27 February 2012

Volunteers needed for L'Arche Community, Cainta, Rizal

Lala taking care of Jordan
I received an email the other day from Maria Linda 'Letlet' Paulino of the L'Arche Community, also known as 'Punla', the Tagalog for 'seed', in Cainta, Rizal. Cainta is part of the Metro Manila sprawl and and Punla is the only L'Arche community in the Philippines. I have visited Punla a number of times over the years and some of our Columban seminarians have worked there during their formation. I have also written a number of times about my friend Lala  who was left in a garbage pail shortly after her birth in Cebu more than 30 years ago.

Here is part of Letlet's email.

You've seen the community, Fr Sean, and maybe you noticed that we live here together with our friends and we try to guide and support them to learn to be confident in whatever/however they can do to be self independent in making their choices/decisions and in attending to their basic daily needs with less supervision, except Jordan (in photo above) and Raymond whom we need to follow in their daily rhythm and structure which they've been familiar with and following everyday to feel the belongingness, security and at home.
We are giving the volunteer house assistants an allowance of P1,500.00 for the first three months plus board and lodging and as part of community  program we let the assistants join the formation program and accompaniment for self awareness and personality growth. The first three months is a probationary period. There's an evaluation in the first month and then on the third months. If evaluation is okay, allowance will be increased to P2,500.00 starting on the fourth  month to the 12th month.  Each week there's a one day off and then after a month an additional 2 days off. The daily task is doing the household chores together with the other house assistants and the core members. (The core members are those with learning disabilities - the VIPs in L'arche). The first house is composed of four core members and the ideal number of house assistants is supposed to be five (three males and two females); the second house is for three core members and three house assistants.
Lala with Hachi

Letlet also wrote:

Our community is always  in need of volunteers who can join us living in the community together with our friends with intellectual disabilities. I've been racking my brains about whom and where to contact to ask for help in looking for a potential person for us who is looking for meaning in life. The L'Arche community might possibly be able to help him or her in his/her search. 

You may contact Letlet at larchepunla@yahoo.com.ph  

This video from Erie, Pennsylvania, shows us something of the life of a L'Arche community. Being an assistant isn't easy but it is deeply enriching and a profound way of living the Gospel. For some assistants it has been a way of discovering the Gospel.

24 February 2012

'Give Up Yer Aul Sins.' Sunday Reflections for 1st Sunday of Lent Year B

The Temptation of Christ, Tintoretto, painted 1579-81
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Gospel Mark 1:12-15 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.
After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. 'The time has come' he said 'and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.'

An Soiscéal Marcas 1:12-15 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Chuir an Spiorad Íosa amach faoin bhfásach é agus bhí sé daichead lá san fhásach á phromhadh ag Sátan. Agus bhí sé in éineacht leis na beithígh allta; agus bhí na haingil ag freastal air. Tar éis Eoin a bheith tugtha ar láimh, tháinig Íosa go dtí an Ghailíl ag fógairt soiscéal Dé agus ag rá: “Tá an tréimhse caite agus tá ríocht Dé in achmaireacht. Déanaigí aithrí agus creidigí sa soiscéal.”


Back in the 1960s Peig Cunningham, from County Donegal in the north-west of Ireland, was teaching in a primary school right in the heart of Dublin, in an area where there was still great poverty, the place where the Venerable Matt Talbot lived most of his years. She recorded the children telling in their own words some of the Bible stories she had taught them.

The tapes were found some years after the death of Miss Cunningham and issued as a CD and tape, with Fr Brian Darcy CP doing much of the work. Later Brown Bag Productions made a series of videos using the recordings.

The language of the child telling the story of St John the Baptist is a Dublin dialect of English. The accent and the terms used may take some adjusting to. But the message that the young girl repeats a number of times, Give up yer aul sins (‘Give up your old sins’) – the title given to the CD and tape – is very clear and is precisely the message of Jesus in today’s gospel: Repent and believe the Good News.

St Mark puts the preaching of Jesus in the context of the arrest of St John the Baptist. Jesus echoes the preaching of St John in Mark 1: 4: and so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Below is a video on Matt Talbot (1856-1925) who lived only two or three minutes’ walk from the school where ‘Give Up Yer Aul Sins’ originated. He never attended that school, as far as I know, and his academic career in my own nearby alma mater, O’Connell Schools, was extremely short, since he was what is known in Dublin as a chronic ‘mitcher’ – one playing truant. But, with God’s help, he did manage to ‘give up his aul sins’ – mainly those connected with excessive drinking - and lead a life of extraordinary holiness. One of the most powerful graces from God in his life was regular confession.

May Matt, to whom I pray every day, obtain for each of us the grace to ‘give up our aul sins’, especially through the sacrament of confession.

Matt Talbot (2 May 1856 – 7 June 1925)

To learn more about this holy man who 'gave up his aul sins' read Mary Gaffney's article, Matt Talbot - the Workers' Saint.

23 February 2012

Columban Fr Robert McCulloch Honoured by Pakistan

Pakistan has given Columban Fr Robert McCulloch its highest civilian award. He was with the first group of Columbans to be assigned to Pakistan in 1978. He had been in Mindanao, Philippines, from early 1971 till then. He was coming towards the end of his course in Cebuano Visayan, the predominant language in the central and southern Philippines, as I was starting in the Columban language school in Ozamiz City in October 1971. He recently moved to Rome as the Procurator General of the Columbans. The following press release was issued by Fr Gary Walker, Regional Director of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand, on 17 February.

Australian born, Columban Fr Robert McCulloch has been awarded the Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam, the highest civilian award that can be given to foreign nationals with the citation: 'For services to Health, Education, and Inter-Faith Relations'.

Fr Robert McCulloch has been in Pakistan for over 30 years. He is Chairman of the Saint Elizabeth Hospital’s Administrative Council which provides quality medical services to the people of Hyderabad and rural parts of Sindh. He also runs a medical outreach programme in rural Sindh.

He set up the first home-based Palliative Care unit in Pakistan which provides care for cancer patients who are terminally ill. He initiated projects, in 2007, to provide educational, spiritual, moral and personal formation for 150 Catholic boys and young men in Hyderabad. Two centres were set up: the Catholic Centre of Academic Excellence in Hyderabad and the Catholic Youth Development Centre.

His other major contribution includes taking steps to preserve the language of Tharparker known as Parkari Kohli. He engaged experts around the world and worked on a script to turn this language into a written language.

During the floods of 2011 he arranged to provide food and medical treatment to over 1,000 families in Southern Pakistan and is building accommodation for the flood victims.

Fr McCulloch now resides in Rome after taking up an appointment as the Procurator General for St Columban's Mission Society in late 2011.

St Columban's Mission Society (the name we are known by in Australia and New Zealand) is an International Missionary Society that crosses boundaries of Culture and Religion.

Fr Robert McCulloch SSC can be contacted on skype: robert.mcculloch49, email: robertbr@cyber.net.pk .

Fr Gary Walker

You can read more about Fr McCulloch and his work here.

22 February 2012

'Take a cue from you archbishop: get back to confession!

Last Saturday, 18 February, Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan of New York (above) was made cardinal. Three days before the ceremony he posted the following on his blog. Perhaps we could all take a hint from his statement, 'take a cue from your archbishop: get back to confession!'

Love, Prayers, and Best Wishes from Rome

Well, I did it again . . .

It’s usually one of the very first things I do on my first full day back in Rome…

Early in the morning, I walk down the Janiculum Hill – where I stay at the North American College – to Saint Peter’s Basilica, there to go to confession and then to celebrate Mass.

Two powerful sacraments, Eucharist and Reconciliation, constants of our spiritual life, at the heart of the church, near the tomb of Saint Peter.

I don’t want you to think that I only approach confession when I’m in Rome!

At home with you in New York I try to go every two weeks, because I need it.

But it does have a special urgency and meaning here in Rome.

Near the tomb of Saint Peter, I can hear Jesus ask Him three times: “Simon, do you love me?” and then examine my conscience to see how I have failed to love the Lord and take care of his sheep.

Near his tomb, I picture myself, like Saint Peter, doubting Jesus and sinking in the waters of the storm.

Adjacent to his burial place, I even admit that, like Peter, I have, in my thoughts, words, and actions, denied Jesus.

So my contrition is strong, my purpose of amendment firm, and I approach one of the Franciscans for confession in the corner of the massive basilica.

Then I say my penance before the tomb of Peter, under the high altar, and go to vest for the greatest prayer of all, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

And then I go for pasta . . .

Lent begins next Wednesday. I’ll be back to start it with you.

Sometime over those forty days leading up to Easter, take a cue from your archbishop: get back to confession!

My love, prayers, and best wishes from Rome.

17 February 2012

'My child, your sins are forgiven.' Sunday Reflections, 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 2:1-12 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, word went round that he was back; and so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door. He was preaching the word to them when some people came bringing him a paralytic carried by four men, but as the crowds made it impossible to get the man to him, they stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, 'My child, your sins are forgiven.' Now some scribes were sitting there, and they thought to themselves, 'How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God?' Jesus, inwardly aware that this was what they were thinking, said to them, 'Why do you have these thoughts in your hearts? Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven" or to say, "Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk?" But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,' - he said to the paralytic - 'I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.' And the man got up, picked up his stretcher at once and walked out in front of everyone, so that they were all astounded and praised God saying, 'We have never seen anything like this.'

An Soiscéal Marcas 2:1-12 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Roinnt laethanta ina dhiaidh sin, ar theacht ar ais go Cafarnáum d Íosa fuarthas fios go raibh sé sa teach,agus bhí an oiread sin daoine cruinnithe ann nach raibh slí ann fiú amháin timpeall an dorais, agus bhí sé ag labhairt an bhriathair leo. Tháinig daoine ag tabhairt pairilisigh chuige ar iompar idir ceathrar. Nuair nárbh fhéidir leo teacht ina ghar mar gheall ar an slua, nocht siad an díon os a chionn, agus tar éis dóibh poll a dhéanamh, lig siad síos an tsráideog a raibh an pairiliseach ina luí inti. Nuair a chonaic Íosa an creideamh a bhí acu, dúirt sé leis an bpairiliseach: “A mhic, tá do pheacaí maite.” Bhí cuid de na scríobhaithe ina suí ansiúd ag smaoineamh ina gcroí: “Cad a bheir dó seo labhairt mar sin? Is diamhasla dó é. Cé fhéadann peacaí a mhaitheamh ach amháin Dia?” Ach thuig Íosa láithreach ina spiorad go raibh an smaoineamh sin ina n-aigne agus dúirt sé leo: “Cad a bheir na smaointe sin in bhur gcroí? Cé acu is fusa, a rá leis an bpairiliseach: ‘Tá do pheacaí maite,’ nó a rá: ‘Éirigh, tóg do shráideog, agus siúil’? Ach chun go mbeadh a fhios agaibh go bhfuil údarás ag Mac an Duine ar an talamh peacaí a mhaitheamh” – dúirt sé leis an bpairiliseach: Deirim leat, éirigh, tóg do shráideog agus gabh abhaile.” D’éirigh seisean agus thóg an tsráideog láithreach, agus d’imigh amach os comhair cách, ionas go raibh alltacht orthu uile agus gur thug siad glóir do Dhia á rá: “Ní fhacamar a leithéid seo riamh.”

Fr John Looby SJ, editor  of the wonderful monthly of the Irish Jesuits, The Sacred Heart Messenger , told of an incident when he was a young priest. He was driving in a remote part of the west of Ireland when his car got bogged down after veering of a road that hardly anyone used. He stood by his car, wondering if anyone would come along who could help. Eventually a car came along and stopped. Out stepped four or five young men, aged about 20 or 21 who laughed when they saw his predicament. Then they went over to his car, picked it up, put it on the road. Then they got back into their own car, still laughing.

I’m certain that the four men who carried the paralytic in today’s gospel were just like the men who helped Fr Looby, young, full of energy, imagination and care. Would older men have had the audacity to remove the tiles from the roof and lower him so that Jesus could see the situation of their friend?

Jesus, seeing the faith of the four enterpising young men, responded in a way tha they and the paralysed man hadn't expected. My child, your sins are forgiven. When challenged about this he showed his authority to forgive sins by saying, I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.

Dr Bernard N. Nathanson (31 July 1936 – 21 February 2011)
The late Dr Bernard Nathanson, a leading abortionist in the USA who later became a leader in the pro-life movement there, was baptised by Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, in 1996. Dr Nathanson was Jewish and had been an atheist. He was once asked why he had become a Catholic. He said that no religion provides as much opportunity for forgiveness as the Catholic Church does, and he had a lot to be forgiven for.
This is the last Sunday before Lent, a season when the Church calls us to repentance, to accept responsibility for our own sins and to acknowledge God’s loving mercy. The Church has always carried on the mission of healing, both of body and soul. As a priest, I have experienced God’s love for us in our weakness and sinfulness, both as a confessor and as one confessing his own sins. I don’t know what I would do without being able to go to another priest, acknowledge my sins, especially since I seem to be telling the same ones each time. But I come away knowing that God loves me, that he wants only the best for me, that he wants me to go away with a spring in my step, like that of the young man he ordered to get up . . . and go off home.

12 February 2012

SAINT Valentine: martyr for the sacrament of matrimony

Shrine of St Valentine, Church of the Order of Carmel (OCarm), Dublin

I have been 'crusading' for some years now to put the 'SAINT' back into SAINT Valentine's Day. Below is what I posted a year ago.

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

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

Below is the Opening Prayer from the Mass of St Valentine. You can find all the prayers and readings for his feast on the website of the Carmelite Friars (OCarm) in Ireland. Though the feast of St Valentine is no longer on its General Calendar – 14 February is now the feast of Sts Cyril and Methodius – the Church still venerates him as a martyr who defended the sanctity of marriage. He was truly a model diocesan priest.


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

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

10 February 2012

'People from all around would come to him'. Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Gospel Mark 1:40-45 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: 'If you want to' he said 'you can cure me.' Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. 'Of course I want to!' he said. 'Be cured!' And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, 'Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.' The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.

An Soiscéal Marcas 1:40-45 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin tháinig lobhar chuig Íosa ag achainí air agus é ar a dhá ghlúin: “Más áil leat é,” ar seisean, “is féidir duit mé a ghlanadh.” Ghlac Íosa trua dó, shín amach a lámh agus bhain leis: “Is áil,” ar seisean leis, “glantar thú!” D’fhág an lobhra é láithreach agus glanadh é. Labhair Íosa go corraiceach leis agus chuir chun siúil é gan mhoill ag rá leis: “Ná habair focal le haon duine, féach, ach imigh leat agus taispeáin don sagart thú féin agus déan, de chionn do ghlanta, an ofráil a d’ordaigh Maois mar fhianaise dóibh.” Ní túisce a d’fhág an duine an láthair, áfach, ná bhí guth ard aige ag leathadh an scéil, ionas nach bhféadfadh Íosa dul isteach go hoscailte i gcathair feasta, ach fanacht lasmuigh sna háiteanna uaigneacha agus bhítí ag triall air as gach aird.

St Damien of Molokai 3 January 1840 – 15 April 1889

I remember Noel McMahon’s first day at school more than 60 years ago when he was four and I around six. Noel lived across from us on our street of terraced houses in Dublin and was starting school in St Gabriel’s, the parish kindergarten and primary school that was three or four minutes’ walk away and where his uncle, Gerry O'Mahony, who had been at school with my father, was teaching. I’m not sure why his mother didn’t go with him. Maybe it was Noel's second day at school - memory isn't always sharp more than 60 years after an event! - and perhaps she couldn’t cope with his lack of enthusiasm for academic pursuits, a lack he shared with many another child. Mr Miller, who lived four doors up from us, came to the rescue. He was retired, and bald. He shook his fist at young Noel and told him to be on his way. The youngster, terrified, did go on his way, but in the Shakesperean manner, ‘creeping like snail, unwillingly, to school’. Each time he looked back before he reached the corner at the top of the street he could see Mr Miller’s raised fist.

Mr Miller’s action was what we call here in the Philippines ‘drama-drama’. He was the kindliest of men and was trying to help Mrs McMahon in her predicament. Mr McMahon was already at work. And I don’t think the whole business had any traumatic affect on Noel.

Reading today’s gospel brought that incident to mind. Most of the translations in English use the word ‘stern’ or ‘sternly’ about the way Jesus spoke to the man after he had healed him of his leprosy, while ordering him not to tell anyone except the priest what had happened. Monsignor Ronald Knox’s translation reads, ‘He spoke to him threateningly, and sent him away there and then’. The Irish translation Labhair Íosa go corraiceach leis’  means ‘Jesus spoke to him roughly’

There’s no getting around it. Jesus spoke harshly to the man he had just healed. But was he really being harsh? Did he really expect that the man, full of gratitude, wouldn’t tell others what had happened? Did he really think that nobody would ask the man how he was cured?

I’m inclined to think that Jesus was behaving like my neighbour Mr Miller all those years ago, that his harsh words were ‘drama-drama’. But I am also inclined to think that, at the human level, Jesus dreaded the consequences of his action and that he was trying to protect himself. He could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him. Every time Jesus healed someone he gave of himself. He never stopped this giving of self. His ultimate giving of self was on the cross when, as St Mark tells us, he cried out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

I didn’t go to the same school as Noel but to Stanhope Street, the local convent school, also in the parish, run by the Irish Sisters of Charity. Sr Stanislaus, the principal of the boys’ kindergarten, often spoke to us about two priests who had totally given themselves to those they served. One was an Irish Jesuit, Fr Willie Doyle SJ, killed near Ieper/Ypres, Belgium, in 1917 in the Great War. Father Doyle died about 100 kms west of Tremolo, Belgium, where the other priest was born in 1840, Fr Damien de Veuster SsCc, now St Damien of Molokai.

After his death, Mother Marianne Cope to the right.

Father Damien, baptised ‘Josef’ and known as ‘Jef’ to his family, was assigned to Hawaii. At the time a remote part of the island of Molokai was used as a colony for those with leprosy, since the authorities were trying to prevent the spread of the disease. They had no priest. The bishop didn’t want to order any priest to go there as this would be seen as a death sentence. However, four volunteered and the plan was that they would follow a rotation system. Father Damien was the first to go, in 1873, and later decided to stay there. His presence made a huge difference, at every level. He wrote to his brother, also a priest, . . . I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ. In December 1884 Father Damien discovered that he had leprosy and died less than five years later.

We know a lot more about leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, today than in the time of Father Damien. He very deliberately chose to serve a community cut off from the wider community, knowing that he could very easily acquire their illness. Jesus had stretched out his hand to the leper, something that probably nobody else would have done and that would have made him ritually ‘unclean’. His disciple, Father Damien, went even further. He chose to live with lepers, to treat them, to help them build decent houses, to celebrate Mass with them, to hear their confessions, to prepare them for a happy death, to help dig graves for them.
There have always been individuals in every part of the world who have chosen to follow Jesus to the fullest extent possible in serving others, especially those on the margins. This is a characteristic of the Christian life. And there are people on the margins in every society.

Send us a priest who will call us by name, who will be a father to us.

09 February 2012

6.9 earthquake hits Negros island, Philippines

The island of Negros, 13,326 squ kms (5,146 squ miles) in area is in the central Philippines and containts two provinces, Negros Oriental to the east and Negros Occidental to the west and north. Bacolod city, where I live, is in Negros Oriental. Last Monday a 6.9 earthquake hit the island, its epicentre near the town of Tayasan and Guihulngan City. while we felt it strongly here in Bacolod City there were no casualties or damage. It's not clear from reports how many died in Negros Oriental, perhaps up to a hundred. Much damage was done to roads and buildings in some areas.

My Columban confrere, Fr Donald Kill, from Ohio in the USA, who is based in Ozamiz City, Mindanao, but with a ministry to haemophiliacs in the area of Dumaguete City, the largest urban centre in Negros Oriental, also hit by Sendong/Washi, the tropical storm that caused such damage a week before Christmas. Father Don, who was shot in an ambush in Mindanao in 1973 or 1974 but who miraculously survived, sent the report below to the Columban website in the USA.

8 February 2012

This article, written by Ozamiz City-based Columban Fr Donald Kill, is taken from the website of the Columbans in the USA. For some years now Father Don has been working with hemophiliacs.

Fr Don Kill wrote to us regarding the February 6, 2012, earthquake in the Philippines: Well, this seems to be a year of disasters in unusual places.

Dumaguete is a beautiful, peaceful, college town with several very good schools. I built a house there several years ago, because we have about 30 hemophilia patients in the area around Dumaguete. One of the attractions of Dumaguete is that it is seldom hit by storms and never has earthquakes – that is until this year.

On Monday, February 6, around noon time, a 6.9 earthquake struck the same areas devastated earlier by typhoon Sendong. As I write this, 73 people are known to be dead, about 100 more are missing and presumed dead, buried under two landslides caused by the earthquake.

Our house in Sibulan, about a mile north of Dumaguete, was not damaged, thank God. None of the hemophilia kids in the area have been reported as injured or missing at this point. However, some of the students lived through a few moments of sheer terror as the college building 'jumped up and danced side to side'. They thought they would surely die.

The quake happened along a never before known fault beneath the sea between Dumaguete and the island of Cebu. The two are only a short distance from each other and require less than an hour to cross on a barge or other craft. No one can remember there ever being an earthquake of such intensity in the area. If any quakes had ever been felt, they would have been from stronger quakes centered farther away along known fault lines.

In the Chinese astrology, this is the year of the 'Water Dragon'. Maybe the Dragon has awakened and is moving beneath the waters. May God control its powers and the destructive forces unleashed in nature.

And where was I when all this was happening? I was in a plane safely cruising at 18,000 feet on the way to Manila. I flew right over it all and never knew it happened until the text messages began coming in. God is good.

Please pray for and, if possible help, those who have lost their houses to the double disaster in this area.

Father Don

02 February 2012

'He cured many who were suffering . . .' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

St Francis at Prayer, Murillo, painted 1645 -50

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:29-39 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

On leaving the synagogue, Jesus went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon's mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped, her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them.

That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; he also cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.

In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, 'Everybody is looking for you.' He answered, 'Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.' And he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils.

An Soiscéal Marcas 1:29-39 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin ar dhul amach as an tsionagóg d Íosa, chuaigh sé isteach gan mhoill i dteach Shíomóin agus Aindrias, in éineacht le Séamas agus Eoin. Bhí máthair chéile Shíomóin ina luí agus an fiabhras uirthi, agus ní dhearna siad aon mhoill gan labhairt leis mar gheall uirthi. Chuaigh sé anonn chuici, rug ar láimh uirthi agus thóg suas í. D’fhág an fiabhras í agus thosaigh sí ag freastal orthu.

Nuair a bhí an tráthnóna ann, tar éis luí gréine, thug siad chuige cách a bhí tinn agus na daoine a raibh deamhain iontu. Bhí an chathair ar fad cruinnithe timpeall an dorais, agus leigheas sé mórán a bhí tinn ó gach sórt galair, agus chaith sé amach mórán deamhan, agus ní ligeadh sé do na deamhain labhairt, mar bhí a fhios acu cérbh é.

D’éirigh sé ina shuí ar maidin tamall maith roimh lá, ghabh sé amach agus d’imigh go dtí áit uaigneach agus bhí sé ansiúd ag guí. Chuaigh Síomón agus a chompánaigh ar a lorg, agus nuair a fuair siad é dúirt siad leis: “Tá cách do do chuardach.” Dúirt sé leo: “Téanam go dtí áit éigin eile, isteach sna bailte móra atá ar cóngar, chun go mbeinn ag seanmóir iontu sin freisin, mar is chuige sin a ghabh mé amach.” Agus tháinig sé ag seanmóir ina gcuid sionagóg ar fud na Gailíle go léir agus ag caitheamh na ndeamhan amach.


I'm writing this in Manila on Thursday. Earlier I came back from Alaminos, Pangasinan, a five-hour bus trip from Manila, heading north-west, near the Gulf of Lingayen that featured in World War II and an area where Columbans worked from 1935 utnil 2010. I went to visit two friends, Dr Tom Okner and his wife Mary Ann, who are part of a medical mission from Minnesota in Western Pangasinan District Hospital this week. I went up yesterday and when I arrived Tom was busy doing operations - he's an ENT specialist - while Mary Ann was preparing the schedules for the operations by different surgeons. Mary Ann invited me to go into the Operating Room but I declined. I'd have to dress up and, more importantly, I'd only be in the way.

The scene in the hospital reminded me of this Sunday's gospel. Jesus had gone straight to the home of St Peter from the synagogue. The medical team arrived at night on the long flight from Minneapolis/St Paul via Tokyo and were taken straight by bus to Pangasinan.Next morning they were at work. So many people were coming that it might not be possible to do surgery for everyone. The gospel tells us that Jesus 'cured many' but not all.

The medical team have little sleep each night and basically are working a 7 to 7 schedule, with some on call also at night.

Before I wemt to Alaminos I read an email from one of my closest friends - we started in kindergarten together - asking me 'as a person with some influence' to pray for the wife of another classmate who is having delicate surgery today. On the bus coming down I had a text message from a friend here in the Philippines thanking me for praying for his mother-in-law who was critically ill lately but has improved and added a request for prayers for his older brother who is an alcoholic and going through a bad patch at present. He also asked for prayers for his sister-in-law.

When I arrived back in Manila I found an email from Gee-Gee Torres Dimayuga (above with son Mikko), the former assistant editor of Misyon who is now living near Atlanta. I officiated at the wedding of Gee-Gee and Miggy in Manila a few years ago. They have two children, Mikko and Mica. Due to an accident during the birth procedure Mikko was born with multiple disabilities. Gee-Gee told me that Mikko is once again in hospital with RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) which, she says, 'is just like an ordinary cold for most children, but with children like Mikko, it becomes serious and more complex'. Young Mikko knows the inside of the ICU more than most of us.

I am astonished and humbled at the number of times people thank me for my prayers. The gospel tells us that before dawn Jesus 'went off to a lonely place and prayed'. That is the line that always draws me the most in this and in similar passages in the gospels. And I usually find that early morning is the best time for me to spend time in personal prayer. I know
Tom and Mary Ann to be persons of deep faith and it is basically their generous faith that has brought them to the Philippines this week. But if I were to undergo surgery under Tom I wouldn't want him to go 'off to a lonely place and pray' at the time of the operation. Nor would he and his patients appreciate it if I tried to do his job.

All of us are involved in the healing mission of Jesus, surgeons, physicians, nurses, administrators, family members, parents who spend hours with a sick child, sacrificing their sleep, those praying for the sick and priests who administer the sacrament of the sick to patients.

As it happens, nearly 30 years ago I spent three months doing clinical pastoral education in a large hospital in Minneapolis, working as a chaplain to all the patients and staff on my floor. It was a great experience. I found the faith of some of the elderly Lutheran patients - Minneapolis is largely Scandinavian and Lutheran in background while St Paul, the other 'Twin City', is largely German-Irish and Catholic - very similar to that of elderly Irish Catholics. It was a joy to pray with them and to realise the strength and depth of the faith of some.

It was a joy too to help a woman in that hospital over a period of weeks come to terms with the news that she had terminal cancer, to celebrate the sacraments with her, to be with her husband and adult children as they tried to come to terms with this situation, and to be invited to celebrate the funeral Mass.

We are all part of the Body of Christ. We are all called by God to share in the healing power of Jesus the Risen Lord whether as surgeons, persons who make schedules for patients, individuals who pray - though all are called to prayer in their lives. The father of my friend Mary Ann was a distinguished doctor who died before Christmas aged 90 and after 66 years of marriage. When I first met Dr Stephen Balshi more than 40 years ago I remember a comment he made in passing that showed how important for him it was that the priest be faithful to prayer, especially to the Breviary, also known as the Prayer of the Church, The Divine Office.

Those who thank me and the many others who pray for them in times of sickness also thank the doctors and other medical professionals who help them recover. The Jesus who healed many sick persons in the evening and the Jesus who went off to pray before dawn after only a few hours of sleep was the same person. He is present now as the Risen Lord, as our healer, in the hands of the surgeon, in the kind word of the nurse, in the concern of the administrator reaching out to as many as possible, in the love of anxious parents, in the priest who brings the sacrament of the sick, in all who pray for those who are suffering.