31 March 2012

World Youth Day 2012

Tomorrow, Palm Sunday, is the 27th World Youth Day. WYD is celebrated as an international event every tow or three years. In August last year it was in Madrid, Spain. In July 2013 it will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In other years it is celebrated at diocesan level, especially in Rome. Here is Pope Benedict's message for this year's WYD. I have highlighted some parts.

“Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4)

Dear young friends,

I am happy to address you once more on the occasion of the 27th World Youth Day. The memory of our meeting in Madrid last August remains close to my heart. It was a time of extraordinary grace when God showered his blessings on the young people gathered from all over the world. I give thanks to God for all the fruits which that event bore, fruits which will surely multiply for young people and their communities in the future. Now we are looking forward to our next meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 2013, whose theme will be: “Go and make disciples of all nations!” (cf. Mt 28:19).

Columban seminarian Louie Ybañez and friends in Holy Rosary Parish, Cagayan de Oro, run by the Columbans, preparing palms with friends (from parish's Facebook).
This year’s World Youth Day theme comes from Saint Paul’s exhortation in his Letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). Joy is at the heart of Christian experience. At each World Youth Day we experience immense joy, the joy of communion, the joy of being Christian, the joy of faith. This is one of the marks of these gatherings. We can see the great attraction that joy exercises. In a world of sorrow and anxiety, joy is an important witness to the beauty and reliability of the Christian faith.

The Church’s vocation is to bring joy to the world, a joy that is authentic and enduring, the joy proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born (cf. Lk 2:10). Not only did God speak, not only did he accomplish great signs throughout the history of humankind, but he drew so near to us that he became one of us and lived our life completely. In these difficult times, so many young people all around you need to hear that the Christian message is a message of joy and hope! I would like to reflect with you on this joy and on how to find it, so that you can experience it more deeply and bring it to everyone you meet.

Joy-filled young Indian-Fijians with Columban seminarian Kurt Zion Pala from Iligan City, Philippines (Kurt's Facebook)

1. Our hearts are made for joy

A yearning for joy lurks within the heart of every man and woman. Far more than immediate and fleeting feelings of satisfaction, our hearts seek a perfect, full and lasting joy capable of giving “flavour” to our existence. This is particularly true for you, because youth is a time of continuous discovery of life, of the world, of others and of ourselves. It is a time of openness to the future and of great longing for happiness, friendship, sharing and truth, a time when we are moved by high ideals and make great plans.

Each day is filled with countless simple joys which are the Lord’s gift: the joy of living, the joy of seeing nature’s beauty, the joy of a job well done, the joy of helping others, the joy of sincere and pure love. If we look carefully, we can see many other reasons to rejoice. There are the happy times in family life, shared friendship, the discovery of our talents, our successes, the compliments we receive from others, the ability to express ourselves and to know that we are understood, and the feeling of being of help to others. There is also the excitement of learning new things, seeing new and broader horizons open up through our travels and encounters, and realizing the possibilities we have for charting our future. We might also mention the experience of reading a great work of literature, of admiring a masterpiece of art, of listening to or playing music, or of watching a film. All these things can bring us real joy.

Kurt with two young Indian-Fijian friends (Kurt's Facebook)

Yet each day we also face any number of difficulties. Deep down we also worry about the future; we begin to wonder if the full and lasting joy for which we long might be an illusion and an escape from reality. Many young people ask themselves: is perfect joy really possible? The quest for joy can follow various paths, and some of these turn out to be mistaken, if not dangerous. How can we distinguish things that give real and lasting joy from immediate and illusory pleasures? How can we find true joy in life, a joy that endures and does not forsake us at moments of difficulty?

2. God is the source of true joy

Whatever brings us true joy, whether the small joys of each day or the greatest joys in life, has its source in God, even if this does not seem immediately obvious. This is because God is a communion of eternal love, he is infinite joy that does not remain closed in on itself, but expands to embrace all whom God loves and who love him. God created us in his image out of love, in order to shower his love upon us and to fill us with his presence and grace. God wants us to share in his own divine and eternal joy, and he helps us to see that the deepest meaning and value of our lives lie in being accepted, welcomed and loved by him. Whereas we sometimes find it hard to accept others, God offers us an unconditional acceptance which enables us to say: “I am loved; I have a place in the world and in history; I am personally loved by God. If God accepts me and loves me and I am sure of this, then I know clearly and with certainty that it is a good thing that I am alive”.

First Holy Communion, Fiji (Kurt's Facebook)

God’s infinite love for each of us is fully seen in Jesus Christ. The joy we are searching for is to be found in him. We see in the Gospel how the events at the beginning of Jesus’ life are marked by joy. When the Archangel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that she is to be the mother of the Saviour, his first word is “Rejoice!” (Lk 1:28). When Jesus is born, the angel of the Lord says to the shepherds: “Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a Saviour has been born for you, who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). When the Magi came in search of the child, “they were overjoyed at seeing the star” (Mt 2:10). The cause of all this joy is the closeness of God who became one of us. This is what Saint Paul means when he writes to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5). Our first reason for joy is the closeness of the Lord, who welcomes me and loves me.

An encounter with Jesus always gives rise to immense inner joy. We can see this in many of the Gospel stories. We recall when Jesus visited Zacchaeus, a dishonest tax collector and public sinner, he said to him: “Today I must stay at your house”. Then, Saint Luke tells us, Zacchaeus “received him with joy” (Lk 19:5-6). This is the joy of meeting the Lord. It is the joy of feeling God’s love, a love that can transform our whole life and bring salvation. Zacchaeus decides to change his life and to give half of his possessions to the poor.

At the hour of Jesus’ passion, this love can be seen in all its power. At the end of his earthly life, while at supper with his friends, Jesus said: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love... I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:9,11). Jesus wants to lead his disciples and each one of us into the fullness of joy that he shares with the Father, so that the Father’s love for him might abide in us (cf. Jn 17:26). Christian joy consists in being open to God’s love and belonging to him.

The Gospels recount that Mary Magdalene and other women went to visit the tomb where Jesus had been laid after his death. An angel told them the astonishing news of Jesus’ resurrection. Then, the Evangelist tells us, they ran from the sepulchre, “fearful yet overjoyed” to share the good news with the disciples. Jesus met them on the way and said: “Peace!” (Mt 28:8-9). They were being offered the joy of salvation. Christ is the One who lives and who overcame evil, sin and death. He is present among us as the Risen One and he will remain with us until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). Evil does not have the last word in our lives; rather, faith in Christ the Saviour tells us that God’s love is victorious.

This deep joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit who makes us God’s sons and daughters, capable of experiencing and savouring his goodness, and calling him “Abba”, Father (cf. Rm 8:15). Joy is the sign of God’s presence and action within us.

Columban Lay Missionaries (Facebook of Columban Lay Missionary Nette Toledo, far right)

3. Preserving Christian joy in our hearts

At this point we wonder: “How do we receive and maintain this gift of deep, spiritual joy?”

One of the Psalms tells us: “Find your delight in the Lord who will give you your heart's desire” (Ps 37:4). Jesus told us that “the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Mt 13:44). The discovery and preservation of spiritual joy is the fruit of an encounter with the Lord. Jesus asks us to follow him and to stake our whole life on him. Dear young people, do not be afraid to risk your lives by making space for Jesus Christ and his Gospel. This is the way to find inner peace and true happiness. It is the way to live fully as children of God, created in his image and likeness.

 Filipinos bringing joy to the Church in Ireland (Facebook of Columban Lay Missionary Angie Escarsa, top left)

Seek joy in the Lord: for joy is the fruit of faith. It is being aware of his presence and friendship every day: “the Lord is near!” (Phil 4:5). It is putting our trust in God, and growing in his knowledge and love. Shortly we shall begin the “Year of Faith”, and this will help and encourage us. Dear friends, learn to see how God is working in your lives and discover him hidden within the events of daily life. Believe that he is always faithful to the covenant which he made with you on the day of your Baptism. Know that God will never abandon you. Turn your eyes to him often. He gave his life for you on the cross because he loves you. Contemplation of this great love brings a hope and joy to our hearts that nothing can destroy. Christians can never be sad, for they have met Christ, who gave his life for them.

To seek the Lord and find him in our lives also means accepting his word, which is joy for our hearts. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote: “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart” (Jer 15:16). Learn to read and meditate on the sacred Scriptures. There you will find an answer to your deepest questions about truth. God’s word reveals the wonders that he has accomplished throughout human history, it fills us with joy, and it leads us to praise and adoration: “Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us kneel before the Lord who made us” (Ps 95:1,6).

 Columban Lay Missionaries Reina Mosqueda, Sherryl Lou Capili and Joan Yap on their way from Manila to Taiwan (Sherryl's Facebook)

The liturgy is a special place where the Church expresses the joy which she receives from the Lord and transmits it to the world. Each Sunday at Mass the Christian community celebrates the central mystery of salvation, which is the death and resurrection of Christ. This is a very important moment for all the Lord’s disciples because his sacrifice of love is made present. Sunday is the day when we meet the risen Christ, listen to his word, and are nourished by his body and blood. As we hear in one of the Psalms: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad” (Ps 118:24). At the Easter Vigil, the Church sings the Exultet, a hymn of joy for the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death: “Sing, choirs of angels! ... Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour ... Let this place resound with joy, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!” Christian joy is born of this awareness of being loved by God who became man, gave his life for us and overcame evil and death. It means living a life of love for him. As Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, a young Carmelite, wrote: “Jesus, my joy is loving you” (P 45, 21 January 1897).

4. The joy of love

Dear friends, joy is intimately linked to love. They are inseparable gifts of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:23). Love gives rise to joy, and joy is a form of love. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta drew on Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) when she said: “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls; God loves a cheerful giver. Whoever gives with joy gives more”. As the Servant of God Paul VI wrote: “In God himself, all is joy because all is giving” (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino, 9 May 1975).

In every area of your life, you should know that to love means to be steadfast, reliable and faithful to commitments. This applies most of all to friendship. Our friends expect us to be sincere, loyal and faithful because true love perseveres even in times of difficulty. The same thing can be said about your work and studies and the services you carry out. Fidelity and perseverance in doing good brings joy, even if not always immediately.

If we are to experience the joy of love, we must also be generous. We cannot be content to give the minimum. We need to be fully committed in life and to pay particular attention to those in need. The world needs men and women who are competent and generous, willing to be at the service of the common good. Make every effort to study conscientiously, to develop your talents and to put them at the service of others even now. Find ways to help make society more just and humane wherever you happen to be. May your entire life be guided by a spirit of service and not by the pursuit of power, material success and money.

Kurt Pala with seminarians from other groups, Manila (Kurt's Facebook)

Speaking of generosity, I would like to mention one particular joy. It is the joy we feel when we respond to the vocation to give our whole life to the Lord. Dear young people, do not be afraid if Christ is calling you to the religious, monastic or missionary life or to the priesthood. Be assured that he fills with joy all those who respond to his invitation to leave everything to be with him and to devote themselves with undivided heart to the service of others. In the same way, God gives great joy to men and women who give themselves totally to one another in marriage in order to build a family and to be signs of Christ’s love for the Church.

Let me remind you of a third element that will lead you to the joy of love. It is allowing fraternal love to grow in your lives and in those of your communities. There is a close bond between communion and joy. It is not by chance that Saint Paul’s exhortation: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4) is written in the plural, addressing the community as a whole, rather than its individual members. Only when we are together in the communion of fellowship do we experience this joy. In the Acts of the Apostles, the first Christian community is described in these words: “Breaking bread in their homes, they ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46). I ask you to make every effort to help our Christian communities to be special places of sharing, attention and concern for one another.

During a celebration among Catholic in the Kachin State, northern Myanmar (Facebook of Arlenne Villahermosa, Columban Lay Missionary from Cebu, Philippines, right)
5. The joy of conversion

Dear friends, experiencing real joy also means recognizing the temptations that lead us away from it. Our present-day culture often pressures us to seek immediate goals, achievements and pleasures. It fosters fickleness more than perseverance, hard work and fidelity to commitments. The messages it sends push a consumerist mentality and promise false happiness. Experience teaches us that possessions do not ensure happiness. How many people are surrounded by material possessions yet their lives are filled with despair, sadness and emptiness! To have lasting joy we need to live in love and truth. We need to live in God.

God wants us to be happy. That is why he gave us specific directions for the journey of life: the commandments. If we observe them, we will find the path to life and happiness. At first glance, they might seem to be a list of prohibitions and an obstacle to our freedom. But if we study them more closely, we see in the light of Christ’s message that the commandments are a set of essential and valuable rules leading to a happy life in accordance with God’s plan. How often, on the other hand, do we see that choosing to build our lives apart from God and his will brings disappointment, sadness and a sense of failure. The experience of sin, which is the refusal to follow God and an affront to his friendship, brings gloom into our hearts.

At times the path of the Christian life is not easy, and being faithful to the Lord’s love presents obstacles; occasionally we fall. Yet God in his mercy never abandons us; he always offers us the possibility of returning to him, being reconciled with him and experiencing the joy of his love which forgives and welcomes us back.

Dear young people, have frequent recourse to the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation! It is the sacrament of joy rediscovered. Ask the Holy Spirit for the light needed to acknowledge your sinfulness and to ask for God’s forgiveness. Celebrate this sacrament regularly, with serenity and trust. The Lord will always open his arms to you. He will purify you and bring you into his joy: for there is joy in heaven even for one sinner who repents (cf. Lk 15:7).

6. Joy at times of trial

In the end, though, we might still wonder in our hearts whether it is really possible to live joyfully amid all life’s trials, especially those which are most tragic and mysterious. We wonder whether following the Lord and putting our trust in him will always bring happiness.

We can find an answer in some of the experiences of young people like yourselves who have found in Christ the light that can give strength and hope even in difficult situations. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925) experienced many trials during his short life, including a romantic experience that left him deeply hurt. In the midst of this situation he wrote to his sister: “You ask me if I am happy. How could I not be? As long as faith gives me strength, I am happy. A Catholic could not be other than happy... The goal for which we were created involves a path which has its thorns, but it is not a sad path. It is joy, even when it involves pain” (Letter to his sister Luciana, Turin, 14 February 1925). When Blessed John Paul II presented Blessed Pier Giorgio as a model for young people, he described him as “a young person with infectious joy, the joy that overcame many difficulties in his life” (Address to Young People, Turin, 13 April 1980).

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, 'The Saint Who Failed Math'

Closer to us in time is Chiara Badano (1971-1990), who was recently beatified. She experienced how pain could be transfigured by love and mysteriously steeped in joy. At the age of eighteen, while suffering greatly from cancer, Chiara prayed to the Holy Spirit and interceded for the young people of the movement to which she belonged. As well as praying for her own cure, she asked God to enlighten all those young people by his Spirit and to give them wisdom and light. “It was really a moment of God’s presence. I was suffering physically, but my soul was singing” (Letter to Chiara Lubich, Sassello, 20 December 1989). The key to her peace and joy was her complete trust in the Lord and the acceptance of her illness as a mysterious expression of his will for her sake and that of everyone. She often said: “Jesus, if you desire it, then I desire it too”.

These are just two testimonies taken from any number of others which show that authentic Christians are never despairing or sad, not even when faced with difficult trials. They show that Christian joy is not a flight from reality, but a supernatural power that helps us to deal with the challenges of daily life. We know that the crucified and risen Christ is here with us and that he is a faithful friend always. When we share in his sufferings, we also share in his glory. With him and in him, suffering is transformed into love. And there we find joy (cf. Col 1:24).

7. Witnesses of joy

Dear friends, to conclude I would encourage you to be missionaries of joy. We cannot be happy if others are not. Joy has to be shared. Go and tell other young people about your joy at finding the precious treasure which is Jesus himself. We cannot keep the joy of faith to ourselves. If we are to keep it, we must give it away. Saint John said: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; we are writing this so that our joy may be complete” (1 Jn 1:3-4).

Christianity is sometimes depicted as a way of life that stifles our freedom and goes against our desires for happiness and joy. But this is far from the truth. Christians are men and women who are truly happy because they know that they are not alone. They know that God is always holding them in his hands. It is up to you, young followers of Christ, to show the world that faith brings happiness and a joy which is true, full and enduring. If the way Christians live at times appears dull and boring, you should be the first to show the joyful and happy side of faith. The Gospel is the “good news” that God loves us and that each of us is important to him. Show the world that this is true!

Be enthusiastic witnesses of the new evangelization! Go to those who are suffering and those who are searching, and give them the joy that Jesus wants to bestow. Bring it to your families, your schools and universities, and your workplaces and your friends, wherever you live. You will see how it is contagious. You will receive a hundredfold: the joy of salvation for yourselves, and the joy of seeing God’s mercy at work in the hearts of others. And when you go to meet the Lord on that last day, you will hear him say: “Well done, my good and faithful servant... Come, share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21).

Columban Lay Missionary Irma Cantago, from Ozamiz City, Philippines, with young friends in Lima, Peru (Irma's Facebook)

May the Blessed Virgin Mary accompany you on this journey. She welcomed the Lord within herself and proclaimed this in a song of praise and joy, the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:46-47). Mary responded fully to God’s love by devoting her life to him in humble and complete service. She is invoked as “Cause of our Joy” because she gave us Jesus. May she lead you to that joy which no one will ever be able to take away from you!

From the Vatican, 15 March 2012


30 March 2012

'Your king is coming . . .' Sunday Reflections, Palm Sunday Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003). Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

At the Procession of Palms either of these gospels may be used: Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16.

Gospel for Procession of Palms Mark 11:1-10 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

When they were approaching Jerusalem, in sight of Bethphage and Bethany, close by the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, 'Go off to the village facing you, and as soon as you enter it you will find a tethered colt that no one has yet ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, "What are you doing?" say, "The Master needs it and will send it back here directly." They went off and found a colt tethered near a door in the open street. As they untied it, some men standing there said, 'What are you doing, untying that colt?' They gave the answer Jesus, had told them, and, the men let them go. Then they took the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on its back, and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, others greenery which they had cut in the fields. And those who went in front and those who followed were all shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heavens!'

John 12:12-16 
The next day the crowds who had come up for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took branches of palm and went out to receive him, shouting: 'Hosanna! Blessings on the King of Israel, who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus found a young donkey and mounted it -- as scripture says: Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, mounted on the colt of a donkey. At the time his disciples did not understand this, but later, after Jesus had been glorified, they remembered that this had been written about him and that this was in fact how they had received him.

An Soiscéal Marcas 11:1-10 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Nuair a bhí siad ag teacht i ngar do Iarúsailéim, agus iad chomh fada le Béatfaigé agus Béatáine i dtreo Chnoc na nOlóg, chuir sé beirt dá dheisceabail uaidh, agus  dúirt sé leo: “Téigí isteach sa bhaile atá os bhur gcomhair agus láithreach ag dul isteach ann daoibh, gheobhaidh sibh searrach ceangailte nach raibh duine ar bith riamh ar a mhuin. Scaoiligí é agus tugaigí libh é. Agus má deir aon duine libh: ‘Cad atá sibh a dhéanamh?’ abraigí: ‘Tá gá ag an Tiarna leis. Ach cuirfidh sé ar ais anseo gan mhoill é.’” D’imigh siad leo agus fuair an searrach ceangailte ag doras, lasmuigh ar an tsráid agus scaoil siad é. Agus dúirt cuid dá raibh ina seasamh ansiúd leo: “Cad ab áil libh ag scaoileadh an tsearraigh?” D’fhreagair siad faoi mar a dúirt Íosa leo, agus scaoil siad leo. Agus thug siad leo an searrach go dtí Íosa agus chuir siad a mbrait anuas air agus chuaigh sé ina shuí air. Leath a lán daoine a mbrait ar an mbóthar, a thuilleadh craobhacha a bhain siad sna goirt; agus na daoine a bhí roimhe amach, agus iad siúd a bhí á leanuint, bhí na gártha acu á gcur suas:
Is beannaithe an té atá ag teacht in ainm an Tiarna!
Is beannaithe ag teacht í, Ríocht ár nAthar, Dáiví!
Hósana sna harda!”

Eoin 12:12-16 

Lá arna mhárach, an slua mór a tháinig don fhéile, nuair a chuala siad go raibh Íosa ag teacht go Iarúsailéim, thóg siad craobhacha pailme agus amach leo ina choinne, agus na gártha á gcur suas acu: “Hósana! Is beannaithe an té atá ag teacht in ainm an Tiarna, sea, rí Iosrael.” Agus fuair Íosa asal óg agus shuigh air mar atá scríofa: 15“Na bíodh eagla ort, a iníon Shíón; féach, tá do rí ag teacht agus é ina shuí ar shearrach asail.” Nior thuig a dheisceabail na nithe ar dtús ach nuair a glóiríodh Íosa, ansin is ea a chuimhnigh siad air go raibh na nithe seo scríofa agus go ndearna siad na nithe sin leis.


There’s an expression in Irish, An té atá thuas óltar deoch air; an té atá thíos buailtear cos air (‘The one who succeeds is toasted; the one who fails is kicked’). On Palm Sunday Jesus was joyfully welcomed with people shouting ‘Hosanna!’ Five days later the mob, that surely included at least some who had cried out ‘Hosanna!’ was shouting ‘Crucify him!’

The last century has seen ‘The Thousand Year Reich’ end in ruins after only twelve years, the overthrowing of many dictators, powerful politicians ending up in jail or on the gallows, statues that some of them had built in their own honour toppled from their pedestals.

Charles Dickens, born 200 years ago, in A Christmas Carol describes the reaction of a young woman when her husband comes home with news of the debt they owed.

He sat down to the dinner that had been hoarding for him by the fire; and when she asked him faintly what news (which was not until after a long silence), he appeared embarrassed how to answer.
“Is it good,” she said, “or bad?” – to help him.
“Bad”, he answered.
“We are quite ruined?”
“No. There is hope yet, Caroline.”
“If  he relents,” she said, amazed, “there is! Nothing is past hope, if such a miracle has happened.”
“He is past relenting,” said her husband. “He is dead.”
She was a mild and patient creature if her face spoke truth; but she was thankful in her soul to hear it, and she said so, with clasped hands. She prayed forgiveness the next moment, and was sorry; but the first was the emotion of her heart’.

This took place after Scrooge, in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come had asked the Ghost, who had been showing him scenes around the death of someone unloved whom Scrooge had not yet recognized as himself, If there is any one person in the town, who feels emotion caused by this man’s death, show that person to me, Spirit, I beseech you!

The instinctive emotion was relief, as it always is, at least for a while, when a tyrant is overthrown. I remember my own feelings of relief and joy when dictator Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippine was overthrown in February 1986.

The story of the conversion of Scrooge is set at Christmastime but what underlies it is what we commemorate and celebrate during the coming week, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, God who became Man. Jesus cold see clearly through the adulation offered him on Palm Sunday. We’ve no reason to believe that the welcome the people gave him was insincere or that Jesus didn’t accept it. But, for some at least, the welcome they gave Jesus was surely shallow. The parable of the seeds was reflected in the responses showed during the coming week by those who welcomed him.

Overthrown or deceased tyrants are not usually remembered for being loving. Some children are unfortunate enough to have a parent who is tyrannical. Some have been affected for life by a teacher who has terrorized his students. Dickens’s novels provide us with many such characters, reflective of people in real life. They are full of children who have been abused in different ways. In recent years we have become all too familiar with a reality that many of us could never have imagined – the abuse of children by priests and religious. There is a growing awareness of the much wider reality of abuse of children in families.

But the death of Jesus led initially to great sorrow and remorse, a loss of hope, until the reality of his Resurrection became apparent to his closest followers. Then they began to see him and understand his mission in a new way. Then they began to see how he had always been on the side of the outsider – the blind, the lame, the deaf, the leper, the child. Even the animal he chose to ride on into Jerusalem is described by GK Chesterton in the poem below as The devil’s walking parody / On all four-footed things. But the humble donkey also had his hour.

When Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, on 23 February 1977 the governing authorities welcomed this. They gave him a sort of Palm Sunday welcome as someone they perceived to be pious and compliant. He was indeed a deeply pious person, in the full sense of one devoted to the will of God the Father, and this was the foundation on which the dramatic last years of his life were based. On 24 March 1980 agents of the state shot Archbishop Romero dead while he was celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel (photo below). His 'Holy Week' had lasted just over three years.

In his final homily, a few minutes before he was murdered, Archbishop Romero said, May this Body immolated and this blood sacrificed for Mankind nourish us also, that we may give our body and blood over to suffering and pain, like Christ – not for Self, but to give harvests of peace and justice to our people.

A few days earlier Archbishop Romero had said to a journalist, I need to say that as a Christian I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador . . . If they manage to carry out their threats, as of now, I offer my blood for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, then may my blood be the seed of liberty and the sign that hope will soon become a reality. May my death, if it is accepted by God, be for the liberation of my people, as a witness of hope in what is to come. You can tell them that if they succeed in killing me, I pardon and bless those who do it. A bishop may die, but the Church of God, which is in the people, will never die.

In 1994 Blessed John Paul II wrote in Tertio Adveniente: At the end of the second millennium, the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs . . . It is a testimony that must not be forgotten. Among the Catholic martyrs of the new millennium are my close friend and Columban colleague Fr Rufus Halley, shot dead on 28 August 2001 having spent 20 years trying to be a bridge between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao, Fr Ragheed Aziz Ganni, shot dead in Iraq after celebrating Mass on Pentecost Sunday 2007 and Pakistani politician Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, murdered just after visiting his mother on 2 March last year.

Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter bring hope into our lives. We can see our often shallow enthusiasm for Jesus echoed in the crowds greeting him on Palm Sunday. We can see our frequent betrayals of him in small matters and big as we listen to the Passion, this year that of St Mark, on Palm Sunday and again to St John’s version on Good Friday. But the reality that Jesus, God who became Man, the Son of God the Father, took on all of this so that we might have life to the full. Óscar Romero, Rufus Halley, Ragheed Ganni and Shahbaz Bhatti all walked with Jesus on Palm Sunday, walked with him to Calvary on Good Friday and now share in the joy of his Resurrection, bringing hope to the rest of us, a hope rooted in their faith in Jesus the Risen Lord.


G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

27 March 2012

My Dad's 99th birth anniversary

My ordination day, 20 December 1967, with Dad, Mam and my brother Paddy.

My late Dad, John Coyle, was born 99 years ago today - or possibly yesterday. He was never quite sure whether his birthday was the 26th or 27th but finally opted for the latter.

He is still the biggest influence in my life because of the quiet way he lived his deep faith as a husband, father, neighbour, carpenter and general foreman for many years on building sites. One of his strongest characteristics was his respect for others. He went to Mass every day, including the day he died suddenly, 11 August 1987.

Dad also influenced my taste in popular music. He loved a good tune. Sometimes he would 'doodle' on the piano but couldn't play it. One of his great favourites was Charlie Kunz, in the video above, an American-born bandleader and pianist who settled in England. He would sometimes tell me about the time he saw Charlie perform in the old Theatre Royal in Dublin before World War II.

He and my mother, Mary, were very good ballroom dancers. That is one of the reasons I'm able to write this blog. They had been going together for a while but split up amicably. Some time later my mother was given two tickets for a dress dance (a formal ball). She asked her mother what she should do with the tickets. She said, 'Invite Joe'. 'Joe' was the name my mother and her family used for Dad. To others he was 'John'. But Joseph was his second Christian name.

One of the photos on display in our house was of my parents at a dress dance my father looking elegant in his white bow-tie. It might well have been the occasion when they resumed their relationship. I'm almost certain it was taken before they were married in 1942.

He loved the music of Victor Silvester, featured in the video below. When he visited the Philippines in 1981, eleven years after my mother's death, the people in Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, Mindanao, put on a welcome party. He hadn't lost his ability to 'trip the light fantastic' and enjoyed himself immensely.

My mother used to say if we found ourselves in a crowded space such as a bus or a lift (elevator), 'If we've as much room in heaven we'll be all right'. May the light of heaven shine on my parents and on my grandmother Annie Dowd Collins for suggesting to her daughter Mary that she invite her former boyfriend Joe to that dress dance!

26 March 2012

'Let it be to me according to your word'. The Annunciation.

The Annunciation, Caravaggio, painted 1608-09

Luke 1:26-38 (Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. 

O God, 
who willed that your Word 
should take on the reality of human flesh
 in the womb of the Virgin Mary, 
grant, we pray, 
that we, who confess our Redeemer to be God and man, 
may merit to become partakers even in his divine nature.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.

24 March 2012

'When I am lifted up from the earth . . .' Sunday Reflections for 5th Sunday of Lent Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) Jesus Predicts His Death (12:20-36) Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer.
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

 Gospel John 12:20-33 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, 'Sir, we should like to see Jesus.' Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them:

'Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him. Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that! have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!'

A voice came from heaven, 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again. People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, 'It was an angel speaking to him.'

Jesus answered, 'It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.

'Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.' By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.

An Soiscéal Eoin 12:20-33 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin bhí Gréagaigh áirithe ar na daoine a chuaigh suas go Iarúsailéim chun adhradh a dhéanamh lá na féile. Tháinig siadsan mar sin go dtí Pilib, an fear ó Bhéatsáide na Gailíle, agus d’iarr siad achainí air: “A thiarna, ba mhaith linn Íosa a fheiceáil,” ar siad. Tháinig Pilib agus d’inis sé d’Aindrias é, agus ansin tháinig Aindrias agus Pilib agus d’inis siad d’Íosa é. D’fhreagair Íosa iad agus dúirt:

“Tá an uair tagtha chun go ndéanfaí Mac an Duine a ghlóiriú. Amen, Amen, a deirim libh, an gráinne arbhair a thit sa talamh, mura bhfaigheann sé bás, fanann sé leis féin amháin. Ach má fhaigheann sé bás, tugann sé toradh mór uaidh. An té a thugann grá dá anam féin, caillfidh sé é, agus an té a thugann fuath dá anam féin ar an saol seo, déanfaidh sé é a choimeád chun na beatha síoraí. Má dhéanann aon duine friothálamh ormsa, leanadh sé mé, agus an áit ina mbímse, is ann a bheidh mo fhriothálaí chomh maith. Má dhéanann aon duine friothálamh ormsa, tabharfaidh m’Athair onóir dó. Tá buaireamh ar m’anam anois. Cad déarfaidh mé? ‘ A Athair, saor mé ón uair seo’? Ach is chuige sin a tháinig mé chun na huaire seo. Athair, tabhair glóir do d’ainm!”

Ansin tháinig guth ó neamh: “Thug mé glóir dó, agus tabharfaidh mé glóir dó arís.”Arna chloisteáil don slua a bhí ina seasamh timpeall, dúirt siad gur toirneach a rinneadh; dúirt cuid acu: “Aingeal a labhair leis.”

D’fhreagair Íosa: 
“Ní ar mo shonsa,” ar sé, “a tharla an guth, ach ar bhur sonsa. Anois atá breith á tabhairt ar an saol seo. Anois atá prionsa an tsaoil seo le teilgean amach. Má ardaítear mise ón talamh tarraingeoidh mé gach duine chugam féin.”

Dúirt sé an méid sin á chur in iúl cén sórt báis a bhí i ndán dó a fháil.

The Venerable Matt Talbot (2 May 1856 - 7 June 1925)
When Fr Patrick Sheehy died suddenly at the age of 80 in the Columban retirement home in Ireland eight days before Christmas 1999 people began to notice that certain things weren’t being done anymore, simple things such as newspapers and letters being brought to men who weren’t very mobile.

Father Pat, from Union Hall, in west Cork, one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland, if not the world, was ordained in 1944 and went to China in 1946. He was expelled from there in 1951 and moved to Japan, where he was to spend the next 38 years, apart from a two-year break for health reasons. When he retired to Ireland ‘he quietly kept busy at many corporal works of mercy until his sudden death, as Those Who Journeyed With Us, the Columban book of brief obituaries, puts it.
When I read in today’s Gospel, when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself, I thought of Father Pat. He didn’t do anything to draw attention to himself. But in his death he drew the attention of those around him to the simple ways in which the Lord had been present through him in his thoughtful acts.

I thought of the Venerable Matt Talbot, - ‘The Workers’ Saint’ - whose sudden death in Granby Lane, behind the Dominican church in Dublin, where he was on his way to Mass on Trinity Sunday, 7 June 1925, led to the discovery of the extraordinarily ascetical life he had led for 41 years after giving up the alcohol to which he had been addicted. A penitential chain was found on his body. All the evidence later discovered pointed to the fact that this was something he wore only occasionally and with the permission of his spiritual director. But without that chain nobody would have known anything about this extraordinary man, with little formal education, living a profound life of penance and prayer while working as a labourer on the docks of Dublin and sharing the little money he had with those poorer than himself.

When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself. Again, Matt Talbot never sought any attention for himself. As a poor, working man, he would have got little attention anyway. But in his death he brought many closer to the Jesus he loved, especially alcoholics like himself. He had to decide each day to live soberly. He had to decide each day to pray, to attend Mass, to fast, to give himself to his work, to give away what he earned.

Father Pat Sheehy had to give up his dream of spending all his life in China when, with so many others, he was expelled. He had to let go of Japan for two years in the mid-1950s because of poor health, though the Lord brought him back there. When retired he had to decide each day to do each act of kindness that he did quietly, many of which weren’t clearly seen until he died.

Each decision we make to die to self in some way is a living out of the words of Jesus today: unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Very often it is others who reap this rich harvest.

22 March 2012

'Fishing for the Words'

An Elderly Couple, Jan Gossart, painted 1525-30

The other day I posted Day of Prayer for Dementia here and on Association of Catholic Women Bloggers. (A few of us priests were invited to join). The same day SherryTex posted Fishing for the Words on the latter. I am reproducing it here.

My dad has Alzheimer's.  

We don't talk about it much if for no reason other than, it hurts.
He is still Dad. He will always be Dad; but the shell of him is being slowly stripped away. Word loss creep first led to fewer letters. I've saved them all. When he visits, we get to eat together, to share the chaos that is my life and laugh a bit, sometimes it overwhelms him --which is reasonable; they overwhelm me sometimes too.

Alzheimer's is brutal and it's ongoing and it makes my heart howl sometimes when I know he's fishing for the next word, the next thought and they all get away. When my grandmother had it, I remember I did what I could to joke it away whenever possible, and I could usually make her laugh. "You always get to go new places. You always meet new people. You can claim you met anyone you want to and impress because we'll never be certain and neither will you." We had a good laugh about that as I helped her get her "doll face" on, she loved for me to draw her eyebrows.

Even late into the disease, Coco and I could still laugh a bit at this hard thing; one time she came into the dining room saying "This cereal tastes terrible." I looked at the silver tray she'd filled with granola and salsa. "Yes, I bet it did." I deadpanned. She smiled at me, she knew it was a bit of a rub. The ability to joke at it took some of the razor edge off, but this time, I can't laugh.

It's too close, too near, too sharp and too soon. Even though it's been ongoing, it still feels like a hard slap whenever we get to a new barrier of "we can't." and that's made harder by being only able to walk in spirit with my folks on this road to the cross because we live so far away.

Dad's still here and sometimes, he's really still here. He can sing with his son if his son coaxes him along and he loves his grandchildren fiercely. He knows the mass and he tries to read things. Sometimes he can.
He still laughs at movies and enjoys company and wants to participate and Mom fiercely takes every opportunity to bring him to those places and people he loves as often as possible.

So today, I am grateful my brothers and sister and I wrote stories about our dad back in 2007, capturing his habits, loves, and our favorite memories.  Now a days, I can read it and have a mental snapshot of some of the wonderful things my Dad is and always was; because Alzheimer's can make everyone else forget what was wonderful and magnificent and beautiful about a person over time, as they are less able to be present and witness to others. It is then that those that love the person who has Alzheimer's must do the remembering.

Christ understood how we remember, by analogy, by familiarity, by meals, by ritual, by words. I at the very least, am not a linear thinker and as such, can tell you the lyrics of a song but not which year the song came out. It gives the impression of someone who jumps from thought to thought, because in reality, that is how my brain operates, in lots of jumps and arcs, very little of my thought process is a grid.

I miss the hooks to old jokes and puns and memories that Dad by citing six thousand books (all of which he had read and I should read by the way) in a single conversation would prompt. I have to prompt them myself to recall his teaching me how to tie knots for a boat, to play poker and make a pina colada. He also cultivated in me a love of Catholic writers that continues to deepen to this day but that seed took a long time to germinate. When we drove across country in a car where only one side door opened when I finished graduate school, he had me read City of God aloud to keep us from growing bored on the road. I told him that sometimes the tone felt like Saint Augustine would walk through town, see something that ticked him off and go back to his room to write it up as an op-ed. He laughed. He'd send me books and articles hoping one day I'd be caught on fire by the stuff. It took, but it took the better part of the past 20 years and now, it is my bed time reading and I wish I wish I wish I could really share it with him.

I can remember him chopping ingredients for gumbo and thus the gumbo recipe. I can remember him strumming the guitar and singing, I've taught some of those songs to my children. They don't always get why I love the song "My old man's a sailor..." but that's okay, hearing their voices evokes his voice; and I get a lump in my throat at church when I hear him sing; it would make me stop singing to listen, but then he'd give me a glare as if to say, "Why aren't You singing?" because that's what we're supposed to be doing at that point.

When a person has Alzheimer's, the first thing to go, are words. They can't remember the word they wanted, the memory evoked won't come into focus, the present goes out of focus and everything is as it isn't. The world becomes a confusing tide of memory, present and unexplained gaps and holes where people and books and ideas and jokes and dreams and pains and loves should be. I don't pretend to be an expert on treatment or care or the long term process or an authority on this of any kind. I'm just his daughter, and I miss his words, his new thoughts, his old puns, all of it.

Part of my present and my past is missing with his memory, like a story he wrote for me in 8th grade. Dad wrote about my very awkward adolescence on an old computer. It was in a word program that no longer exist. So when my modern machine translates it, it becomes gibberish. The story is there, the information is there, it just can't be accessed. I love that story and will have to share it in my own words with my children; but I'd rather have them hold the pages with his words.

Alzheimer's is exactly like that.

I still can't quite laugh, my brain starts to tease about it and I wince. But I know, it is only his brain that is decaying, not his soul and recalling that, fixing on that, it does not ache as much.

20 March 2012

Day of Prayer for Dementia

thank you for your presence this moment,
holding us in your love.
Help us to share your love
with those who live among us with dementia,
 that we may see your beauty in them.

Pastoral Care Project, located in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, whose mission is To raise awareness to the spiritual needs of the frail elderly - enabling carers to support them in their journey to the fullness of life has once again organised a Day of Prayer for Dementia.

Indeed, somewhat like World Youth Day, it was much more than a day of prayer but more than a week of prayer with special Masses and Prayer Events/Services being held in a number of English dioceses starting on 11 March and ending yesterday, the Solemnity of St Joseph.

Frances Molloy, the Project Manager and founder, originally from Rathlin Island, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, describes how Pastoral Care Promect came about:

In 1989, I was leading a Spiritual Development programme (Light Out of Darkness written by Sr Kathleen O’Sullivan SSL) and the theme of that particular week was ‘finding God in my weakness’, Romans 8.26-27. I met a lady with dementia in an EMI (Elderly and Mentally Infirm) Ward at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton, while visiting as a church volunteer. She was also blind and yet seemed to have an awareness which captured my attention.

She couldn't remember her name – and yet she had this great awareness of God and others. Reflecting on the scripture and the visit, I became aware of how special and unique each person is. The visit highlighted that God still communicates his love through people with dementia and that listening was the way of understanding and meeting their spiritual needs. This was an inspirational visit, which led to the Project taking off in 1994, after many years of prayer and research.

I became involved with the Project when I was based at the Columban house in Solihull, south of Birmingham, from 2000 until 2002. It has become very clear to me over the years that God speaks to all of us very powerfully through those who are weakest and on the margins. The prayer in the video asks God 'that we may see your beauty in them'. For some this may be especially in those with dementia, for some in those with learning disabilities, for others in those who have been abused. Each of us finds ourself on the margins at one time or another.

My apologies to Frances for not posting this much sooner but those with dementia need our prayers and our care each day, not only on a designated day of prayer. And God reveals his beauty to us through them each day.

16 March 2012

'Yes, God loved the world so much . . .' Sunday Reflections, Fourth Sunday of Lent Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003).  Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator: Christopher Plummer.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel John 3:14-21 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
'The Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe
in the name of God's only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer
darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth
comes out into the light, .
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.

An Soiscéal Eoin 3:14-21 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Seo mar a dúirt Íosa le Nícodémas :
Faoi mar a d’ardaigh Maois an nathair nimhe san fhásach,
sin mar a chaithfear Mac an Duine a ardú,
i dtreo, gach duine a chreideann ann,
go mbeidh an bheatha shíoraí aige.
Óir ghráigh Dia an domhan chomh mór sin
gur thug sé a Aonghin Mic uaidh
i dtreo, gach duine a chreideann ann,
nach gcaillfí é ach go mbeadh an bheatha shioraí aige.
Óir ní chun daorbhreith a thabhairt ar an saol
a chuir Dia a Mhac uaidh ar an saol
ach chun go slánófaí an saol tríd.
An té a chreideann ann ní thabharfar daorbhreith air,
ach an té nach gcreideann ann,
tá daorbhreith tugtha air cheana féin,
mar nár chreid sé in ainm Mhac Dé, a Aonghin.
Agus an daorbhreith, is mar seo í:
mar gur tháinig an solas isteach sa saol,
de bhrí gurbh olc iad a ngníomhartha.
Óir gach duine a bhíonn ag déanamh an oilc,
bíonn fuath aige don solas agus seachnaíonn sé an solas,
le heagla go gcáinfí a ghníomhartha.
Ach an té a dhéanann an fhírinne,
tagann sé chun an tsolais,
chun go dtaispeáinfí gur i nDia
a rinneadh a ghníomhartha.”

Nicodemus, woodcarving by unknown Flemish Master

There was a Filipino Jesuit priest whom I knew in the 1970s, Fr Vincent San Juan. He spent most of his life as a priest in the family life apostolate. During the Martial Law years in the Philippines - they began on 21 September 1972 and officially ended in 1981 before Blessed John Paul II visited the country. In reality it didn't end until Dictator Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in February 1986.

One of the policies vigorously pursued by the Marcos regime was the reduction of the birth-rate, but not by morally sound means. We heard many stories of tubal ligation being done on women in government hospitals after they had given birth, often without any consultation with their husbands. Only poor women would have their babies in government hospitals. All of this was being promoted by the Population Commission, popularly known as 'PopCom'.

Father San Juan gave seminars to many groups of people around the country, probably the majority professional people. They included people working for the government, few of whom would have anything to do with setting policies. He always promoted very clearly the teaching of the Church on marriage, on family life, on the spacing of children. Much of this was contrary to what the Marcos regime was promoting. But he told me that individuals often thanked him for teaching the truth, even if they couldn't speak as openly as he did.

His life reflected what another Jesuit once wrote and that reflect today's gospel: If there was a little more light and truth in the world through one human being, his life has had meaning. That was Fr Alfred Delp SJ, executed by the Nazis on 2 February 1945 at the age of 37. He wrote in his prison cell before his last Christmas: Our hearts must be keenly alert for opportunities in our own little corners of daily life. May we stand in this world, not as people in hiding but as those who help prepare the way for the Son of God.

Nicodemus came to Jesus quietly at night and Jesus warmly welcomed and respected him. Fr San Juan worked quietly teaching the truth when the regime in power was teaching otherwise. Fr Delp did likewise under a regime that was far more oppressive than that of Marcos, oppressive though that was, and paid for it with his life.

There are countless individuals who, without even being aware of it, live the light and truth of the gospel and have no idea of the influence they have on others, of the hope that they bring to others. Each of us is called by Jesus to live a life that has meaning.

West German stamp in honour of Fr Alfred Delp SJ, 1964