied and who spoke powerfully. He spoke to us in a very different and more powerful way when, six days before he died, he couldn’t speak at all as he stood mute at his window, the microphone in front of him. In the 26 years in between – it has just struck me as I write that he was pope for two years longer than St Thérèse lived – he continued to grow into perfection n the living sense that St Thérèse gives us.

Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, as a priest in Niegowić, Poland, 1948



Biblical Reflection for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

I have highlighted parts of the text below.

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, FEB. 15, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The Scripture readings for today issue three calls to us– to be holy as the Lord our God is holy; to not deceive ourselves with the wisdom of this age; and to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Let us begin our reflections this week by considering the words of the Leviticus reading (19:1-2, 17-18.)

God is the Holy One and the Creator of human life, and the human being is blessed and obliged by God’'s utter holiness. Therefore every human life is holy, sacrosanct and inviolable. According to Leviticus 19:2 God’s holiness constitutes an essential imperative for the moral behavior: "You shall be holy for I am Holy, the Lord your God!" This loaded statement describes best the vocation of every man and woman, and the entire mission of the Church throughout history: a call to holiness.

You shall be holy

Holiness is a truth that pervades the whole of the Old Covenant: God is holy and calls all to holiness. The Mosaic Law exhorted: "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy." Holiness is in God, and only from God can it pass to the crown of God’s creation: human beings. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and God’s holiness, his ‘total otherness’ is imprinted on each one of us. Human beings become vehicles and instruments of God’s holiness for the world.

This holiness is the fire of God's Word that must be alive and burning within our hearts. It is this fire, this dynamism, that will burn away the evil within us and around us and cause holiness to burst forth, healing and transforming the society and culture surrounding us. Evil is only eradicated by holiness, not by harshness. Holiness introduces into society a seed that heals and transforms.

Holiness is a way of life that involves commitment and activity. It is not a passive endeavor, but rather a continuous choice to deepen one's relationship with God and to then allow this relationship to guide all of one's actions in the world. Holiness requires a radical change in mindset and attitude. The acceptance of the call to holiness places God as our final goal in every aspect of our lives. This fundamental orientation toward God even envelops and sustains our relationship with other human beings. Sustained by a life of virtue and fortified by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, God draws us ever closer to himself and to that day when we shall see Him face to face in heaven and achieve full union with him.

Here and now, we can find holiness in our personal experience of putting forth our best efforts in the work place, patiently raising our children, and building good relationships at home, at school and at work. If we make all of these things a part of our loving response to God, we are on the path of holiness.

Full text here.

16 February 2011

Bill Cosby and Noah

The first reading in Mass on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week is about Noah and the Ark. Bill Cosby has made his 'Noah and the Ark' routine one of his trademarks. Above is an early version. Enjoy!

14 February 2011

Happy St Valentine's Day!

St Valentine's Day is a big thing here in the Philippines, though usually called 'Valentine's Day'. For some it is an excuse fo fornication and adultery, for others a day to be grateful for friends. It is also a day for getting more money from consumers.

You can find something of the true story of St Valentine, a priest who was martyred for his defence of the sacrament of matrimony,in Misyon, the online magazine I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines. You can find it here.

Below is the Opening Prayer from the Mass of St Valentine. You can find all the prayers and readings for his feast at http://carmelites.ie/Prayer/valentineliturgy.htm . Though the feast of St Valentine is no longer on its General Calendar – 14 February is now the feast of Sts Cyril and Methodius – the Church still venerates him as a martyr who defended the sanctity of marriage. He was truly a model diocesan priest.


All powerful, ever living God,
You gave St Valentine the courage to witness to the
Gospel of Christ,
even to the point of giving his life for it.
By his prayers help us to endure all suffering for love of you
and to seek you with all our hearts,
for you alone are the source of life.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son . . .

12 February 2011

'But I say to you, do not swear at all'. Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Head of Christ, Georges Rouault (1871-1958)Readings

Gospel. Mt 5:17-37 or 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with brother
will be liable to judgment;
and whoever says to brother, ‘Raqa,’
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin;
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’
will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

“It was also said,
Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.
But I say to you,
whoever divorces his wife - unless the marriage is unlawful -
causes her to commit adultery,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.
But I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,' and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”


Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with brother
will be liable to judgment.

“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.
But I say to you, do not swear at all.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”


One of the things that most disturbs me in the Philippines is the utter trivialization of oath-taking. It is par for the course, for example, for children in elementary and high schools, even Catholic ones, to take an ‘oath of amateurism’ before the annual sports. In March we’ll have graduation ceremonies at every level and at many schools the new graduates will be inducted into the alumni association, with an ‘oath’ or ‘solemn promise’.

Years ago I was asked to celebrate Mass for the opening of the sports fest in a Catholic high school. I told the teacher in charge that I objected very strongly to any ‘oath of amateurism’. She promised me verbally that there wouldn’t be any. The Mass was hardly over when the same teacher called on one of the students to lead the others in their ‘oath of amateurism’.

I cannot equate such behavior with what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel: But I say to you, do not swear at all.

For me solemn promises or oaths should be made only on solemn occasions such as weddings, religious profession, before giving testimony in court or being inducted into an important public office such as the presidency.

How often here in the Philippines do we see photos of politicians taking their ‘oath of membership’ in their latest party, a temporary alliance of convenience for all concerned?

Years ago too I was a member of the local branch of the Vocation Directors of the Philippines and was elected to the committee. Sadly, the local bishop inducted us with an ‘oath’. While the others raised their hands and said the words of the ‘oath’ I kept silent, with both arms by my side. How can being a member of a temporary committee compare with offering your life to God through religious profession or promising to be a faithful spouse ‘till death do us part’? Is it any wonder that someone who has been brought up taking ‘oaths of amateurism’, being inducted into social groups with an ‘oath’ or a ‘solemn promise’ can often see adultery as a ‘peccadillo’, a ‘little sin’, or lie in court after swearing on the Bible?

‘Oaths of amateurism’ administered to children are particularly pernicious, in my opinion. They tell children that they cannot really trust one another and that oaths are no more important than eating ice-cream.

Another form of oath we take very lightly here in the Philippines is signing forms that state that we have solemnly signed and sworn in the presence of Attorney So-and-so when we haven't taken any oath and he/she wasn't there at all. The attorney compounds the lie by signing later. Doing this is a serious lie.

Fr John Blowick, the co-founder of the Columbans, was a very strong believer in the honor system. In our seminary after our teacher gave the exam questions he left the room. We were trusted and we honored the trust. If we broke a seminary rule we voluntarily reported to the dean when he came into the dining-room at mealtimes. That was when you asked permission for certain things and reported your transgressions of the rules – not sins – and learned to be a person of honor. Most of us had already picked up that value from our parents. The idea of an ‘oath of amateurism’ would have been completely alien and incomprehensible to us. The idea of being inducted into an alumni association would be laughable. A school has no more claim on you once you have graduated and membership of such bodies should be purely voluntary.

Take the words of Jesus seriously: But I say to you, do not swear at all.


Following Jesus, Imitating Him, and Walking in His Light

Biblical Reflection for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, FEB. 8, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Matthew's Gospel reflects the situation of the early Church after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus affirms the permanent validity of the Law, but with a new interpretation, given with full authority (Matthew 5:18-19, 21-48).

Jesus "fulfills" the Law (Matthew 5:17) by radicalizing it: At times he abolishes the letter of the Law (divorce, law of the talion), at other times, he gives a more demanding interpretation (murder, adultery, oaths), or a more flexible one (sabbath). Jesus insists on the double commandment of love of God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), on which "depends all the Law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:34-40). Along with the Law, Jesus, the new Moses, imparts knowledge of God's will to mankind, to the Jews first of all, then to the nations as well (Matthew 28:19-20).

Full text here.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, chief executive officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network in Canada, is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

05 February 2011

Jussi Björling born 100 years ago today

Johan Jonatan 'Jussi' Björling was born in Sweden 100 years ago today and died at the age of only 49. Since my childhood I have loved his silvery voice and consider him the greatest of all operatic tenors. He recorded Che gelida manina from Puccini's La Bohème a number of times. Here is a scene from a performance with soprano Renata Tabaldi in 1956 on NBC TV in the USA. I can hardly bear to listen to Björling singing this, it is so achingly beautiful and moving. 

May Jussi Björling be numbered among the heavenly choirs.

'You are the salt of the earth'. Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 6 February 2011

'A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden'
A View of Toledo, El Greco, painted 1597-99

Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and the USA)

Gospel (Matthew 5:13-16)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”


The term ‘salt of the earth’ is widely used in English to describe a person in whom goodness is apparent and whose Catholic faith is there for all to see, very often without the person being aware of this. Í think of Rose, who was an assistant in a small grocery store where I lived in Dublin. Rose, who never married, treated each customer with respect and a warm welcome.

During vacations at home in Dublin I would see Rose at daily Mass and occasionally we would chat afterwards. It was apparent that she listened carefully to the word of God and found short homilies on weekdays helpful. Her faith, nourished by the Word and Bread of life, is at the heart of her life.

George Weigel, a biographer of Pope John Paul II, concluded a recent article on the pope with these words: The Church doesn’t make saints; God makes saints, and the Church recognizes the saints that God has made. John Paul II was convinced that God was profligate in his saint-making—that there are examples of sanctity all around us, if we only know how to look for them and see them for what they are. His blessedness consisted in no small part of showing us the blessedness of others.

There are indeed many Roses all around us, among them the late 'Mommy Paz Torres' of Bacolod City.

Mommy Paz Torres, far right

How to Be Salt and Light in the World Today

Biblical Reflection for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, JAN. 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Jesus of Nazareth was a master teacher and a great storyteller. I can easily picture him teaching and preaching to his young friends as they sat on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, on hillsides, in deserted places or in the temple precincts in Jerusalem. He incorporated everything around him in his teaching and preaching and he models for us a tremendous artistry of the human condition and of God's created world.

These qualities of Jesus are clearly evident in today's Gospel -- the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel (5:13-16). In order to explain the rich meaning of today's Gospel passage, I would like to draw from two personal experiences that brought them to life for me -- one from my years of study in the Holy Land and the second from an earlier experience studying art history in France.

Understanding salt of the earth

Father Rosica goes on to explain the importance salt still plays in the lives of people in the Holy Land.

Color and light

In addition to being salt for the earth, Jesus called his followers to be the light of the world. In the memorable sermon on the Galilean hillside, Jesus transfers his light to those who follow him: "You are the light of the world." Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus calls us to be that same light.

During my summer undergraduate studies in France in the late 1970s, I remember an art history course that took us to the very picturesque medieval town of Moret-sur-Loing in the Départment of Seine-et-Marne, not far from the cities of Paris and Sens. This beautiful little town was a source of inspiration for the great French artists Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Sisley and Dégas. Who is not moved by the breathtaking beauty of a Monet or Manet painting, as we admire how light can capture and change the way we look at the scenery and indeed the world around us?

Father Rosica develops this further. You can read the full article here.

Sunrise, Claude Monet, 1872

03 February 2011

A Tale of Two Missionaries, 801-865 and 1927-2003

Yesterday I posted about Fr Bob Burke, a Columban who died on 24 January. A Columban priest in the USA emailed the letter below to me today, the feast of St Ansgar. It was written by another great American Columban missionary, Fr Jim McCaslin (photo below), who died just over six months after he wrote it, on 16 September 2003. He had been a priest for nearly 49 years. I've highlighted parts of the letter and added some [comments].

February 4, 2003


I began this on February 3, the Feast of Saint Ansgar. Who? Saint Ansgar, a bishop born in France at the beginning of the ninth century. In 1826 he began his missionary efforts in Denmark later going to Sweden, and it seems those peoples were not very receptive to his efforts. It is said that "he endured many difficulties in his work of evangelization but his spirit never failed". He died in 865.

Statue of St Ansgar (801-865) in Hamburg, where he was archbishop

You never heard of him? Well, I wouldn't have either except that he has appeared in my prayer book (the Divine Office or the Breviary) every February for many years. His feast may be celebrated in Denmark, Sweden and possibly in Hamburg, Germany, where he at some stage became bishop — I don't know. [St Ansgar is patron of Scandinavia where Catholics are a very small minority and many of them immigrants, including quite a nubmer of Filipinos.] However, his feast in the universal church is not very important and is called `optional'.

So why am I writing about him?

He was a missionary, that's why, and so am I. This year I opted to read the lesson given for his feast and found it was from The Decree of the Second Vatican Council on the Missionary Activity of the Church (nos 23‑24). I was struck in a special way by what was said about missionaries, some of which I want to share with you:

"Every disciple of Christ has the obligation to do his part in spreading the faith. Yet Christ the Lord always calls whomever he chooses from the number of his disciples 'to be with him and to be sent by him' to preach to the nations.”

"Therefore ... Christ inspires the missionary vocation in the hearts of individuals. At the same time he raises up in the church certain groups which take as their special task that duty of preaching the gospel which weighs upon the whole church.

"For there are certain priests, religious and lay people who are prepared to undertake mission work in their own countries or abroad and who are endowed with appropriate natural dispositions, character and talents. ['Grace builds on nature', as the theologians say.] These souls are marked with a special vocation. Sent by legitimate authority, they go faithfully and obediently to those who are far from Christ. [The 'legitimate authority' is very important, since no missionary goes simply of his own accord but as one assigned by the Church.] They are set apart for the work to which they have been called as ministers of the gospel so that 'the offering of the gentiles may become acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit' (Rom 15:16).

"Yet a man must so respond to God's call so that, without consulting flesh and blood, he can devote himself totally to the work of the gospel. This response, however, can be made only when the Holy Spirit gives him inspiration and strength. For he who is sent enters upon the life of Him who 'emptied himself taking the nature of a slave' (Phil 2:7). Therefore, he must stand by his vocation for a lifetime, and renounce himself and all those whom he consider as his own instead becoming 'all things to all men.” (I Cor 9:22). [God doesn't play with our lives but remains utterly faithful to us when he calls us to any vocation.]

Forty‑eight years ago in 1955 I was sent by the Church through the Columban Fathers as a missionary to the people of the Philippines. [Note how Father Jim sees himself as having been sent by the Church.] Although the vast majority of Filipinos (about 80%) were baptized Catholics, only a small percentage were evangelized in any real sense. I don't know precisely how I was chosen by the Church to be a missionary and as such sent to evangelize Filipinos, but I have always had the firmest conviction that I was, and doing so has been the warp and woof of my life both as a priest and as a man. [Being a missionary priest is not a 'job'.]

Seven years ago I came down with colon cancer in Hong Kong where I had in the previous year gone to continue to help in the evangelization of Filipinos forced by economic necessity to go abroad in search of a livelihood. Cancer is scary enough that I wondered if my life as missionary among them had been aborted, but after an operation and chemotherapy in Omaha [Father Jim's native city and the locaiton of the HQ of the Columbans in the USA] was happy to learn that there was no sign of cancer, and I was free to return to my work of both evangelizing and being evangelized by Filipinos. For that indeed had been happening for a long, long time. [We missionaries are blessed by God through the people to whom we are sent.]

Within a year, however, new cancer appeared in the lungs and I began five years of chemotherapy in Hong‑Kong, during which time I was able to stay on as a very happy and productive missionary. That was true until July 2002 when I was vacationing in the USA and my lung cancer suddenly began to grow while new cells at the bones at the base of my spine. In that condition I could not return to Hong Kong but had to return to Omaha for radiation and a new chemotherapy.

Meanwhile, I reached my 75th birthday while the chemo sapped my strength and Filipinos wondered by phone and letters when I was `coming home'. My body and my doctor told me that at the very least it would not be very soon, yet I remained optimistic that I would indeed return. After all, I was a missionary who had to stand by my vocation for a lifetime. As a priest and as a man I knew no other life, nor did I want any other.

Then about two months ago (in January) my latest chemo was shown to be no longer effective and the cancer was growing again. Since then I have been treated orally with a new one which the literature suggests is resorted to when `everything else fails'! I am not particularly frightened by that news but it does sadden me. Am I still a missionary when I can no longer be with those with whom my whole life has been spent? Can I be a missionary when I am scarcely able to leave my brother's house, where I have been recuperating and awaiting a return of health that would permit me to be back among them?

I can now put more time into prayer and reflection on God's word, but I don't know that I pray any better than before, I have more time to remember with great joy the many hundreds who have called me Father, whose love has sustained me for such a long time. I have always believed that a priest must be a man of prayer if he is to be worth anything at all, a missionary perhaps more than others. The time I had expected to put in face to face I can no longer give. Yet, as their father whose heart they know they own, I must continue give that time even during the long lonely hours of each day, and not forgetting the many others, non‑Filipinos, who have also been so much a part of my life, who have loved me more than I deserve and who also call me Father. As poor as my prayer may be, 'I have come to realize that for now it's the only way I have of being missionary. And I promise to follow that way as long as I still have breath within me. Perhaps I can apply to myself what I have preached to elderly others, that this time may be the most productive of any other time in a long missionary career. [Father Jim was a dedicated missionary till the moment of his death.] May it be so. Pray for me. Thank you, Saint Ansgar.

Yesterday the doctor told me I should have another C-scan to see whether the present chemo is producing the desired effect, to bring the cancer under control. My blood tests have been good but I am losing weight, and I am also frequently sick to my stomach with lots of vomiting. Not so promising, but God continues to look after me.

I am sending this especially to the many who have written me but have heard nothing from me for a long 'time. Forgive me. I really have been unable to do what I am doing now because physically it has been too painful. You are worth it but I can't promise to be able to do it again. Depend on my prayers — and my love.

Jim McCaslin

(Latest cat scan shows spread in lungs and liver and pancreas. My future seems to be in the past.) 

02 February 2011

Columban Father Robert W. Burke RIP

Please pray for the soul of Fr Robert W. Burke who died on 24 January in Chicago. Father Bob was ordained in 1949 as a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago but later became a Columban. He worked for many years in Negros Occidental in the area given to the Columbans in 1950 that became the Diocese of Kabankalan in 1987.

Father Bob around the time of his ordination in 1949

Below is an obituary sent by the Director of the Columbans in the USA, Fr Arturo Aguilar.

Rev. Robert W. Burke, SSC
Darien, Illinois

Born: October 15, 1923 (born in Visitation Parish, Chicago, IL)

Died: January 24, 2011 (at Emeritus Assisted Living Facility in Burr Ridge, IL)

Fr. Robert W. Burke, SSC was born in Chicago in 1923. He died January 24, 2011, at age 87, after nearly 62 years serving as a Catholic priest.

Born and raised in Chicago, Fr. Burke spent his summers on the family dairy farm in Casco, Wisconsin. The hard work and love of the outdoors helped prepare him later for his missionary work in the Philippines. Fr. Burke often joked that this experience contributed to a “healthy constitution.”

A more recent photo

Fr. Burke was raised with the family rosary and as a child always had a May altar in his room. His sister, Mary Rita remembers how at an early age, Fr. Bob wanted to be a priest. “As early as four- and five-years-old, we played communion. We would put a chair down sideways in a doorway to create the altar railing, where Bob would give me Necco candy wafers for communion.”

A true Cubs fan, he worked as an Andy Frain during the 1945 Cubs World Series. While attending his earlier years in seminary at Quigley High School, Fr. Burke delivered 50 lb. blocks of ice in the early morning to the three- and four-flats before attending daily classes at Quigley.

Following graduation from St. Mary of the Lake Major Seminary in 1949, he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago and said his first Mass at St. Sabina Parish in Chicago. He was assigned to St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Oak Park, IL (now known as St. Catherine of Siena Parish/St. Lucy). In 1954, Fr. Burke requested permission to join the Missionary Society of St. Columban which was granted.

In 1955, as a Columban Father, he was appointed to Negros Occidental, Republic of the Philippines, where he arrived by freighter and spent 38 years in various assignments including the communities of Isabela, Kabankalan, the barrio of Bacuyangan in Hinoba-an and Bacolod.

'Look up at the Lord with gladness and smile; your face will never be ashamed (Ps 33:6)'.
Communion Antiphon, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the day before Father Bob died peacefully.

The Columban Fathers mission is to serve others, especially the poor. With a strong Chicago backing through the then newly formed St. Catherine of Siena Mission Club, Fr. Burke’s causes were supported throughout his many years in the Philippines, building schools and churches in the various Filipino communities. He found the people of the Philippines to be a generous and welcoming community. Fr. Burke most enjoyed the Filipino gatherings involving song and dance. His favorite sharing song was Yellow Bird, which will forever be linked to him.

In the early 1980’s Negros received international attention for its non-violent protests in support of a better life for the poor. Attention stemmed from harsh actions by the Marcos regime taken against local clergy and, in particular, the Columban Fathers. In 1993 he returned to the Chicago area and served the Filipino community and assisted at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Darien, IL, until health issues limited his active ministry.

Fr. Burke lived his final days at Emeritus assisted living facility in Burr Ridge, where he felt his final calling. It was his hope to continue his mission in his new capacity, sharing his final days with those dealing with daily struggles, where he previously assisted as chaplain. His care-takers felt a warmth from his smile and just as he did throughout his life, he made a difference to the lives of those surrounding him.

Fr. Burke was the son of the late William D. Burke and Mary Clare Butler Burke. He is survived his sister Mary Rita (Robert) Braasch of Darien, IL and brothers Dr. Donald (Lori) Burke of Racine, WI, Fr. Alfred Burke, OSA a pastor in Yokohama, Japan. Was the uncle to Robert (Susan) Braasch Jr, William (Vera) Braasch, Thomas Braasch, Kathleen (Paul) Dobill, Marita (Scott) Blanken, James Braasch, Daniel Braasch, Gerald (Teresa) Braasch, Michael Burke, Timothy (Lucy) Burke, Susan (John) Verhaeghe, Donald (Jean) Burke, Mark (Laurie) Burke, Maureen (Levent) Bayraktar, and many great-nephews and -nieces.


You can read an article by Father Burke about a march from Kabankalan to Bacolod City in 1984 in support of the Negros Nine in which he and other Columbans took part on the website of the Negros Nine Human Development Foundation, Inc: An Eyewitness Account of Exodus 84.

01 February 2011

'My Mother's Insight'. A young Korean Columban writes about his mother's visit to China

Tae-moon Kwon, Johan, then a seminarian with his mother and Yang-Ai in Wuchang, China, April 2008.

Fr Tae-moon Kwon, whose baptismal name is Johan, was ordained to the priesthood in Korea in January last year. He reflects on his mother's visit to China while he was there on his first mission assignment (FMA) as a seminarian with Fr Andrei Paz, a Filipino Columban, who was ordained as a priest on 7 December 2009. Both took up their first missionary assignment as priests in Taiwan in September.

Father Tae-moon's article has appeared in a number of Columban publications. It isn't often that a missionary's mother can visit him. The insight of  Mrs Kwon was into how her prayer had changed without her being aware of it and embracing asher own family the people her son was serving as a seminarian.

I have highlighted some parts of the article and added some [comments].

Rev Tae-moon Kwan, Johan, left, and Rev Andrei Paz, right, with Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Chicago at the Mass at which they were ordained as deacons, 7 June 2009

On 3 April 2008 my mother came from Korea to China to see me. My plan wasn't to go sightseeing but to let her see how we Columbans work in China. [I'm not a great one myself for sightseeing with visitors. I find that they are touched when I bring them to visit people I work with.] As a result, we met many of the people whom I was encountering in my ministry.

With my mother I went to Jingzhou to meet Korean Sisters and others who work with lepers; also to Xiantao to see the Chinese priests and Sisters there. My mother was impressed with their simple lifestyle, especially that of the late Bishop Peter Zhang.

One day my mother, a Chinese seminarian and myself went to the first Yangtze Bridge with Yang-Ai. Paralysed at the age of 18, Yang-Ai was now 48. When I escorted her to the church in Wuchang last year, using a wheelchair, she said she wanted to see the First Bridge. She remembered being brought there when she was eight. With our help, her wish of 40 years was finally fulfilled. It was a great moment for me, the Chinese seminarian and my mother. [Very often what a person who is not fully independent asks for is something very simple, such as the request of Yang-Ai.]

My mother also met many parishioners in Wuchang church. We had dinner together, took pictures, chatted and listened to the history of the Church in China. She was delighted with the experience.

The last day before she left, my mother said, 'Tae-moon, do you know how happy I am? Now I have the answer to my prayer when I asked what does it all mean. Before you left Korea for your First Mission Assignment, my prayers were entirely for you, but somehow they have changed.

'Now my prayer is not only for you but for all the people you encounter. I did not understand why the object of my prayer had changed in this way because it was not my intention to change it. But now that I have met the people whom you know in China, I understand why I pray like this. Even though I did not know them before, even though I cannot speak Chinese, I feel strongly that they are my family, my children, my sisters, my brothers, my parents and my grandparents.' [What a beautiful discovery. The visit brought to Mrs Kwon's attention something that the Holy Spirit had already done in her. This reminds me too of a lovely line in the reading from the Life of St Anthony the Abbot by St Athanasius in the Office of Readings for the feast of St Anthony, 17 January: 'Some loved him as a son, and others as though her were a brother'. It is some loving him 'as a son' that really hits me, since it is so unusual. I presume that people didn't see him that way when he reached 100! he ided aged 105 or 106.]

When I heard her say this, I was so proud of my mother and the Chinese people I had come to know. I could feel how close she had come to them and how close they were to her as one family in God.

When she went back to Korea I found myself reflecting on her time here. Before I came to China for my First Mission Assignment, I often wondered about the work I could do because of my limitations in the Chinese situation. Here I have met people with mental and physical disabilities, lepers, elderly people, children of poor migrant parents, seminarians, priests, Sisters and the humble and faithful parishioners in Wuchang Church.

These people are exactly the same people whom Jesus helped, loved, often met and ate with, during his time on earth. They treated me and my mother with great love, kindness and hospitality. They eagerly shared their lives with us. Could it be any better? I gain confidence from those people who give me the energy for mission and help me to improve. Even if my pastoral work is restricted by the Chinese Government, God has given me a great sense of love and relationship through his people in this country. [Jesus took on our limitations too and worked within those parameters, affecting us all.]

I am grateful for the opportunity to experience God's love, to feel his presence and to realise the extent of his compassion.

Rev Tae-moon Kwan, Johan, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Chicago and Rev Andrei Paz, after the Mass at which the two Columbans were ordained as deacons, 7 June 2009