29 October 2013

Ronnie Delany: Irish Olympian grateful for ‘God-given talent’

Ronnie Delany of Ireland winning the 1500 metres in the Melbourne Olympics 1956

Since I was 13 Ronnie Delany has been a hero of mine. I posted about him in July 2012 under the heading Olympic Gold medallist: 'I had to say "thank you" to God for the gift I was given'. The Irish Catholic carries a story by Mags Gargan an dated 24 October 2013 under a very similar headline: Irish Olympian grateful for ‘God-given talent’

There you'll find what is an iconic photo for those of us who are Irish and remember Delany's win in Melbourne on 1 December 1956: his kneeling immediately afterwards to thank God. Some on the spot thought he had collapsed. He hadn't. In my previous post I quoted what he said in a radio interview some years ago in Ireland: I had to say 'thank you' to God for the gift I was given'. That's where the headline in The Irish Catholic comes from.

Down the years Ronnie Delany has spoken of the gift that God gave him and of his gratitude to God for it. To recognise a special gift from God and to develop and use that gift is real humility. Mags Gargan is reporting on a talk that he gave recently at a conference on Ethics and Sport organised by the Department of Religions and Theology in Trinity College Dublin.

"I have a great sense of faith. I didn’t pray so much to win, I did say ‘God give me the ability to run to the best of my ability’. I knew if He gave me that gift I would win, so it was a bit of a cheeky way to go about it,” he said.
“No apology. I prayed before 120,000 people, before the world, because I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for the gift. Thank you too for the ability to explore my talent because if I hadn’t that, if I hadn’t taken key decisions in my life, if I hadn’t listened to my coach, if I hadn’t done the work he asked me to do, history would not have been written in terms of my participation in the Olympics.”
The 78-year-old veteran also talked about the importance of respect in sport, saying it was one of the great lessons he learned. “Respect for the colours you wear, respect for your club, you county, your country, your province. Respect is an enormous attribute for the younger athlete I think. Now arrogance prevents that respect coming through.
“Often times they don’t have respect, they disrespect, their values are different,” he said.
Ronnie Delany speaks of another aspect of humility: listening to others who can help us develop whatever talents God has given us and doing what is necessary to develop them. His coach in Villanova University, Philadelphia, run by the Augustinians, where he had an athletic scholarship, was 'Jumbo' Elliott. Elliott never won an Olympic medal but without him Delany would never have won one either.

Delany also spoke eloquently about respect. At the end of the video above, where veteran Irish sports commentator Jimmy Magee looks back on what was a moment of glory for everyone in Ireland, we see genuine respect: the winner thanking God for his victory and then John Landy of Australia who came third and other runners warmly congratulating him.

Ronnie Delany showed that respect in an interview with Kerry O'Brien in Sydney on the occasion of the 2000 Olympics there when he spoke so warmly about John Landy as a friend and rival:

KERRY O'BRIEN: Racing against a local hero?

RON DELANEY: Yes, hero and friend, because John, I'd raced him in America the previous summer, I'd raced him in Compton, raced him in Fresno, and he beat me handsomely both times, so I had a certain fear in my heart.

The rumour was that he was slightly injured and he's an enormous gentleman, enormous sportsman, so he was my friend as well as my adversary on that day.

And I had the good fortune to beat him.

John, of course, got third and I think he hates being reminded of that because he's done so many other marvellous things.

He was probably the greatest miler in the world at that time.

John Landy showed his sportsmanship and respect for rivals in an extraordinary way in 1956. From WikipediaLandy is remembered for his performance in the 1500 metres final at the 1956 Australian National Championships prior to the Melbourne Olympic Games [photo above]. In the race, Landy stopped and doubled back to check on fellow runner Ron Clarke after another runner clipped Clarke's heel, causing him to fall early in the third lap of the race. Clarke, the then-junior 1500 metre world champion, who had been leading the race, got back to his feet and started running again; Landy followed. Incredibly, in the final two laps Landy made up a large deficit to win the race, something considered one of the greatest moments in Australian sporting history. Said the National Centre for History and Education in Australia, "It was a spontaneous gesture of sportsmanship and it has never been forgotten." A bronze sculpture of the moment when Landy helps Clarke to his feet is situated on the north west corner of Punt Road and Swan Street, Melbourne.

In August Pope Francis met the members of the Argentinian and Italian national football teams before they played against each other. He called on players to “live your sport as a gift from God, an opportunity not only to improve your talents, but also a responsibility”. And he returned to the idea that athletes should act as role models, encouraging them to set an example of loyalty, respect, and selflessness. “I have confidence,” he said, “in all the good you can do, especially among young people.”

Maybe Pope Francis had read or listened to interviews with Ronnie Delany! I don't think that the Irishman ever set out deliberately to be a role model. But by the way he lives his faith and with his deep sense of gratitude to God he is one even to young Irish people born long after he won his Olympic gold medal.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ronnie Delany in November 2011 at the annual dinner of the O'Connell Schools' Past Pupils Union. He is a man who still lives joyfully and still with that great sense of gratitude to God.

Stamp issued in Ireland on the 50th anniversary of Delany's win

26 October 2013

'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' Sunday Reflections, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." 

This Sunday is National Priesthood Sunday in the USA and Prison Awareness Sunday in the Philippines.

I remember when I was around 14 one of my father's fellow foremen on a building (construction) site came to visit us one evening. I'll call him Tom. My father went to Mass every morning, something he did until the day he died. At the time I was trying to emulate him. During the course of the evening Tom mentioned that he 'religiously received Holy Communion twice a year, at Christmas and at Easter'. 

Some days later I remarked somewhat disapprovingly to my parents that Tom went to Holy communion only twice a year. Both of them spoke to me very sharply and I realised that I was out of line, something like the Pharisee in today's gospel. And I did indeed feel a chastening sense of shame, something I still feel whenever I recall that moment.

Tom was an honest, hardworking family man, a man of faith who was still following the custom that prevailed until St Pius X (1903-1914) encouraged frequent Holy Communion. St Thérèse of Lisieux, who died six years before the election of Pope Pius X, wrote with gratitude in her Story of a Soul about the occasions when her confessor allowed her to go to Holy Communion. She understood what a great gift receiving the Lord in Holy Communion was. I wonder if most of us today have that same understanding. Indeed, surveys indicate that many Catholics don't believe that they are receiving the 'Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity' of the Risen Lord, as people of my generation learned from the catechism.

What blocked the Pharisee from receiving God's blessing, from going down to his house justified wasn't his telling God the good things he had done - St Paul doesn't hesitate to say to Timothy in today's Second Reading, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2Timothy 4:7) - but his self-righteous contempt for others whose inner struggles he seemed to be totally unaware of.

However, from my early days as a priest I have often thought that this parable should be slightly changed, with the tax collector saying, God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this Pharisee. I don't think I've ever heard anyone condemning a sinner who has acknowledged his sins. But many times I've heard or read about individuals giving as an excuse for not going to Mass or even leaving the Church that there are 'too many hypocrites' there. 

A religious sister from Rwanda, Sr Genevieve Umawariya, speaking during the Synod on Africa held in Rome in 2009, the theme of which was The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace, spoke of an incident that parallels today's gospel. Here is what she said:

I am a survivor of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda 1994.

A large part of my family was killed while in our parish church. The sight of this building used to fill me with horror and turned my stomach, just like the encounter with the prisoners filled me with disgust and rage.

It is in this mental state that something happened that would change my life and my relationships.

On August 27th 1997 at 1 p.m., a group from the Catholic association of the 'Ladies of Divine Mercy' led me to two prisons in the region of Kibuye, my birthplace. They went to prepare the prisoners for the Jubilee of 2000. They said: 'If you have killed, you commit yourself to ask for forgiveness from the surviving victim, that way you can help him free himself of the burden/weight of vengeance, hatred and rancor. If you are a victim, you commit yourself to offer forgiveness to those who harmed you and thus you free them from the weight of their crime and the evil that is in them'.

This message had an unexpected effect for me and in me . . .

After that, one of the prisoners rose in tears, fell to his knees before me, loudly begging: 'Mercy'. I was petrified in recognizing a family friend who had grown up and shared everything with us.

He admitted having killed my father and told me the details of the death of my family. A feeling of pity and compassion invaded me: I picked him up, embraced him and told him in a tearful voice: “You are and always will be my brother”.

Then I felt a huge weight lift away from me . . . I had found internal peace and I thanked the person I was holding in my arms.

To my great surprise, I heard him cry out: 'Justice can do its work and condemn me to death, now I am free!'

I also wanted to cry out to who wanted to hear: 'Come see what freed me, you too can find internal peace'.

From that moment on, my mission was to travel kilometers to bring mail to the prisoners asking for forgiveness from the survivors. Thus 500 letters were distributed; and I brought back mail with the answers of the survivors to the prisoners who had become my friends and my brothers . . . This allowed for meetings between the executioners and the victims . . .

From this experience, I deduce that reconciliation is not so much wanting to bring together two persons or two groups in conflict. It is rather the re-establishment of each in love and allowing internal healing which leads to mutual liberation.

And here is where the importance of the Church lies in our countries, since her mission is to offer the Word: a word that heals, liberates and reconciles.

Rosa Mystica Choir, Holy Family Parish, Kigali, Rwanda

Jesus speaks of God's mercy. In the video we see a tax collector who understands exactly what Jesus is saying through his parable. Pope Francis has spoken about God's mercy and about the sacrament of confession many times.

The man who killed the father of Sister Genevieve experienced God's mercy through her as she did through him. Each was freed of the very different but related burdens that they carried. And the man had no more fear of whatever punishment he might receive for his crime. Like the tax collector in the gospel, he made no excuses. He simply asked for mercy.

Responsorial Psalm (New American Bible Lectionary)

18 October 2013

'When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?' Sunday Reflections, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C. World Mission Day

St Francis Xavier Baptising Queen Neachile of India , 1701, Andrea Pozzo [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus told his disciples a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Vindicate me against my adversary.' 

"For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'" 

And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

St Thérèse of the Child Jesus [Wikipedia]

St Francis Xavier and St Thérèse of the Child Jesus are the patron saints of missionaries.

I remember vividly the day Father Woods came to our kindergarten school, Stanhope Street, Dublin, probably in 1950, the year I made my First Holy Communion. He was from our parish but was a missionary somewhere in Africa, a place unimaginably far away to me. I don't remember a word he said. He showed us some artifacts and, I think, a dehusked coconut that he probably bought in Kane's fruit and vegetable store just down the road.

I wasn't unfamiliar with the coconut in this form but it was more than 20 years later, when I came to the Philippines, that I discovered that this is not how coconuts look like on trees.

I certainly had no idea as I listened to Father Woods that, like him, I would one day live in a country where coconuts were abundant. But he made a profound impact on me by his presence.

I have emphasised parts of the quotations below from Pope Francis.

In his message for World Mission Sunday, published on 23 May, Pentecost, Pope Francis wrote: Faith is God’s precious gift, which opens our mind to know and love him. He wants to enter into relationship with us and allow us to participate in his own life in order to make our life more meaningful, better and more beautiful. God loves us! Faith, however, needs to be accepted, it needs our personal response, the courage to entrust ourselves to God, to live his love and be grateful for his infinite mercy. It is a gift, not reserved for a few but offered with generosity.

I remember the presence of Father Woods as a joyful one. Maybe that's precisely why I remember him so vividly. Pope Francis continues in his message: Everyone should be able to experience the joy of being loved by God, the joy of salvation! It is a gift that one cannot keep to oneself, but it is to be shared.

The Pope has frequently spoken about the joy of our faith in Jesus. It is a joy that he exudes in word and deed.

In his homily in Rio de Janeiro on 27 July (video above) Pope Francis spoke about vocation. Although he was speaking specifically to bishops, priests, religious and seminarians, what he said applies to all of us: Called by God – I believe that it is important to rekindle constantly an awareness of our divine vocation, which we often take for granted in the midst of our many daily responsibilities: as Jesus says, 'You did not choose me, but I chose you' (Jn 15:16). This means returning to the source of our calling.

Further on in his World Mission Day message Pope Francis said: The Second Vatican Council emphasized in a special way how the missionary task, that of broadening the boundaries of faith, belongs to every baptized person and all Christian communities . . . Each community is therefore challenged, and invited to make its own, the mandate entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles, to be his 'witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8) and this, not as a secondary aspect of Christian life, but as its essential aspect: we are all invited to walk the streets of the world with our brothers and sisters, proclaiming and witnessing to our faith in Christ and making ourselves heralds of his Gospel.

Everyone should be able to experience the joy of being loved by God, the joy of salvation! It is a gift that one cannot keep to oneself, but it is to be shared (Pope Francis).
At a rehab centre in Rio de Janeiro during World Youth Day.

Then the Pope emphasises a fundamental point: It is urgent in our time to announce and witness to the goodness of the Gospel, and this from within the Church itself. It is important never to forget a fundamental principle for every evangelizer: one cannot announce Christ without the Church. Evangelization is not an isolated individual or private act; it is always ecclesial. 

Pope Francis spoke on this point again on Wednesday (16 October) during the Wednesday general audience. His talks are usually much shorter than those of his predecessors. Here is his complete talk: Dear Brothers and Sisters: In the Creed, we profess in faith that the Church is 'apostolic'. We can understand this in three ways. First, the Church is apostolic because Jesus founded her upon the Apostles whom he chose and sent forth to continue his work; thus Saint Paul compares the Church to a temple which has the Apostles as its foundation and Christ as its cornerstone (Eph 2:19-20). The Church is also apostolic because she preserves and hands down the fullness of Christ’s teaching and the means of salvation which he instituted. Finally the Church is apostolic because she accomplishes in history the mission which Christ entrusted to the Apostles: making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them his commands (cf. Mt 28:19-20). May we come to appreciate and love the Church as the place where we encounter the Risen Lord, who sends us forth as his missionaries, inviting all whom we meet to know the truth of the Gospel, the joy of faith and the promise of eternal life proclaimed by the Apostles.

Pope Francis reminds us forcefully that our faith is a gift, that God loves us and desires to be in relationship with us, that he calls each baptised person to share the gift of faith, not as one acting alone but as a member of the Church.

He also reminds us forcefully that it is in the Church that we find the fullness of what Christ taught and the full means to be saved, as God wants us to be.

Though I never spoke to Father Woods and never saw him again after his visit to our school in 1950, I see him now as one who embodied what Pope Francis said on Wednesday, one who had come to appreciate and love the Church as the place where we encounter the Risen Lord, who sends us forth as his missionaries, inviting all whom we meet to know the truth of the Gospel, the joy of faith and the promise of eternal life proclaimed by the Apostles.

When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8).

The above prayer is by Blessed John XXIII

Photos from Wikipedia.

11 October 2013

'He fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.' Sunday Reflections, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Peasant Girls with Brushwood, c.1852, Jean-François Millet [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings(Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" And he said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."

[Responsorial Psalm, New American Bible Lectionary]

Bear with me if I've told this story before but the incident in question had a profound impact on me. It happened on the morning of Holy Thursday 1990 at Holy Family Retreat House, Cebu City, which is run by the Redemptorists. I had gone up there after breakfast to do some business and as I was going in was approached by a woman asking for some help. I made some excuse as I entered.

When I was inside I could see the woman through the glass doors sitting on the step, her daughter, aged 13 or 14, beside here and resting her head on her mother's shoulder. I could see that, like the two peasant girls in Millet's painting, they were heavily burdened - but with tiredness and hunger.

My business didn't detain me and when I was going out the two stood up. I gave the mother enough to buy breakfast. The daughter looked at me with the most beautiful smile I've ever seen and said, 'Salamat sa Ginoo - Thanks to the Lord!'

What struck me profoundly was that this young girl wasn't thanking me. She was thanking the Lord, and inviting me to do the same, because he had responded to her prayer and that of her mother, Give us this day our daily bread.

In the First Reading, which is always related to the Gospel, Elisha reacts very strongly to Naaman's gratitude after he was cured of leprosy: Then he (Naaman) returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him; and he said, "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant." But he said, "As the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will receive none." And he urged him to take it, but he refused (2 Kings 5: 15-16, RSVCE). 

Naaman was grateful to God for his cure but wanted to reward Elisha. In de Grebber's painting we see Elisha turning away from Naaman almost in horror. Perhaps he overreacted but he had a profound sense of the fact that it wasn't he who had healed the Syrian general but God whose servant and instrument he was. Elisha wanted only God to be praised and thanked.

And indeed it was a young girl, probably around the same age as the one I met in Cebu City, who had directed Naaman to the Lord through his servant Elisha. In verses preceding those read today we read: Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little maid from the land of Israel, and she waited on Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord, "Thus and so spoke the maiden from the land of Israel." And the king of Syria said, "Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel" (2 Kings 5:1-5 RSVCE).

The young girl in Cebu expressed her gratitude for what I had given her mother by praising God directly and by inviting me to join her in her prayer of praise and thanksgiving. In doing so she gave me a far greater gift than any that Naaman could have offered Elisha, a profound awareness that everything we have is a gift from God.

I had never met the girl and her mother before nor have I seen them since. The girl would now be around 36 or 37. Please say a prayer for her and her mother and for their family.

07 October 2013

Pope Francis to young people in Assisi: marriage and priesthood for life

I can't remember whether it was late in August 1968, when I went to the USA from Ireland as a young priest to study music for three years, or whether it was three years later when I was on my way to the Philippines. But the place was Boston and the article that upset and shocked me was in The Pilot, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston.

A number of seminarians of the Archdiocese, some of them deacons, as I recall, were asked about their future hopes and dreams. One of them indicated that he would give the priesthood a try for ten years and then see. I don't remember his exact words but they were along those lines and I don't know if he was ever ordained and, if he was, how he fared.

Those were the years in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and also the years of the Vietnam War. There was turmoil in the Church in many parts of the world and in the USA there was the turmoil caused by its involvement in the Vietnam War. The 'Spirit of Vatican II' was abroad, though much of that had little to do with what the Council had actually said. It was most evident in the area of liturgy.

It was a time when more and more people began to reject any kind of lifelong commitment.

However, in Assisi last Friday Pope Francis reminded young people that certain commitments are for life. Responding to a young couple he said, You know that marriage is for a lifetime? 'Yes, we love each other, but we'll stay together as long as love lasts. When it's over we go our separate ways.' That is selfishness.

Pope Francis went on to recall an experience similar to my own in Boston more than 40 years ago. One time I heard a good seminarian say: 'I want to become a priest for ten years. Then I will think about it again.' That is the culture of provisionality.  Jesus did not save us provisionally, he saved us definitively.

The people present applauded the Pope's words.

Earlier this year I watched part of a programme on a Manila TV station where lawyers were discussing pre-nuptial agreements. The people on the panel were mostly young and seemed to be concerned only with economic matters. (The programme was about business and finance.) Not a single one of them raised the question of commitment, even though most of them would have been Catholics.

If I discovered that a couple whose wedding I was to officiate at had made such an agreement I would be bound in conscience not to go ahead with the wedding. Such an agreement is a clear assertion that the couple do not really mean 'until death to us part' and that while there might be a wedding ceremony there would be no marriage.

The same would hold for a seminarian whose idea was to 'give the priesthood a try'.

From time to time I get gentle reminders of how our lifelong commitments are to others. In Holy Family Home for Girls here in Bacolod some years ago, where many of those who live there have suffered abuse, usually within their own family circle, a couple of the teenage girls were telling me that they had heard of a priest leaving the priesthood. One of them asked me, Are you going to leave too?

05 October 2013

'We have only done what was our duty'. Sunday Reflections, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, 'Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you. 

"Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down at table? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'" 

A mulberry tree in England

Note: What the RSV-CE translates as 'sycamine tree' is 'mulberry tree' in the NAB and JB translations and also in the New Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition.

Mulberries in Libya

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary)

In the summer of 1964, after my third year in the seminary, I spent a couple of weeks working in the Morning Star Hostel in Dublin. It was within walking distance of my home. I had been in the Legion of Mary for most of my five years in secondary school and used to rejoin my praesidium during summer vacations. In the summer of 1963 I spent a week on Peregrinatio pro Christo in a parish in Liverpool and in 1965 did the same in a parish in Paisley, Scotland. My last experience of Peregrinatio was in Pewsey, Wiltshire, in the southwest of England in 1966.

Morning Star Hostel has had a small number of what are called 'indoor brothers' taking care of the men who stay there. These are laymen, Legionaries who devote themselves full-time to this work. I remember two from 1963, Tom Doyle and Sid Quinn. The webpage about the Morning Star gives a short biography of Tom, along with a photo. It describes him in these terms: Tom Doyle was the manager of the hostel for about 50 years and he is regarded as an unknown saint by most if not all the people who knew him.

I didn't get to know Tom or Sid well, certainly not their inner lives. Sid knew my father as they had grown up in the same area, where I also grew up. Most of the people in our neighbourhood were what were called 'working class'. But I saw the utter dedication of Tom and Sid, or 'Brother Tom' and 'Brother Sid' as they were know within the hostel. During Legion meetings and Legion work members address and refer to each other as 'Brother' and 'Sister' but not outside of that.

As Pope Francis might put it, Tom and Sid well knew 'the smell of their sheep'. That might be the smell of alcohol, the smell of unwashed bodies. Sometimes for Tom it might be the smell of his own blood: Rows and scuffles and fist fights were regular occurrences and poor Tom had the responsibility of calming every storm. No doubt Tom who was small in stature was on the receiving end of some of those blows and it is well known that near the end of his life one of the residents very badly beat him up so that he had to spend time in hospital but when he came out he made himself the best friend of that resident! 

When I read the words We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty in today's gospel I immediately thought of Tom Doyle and Sid Quinn. The words of Jesus seem to be in contrast with what he says elsewhere, especially in St John's Gospel, where he calls us friends, where he asks Peter, Do you love me? Feed my lambs.

There are countless individuals around the world who gladly say, We have only done what is our duty. They may be adult children taking care of aged parents.

They may be parents such as Miggy and Gee-Gee, my former assistant editor at Misyon, taking care of their son Mikko, born with multiple disabilities,with the help of their daughter Mica, now a little older than in the photo above, near Atlanta, Georgia.

They may be those helping homeless people, refugees, drug addicts, alcoholics, those without work cope with their situation, attending to their urgent, basic needs and offering them hope.

They may be those taking care of the young persons with disabilities whom Pope Francis visited in Assisi yesterday, the feast of St Francis. In the video above the Holy Father reminds us very strikingly, On the altar we worship the Flesh of Jesus. In the sick we see the wounds of Jesus. We find Jesus hidden in the Eucharist. Jesus can be found through your wounds. He needs to be listened to. We need to say: These wounds cannot be ignored.

Tom Doyle chose to worship the Flesh of Jesus every morning at Mass at 6, very early in Ireland, especially in winter. In the homeless men who came to Morning Star Hostel he was able to see the wounds of Jesus. He would have nodded in agreement with Pope Francis speaking directly to the young people with disabilities: Jesus can be found through your wounds. He understood that Jesus needs to be listened to in the men he served each day.

Despite having to go to hospital when already an old man because he was beaten up by a resident of Morning Star Hostel Tom would have understood what Pope Francis said yesterday, These wounds cannot be ignored. Though conscious of his own physical wounds Tom was even more conscious of the inner wounds of the man who had attacked him as he showed when he came out of hospital and made himself the best friend of that resident! 

Thank God for the countless, largely anonymous, Tom Doyles throughout the world who, if asked about their unselfish commitment to others in need would answer, We have only done what was our duty. They are living examples of the words of St Francis, which Pope Francis repeated when answering the questions of young people in Assisi yesterday, Always preach the gospel. And if necessary use words.

Pope Francis then asked the young people - and he is putting the same question to each of us in the name of Jesus - Can you preach the Gospel without words? Yes! Leading by example. First by example, then with words.

[Photos from Wikipedia]

04 October 2013

Hymn of St Francis sung in Italian and English by a Chinese choir in a setting by a Filipino composer

Ryan Cayabyab is a popular contemporary Filipino musician and composer. Here is his setting of the Prayer of St Francis, in Italian and English. This setting is also known as Il Signore.

The singers above are The Chinese University of Hong Kong Chorus conducted by Leon Chu, with piano accompaniment by Shirley So.

I don't know who the singers are in the video below. In the version above the young women sing the Italian lyrics while the men sing the English words. In contrast, it is the man in the second video who sings the Italian and the woman the English. The second video gives both Italian and English lyrics on-screen.

Pope Francis will be visiting Assisi today. Perhaps we can remember him in a special way in our prayers.

Collect from Mass on the Memorial of St Francis of Assisi

O God, by whose gift Saint Francis
was conformed to Christ in poverty and humility,
grant that, by walking in Francis' footsteps,
we may follow your Son,
and, through joyful charity,
come to united with you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Happy Feast of St Francis!