30 June 2009

From Altar Server to Bishop

Last Friday Zenit carried an article by Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on the story of his vocation to the priesthood. He is an exact contemporary of my own, though I was ordained some months before him. Unlike the bishop, I was never an altar server until I entered the seminary at the age of 18, though I do remember 'playing Mass' as a kid. I joined the altar servers at the Capuchin Church in Dublin after my First Holy Communion but got discourged at the prospect of having to memorise the Confiteor in Latin and left.

Bishop Henry is one of the most outspoken bishops in Canada, not afraid to confront the secularising influence in that country.

I've highlighted some parts of the article and made one or two (comments).


From Altar Server to Bishop

Priesthood Is a Pilgrimage and Privilege

By Bishop Frederick Henry

CALGARY, Alberta, JUNE 26, 2009 (Zenit.org).- One of the great joys of my youth was to be an altar server. I was so taken by the Eucharist that I used to pretend to say Mass in my bedroom with my younger brothers acting as my altar servers. It was always a challenge to teach them their Latin responses and, while I was not always the soul of patience, our mutual perseverance seemed to win the day and we didn't do too badly.

Being an altar server allowed me to see what the priest did up close. I can remember thinking what a privilege it was to be a priest and bring the Body and Blood of the Lord to people.

As I observed my pastor's activity, I noted that the people would bring their newborn children to him and say, "give them the faith, baptize them." He always seemed to be there at the critical moments in their lives: weddings, sicknesses, funerals, and parties. I thought, "What a neat job!"

The possibility began to emerge in my consciousness that maybe God wanted me to be a priest.

Several years later, upon being appointed bishop of Calgary, I was being interviewed about my vocation on radio and I shared these early memories.

It just so happened that my mother heard the interview and told me that I didn't quite get it right. She explained that one day during Mass at the cathedral, while still a preschooler, I pointed to the priest and blurted out: "I'm going to be one of those guys."


I have no recollection of this event, but it taught me something of the mysterious nature of the working of God grace. God's presence is not always obvious and God's actions are sometimes subtle and hidden. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth, I consecrated you; I have appointed you as prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:4-5).

Building on the internal drawing of God's grace, the identification with my pastor, the tapping on the shoulder by a religious sister who asked, "have you thought about becoming a priest?," the example and faith of my mother and father, and with the encouragement of my peers and people -- both those with faith and those without -- with whom I worked over the years, and the seminary formation personnel, together enabled God's call to be both clarified and confirmed. (I can identify with most of that, especially the encouragement from my peers, my classamtes in school).

One of my father's comments proved to be of particular importance in my formation. We used to have many animated discussions around the kitchen table about religion and our parish activities. Sometimes, we would move into the realm of critical comments. My father was always uncomfortable about criticism of any of our priests and he would repeatedly say: "Yes, but he is a holy man." I wasn't always convinced, but I began to understand the distinction between the office and the man.

God makes use of human instruments, imperfect men, whom he calls to continue the role and mission of the Apostles, to do what he did. It is much like the Apostle Paul who could write: "I who am less than the least of all God's holy people, have been entrusted with this special grace, of proclaiming to the gentiles the unfathomable treasures of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). (If only we priests could keep that focus always!)

I was ordained a priest in 1968 and a bishop in 1986. It's been a wonderful journey, perhaps more aptly, a pilgrimage. I remember, with considerable embarrassment, praying at the end of first theology before applying for tonsure: "Alright, God, I will be your priest, but I hope you realize all that I am giving up for you." At the time I didn't understand: "In truth I tell you, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times as much, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land -- and persecutions too -- now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life" (Mark 10:29-31).

God has certainly not been stingy with his blessings.

Most of my experience of priesthood and the episcopacy has been lived under the motif of John 21. I can readily identify with Peter as he was repeatedly questioned by Jesus, "Do you love me?" Peter's response is much like my own -- a measured, tested, but feeble and humble, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you."


However, the really critical words are Jesus' rejoinder: "In all truth I tell you, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch your hands, and someone else will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go" (John 21:18).

I have never had one appointment that I would have chosen for myself. As a result of my discernment in the seminary, I concluded that God wanted me to be a parish priest, not a member of a religious community and certainly not a teacher.

My first assignment as an associate pastor was to follow a very successful extroverted priest who had a special gift for working with young people. As an introvert, I did not want to follow him and thought that I had no gifts for working with young people.

I did not want to do postgraduate studies but was asked to do so by my bishop and so I consented. I would also teach for a number of years at the seminary.

I didn't want to become rector of the seminary, but rather to return to parish life and I told my bishop so. I added that I could only tell him where I was at, and that he, as bishop, would have to make the decision as to where I would serve based on the needs of the diocese. For my part, I would have to respond with faith and obedience.

I thoroughly enjoyed being a seminary rector.

I didn't want to become an auxiliary bishop, but God's will be done.

I didn't want to be an ordinary (note: 'ordinary' here means the bishop in charge of a diocese) in either diocese where I was assigned. However, by surrendering and letting myself be led by the Holy Spirit, each successive move became more satisfying and fulfilling than the previous one. So much so that, jokingly, I have said that I can't wait for the next move!

Nevertheless, I am really happy where I am and it goes without saying: I don't want to move.

* * *

Frederick Henry was ordained a priest for the Diocese of London, Ontario, on May 25, 1968. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop of the diocese on June 24, 1986. He has been the bishop of Calgary since 1998. Bishop Henry served as a Canadian delegate to the 1990 synod of bishops on the formation of priests, and was appointed as representative of the Holy See for the Apostolic Visitation of Canadian seminaries.

25 June 2009

'Give her something to eat'

Christ resurrects the daughter of Jairus, Friedrich Overbeck, 1815

I won't be on the net until at least Monday because I'm flying to Cebu tomorrow, about 25 minutes east of Bacolod City, to be the team-priest for a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend.

Here are some thoughts on the gospel for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 28 June, which I've also posted on the Online Forum of Misyon, which I edit on behalf of the Columbans in the Philippines. The gospel is taken from St Mark 5:21-43 (shorter version, 5:21-24, 35b-43). It's really a pity when the Church lets us omit one of two powerful stories that the evangelist has deliberately intertwined.

This is one of my very favourite gospels. St Mark combines two stories, that of a woman who has been sick for twelve years, and the raising to life again of a 12-year-old girl.

In the shorter version of the gospel that may be used the story of the woman is left out. Really, I think the full gospel should be read.

St Mark's gospel gives us human details about Jesus that the others don't give. An example of this is the very last line: 'He . . . said that she should be given something to eat.' I can imagine the excitement of the parents and relatives and the smile on the face of Jesus as he gently reminds the family that the young girl is hungry, having been very ill.

This is also one of very few gospel stories where the actual words as Jesus spoke them in Aramaic are recorded. 'Talitha, koum!', 'Little girl, I say to you, arise!' There's an intimacy in the recording of the Aramaic here. The Maayong Balita - Good News - translation in Cebuano-Visayan translates those words as 'Inday, bangon!'. In Cebuano, 'Inday' is a term of affection and respect for a young girl or for a woman not older than yourself. It is sometimes a person's nickname.

I once gave a recollection day to children in a Catholic elementary school in Cebu and used this story. Some of the children thought that the girl's name was Talitha! After lunch some of the chldren came to me to tell me that one of them had a toothache and asked if we could pray with her so that she would get better as 'Talitha' did. We prayed together with the young Cebuana 'Talitha' and her toothache went and she was able to continue with us in the afternoon.

The story of the woman with the hemorrhage is one that is so common in the Philippines, not in the details of the actual illness, but in the reality of families, sometimes families that weren't poor before, becoming penniless because of medical expenses. Even those who are covered by Medicare have to pay cash down before they are treated, even though they may have been paying in for years. (They eventually get a refund that doesn't take into the account the money they have had to borrow in the meantime and pay back with interest because of the unfeeling bureaucracy that is so prevalent in the Philippines).

This poor woman was also considered 'unclean' because of the nature of her illness and so was ostracized to some extent. so she experienced not only a physical cure but was brought back into the life of the community.

St Mark notes that Jesus was 'aware at once that power had gone out from him'. This shows that Jesus wasn't a 'magician; saying words that cost him nothing but that he was personally involved with those he healed and that each of these encounters cost him something.

Raising of Jairus’ daughter, Ilya Rapin, 1871

Mk 5:21-43 (Revised Standard Version)

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him; and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, and besought him, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, "If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well." And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, "Who touched my garments?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ' Who touched me?" And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?" But ignoring * what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Talitha cumi"; which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

I was unable to locate a painting of the healing of the woman.

23 June 2009

Heavy feelings over Greek and Latin being introduced in Mass

Manila Cathedral

Below is an email I received the other day from a friend who, with his wife, both now retired, has spent all his working life in the professional service of the Church, particularly in the training of lay leaders in rural communities and among the poor in urban areas.

The names of my friends don’t matter here nor their place, which is in Mindanao. I have included the email as written in Cebuano-Visayan and given an English translation. Cebuano is the most widely-spoken mother-tongue in the Philippines, both in terms of numbers and in terms of area, and is the second or third language of many more in Mindanao. For the past 40 years or so it has been the main liturgical language in the southern Philippines, especially outside of large cities where English is widely used, though not in the parish where my friend lives.

I would welcome your views on this. I have my own but prefer not to share them yet.

For readers outside the Philippines, 6am is the most popular time for both Sunday and weekday Masses throughout the country. People get up with the sun and it’s not at all the same as 6am in northern Europe or in North America.

Buot lang ko mopadayag sa akong gibati tungod sa paggamit sa (Griego)ug Latin nga mga alawiton sa importaneng bahin sa Misa sa Cathedral. Ambot unsa kaha ang reaction sa Obispo ini. Ania ang content:

Sorry kaayo, Monsignor, nga sukad gibalik ang (Griego) o Latin nga mga kalantahon sa importante kaayong bahin sa alas 6 nga Misa sa Domingo, mopauli ko nga frustrated kaayo. Mobati ko nga dili hingpit ang akong pagdayeg ug pasalamat sa Ginoo. Dili hingpit ang akong pagsaulog, kay dili man kaugalingong natong pinulongan ang gigamit, ug gawas pa, diyotay ra kaayo kog masabtan niini. Ambot kon mao ba usab ni ang gibati sa uban. Para nako nindot man ug balaan ang Misang Latin kon itunong kini sa tinuyo nga oras ug sa espesyal nga grupo. Ang alas 6 nga Misa mao man god sakto kaayo nga panahon alang namong magtiayon. Bug-at kaayo kining akong gabati mao nga nangahas ko pagpadayag ini nimo. Usbon nako, pasayloa lang gyod ko.

I want to share my feelings about the use of (Greek) and Latin in the important sung parts of the Mass in the Cathedral. I don’t know how the bishop will react to this. Here’s the content:

I’m very sorry, Monsignor, but since the return of Greek and Latin singing in the important parts of the 6am Mass on Sundays, I go home very frustrated. I feel that my worship and thanksgiving to the Lord aren’t perfect. My celebration isn’t perfect because the languages being used are not our own. Furthermore, very few understand (them). I don’t know if others feel the same. For me the Latin Mass would be good and sacred if it were celebrated at a specific time for a special group. Mass at 6am is just right for our families. I feel a heaviness and that’s why I wanted to share this with you. I repeat, please forgive me.

22 June 2009

The Sleeping Santo Niño

The Sleeping Sto Niño (There are many versions)

This is the actual Santo Niño given by Magellan to Rajah Humabon (Carlos) and Hara Amihan (Juana) in 1521.

Yesterday I quoted from a reflection by Simeon Dumdum, Jr, on the gospel of the day, the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jun/s wife Gingging in the comment box mentioned that he had another article relating to the same theme in yesterday's Cebu Daily News. Since the article isn't online, Gingging kindly sent it to me.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to upload an image of a carving of the Sleeping Santo Niño but you can find a photo here. 'Santo Niño' is the Spanish for 'Holy Child' and is closely linked with the history of the Catholic faith in the Philippines.


by Simeon Dumdum, Jr.

Not too long ago, a couple gifted us with a wood carving of the Child Jesus. It has the size, curls and royal garments of the Santo Niño of Cebu, as well as its crown, globe and scepter. Except that the globe lies on a seat and the figure reclines on it, sleeping – the scepter resting on a leg.

The statue, which has apparently gained popularity, goes by the name Sleeping Santo Niño.

In the house we give pride of place to a copy of the standard, the official representation enshrined in the basilica. It occupies the center of a table that serves as altar, together with the crucifix and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. But I am unsure as to where to put the Sleeping Santo Niño. My decision on the matter would almost certainly depend on whether it is a holy object or a mere artistic item – an objet d’art. I have since been inclined to the latter, having dragged my feet towards having it blessed (terrified of the priest’s refusal or ridicule), and for the moment having installed the statue above a console together with a paper weight portraying the head of a plumpish baby angel.

How did the first Sleeping Santo Niño come about? Did the one who carved it, true to his restless, artistic soul, make it purely for the purpose of creating something different, just as others have come up with their own different versions of the Holy Child, many of them clearly out of character, such as a Santo Niño holding a saw, a sight that would have terrified good St. Joseph himself.

Did the carver want to make such a statement? By the way, the official statement of the official representation of the Santo Niño is of the universal Kingship of Jesus, who is God, who became man, and is shown as a child to stress the need in the kingdom for the childlike virtues –dependence, trust, simplicity.

Someone, who apparently was losing in his grapple with faith, wrote about the Sleeping Santo Niño being a revelation of the “real” character of God – detached, indifferent, unconcerned with human problems.

This was exactly what the disciples felt when, while aboard a boat on the lake, a storm arose and the waves began swamping them, and Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Mark tells us that they woke Jesus up, saying, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?”

Jesus got up and rebuked the wind, commanded it to stop, and then turned towards the disciples to chide them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?”

I doubt that the originator of the Sleeping Santo Niño had this episode in mind when applying chisel to wood. Likely as not, he thought of a tender human scene – Baby Jesus, like any infant elaborately dressed up by its parents for a pageant and unmindful of adult concerns, succumbing to sleep, the thing that infants most need and yield to no matter the occasion.

But subconsciously the carver has conveyed to me the message that Mark gives in the incident about the storm on the lake. It was not accidental that Jesus slept on a cushion at the stern (neither was it inconceivable – it was evening, and as usual Jesus must have had a full day). His rebuke being proof, he gave the disciples a lesson on faith – of reliance on the protection of the Father so complete that like him they should have slept the storm away, as well as that his mere presence among them should have been assurance enough of safety. After all, he had power at any time to tell off the wind and the waves.

People who complain that God does not intervene enough in human affairs really want Him to do the work for them. But really with full faith in God they should first act, carry out their roles, let the play of their lives unfold, and not always whine for the Author to appear. Incidentally, C. S. Lewis tells us, “When the author walks on the stage, the play is over.”

Perhaps the Sleeping Santo Niño deserves a second look. It does no more than remind, not of a divine pastime, but of the proper human attitude – trust. The God who appears to sleep is really an unsleeping God – as watchful as a parent is of an infant that is learning to walk, and coming to its aid only when necessary.


I love Jun's reference to the sight of the Child Jesus holding a saw as something that 'would have terrified good St Joseph'! As the son of a carpenter named Joseph myself I felt embarrassed the first time I tried to use a saw and didn't have a clue. I still don't!

20 June 2009

'Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?'

The Gulf Stream, Winslow Homer (1899)

Last year Ateneo de Manila Press published a book by my friend Simeon Dumdum, Jr, Ah, Wilderness! Jun, whose day-job is that of a Regional Trial Court judge in Cebu City is a distinguished poet and his prose reflects that.

The subtitle of Ah, Wilderness! is A Journey Through Sacred Time. The short essays, which I think first appeared in the Cebu Daily News, are reflections linked to the different seasons of the Church’s liturgical year. In his introduction the author writes, ‘I move in a sacred world because God fills every space. Every journey – because in the en it s return to God – is a journey through sacred time.’ (Jun is expressing something similar to the quote from my patron St Columban on the masthead of my blog: ‘Since we are travellers and pilgrims in the world, let us ever ponder on the end of the road, that is of our life, for the end of our roadway is our home’).

I happened to read Jun’s essay Gulf Stream this morning in which he reflects on a painting by American painter Winslow Homer, The Gulf Stream. He writes: ‘One can look at Winslow Homer’s painting as an allegory of faith. The fuming waves and hungry sharks represent evil, and the boat the raft of faith that, though the fits of doubt have broken its mast, keeps one safely afloat. The painting calls up a scene from Mark. There, while Jesus and the apostles were crossing the lake a squall arose, terrifying everyone, except Jesus who was sleeping at the back of the boat. They woke him up, complaining that he did not care that they were about to die. But Jesus soot up and commanded the wind and the waves to be still, and they obeyed, and Jesus chided the apostles for their lack of faith’.

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jan Brueghel the Elder, c.1596

This story, from Mark 4:35-41, is the gospel for tomorrow, the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. Below is the RSV translation.

On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care if we perish?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"

19 June 2009

First ordination in Irish diocese for seven years

Padraig Fitgerald, Rev Michael Toohey and John Hassett

Seminarians of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, September 2008

Appropriately, on the day the the Year for Priests begins I came across a report of the first ordination to the priesthood in seven years in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, in the southeast of Ireland. Father Michael Toohey was ordained in Clonmel, County Tipperary, last Sunday, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

Father Toohey was born in London in 1970 and spent his first 23 years there but seems to have moved to his parents' home town, Clonmel, after that. May he have a long and fruitful ministry.

I've only been to Clonmel once, way back in November 1956, when my father was working there for six months, the foreman in charge of the renovation of Old St Mary's, the Church of Ireland church, built in the 13th century as a Catholic church.

Old St Mary's Church, Clonmel

We are all in need of conversion - via head and heart

Ananias Restores the Sight of Paul, Jean Restout II, 1719.
Acts 9:10-19 and 22:10-16.

The Year for Priests begins today, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and will continue until the same feast next year. It briefly coincides with the Year of St Paul, which began on the somentiy of Sts Peter and Paul last year, and ends on the same day htis year, 29 June.

I must confess that the Year of St Paul didn't impinge on my life too much though I hope that the Year for Priests will be one with which I will be fully engaged. I was happy to discover that I wasn't the only one not to have paid too much special attention to St Paul. Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, in his weekly column in the Catholic Sentinel, a column I get by email every week, acknowledges the same. However, he makes up for it with a very fine column, We are all in need of conversion - via head and heart.

BEND — This past year has been dedicated by the Holy Father as the Year of Saint Paul. I must acknowledge that I have been most negligent in not focusing on this theme more effectively throughout this year. I do know that there has been a significant amount of “Pauline” activity in the diocese in response to this theme and I commend the pastors and directors of religious education for their efforts in bringing Saint Paul, his life and his writings into clearer view this year. Before this year comes to a conclusion on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, I want to offer a few reflections on the Conversion of Saul.

We know well that Saul was blinded by a bright light as he was on his way to Damascus to arrest disciples of Jesus, known as followers of the Way. At the same time he heard a voice which asked why he was persecuting the speaker. In response to Saul’s question about who was speaking, he heard: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Then he was given instructions about what to do next. Someone else was also given instructions. A message came to Ananias, a follower of the Way in Damascus, who was very likely one of those whom Saul would have arrested and brought back to Jerusalem in chains. He was instructed to go to Saul and lay hands on him. Ananias shows his humanity by questioning the wisdom of such an action. He informs the Lord in his vision that Saul was the one who was persecuting the Church, as if the Lord did not already know this. So the Lord instructs Ananias that Saul was to be his chosen instrument. Imagine the faith, the charity, the forgiveness, the courage it would have taken for Ananias to approach this powerful, murderous man with a message of healing. But Ananias went because he had been sent.

What I find to be absolutely remarkable is the manner of approach taken by Ananias. We know that Ananias must have gone to the house on Straight Street with a bit of reluctance and trepidation and yet when he comes to that house he greets Saul saying, “Saul, my brother.” He does not come to him and say, “Saul, you murderous so-and-so ...” but rather “my brother.” I believe this welcome word has a profound effect upon Saul. During his days of blindness Saul had to be puzzling about many things, particularly his own previous blindness and his past excessive self-righteousness. He had to be asking himself how he could have been so sure of his theological positions just a few days ago and so confused now. He had to have had some fear that those whom he was intent upon arresting, and in whose complete power he now was, could easily do him great harm. Thus, to be received by a representative of the Christian community, a follower of the Way, with these welcoming words, without any indication of repentance on his part, had to have been a most powerful experience of mercy, acceptance and forgiveness. Simply, Saul, my brother.

It is important also to evaluate Saul’s blind passion against the Way. He approached the task of ridding adherents to the Way from the face of the earth with a raging, fuming anger muttering murderous threats. Why? Certainly there is pride but pride usually generates a different kind of hatred. The hatred of pride is more usually a cold disdain. There is a possibility of envy but Saul does not seem at all envious of those who were rejoicing in the Way. The passion that seems to explain Saul’s actions is fear. He sees in the Way the possibility that his world will be turned upside down and he happens to like his world very much. There was a strong possibility that he would be a great leader among the Jews. He was already endearing himself to the chief priests and there was promise of great religious fame. The adherents to the Way showed every sign that they were going to interfere with his plans for the future, interfere with his life, interfere with a promising career, disrupt his world. His fear, it seems to me, is not dissimilar from the fear expressed in our secular society. The degree of raging, vituperative anger expressed against the teachings of the Church, particularly relative to abortion and homosexuality, is a sign of this same fear. Being greeted in the midst of that confusion with the consoling and welcoming title of brother dissipates a lot of fear. Saul, my brother.

I see in Saul’s conversion a two-fold movement. He is moved by the theological consideration, presented to him in most dramatic fashion, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” This is material for thought, for the head. This is something with which Saul would have been very familiar and even comfortable. This is perhaps likened to pure catechesis. But Saul is also moved by the fraternal, communal consideration, “Saul, my brother.” This is an experience of community and fraternity which touches his heart. It is in this context that Saul can make a personal application of what he had heard on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” because it is now linked with, “Saul, my brother.” In being addressed by Ananias, a member of the Way, in this familiar, warm and accepting fashion he must have heard, “Saul, my brother, why are you persecuting me?”

Saul needed conversion. He was absolutely, unshakably certain that he was seeing matters clearly. He was certain that he was just and righteous. He categorically refused to call his view of the matter into question. He was incapable of asking himself, “What if I am wrong?” After meeting with Ananias he must have asked himself, “What was it in me that precluded me from seeing before what I see so clearly now?” Conversion entails both head and heart.

We are all in need of ongoing, even Pauline, conversion. Perhaps the issue is abortion or contraception or homosexuality or immigration or fidelity or alcohol abuse or pornography or physical abuse or liturgical renewal or Mass attendance or drugs or promiscuity or self righteousness or harboring resentments or a host of other possibilities.

Saul, Saul, my brother, why do you reject and oppose the teachings of the Church in these areas? Why do you persecute me?

17 June 2009

My new 'Eyepod'

Introducing my new 'Eyepod', now just over ten weeks old, the only one of the four kittens born in the old house who has managed the transition to our new house just over a month ago. We had to fetch his mother Pascua and her by then three kittens a number of times from the old house, which is only about 200 metres away. Now there's only Eyepod left.

He has some kind of infection or mild defect in his left eye, hence his name. At night when I pray part of the Divine Office on the covered patio at the back of the house, he likes to sit beside me, not the first kitten I've had with a liturgical bent!

I am certain that when God created the first cat He smiled!

The logo on my shirt is that of Worldwide Marriage Encounter.

The believer and the unbeliever

One of my favourite cartoonists is Johnny Hart (1934-2007). He is the creator of the BC comic strip and the co-creator, with Brant Parker of The Wizard of ID comic strip.

I keep the BC strip above in my breviary on the Good Friday pages. Johnny Hart was a Presbyterian and often used overtly Christian themes in BC, sometimes causing controversy. When I read today's entry from Tradition Day by Day I immediately thought of it. You'll find it below.

A Trappist friend of mine who died a couple of years ago at a venerable age, Father Brendan, once said to me that cartoonists are today's court jesters. They can speak the truth sometimes when other can't or they can help us see things in a different way.

Johnny Hart (1934-2007)

The believer and the unbeliever

When I hear that Christ was crucified I am filled with amazement at his love for us, but to the unbeliever this shows weakness. When I hear that Christ became a servant I am astonished at his solicitude for us, but to the unbeliever this is a disgrace. When I hear that Christ died I marvel at his power, since he was not conquered by death, but instead put an end to death. The unbeliever, however, sees Christ's death as a sign of helplessness.

The unbeliever regards the resurrection as pure fiction, but I accept the proven facts and venerate God's saving plan. In baptism the unbeliever sees only water, but I perceive not only what meets the eye, but also the purification of the soul by the Holy Spirit. The unbeliever thinks only the body is cleansed, but I believe that the soul also is made pure and holy, and I am reminded of the tomb, the resurrection, our sanctification, justification, redemption, adoption, and inheritance, of the kingdom of heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit. I judge outward appearances not by what I see but by the eyes of the mind. When the body of Christ is mentioned, the words have one meaning for me, another for the unbeliever.

St John Chrysostom (347-407)

15 June 2009

Jacinta's First Holy Communion

Jacinta Parkes, the youngest of the ten children of Andrew and Jackie Parkes - she of Catholicmomof10militant - made her First Holy Communion yesterday at the Oratory, Edgbaston, Birmingham, yesterday, Corpus Christi Sunday. You can read more and find plenty of photos on Jackie's blog here.

The First Communion class with Fr Guy Nicholls of the Oratory

Fr Guy Nicholls with Jacinta

Alessandro asks Pope Benedict, 'How can we children help you to proclaim the gospel?'

Below is the third and last question from children that Pope Benedict answered when he met with members of the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood on 30 May. I've highlighted some parts. The Pope's answer reminds me of something I've been aware of for many years - that I can trace my vocation to be a missionary priest back to my days in kindergarten, in Stanhope Street, Dublin, run by the Irish Sisters of Charity. I remember Sister Gemma in Kinder 2, or 'Second Babies', as we called it, speaking to us about the work of missionaries. She invited us to ask our parents to give a little towards the missionary work of the Church. Most of my classmates brought small amounts, such as a shilling or sixpence - not at all small for most families in the area where I grew up - but mine gave me half a crown, the largest coin at the time. Sister Gemma gave me a little calendar with a picture of St Therese of Lisieux.

We also had a visit from Father Woods, a priest from our parish who worked in some African country, I can't remember which. Our teacher made a big thing of the visit and stirred our interest. I can still remember Father Woods sitting in front of us and showing us some artifacts he had brought home with him. I don't recall a word he said but his visit is still vivid in my memory.

We also subscribed to the magazine of the Columbans, Far East, and that of the Holy Ghost Fathers, now known as The Spiritans, Missionary Annals. I was always struck by the photos of newly-ordained priests in these magazines, usually around twenty for each of those groups each year. I had no idea that many of the Columbans would later be my friends and confreres.

We were also part of the Holy Childhood, though I can't remember the details.

Usually a Holy Ghost Father would celebrate one of the later Sunday morning Masses in our parish. It was usually a newly-ordained priest finishing his studies. I never remember any of these priests being referred to by name but as 'the Holy Ghost Father'.

In other words, missionaries were part of the air we breathed and it was natural for boys in Catholic secondary schools to give more than a passing thought to the idea of being a missionary priest.

Dear Pope Benedict, my name is Alessandro. I wanted to ask you: you are the principal missionary; how can we children help you to proclaim the Gospel?

I would say that the first way is this: to collaborate with the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood. That way you are part of a large family, which takes the Gospel to the world. That way you belong to a large network. In it we see how the family of diverse peoples is represented. You are all in this big family: each one has his part and together you are missionaries, bearers of the missionary work of the Church. You have a beautiful plan, laid out by your spokesperson: to listen, pray, understand, share, sympathize. These are the essential elements that combined are truly a way to be missionaries, to encourage the growth of the Church into the future and the presence of the Gospel in the world. I would like to emphasize some of these points.

First of all, pray. Prayer is a reality: God listens to us and, when we pray, God enters into our lives, he becomes present among us, works among us. Praying is a very important thing that can change the world, because it makes the power of God present. And it is important to help each other by praying: to pray together in the liturgy, to pray together in the family. And here I would say that it is important to begin the day with a small prayer and also to end the day with a small prayer: to remember our parents in prayer. Pray before lunch, before dinner and during Sunday's shared Celebration. A Sunday without Mass, the great communal prayer of the Church, is not truly a Sunday: it lacks the very heart of Sunday and so also the light for the week. And you can also help others especially those who do not pray at home or do not know about prayer by teaching others to pray: praying with them and in this way introducing others to communion with God. Next, listen that is, learn what Jesus really says. In addition, get to know the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible. In the story of Jesus we learn as the Cardinal said the Face of God, we learn what God is like. It is important to know Jesus deeply, personally. That way he enters into our life and, through our life, enters into the world.

Also, share, do not want things only for yourselves, but rather for everyone; divide things with others. And if we see that another is perhaps in need, that he or she is less gifted, we must help that person and so make God's love present without too many words, in our own personal world, which is part of the bigger world. And in this way we become a family together, in which each one has respect for the other: tolerating the other's differences, accepting also those who are disagreeable, not allowing anyone to be marginalized, but instead helping others to integrate into the community. All of this simply means living in this big family of the Church, in this big missionary family. To live out essential points such as sharing, knowledge of Jesus, prayer, reciprocal listening and solidarity is missionary work, because it helps to make the Gospel a reality in our world.

13 June 2009

Christ in a second-hand car

A poem can often help us see something ‘ordinary’ in a new way or it may help us see something quite extraordinary from the vantage point of ordinariness – bringing us to see a new aspect of its extraordinariness.

Such is a poem in Irish (Gaelic) by Seán Ó Leocháin published in 1986 in Aithrí Thoirní and which I came across in an article in Comhar in May 1992. It is appropriate for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, celebrated tomorrow here in the Philippines and in Ireland.

I’ve never had the gift of writing poetry but will attempt a translation of the poem.

Nuair a tháinig an sagart
When the priest came
chuig m’athair inniu,
to my father today
mar a thagann de ghnáth
as he usually comes
i dtús na míosa,at the beginning of the month
le lón na beatha
with the food of life
a thabhairt d’fhearto give to a man
nach bhfágann an chlúid
who’s been bed-ridden
in aon chor le tamall,
for some time now,
ní hé an gnás ab ait liom féin.it wasn’t the rite that was strange to me.
Ní hé ba mhó

What really
ba bhun le m’iontas
caused my wonder wasn't
fear dá chlú,a man of such repute,
dá chleacht, dá éirimsuch experience, such intelligence
ar cuairt na sean
visiting the sick
i dtús na míosaat the beginning of the month
le comhairle a leasawith good advice
a chur ar dhreamto give to those
nach bhfágfadh clúid na haithrí choíche,who would never leave the cover of repentance again,

ach Críost a theachtbut Christ coming
i gcarr athláimhe
in a second-hand car
a cheannaigh an sagart
the priest bought
ó fhear i Ros Comáin.From a man in Roscommon.

A poignant 25th anniversary

Today, the feast of St Anthony of Padua, is the 25th anniversary of the death of Reverend Wennie Ubas, a deacon of the Archdiocese of Ozamiz, from Naga, Cebu. Tomorrow he should have been celebrating the Silver Jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood.

Deacon Wennie and two others were travelling on a motorcycle in his home town. As they turned left they were hit by a truck and two of them killed. It seems that the accident was not the fault of the truck-driver.

Many people arrived in Naga the following morning for the ordination, not knowing about the accident. The welcome streamers were still in place.

By a strange coincidence, around the time of the accident I was entertaining a couple on their way to the ordination, Mr and Mrs Maldo, whose son, Father James, a priest of the Archdiocese of Ozamiz, had died suddenly on Wednesday of Holy Week that year, 1984, less than a year after ordination.

Both of these young men had spent a year under my care during their preparation for the priesthood. May they rest in peace.

12 June 2009

'Child Protection is Our Primary Duty'

One of the best known Columbans is Father Shay Cullen, from the class after me, who has been fighting for abused children and women here in the Philippines, and elsewhere, since the early 1970s.

He was featured in The Irish Times the other day in an article by David McNeill, Every day without compromise.

There are a number of points in the article that I would take issue with but what cannot be denied is Father Shay's total commitment as a priest to something that most prefer not to look at. He has lobbied in a number of countries, with some success, to get parliaments to pass laws that enable countries to bring to trial their own citizens accused of abusing children elsewhere.

In his weekly column, which is published in a number of papers throughout the world and may be freely used by anyone, Father Cullen has regularly written about the way that children are often thrown into prison and left there to languish. Often their only 'crime' is poverty.

This Columban priest is trying to ensure that the Philippines won't have need for a Ryan Report 50 years from now. In the light of the impact of that report on the Irish people and the Irish church right now, he is a beacon of hope not only in the Philippines but in his native Ireland, where he is well known.

Father Shay writes a weekly column, Reflections. Here is his latest.

Child Protection is Our Primary Duty

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

Every incident of the abduction and trafficking of children which is rampant in Southeast Asia and in particular, the Philippines causes me to feel angry and more determined to do all I can together with the courageous Filipinos I work with. We can only eliminate the evil by writing, campaigning, and building awareness that will change public opinion and hopefully ignite national shame and commitment to stop it. Politicians in the Philippines have failed to pass the anti-child pornography bill and so hundreds, if not thousands, of children will continue to suffer as a result.

Our efforts are having an impact because our website that promotes children's rights was attacked by a hacker last week who tried to stop people visiting it. But with computer experts we were able to defeat that attacker. Abusers don't want you to know the truth. Consider the following: One million children are brought into the sex trade every year worldwide according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). The International Labor Organization (ILO) states the figure as closer to 1.8 million. This means it is growing annually. Other sources say a global estimate of 8 million is more realistic as, of this, 80 to 90 percent are girls.

They are victims of criminal activity, recruited and paid for in remote impoverished villages. They are usually run-away street children or victims of sexual or physical abuse in the home and are picked up on the city streets by pimps and traffickers and sold to sex bars and clubs. They are the impoverished slum-dogs of our generation.

Preda Foundation is based in the Philippines and has campaigned against the enslavement of children and women since its founding in 1974. Presently, thousands of Europeans, North Americans, Australian and Asian ‘sex-tourists’ make Southeast Asia and, in particular, the Philippines, a prime destination for such human rights abuses. They create a demand for commercially-sexually exploited children (CSEC) that is satisfied by the Filipino sex Mafia, criminals, and men and women who recruit and supply minors to the sex industry.

Poverty is the main cause of vulnerable semi-illiterate children. As many as 80,000 to 100,000 Filipino children are trafficked into the sex industry yearly. This huge number is due to the extensive poverty in the Philippines. The huge population of children is rapidly growing and consists of about 34 million, while the total population of the Philippines is about 87 million. Out of every 100 children, 42 are impoverished, that is 14 million hungry children uneducated and easily exploited.

Factors that favor the Philippines as a destination for ‘sex-tourists’ include the low cost of living, the prevalence of English as a commonly-spoken language, the mimicry of the American lifestyle, cheap regional flights, widespread internet promotion of cyber-sex, lack of anti-prostitution laws, no specific anti-child-pornography laws (though there is one currently in congress), low or non-implementation of child protection laws and a lack of enforced anti-trafficking laws. Other weaknesses that allow the sexual exploitation of children are the culture of impunity for foreigners, a male machismo and false sense of entitlement to abuse, ascendancy and dominance.

The foreign ‘sex-tourist’ or foreign resident is emboldened by a culture of trusting and unsuspecting Filipino hospitality. The excessive official government protection given to tourists, the failure of the rule of law, bribery in the justice system and summary deportation instead of trial for suspected child abusers and rapists encourage this abuse and exploitation.

'Cyber-sex' is the use of children in live performances over the internet for paying customers. Now it is one of the most difficult crimes for the police to eliminate. But with a strong anti-child pornography law, much could be done to slow it down and bring some of the criminals to justice. The failure of the Philippine Congress to pass the law is another abuse by omission, against children by allowing them to be exploited with impunity. All of us in many nations have to do all we can to help the children. END

Visit http://www.preda.org/ for more related articles.

Contact Fr Shay Cullen at the Preda Center, Upper Kalaklan, 2200 Olongapo City, Philippines. Email: preda@info.com.ph

PREDA Information Office, PREDA Foundation, Inc.


08 June 2009

Friend leaves the priesthood - for the second time

Only today I learned of a Columban colleague and friend, Fr Noel O'Brien, leaving the priesthood - for the second time. Another Columban told me the news. Googling, I found that it happened in April. The Wexford People, and other local papers, carried the story on 22 April. [Comments]

A COUNTY WEXFORD priest said his final Mass at the weekend, two weeks after he told parishioners that he was to leave the priesthood. [I understood that when a priest made a decision to leave he stopped celebrating Mass.]

Fr. Noel O'Brien, the Catholic Curate based in Templeudigan, told his congregation two weeks ago that he was to leave the priesthood out of a desire for companionship.

It is understood that he has applied for a special dispensation to get married and it has been reported that he is to fly to Florida to wed. [Father Noel left the priesthood before for a similar reason but was later readmitted.]

Local parishioners filed into St. Mary and St. Lawrence's Church on Sunday morning at 11.30 a.m. for Fr. O'Brien's final Mass in Templeudigan.

Towards the end of the ceremony, Joe O'Connor, the Chairperson of the Parish Council, made a special presentation to Fr. O'Brien on behalf of the Parish. [Is the Mass a proper setting for giving anyone a presentation, though I presume it was just before the final blessing?]

The presentation was met with rapturous applause from the near-full church and a clearly humbled Fr. O'Brien thanked the congregation for their support and unrelenting kindness.
'I am very grateful to the many people who have visited me and wished me well. Your good wishes and gifts mean the world to me and are a great source of affirmation and a great memory to carry into the future,' he said. [Father O'Brien is as genuinely nice and generous person as you could meet. But 'rapturous applause' for someone leaving the priesthood? Do families give a presentation at a family gathering to one of them who decides, for whatever reason, good or bad, to divorce or separate from his or her spouse?]

He announced from the pulpit two weeks that he was to leave the priesthood as he wanted companionship in life, having found the priesthood lonely. However, he would not be drawn on the subject and when contacted by this newspaper he said that it was a ' very personal' issue and would not wish to comment further. [Back in the mid-70s I interviewed the late Fr Vincent San Juan SJ on the radio in Ozamiz City, Philippines. He spent nearly all of his priestly life working with couples and families. I asked him what the biggest problem in marriages in the Philippines was. His answer: 'Loneliness'. I interviewed Angela McNamara, a nationally-known counsellor in Ireland, the following year and asked her the same question about marriages there. I made no reference to my interview with Fr San Juan. Her answer: 'Loneliness'. It's not only priests who experience this.]

The former Missionary Priest arrived in the Diocese of Ferns in 2000, having worked on the missions with the Columban Order. [We Columbans, The Missionary Society of St Columban, are not an 'order'. We are a society of secular priests who don't take a vow of poverty and who are not required to live in community. The reporter however was using a term that is widely used.] He was appointed by the Diocese as the Catholic Curate in Caim, where he was based until 2004, when he was reassigned to Burma. After the one-year mission in Burma he was appointed as the CC [In Ireland 'CC', 'Catholic curate', means assistant priest in a parish] in Templeudigan.

There is no indication yet that a permanent replacement has been found to step in to fill Fr. O'Brien's position.

'In January 2009 Fr. O'Brien said he was moving on, so any future plans he would discuss with his Order [the Columbans] not the Diocese. He indicated that his time in Templeudigan was coming to an end,' said Fr. John Carroll, the Diocesan Communications Officer.

'If he was to be married in the Catholic Church he would have to submit himself for a process of dispensation, which is done through the Bishop or the Order. That would be sent off to Rome where the Pope would decide upon the application. We have received no application for dispensation nor have we been asked,' added Fr. Carroll.

- Elaine FURLONG

I've been a priest since December 1967. Like many other priests, I think I can say that one of the most painful things for me, as a priest, has been the number leaving the priesthood, some of them close friends. But I find the public congratulations given to Father Noel, as it has been given to other priests in Ireland who announced from the altar that they were leaving, inappropriate and unhelpful.

I wish Noel O'Brien well. We worked in the same part of Mindanao back in the 1970s and I always found him to be kind, helpful, prayerful and dedicated.

06 June 2009

'Did you ever imagine you would become pope?'

Here's the second question at Pope Benedict's meeting with children in Rome on 30 May. The children were members of the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood.

Q: My name is Letizia and I wanted to ask you a question. Dear Pope Benedict XVI, what did the motto: "Children help children" mean for you when you were a boy? Did you ever imagine you would become Pope?

Benedict XVI: To tell the truth, I would never have thought of becoming Pope, because, as I have already said, I was a fairly ingenuous boy in a small town far from the city centres, in a forgotten province. We were glad to be in this area and we did not think of other things. Naturally we came to know, venerate and love the Pope -- Pius XI at the time -- but for us he was a very august figure, almost in another world: our spiritual Father, but nevertheless a reality much superior to all of us. And I must say that still today I have difficulty understanding how the Lord could have thought of me, destined me for this ministry. But I accept it from his hands, even if it is something surprising and that seems to me to be far beyond my strength. But the Lord helps me.

The translation is by the Vatican and can be found in Zenit.

04 June 2009

12-year-old Anna to Pope: 'Can we live without arguing in the name of Jesus?'

Last Saturday, the eve of Pentecost, Pope Benedict met with 7,000 children, members of the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood (it uses variations on this name in different countries), in Rome.
As on one previous occasion, in 2005 when he met with children who had just made their First Holy Communion, the pope answered without notes some questions from the children.

Sandro Magister gives a full report of the questions and answers.

Heres' the first question and answer. I've highlighted some parts of the answer and added [comments].

Q: My name is Anna, I'm twelve. Pope Benedict, my friend Giovanni has an Italian daddy and his mother is from Ecuador, and he is very happy. Do you think that someday the different cultures can live together without arguing in the name of Jesus?

A: I understand that you all want to know how we, as children, were able to help one another. I must say that I lived my elementary school years in a small town of 400 inhabitants, very far from the big cities. So we were a bit naive [He's kind of saying 'taga-bukid/bondoc ako,' as Filipinos might put it - 'I was a "country hick!"'], and in this town there were, on the one hand, very rich farmers and also others who were much less rich but well off, and on the other poor laborers, craftsmen.

Shortly before I started elementary school, our family arrived in this town from another town, so we were a little bit like strangers to them, even our dialect was different ['dialect' as in a variation of the German language. Here in the Philippines people often describe their native regional language as a 'dialect', which is inaccurate]. So in this school, there were very diverse social situations. Nonetheless, there was a beautiful communion among us. They taught me their dialect, which I didn't know yet. [The young Joseph Ratzinger experienced the reality of migration, albeit only to another part of his region in Germany, but having to make new friends and so on.]

We worked together well, and I must say that sometimes we argued too, but afterwards we made up and forgot about what had happened.This seems important to me. Sometimes arguing seems inevitable in human life; but it is still important to be able to reconcile, forgive, start over again and not leave bitterness in our souls. [How true - and how consoling is this. Life would be very bland if we never argued and would we really know what it means to be followers of Jesus if we never experienced forgiving and being forgiven?]

I recall with gratitude how we all worked together: each helped the other, and we made our journey together. We were all Catholic, and this was naturally a great help. [This is the situation in most parts of the Philippines, where most would identify themselves as Catholics. It used to be true in most parts of Ireland but I'm not so sure now.] Because of this we learned the Bible together, from the creation to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and also the beginnings of the Church.

We learned the catechism together, we learned to pray together, we prepared together for first confession, for first communion: that was a wonderful day. We learned that Jesus himself comes to us, and that He is not a faraway God: he enters into my life, into my soul. And if Jesus himself enters into each one of us, we are brothers, sisters, friends, and so that is how we should behave.

For us, this preparation for first confession as the purification of our consciences, of our lives, and then also for first communion as a concrete encounter with Jesus who comes to me, who comes to all of us, were factors that contributed to forming our community. They helped us to get along together, to learn together to reconcile when necessary.

We also put on little performances: it is important to work together, to be attentive to each other. Then when I was about eight or nine I became an altar boy. Back then there weren't any altar girls yet, but the girls read better than we did. So they read the readings of liturgy, and we were altar boys. [I think that in Germany before Vatican II, when Mass was always in Latin - still the official language of the liturgy of the Roman or Latin Rite to which most Catholic belong - that while the priest read the readigns in Latin quietly at the altar, lay persons would read them audibly in German. However, I'm not quite sure.] At that time there were still many Latin texts to learn, so everyone had work to do.

As I said, we weren't saints: we had our arguments, but still there was a beautiful communion where the distinctions between rich and poor, between intelligent and less intelligent didn't count. What counted was communion with Jesus in the journey of the common faith and in common responsibility, in games, in common work. We found the capacity to live together, to be friends, and although since 1937, for more than seventy years, I haven't been in that town, we have remained friends. So we learned to accept each other, to bear one another's burdens.

This seems important to me: in spite of our weakness we accept each other and together with Jesus Christ and the Church we find together the path of peace and learn to live well. [Pope Benedict may be giving an idealized recollection of his childhood years but his words are words of hope, lifting up the spirits of the young. They remind me of the words of St Luke in two passages of the Acts of the Apostles: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people (2:42-47) . . . Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common (4:32)].

03 June 2009

Not 'bread' or 'wine'

Since the swine flu scare started I have read of steps the Church has taken in some places to prevent the possible spread of the illness. Some parishes, for example, have temporarily stopped giving Holy Communion under both kinds. Others have asked the people not to receive Holy Communion on the tongue but on the hand.

However, I have seen reports and comments, some by Catholics, saying that ‘the wine’ will not be given at Holy Communion. I have even heard priests use that term.

Bishop Fulton Sheen celebrating Mass, photo by Karsh of Ottawa

The Church has never given ‘wine’ at Holy Communion. At Holy Communion we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, under one form or both. Most of us normally receive Holy Communion under the form of bread. When the priest celebrates Mass he consecrates the bread and the wine that are brought up at the offertory. Through the power of the Holy Spirit they become the Body and Blood of Christ the Risen Lord. They are not symbols of Jesus the Lord but the Lord himself.

Mass at Abbaye de Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux

On the home page of Misyon , under Daily Prayer Online you can find a link to Tradition Day By Day, published by the Augustinian Press, Villanova, PA, USA. Today’s reading is by St Cyril of Jerusalem (316-386) and is absolutely clear:

The bread from heaven and the cup of salvation

Under the old covenant there was showbread, but it came to an end with the old dispensation to which it belonged. Under the new covenant there is bread from heaven and the cup of salvation. These sanctify both soul and body, the bread being adapted to the sanctification of the body, the word to the sanctification of the soul.

Do not, then, regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.

You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ. You know also how David referred to this long ago when he sang: Bread strengthens the heart and makes the face glow with the oil of gladness. Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul.

May purity of conscience remove the veil from the face of your soul so that by contemplating the glory of the Lord, as in a mirror, you may be transformed from glory to glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.