29 September 2011

Lala and Queen Elizabeth II

This column, updated 29 September 2011, appeared in the short-lived Negros Times 13-14 October 2008. The above was the picture that appeared with my weekly column. Last Tuesday, 28 September, the feast of St Vincent de Paul, was Lala's 'Official Birthday'. I only remembered that yesterday and thought of posting my three-year-old article here.

Both Lala and Queen Elizabeth II have have two birthdays, the real one and the official one. Lala’s official birthday is 27 September and she turned 32 two days ago. Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday is celebrated in 53 Commonwealth countries, but not on the same date. Only the Falkland Island observes her official birthday on her real one, 21 April. In the United Kingdom the Queen’s official birthday can be on the first, second or third Saturday in June. She turned 85 on her last birthday.

While there’s no confusion about the date of birth of Queen Elizabeth, there is about that of Lala. The young Princess Elizabeth was born in a palace in London. Lala was found shortly after birth in a trashcan in Cebu city in the central Philippines. Those who found her took her to the Asilo De La Milagrosa, the orphanage of the Daughters of Charity there. The Sisters noticed that the little girl had Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) and took her in and raised her. Since they didn’t know who her parents were they had to choose a name for her.

The Sisters chose 'Vicente' as her family name, in honor of St Vincent de Paul, and 'Louilla' as her Christian name, in honor of St Louise de Marillac. The two saints founded the Daughters of Charity in France in 1633. Lala, as all her friends know her, probably has something else in common with St Louise. She was almost certainly born out of wedlock, as the saint was, and, like St Louise, never knew her mother. I suspect that Lala’s mother, probably very young and unmarried, panicked – this possibly added to when she saw that her daughter wasn’t 'normal' - and left her baby where someone could find her and take care of her.

I first met Lala in Cebu in 1992 at a Faith and Light celebration. We had just begun a community there, after a retreat given by the co-founder of the movement, Jean Vanier, a Canadian layman, in Holy Family Retreat House, Cebu City, in October 1991. During the retreat he gave a public talk in the auditorium of St Theresa’s College, as I recall, and a group of interested people got together after that. The gathering at which Lala was present included members of Faith and Light from Manila who had come to tell us more about the movement.

I could see immediately that Lala had a special gift – she’s a natural 'ice-breaker'. Though she seldom says anything, she lights up any group into which she comes, unless she’s in a bad mood, which happens from time to time.

Lala became a member of our Faith and Light community in Cebu but I lost contact with her when I went to Lianga, Surigao del Sur, in 1993 as parish priest and to Manila the following year to become vocation director of the Columbans. But one day when I visited the L’Arche community in Cainta, Rizal, known as 'Ang Arko', I was surprised to see Lala there. L’Arche, the French for 'The Ark' as in Noah’s Ark, was founded by Jean Vanier, in 1964 when he invited two men with learning disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, who had been living in an institution, to join him in a small cottage he had bought and was renovating in the town of Trosly-Breuil, France. Jean had no intention of founding anything, but he realized very quickly that he had made a commitment to these two men. One of them, I forget which, chose to live independently some years later, something he could never have done had he stayed not met Jean. Out of these small beginnings has grown an international movement of about 130 residential communities where those with learning disabilities are enabled to live in a family-type situation and to develop their abilities to the greatest extent possible.

Jordan and Raymon, now young men, were welcomed by Ang Arko when they were very young. Both have physical as well as learning disabilities. The original house was in Manila but the community moved later to Cainta.

In Holy Week 2001 I attended the international pilgrimage of Faith and Light to Lourdes as chaplain to the group from the Philippines. Lala was one of the twelve or so Filipinos.

The Easter Vigil was celebrated in the underground basilica. Some of the Old Testament Vigil readings were dramatized. During the account of creation when the words 'God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him' were read, a spotlight shone on a young man in a wheelchair. But what moved me most was when 'Lala' was part of a group dramatizing the reading of the Exodus.

I simply marveled at the fact that a young woman who should never have been born, according to the 'wisdom' of so many, left after birth among garbage, was on the other side of the world helping to proclaim the Word of God to thousands of people, many like herself, and doing so with the joy that permeates her soul.

Queen Elizabeth has been blessed by God with a long and healthy life, in which she continues to serve her people with dignity. Though Queen Elizabeth is among the richest people in the world, Lala, also with her two birthdays, enjoys even greater riches, because the words of Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, have been revealed in her life: 'God has lifted up the lowly'.

Rafael Simi (left) and Jean Vanier (right).

You can listen to an interview with Jean here. He turned 83 on 10 September.

This comment was posted when I first posted this three years ago:

Wow..I can't believe Im actually sitting here reading this post about Lala..This is wonderfull..Well, I actually grew up with Lala in the orphanage at Asilo dela Milagrosa..we are the same age..I was there from 1986-1994 until I was sent here in America to be adopted..The first time we were introduce to Lala we were a little nervous, we were very young and we never met someone like her, then she started to sing 'Tomorrow' and for some reason we were all drawn to her..As I remember, I was a little jealous because she was always happy, didnt care what everyone thought of her, she welcomed every visitor we had with a smile, she's very friendly..After I finished high school, I started working as a volunteer camp councelor but I was assigned in the office and there was this girl and she is also my age and I was ask to be her counselor for a couple of months and I was so excited, nobody knew why I was glad to do so and it all because I remembered Lala, it was 8 yrs. ago that i work at the camp, and here I am writing and remembering Lala..

I would like to thank you Fr. Sean for writing this post..

28 September 2011

Ever wonder what you hear through a stethoscope?

Did you ever wonder what you hear through a stethoscope? H/T to Father Z.

26 September 2011

'Engineer brothers down tools for life in the priesthood'

Fr James Doyle, Fr Brian Doyle OP, Bro Rory Doyle OFMConv

The photo above, courtesy of the Irish Dominicans, was taken on Saturday 3 September in Murrintown, County Wexford, in the south-west of Ireland, when Father Brian was ordained priest by Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns. His brother Father James (Jim) is a priest in the Diocese of Ferns, which includes most of County Wexford, and his twin Brother Rory is also preparing for the priesthood as a Conventual Franciscan.

The three brothers are featured in today's Irish Independent: Engineer brothers down tools for life in the priesthood. The twins have doctorates in engineering. Father Jim worked with the Irish agency Concern in Cambodia and Burundi and found his vocation there.

Father Brian with his parents Joan and Brian senior (Irish Dominican Vocations)

Ten years ago I did mission appeals on behalf of the Columbans in the Diocese of Lancaster in the north-west of England. I met two of the three Burns brothers who, like the Doyle brothers, gave up very successful careers to become priests. I met two of the three Foulkes brothers who were also priests of the diocese. The third had already died.

We Columbans have been blessed with sets of three brothers, from Australia, Ireland and the USA. But in today's Ireland, where so many have left the Church, where so many are disheartened by scandals involving priests, it is very heartening to read about the Doyle brothers who  have one sister, Judith, who married last year. It is particularly heartening to read about it in the most widely read daily newspaper in Ireland.

The photos below are all taken from the Irish Dominican Vocations Blog of Fr Gerard Dunne OP.

Brother Brian during the Litany of the Saints

 Father Jim lays hands on his brother's head

 Bishop Brennan giving the sign of peace to Father Brian

It was seeing Dominican friars in their white habits in St Saviour's Church, Dublin, where my father used to take me occasionally for High Mass, that first stirred an interest in the priesthood in my heart. I was around seven at the time. Though I never seriously considered being a Dominican I am grateful to God for that early 'signpost', which has also been a signpost to many young men in Ireland in recent years, including two Irish diocesan priests who have joined the Order of Preachers. Here is a video from the Irish Dominican Vocations Blog that features that 'signpost'.

23 September 2011

'Which of the two did the father's will?' Sunday Reflections, 26th Sunday Year A

 Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel, Matthew 21:28-32 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa.)

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: 'What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, "My boy, you go and work in the vineyard today". He answered, "I will not go", but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, "Certainly, sir", but did not go. Which of the two did the father's will?' 'The first' they said. Jesus said to them, 'I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.

Soiscéal, Matha 21:28-32 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin dúirt Íosa le huachtaráin ne sagart agus le seanóir an phobail: “bhur mbarúil air seo: Bhí beirt mhac ag duine. D’agaill sé duine acu ar dtús: ‘A mhic,’ ar seisean, ‘téighse inniu ag obair san fhíonghort.’ D’fhreagair sé é: ‘Tá go maith, a dhuine uasail,’ ar seisean; ach ní dheachaigh. D’agaill sé an dara duine ar an gcuma chéanna, agus b’é a fhreagra seo: ‘Ní dhéanfaidh mé,’ ar seisean; ach ina dhiaidh sin tháinig aiféala air agus chuaigh. Cé acu den bheirt a rinne toil a athar?” “An dara duine,” ar siad. Dúirt Íosa leo: “Deirim libh go fírinneach, tá tosach ag na poibleacánaigh agus ag na striapacha oraibhse isteach i ríocht Dé. Óir tháinig Eoin chugaibh ar shlí na fíréantachta agus níor chreid sibh ann; na poibleacánaigh, áfach, agus na striapacha, chreid siad ann; agus cé go bhfaca sibhse é sin, níor bhuail an t aiféala mall féin sibh chun go gcreidfeadh sibh ann.”

The scene in the video is just before the end of The Scarlet and the Black, a 1983 made-for-TV movie based on the true story of Irish priest Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, based in the Vatican during World War II, and his nemesis, Col Herbert Kappler, the SS chief in Rome during the latter part of the war. Monsignor O'Flaherty saved the lives of thousands of Jews and Allied soldiers. Kappler, who knows that the Allies are approaching Rome, is worried about the safety of his own family and sends some soldiers to Fr O'Flaherty to meet him at the Coliseum at night, guaranteeing his safety.

Just after the scene above Kappler asks the priest if he could help get his wife and children to safety. The Irishman gets very angry and walks away in disgust. Kappler shouts, 'You're just like the rest of them'.

The next scene, which I couldn't locate on YouTube, shows Kappler under arrest and, while being interrogated, learning that his family have arrived safely in Switzerland. When asked how, he replies that he doesn't know. But he realises that Monsignor O'Flaherty was responsible.

As the credits are rolling we read that Fr O'Flaherty visited Kappler regularly in jail and the German eventually asked to be baptised by the priest.

The closing scenes of The Scarlet and the Black are, for me, among the most memorable in any film I've seen and came to mind as I was praying with today's gospel. O'Flaherty's immediate and clear answer to Kappler's request echoes that of the first son in the parable: 'I will not go'.

But he did go, doing his father's will, as the Irish priest did the Father's will, winning back to God a man who had devoted his life to evil. Early in 1944 Kappler had supervised the summary execution of more than 300 randomly chosen Italians in the Ardeatine Caves in retaliation for the deaths of 33 SS men. Hugh O'Flaherty, at the moment of his death in 1963 surely heard Jesus speak to him his words from Matthew 25:36, 'I was . . . in prison and you came to see me'.

I find this gospel consoling because so often my immediate reaction to a request is to say 'No'. But God gives me the grace to say 'Yes'. The priest's immediate anger and disgust at Kappler's request were perfectly understandable and normal. In Worldwide Marriage Encounter we say that feelings are neither right nor wrong. It's what comes next that is either right or wrong. We also emphasise that Love is a Decision.

Father O'Flaherty's decision to love his enemy was one with eternal consequences as had his many decisions to save the lives of others despite the danger to his own life.

The real Herbert Kappler (1907 - 1978)

The real Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty (1898 - 1863), from the website of the Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Society.

22 September 2011

'The Return to the Dark Ages'

For many years my Columban colleague Fr Shay Cullen has been fighting agains the exploitation of women and children in the Philippines and has won a number of awards for this. He has spoken to legislators in a number of Western countries, some of which have brought in laws enabling them to charge their own citizens for crimes against children in other countries. Father Shay writes a weekly 'Reflections' column that is published in a number of countries. Reflections No 553, his latest, is below.

The news-clip above was made a few years when Rodrigo Duterte was Mayor of Davao City. Father Cullen mentions him, though not by name, in his column. As he was ineligible to run again last year for Mayor he had his daughter run instead while he ran for Vice Mayor. Both were elected. That is how power is passed on in most parts of the Philippines.

Fr Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and online.

It’s back to the dark ages for the hysterical tabloid press in Metro Manila where the bellowing newscasters and commentators are condemning street children and children in conflict with the law as criminals. The most strident commentators call for the children to be charged and jailed and to reduce the age of criminal liability to 12 or younger. They demand that the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act be changed.

This act, Republic Act 9344, is a landmark piece of legislation of compassion that seeks to restore the deprived life of children in conflict with the law. It says that children younger than 15 have an alternative to harsh, cruel prison life where enough of them have been raped, abused, beaten and starved in sub-human conditions. They can be helped, given a chance of an education and rehabilitation through meeting their basic human rights, nutritional needs and education. However, up to a million children and minors from the teeming slums frequent the streets and join gangs to survive. Many hundreds of youth are still jailed in conditions not even fit for animals.

Those who advocate the repeal of the law don't know the reality. They are branding the street children as the tools of the criminal syndicates which the police are either too scared to oppose or are in cahoots with. Instead of exposing the criminal syndicates and their wealthy masterminds, the irresponsible commentators are setting up the street kids as targets for death squads.

Not only that, a few commentators, after giving tirades condemning the street kids over the radio or TV and arousing fear and hatred against them, launch their own text-in surveys, then use this survey result to justify their continued condemnation of the children. The one straightforward solution is to feed and educate the young and give jobs with a living wage to the older teenage youth.

The death squads too are busy killing hundreds of street youth in recent years and doing their bloody butchering work with a nods and winks from their political backers and incompetent police. The latest, most gruesome, has been the killing of three youths, 13 and 14, tied, gagged, tortured and stabbed a hundred times and thrown as garbage in a ditch in Zamboanga City, to the eternal shame of the politicians, police and citizens. Their muffled screams still cry out for justice and mercy. But there is none.

Cebu and Davao cities are the most notorious for the extermination of street youth. Ten years ago, I called on the then Mayor of Davao City to defend human rights and stop the killings of street youth. Instead, he charged me with libel and had me hailed to court.

It was a proud moment indeed to be able to take a stand for the kids in court but what¹s even more amazing was the crowd of street children that came to Davao City airport to surround me with their malnourished bodies to protect me from the assassins’ guns and escort me to a van away from danger. In the end, the Mayor was persuaded to drop the baseless charge. The death squads rule by fear but the politicians call it democracy. If the majority of the people approve by their silence, then I suppose it is. It is the democracy of death and the death of democracy.

There will be no end to the thousands homeless urchins that challenge our conscience and religious beliefs until the root cause is dealt with. That is the corrupt system of government and the insurmountable inequality of society. There is the unbridgeable gap between the tiny group of luxuriously living rich and the masses of struggling poor. It’s a society where two percent of the population own about 70 percent of the natural wealth and the millions of hungry slum dwelling people are barely surviving from day to day.

Poverty, mass unemployment and hunger drive the children from these slums on to the streets to a miserable life of hunger and hopelessness. They go begging, and cannot resist stealing when they are hungry and smell the aroma of the delicious foods that wafts out from the fast food restaurants. The hungry children are driven crazy with the desire for a decent meal. Most of the time they live on left-overs from garbage cans. The government has no homes to care for them and deliver their basic human rights. They are the abandoned and forgotten until they are forced to steal in order to eat. Then they are condemned to prison.

This is the fundamental failure of the Church, politicians, society and humanity - to remain indifferent to the hungry needy children and allow them to be condemned as criminals. We have to come to their defense and give them a life of dignity and decency. END

21 September 2011

The Calling of St Matthew

Fr Finbarr Maxwell, a Columban from Dublin who worked before in Pakistan and is studying in the USA at present, drew this painting to my attention when he gave a group of us here in the Philippines a retreat three or four years ago. The gospel of today's Mass for the Feast of St Matthew has a starkness and urgency about it. It's not how most of us hear our vocation or call, whatever it may be, from Jesus.

Fr Mike McGovern in the video points out that while Jesus and St Peter are dressed as men of their time and place, Matthew and his companions are dressed as contemporaries of Caravaggio. In other words, Jesus calls us where we are and in our times.

Matthew 9:9-13 (RSV Catholic Edition)

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

The Calling of St Matthew, Caravaggio, painted 1599-1600

20 September 2011

Feast of the Korean Martyrs. Pregnant Mother Spared by Persecutors.

St Andrew Kim Taegon, (1821-1846), Myeongdong Cathedral, Seoul

St Andrew Kim Taegon's last words: This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively : if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.

Today the Church honours the 103 Korean martyrs canonized on 6 May 1984 by Blessed Pope John Paul II in Seoul. However, around 8,000 Korean Catholics were martyred during periodic persecutions between 1839 and 1868. Among the 8,000 was the grandfather of the first Korean cardinal.

In an article published in July-August 2009 in Misyon, which I edit for the Columbans in the Philippines, after the death of Cardinal Kim Columban Fr Donal O'Keeffe told this extraordinary story: Kim Sou-Hwan (Stephen) was born in May 1922 in Taegu in the province of Kyongsangdo to a fervent Catholic family. His grandfather Kim Bo-hyun (John) was arrested and martyred in Seoul in 1868 during the last persecution of Christians in Korea. His grandmother was also to be executed with him but was released because she was pregnant. The child born was Kim Young-sok (Joseph) who was to become the father of Kim Sou-hwan.

Today many say it is a woman's 'right' to have her unborn baby killed. Yet those who put Cardinal Kim's grandfather and many others to death respected the life of the unborn child his grandmother was carrying.

Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-whan (1922-2009)

A poem of remembrance
by Fr Kevin O'Rourke

Fr Kevin O’Rourke, a Columban from Ireland ordained in 1963, is professor of English at Kyunghee University in Seoul, Korea, and is the author of three books of Korean poetry in translation and is planning to produce an anthology from AD 668 to the present day.

Dust of snow,
a wind that chills to the bone,
pinched mourning faces,
collars raised, hats pulled low,
the shiver of death everywhere.
Cardinal Kim Suhwan
is lowered to his final resting place.

He brought forth simplicity,
a water simplicity that quickened
every root it touched.
He brought forth patience,
a medicament patience that salved
the wounds of the poor.
He brought forth compassion,
a loving compassion that embraced the world.
Simplicity, patience, compassion,
these three:
timber for a master carpenter,
clay for a master potter,
the hub of a master priest’s wheel.
'If you bring forth what is inside,
what you bring forth will save'.

17 September 2011

‘Why be envious because I am generous?’ Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 18 September 2011

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Johann Christian Brand, (painted 1769)

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

Gospel Matthew 20:1-16a (Jerusalem Bible, used in Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

'Now the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, "You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage". So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, "Why have you been standing here idle all day?" "Because no one has hired us" they answered. He said to them, "You go into my vineyard too". In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, "Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first". So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. "The men who came last" they said "have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day's work in all the heat." He answered one of them and said, "My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?" Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.'

Soiscéal Matha 20:1-16a (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail: “Óir is iad dála ríocht na bhflaitheas mar a bhí ag fear tí a ghabh amach go moch ar maidin chun lucht oibre a fhostú i gcomhair a fhíonghoirt. Réitigh sé leis na fir oibre ar dhéanar sa lá agus sheol sé isteach ina fhíonghort iad. Nuair a chuaigh sé amach timpeall an tríú huair, chonaic sé daoine eile ina seasamh díomhaoin in áit an mhargaidh agus dúirt sé leo: ‘Isteach i m’fhíonghort libhse freisin, agus díolfaidh mé libh an pá ceart.’ Agus isteach leo. Chuaigh sé amach arís timpeall an séú agus an naoú huair agus rinne sé an rud céanna. Ach nuair a chuaigh sé amach timpeall an aonú huair déag, fuair sé tuilleadh acu ann agus dúirt leo: ‘Cad a d’fhág anseo ar feadh an lae sibh agus sibh díomhaoin?’ Dúirt siad: ‘Mar nár fhostaigh aon duine sinn.’ Dúirt sé leo: ‘Sibhse freisin, isteach san fhíonghort libh.’ Nuair a bhí an tráthnóna ann, dúirt úinéir an fhíonghoirt leis an mbainisteoir: ‘Glaoigh ar na fir oibre agus tabhair dóibh a dtuarastal, siar ón dream déanach go dtí an dream is túisce a tháinig.’ Nuair a tháinig muintir an aonú huair déag, fuair siad déanar an duine. Agus shíl an chéad dream nuair a tháinig siad go bhfaighidís níos mó. Ach is déanar an duine a fuair siad sin féin. Agus nuair a fuair siad é, bhí siad ag monabhar ar fhear an tí: ‘An dream déanach seo,’ deiridís, ‘níor thug siad ach an t-aon uair amháin, agus chuir tú ar aon dul iad féin agus sinne a d’fhulaing ualach an lae agus an brothall.’ D’fhreagair sé duine acu á rá: ‘Nílim ag déanamh aon éagóra ort, a chara: nach ar dhéanar a réitigh tú liom? Tóg a bhfuil ag dul duit agus imigh. Ach is áil liomsa oiread a thabhairt don fhear deireanach seo agus a thugaim duit. An ea nach bhfuil cead agam mo rogha ní a dhéanamh le mo chuid féin? Nó an ea go bhfuil do shúilse éadmhar de bhrí go bhfuilim féin maith?’ Sin mar a bheidh a bhfuil ar deireadh ar tosach agus a bhfuil ar tosach ar deireadh.”

Communion antiphon, John 10:14. Ego sum pastor bonus, dicit Dóminus; et cognósco oves meas, et cognóscunt me meae. I am the Good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep and mine know me.

This text is also used as the Alleluia on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Years A,B and C in the Ordinary Form of the Mass (the 'New Mass' introduced in 1969 that we are all familiar with) and on the Second Sunday after Easter in the Extraordinary Form (the 'Old Mass' that many of us grew up with and which is once again celebrated in many places with the full encouragement of Pope Benedict. The Institute of St Philip Neri, at whose church in Berlin the above video was made, is a Society of Apostolic Life of Ponitifical Right established in 2004.
We are two in our family. My brother Paddy (Patrick) is three years younger than I am. I remember at various stages of my growing years feeling some resentment because he was allowed to do certain things at an earlier age than I had been. It was only years later that it dawned on me that the first child is a sort of guinea-pig on which parents practise being parents. I’ve experienced something of this myself in working with seminarians. I was rather strict, though fair, with the first group of mainly 16-year-olds we Columbans accepted as our first seminarians in the Philippines in 1984. However, as each year passed I learned from experience where to give a little latitude. I continue to learn the truth of what my Dad often said to me, 'The experience will be good for you'.

When I celebrated my First Mass on 21 December 1967 I discovered a wonderful gift that my brother had: the ability to organise people in such a way that they made new friends, as he showed in the seating arrangements for the meal afterwards. He made sure that everyone knew at least one other person at their table. The result was that everyone ended up with at least five friends, old and new. I’ve seen him use that same gift many times since. I don’t have the same ability but truly admire it in my brother.

In the summer of 1969 I spent most of the summer in a rural parish in Kentucky, during a break from studies near New York. Most of the people, black and white, were poor and there were very few Catholics. There were also the remnants of an anti-Catholicism based on ignorance. The parish priest, Fr Ralph Beiting, had an amazing gift for inspiring and organizing students from all over the USA, mostly at college level, and getting them to spend a week or two, a month or two, helping to run summer camps for children, Bible schools, house to house visitation and so on. However, if you wanted to share a problem or felt the need for someone to listen to you he wasn’t the man to approach.

But I found many approaching me, even older persons. I discovered a gift I had never been aware of before. Another priest in the parish had a fantastic rapport with children but couldn’t relate to adolescents or young adults. Each of us had different gifts, all needed by the community. We would never have come together without the vision of Father Beiting.

These experiences come to mind because I see in today’s parable, not a programme for labour relations but an expression of God’s utter generosity. The owner of the vineyard didn’t underpay any of his workers but shared his largesse. I have long since discovered that there’s no need to be envious of the abilities another may have that I don’t. My brother’s ability to organize a function, not so much in terms of filling seats but doing that while offering persons a chance to meet old friends and make new ones, is something I rejoice in. I rejoice in the fact that so many persons down the years have felt free to approach me for advice, to share a worry, to come to me as a priest to confess. I thank God for a certain ability to write, which I had some awareness of even in primary school, partly due to excellent teachers who were also mentors, and which I can use in proclaiming the Gospel online, in articles, in letters. I rejoice in the ability of my friend Richelle who comes from a background of poverty, graduated summa cum laude earlier this year, came second in the Philippines in her licensure examination in June, who carries her giftedness lightly and whose ‘signature’ at the end of each personal email is, For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future (Jeremiah 29:11), expressing her gratitude to God for her ‘daily wage’ or ‘denarius’, which is, in reality, a life-long wage.

The ‘usual daily wage’ (New American Bible) or ‘denarius’ (Jerusalem Bible) that God gives each of us, whatever he may ask of us in terms of work, is given not at the end of the day but at the moment of our conception, in terms of our innate abilities and characteristics, and renewed each day through God’s grace. Some may be called to martyrdom, some to lay down their lives, not so much in martyrdom as to bring life to others. Some may be called to spend their lives in virtual anonymity, maybe taking care of aged parents or putting younger siblings through school, both so common here in the Philippines. Some, like Isabelo, a friend born with Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome), who would always remind us at celebrations of our Faith and Life community in Cebu in the early 1990s that some, whom he would name, hadn’t arrived yet. God had given him this gift for the wider community to value the individuality of each.

But the wage that God wants to give each of us at the end of the day is far more than a ‘daily wage’ or a ‘denarius’: it is eternal life. By the way we carry out God’s will we can accept or reject this.

14 September 2011

'The cold-blooded murder of the English tongue'

Jeremy Irons and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in a concert version of My Fair Lady.

If one were at a Mass in English last Sunday in the USA or the Philippines one would have raised one's eyebrows on hearing the first line from the Second Reading (Romans 14:7): None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.

This is from the New American Bible, Revised Edition. The New Testament came out in 1986. The website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops informs one that, Released on March 9, 2011, the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) is the culmination of nearly 20 years of work by a group of nearly 100 scholars and theologians, including bishops, revisers and editors. One is tempted to say that Professor Henry Higgins is correct when he says of the English language in the song above, In America they haven’t used it for years.

The NABRE is a partly-neutered revision of the New American Bible. If one had been in a church in the Philippines where they still use the older New American Bible lectionary one would have heard, None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master, identical with the translation of Monsignor Ronald Knox, except for a comma after the first 'master'.

If one had been at Mass in Australia, England and Wales, Ireland or Scotland, one would have heard, For none of us lives for himself or none of dies for himself (Jerusalem Bible) or None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself (Revised Standard Version). The New Revised Standard Version, which tries to avoid 'non-inclusive' language reads, We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.

The Douai-Rheims translation and that of the Authorised Versions (King James) are identical except for punctuation: For none of us liveth to himself: and no man dieth to himself

One should be careful how one uses 'one' or 'oneself'. One suspects that None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself would not meet the the approval of Prince Charles, sometimes referred to as 'One', but one who knows a thing or two about the Queen's - and King's - English.

09 September 2011

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

St Peter in Penitence, El Greco, painted c.1605

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

Gospel Matthew 18:21-35 (Jerusalem Bible, used in Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland).

Peter went up to Jesus and said, 'Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?' Jesus answered, 'Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times. 
'And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master's feet. "Give me time" he said "and I will pay the whole sum." And the servant's master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. "Pay what you owe me" he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, "Give me time and I will pay you". But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. "You wicked servant," he said "I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?" And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.'

Soiscéal Matha 18:21-35 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Tháinig Peadar chuig Íosa ansin agus dúirt leis: “A Thiarna, cé mhéad uair ba cheart dom pardún a thabhairt do mo bhráthair nuair a chiontaíonn i m’aghaidh? Go dtí seacht n-uaire?” Dúirt Íosa leis: “Ní go dtí seacht n-uaire a deirimse leat ach go dtí seacht n-uaire seachtód.

“Agus dá réir sin is iad dála ríocht na bhflaitheas mar a bhí ag rí arbh áil leis cuntais a réiteach lena chuid seirbhíseach. Agus i dtosach an réitigh dó, tugadh chuige duine a raibh deich míle tallann amuigh air. Agus ó tharla gan an t-íoc a bheith aige, d’ordaigh an maistir é a dhíol, agus a bhean agus a chlann agus a raibh aige, agus an t-íoc a dhéanamh. Mar sin, chaith an seirbhíseach é féin ar lár, agus ag umhlú dó dúirt: ‘Bíodh foighne agat liom a mháistir, agus íocfaidh mé an t-iomlán leat.’ Agus le barr trua, scaoil máistir an tseirbhísigh sin uaidh é agus mhaith na fiacha dó. Ag dul amach don seirbhíseach sin, casadh air duine dá chomhsheirbhísigh a raibh céad déanar aige féin air, agus rug sé greim scóige air ag rá: ‘Íoc a bhfuil amuigh ort!’ Mar sin, chaith a chomhsheirbhíseach é féin ar lár ag achainí air: ‘Bíodh foighne agat liom,’ ar seisean, ‘agus íocfaidh mé leat é.’ Ach níorbh áil leis siúd é gan dul agus é theilgean i bpríosún nó go n-íocfadh sé na fiacha. Nuair a chonaic a chomhsheirbhísigh an méid sin, ghabh buaireamh mór iad, agus chuaigh siad ag insint an scéil ar fad dá máistir. Chuir an máistir fios air: ‘A sheirbhísigh mhallaithe,’ ar seisean, ‘mhaith mé féin duitse na fiacha úd ar fad mar go ndearna tú achainí orm. Nár cheart go ndéanfása mar an gcéanna trócaire ar do chomhsheirbhíseach faoi mar a rinne mise trócaire ort?’ Agus le barr feirge thug a mháistir suas do na céastúnaigh é nó go n-íocfadh sé na fiacha leis go hiomlán. Sin é freisin mar a dhéanfaidh m’Athair neamhaí libhse ach mura maitheann gach duine agaibh dá bhráthair féin ó chroí.”

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 chacarera, carnavalito 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.  

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 of Ariel Ramírez of the Kyrie expresses the same thing.
Fr Werenfried van Straaten OPraem
Two examples come to mind. One is that of Fr Werenfried van Straaten OPraem (1913-2003), about whom I posted on 6 June this year. 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.
During the week I came across 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 take from a post in a wonderful blog called Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ.
Father Doyle is describing in a letter to his father in Dublin events of 5 September 1916:
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 holidng hands in death illustrates poignantly and powerfully what Jesus asks of us.
Fr Willie Doyle's letter recalls to me the poem Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen. He was perhaps the greatest of the English poets of the Great War. Tragically, he was killed in action only one week before the war ended and his mother was informed of his death on 11 November 1918 when it actually did.

'I am the enemy you killed, my friend'.

08 September 2011

Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Birth of the Virgin, Murillo, 1660

Lord God,
the day of our salvation dawned
when the Blessed Virgin gave birth to your Son.
As we celebrate her nativity
grant us your grace and your peace.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(From the Divine Office approved by the Episcopal Conferences of Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland).

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae,
ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

06 September 2011

50 years with the Columbans

Fr Aedan McGrath

On the first Tuesday of September 1961 - the date was the 5th - I and more than 40 other young men entered St Columban's College, Dalgan Park, Navan, about 40 kms north-west of my native Dublin, hoping to be Columban priests one day and heading off to Chile, Fiji, Japan, Korea, Peru or the Philippines about seven years later. As it happened, some were to find their way to Pakistan, which became a Columban mission in 1978 along with Taiwan.

I was then 18 but since I was 14 had wanted to be a missionary priest. I decided on the Columbans when I was 16 but had to wait to do my Leaving Certificate. I went to Dalgan Park in Easter Week 1961 to be interviewed and have a medical examination. I was very happy when accepted. Then I had to get a black suit, some white shirts and a black tie, not to mention a black hat, required in those days.

One thing was niggling me: what would my parents think if I ever decided to leave? The term 'spoiled priest', someone who left the seminary, was still used occasionally, though never in my family. There were nor relatives who were priests or religious and I was the first in our generation of cousins, all on my mother's side, to do the Leaving Certificate. As if he had read my mind, my father took me aside just before he and my mother drove me down to Dalgan Park and said, 'If you ever decide to leave, as long as you're happy your mother and I will be happy'. It was a great load off my mind. As it turned out, I never seriously thought of leaving.

During my secondary school years I read a number of books by Columbans who had suffered after the Communist takeover in China in 1949 and during the Korean War. I knew that some had been killed because they had stayed with the people.

One priest whom I particularly admired was Fr Aedan McGrath, who had spent nearly three years in solitary confinement in China between 1950 and 1953. I remember the headlines when he arrived hom to be greeted at Dublin Airport by thousands of people, including President Seán T. O’Kelly, a dapper figure like Father Aedan and known to everyone as 'Seán T', and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Éamon De Valera, 'Dev'. I had no idea then that Father Aedan would become a good friend. He told me that when he saw the crowds from the plane he said to himself, 'There must be someone important on board', not realising it was himself.

Father Aedan was the second of three brothers who became Columbans. The eldest, Father Ronan, was our director during our first year in Dalgan, our Probation Year, similar to a novitiate in religious orders and congregations. One of the reasons I joined the Columbans was that we are a society of apostolic life, secular priests bound by an oath of obedience but with no religious vows. I had no desire to take an oath of poverty, though I didn't expect to become wealthy - nor have I in the financial sense! The third McGrath (pronounced 'muGRA', the 'a' as in 'grass') was Father Ivor.

Father Ronan was then 60 and seemed very old to me. He was to be the first Columban, as Father Aedan put it, 'to enter heaven on a bicycle'. He was hit outside Dalgan while cycling at the age of 90.

Fr John Blowick, one of the two co-founders of the Columbans, was still teaching moral theology when I entered Dalgan, though had retired by the time our class studied theology. However, he was very much in evidence and gave us talks from time to time and stopped for a chat when we met him in the corridors.

Father Aedan died suddenly on Christmas Day at the age of 94 at a family gathering in his native Dublin.

The video below was put together by my editorial staff at Misyon, which I edit for the Columbans here in the Philippines. It incorporates the video at the top.

Please thank God with me for the last 50 years and remember all Columbans, living and dead, in your prayers.

04 September 2011

Vatican's response to Irish Government

The Irish Times carries the video above of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin giving his comments to the press on the Response of the Holy See to the Government of IrelandTaoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny alleged in the Dáil (Irish parliament) that the Holy See had attempted 'to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago'. Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore told Papa Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza 'that the Vatican had intervened to effectively have priests believe they could in consicence evade their responsibilities under Irish law'.

The response of the Holy See is measured and lacking rancour. Archbishop Martin says of Mr Kenny's comments in the Dáil and the subsequent comments by is office 'merits explanation'.

I think that Mr Kenny's speech acted as a conduit for the anger that so many Irish people felt, including those who have stayed in the Church - and the Taoiseach spoke as one of them - and perhaps brought it home to some in the Vatican that this whole situation has done enormous damage to the Church and to its ability to carry out its mission.

Archbishop Martin notes favourably that the new Irish government is the first in the history of the state to set up a cabinet ministry for children. (The cabinet is constitutionally limited to 14 members).

I hope that this diplomatic row has cleared the air to some degree and that it will help Church and State to work together for the sake not only of those who have already been hurt but for the sake of children in the future. I hope too that all involved directly will listen to Archbishop Martin's plea that this not become another opportunity for polemics, which helps no one, least of all those who have been abused.

But more reports are on their way, that of the Diocese of Raphoe in the north-west of the country and one of the Garda Síochána, the Irish police force, that has been looking at records of their own going back 80 or 90 years.

The 'one or two bad apples' doesn't wash anymore. But I know that the vast majority of Irish priests are upright and honest men. We have seen from examples in Belgium, Austria and the USA that it is possible for a man to imprison and abuse his own children for years without the next door neighbours knowing. But it's also possible for a community to turn its eyes from awful abuse within families, as two recent examples in Ireland, where the perpetrator was the mother, have shown. Mr Kenny referred to one such case in his Dáil speech. There have been similar cases in England in recent years when social workers could have prevented the deaths of children but didn't.

And the awful reality remains that the victims of priests in Ireland are fewer that four percent of all victims of sexual abuse, according to the 2002 Savi Report, Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland.

03 September 2011

'Where two or three meet in my name . . .' Sunday Reflections, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 4 September 2011

Prayer of the Penitent Monks, Alessandro Magnasco (1667 – 1749)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 18:15-20 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England @ Wales, Ireland, Scotland).

Jesus said to his disciples: 'If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, is between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

'I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.

'I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven.

For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.'

Soiscéal Matha 18:15-20 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail “Má dhéanann do bhráthair peaca i d’aghaidh, gabh chuige á áiteamh air is gan ann ach é agus tú. Má éisteann sé leat, tá tú tar éis do bhráthair a thabhairt leat; ach mura n-éisteann, beir leat duine nó beirt eile, chun go mbeadh focal a dó nó a trí d’fhinnéithe ag deimhniú gach scéil. Má dhiúltaíonn sé éisteacht leo sin, inis don eaglais é; agus má dhiúltaíonn éisteacht leis an eaglais féin, bíodh sé ina phágánach agus ina phoibleacánach agat.

“Deirim libh go fírinneach, gach uile ní a cheanglaíonn sibh ar talamh beidh siad ceangailte ar neamh, agus nithe ar bith a scaoilfidh sibh ar talamh beidh siad scaoilte ar neamh.

Agus deirim go fírinneach rud eile libh má bhíonn beirt agaibh ar talamh ar aon aigne faoi rud ar bith a bhíonn le hiarraidh acu, beidh sé le fáil acu ó m’Athair atá ar neamh. Óir, mar a mbíonn beirt nó triúr tagtha i gceann a chéile i m’ainmse, bím féin ansin ina measc.”


The painting of Alessandro Magnasco ties in with both aspects of the gospel, the call to repentance, which the Church has an obligation to do in the name of Jesus, and the invitation to pray with one another for needs that we see. 

I remember years ago having to deal with a dispute between two young seminarians under my care. I had come back on Sunday night, drained after a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. One of the things we learn there is that a couple have the power to forgive through the sacrament of matrimony. In this sacrament Jesus is more than being  'there with them'. He is the one who makes husband and wife one.

Though I wanted to go to bed I knew I had to deal with this dispute. I met each of the two separately and asked each to describe factually what happened, what he was feeling and what he wanted to happen. I then sent each to the chapel to tell the Lord what he had told me and that I would then meet them together after half an hour. One was hardly there a few minutes when he came out and said 'He won't talk to me'. I asked 'Who?' 'The other student'. 'I told you to talk to the Lord', I reminded him, while inwardly smiling.

When they came out I met them together. After their prayer they were both ready to forgive each other. It also helped when I told them that each had described the incident in exactly the same way. In this case the two witnesses were the two 'perpetrators', though the other seminarians had drawn the matter to my attention as soon as I had arrived in the house. They were both young me of good will who wanted to follow Jesus with generosity. And when they were in the chapel together each was praying to Jesus for what he desired - reconciliation.

Jesus has given us his solemn word that in such a situation God the Father cannot but listen to our prayer.


The video above is or the Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy, from the Missa de Angelis, the best known and most widely used of all the Masses in Gregorian Chant. Gregorian Chant gets its name from St Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 610, on whose feast, 3 September, I am writing this. Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promulgated 4 December 1963, says in No 116: 'The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services'.

No 119 says, 'In certain parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are peoples who have their own musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason due importance is to be attached to their music, and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius'.

The Missa Luba is described in Wikipedia as 'a version of the Latin Mass based on traditional Congolese songs. It was arranged by Father Guido Haazen, a Franciscan Friar from Belgium, and originally performed and recorded in 1958 by "Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin", a choir of Congolese children from Kamina'.  At the time of the recording what is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo was still the Belgian Congo and the saintly King Baudouin the monarch. The recording was released internationally in 1963 and I remember it was very popular with my fellow seminarians, though we never tried to sing it. 

The Missa Luba anticipated what Vatican II would encourage

Kyrie Eleison is the only part of the Ordinary of the Mass in the Latin Rite that is in Greek. No matter what language we sing or say it in it is especially appropriate for today's Mass.