25 September 2015

'He that is not against us is for us.' Sunday Reflections, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

St John the Evangelist, El Greco, painted 1610-14 
Museo de El Greco, Toledo, Spain [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)

Gospel Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 (New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition, Canada)

John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched". 

In August 1982, after a year’s study in Toronto and before three months of Clinical Pastoral Education in Minneapolis, I supplied in a number of parishes for short periods in the Diocese of Boise, which covers the whole of the state of Idaho in the western USA. One of my purposes for this was to visit the Abbey of Our Lady of the HolyTrinity, Huntsville, Idaho, where I had spent ten days or so in August 1970. There I had met some of the monks who were to be part of the team that would open the first Trappist foundation in the Philippines, in Guimaras island, now the Abbey of Our Lady of the Philippines

I spent a week in one parish where the parish priest was from India, there were  reservations of two different Native American tribes, many Spanish-speaking immigrants working on farms in the area and a majority of the people in the town proper of the Mormon faith. The local newspaper carried photos of young Mormons going on mission to other countries.

Just after lunch one day the doorbell rang. A young woman asked me to go to the hospital where an old woman, a Catholic and a relative of hers, had been in a coma for a long time, and was dying. I immediately went to the hospital and, to my surprise, the patient was fully awake and participated joyfully in the Last Sacraments, including viaticum, as I had brought the Blessed Sacrament with me. I learned later that she died about twenty minutes after I left.

The young woman who had asked me to go to the hospital was a Mormon.

When I was a child we lived in a street of terraced houses in Dublin where no one had a telephone. One time one of our neighbours, Jem Norris, got gravely ill in the middle of the night. Charlie Brooks who lived across the road went for the priest, whose house was about a kilometre away.

Charlie was a Protestant.

I have posted in Sunday Reflections before about a Mass in Belsen concentration camp, Germany, shortly after it was liberated in 1945. The account, published in 2004 in The Daily Telegraph (London) is by James Molyneaux, then a young officer in the British Army and later leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland and now a member of the House of Lords. He wrote:

The most moving experience came on the second morning as I was walking from what had been the luxury SS barracks which our troops had transformed into a hospital. My attention was drawn to two packing cases covered by a worn red curtain. A young Polish priest was clinging to this makeshift altar with one hand, while celebrating Mass. Between his feet lay the body of another priest who probably died during the night. No one had had the energy to move the body.

I had no difficulty in following the old Latin Mass, having been educated at St James's Roman Catholic School in County Antrim, and, although an Anglican, I had gained a working knowledge of all the rituals. Still supporting himself against the altar, the young priest did his best to distribute the consecrated elements (editor's note: the Body of Christ). Some recipients were able to stumble over the rough, scrubby heathland. Others crawled forward to receive the tokens (editor's note: to receive the Body of Christ) and then crawled back to share them with others unable to move. Some almost certainly passed on to another - probably better - world before sunset. Whatever one's race or religion one can only be uplifted and impressed by that truly remarkable proof of the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

When I first read this article I was deeply moved in a number of ways. I was surprised to discover that the author had gone to a Catholic school in a community where, at least since the latter 1800s, there has been a deep divide between Catholics and Protestants, for historical reasons that are not entirely theological. But here was an Anglican from that background giving a powerful testimony to the Mass as the Holy Sacrifice. And he noticed how those who were barely able to crawl shared the Body of Christ with those who couldn't move at all.
I find in the three stories above an illustration of the response of Jesus to the complaint of St John, Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us. Jesus says, For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward

St John's complaint reflects that of Joshua to Moses in the First Reading. the response of Jesus reflects that of Moses: Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his spirit upon them! (Numbers 11:29).

memorial stone erected near the ramps where prisoners for Belsen were unloaded from goods trains
James Molyneaux's article also illustrates the reality of hell that Jesus speaks about today. He writes:
On arrival at Tactical Headquarters, we had been briefed on the discovery of the Belsen prison camp nearby. In company with our RAF medical unit and the two 2nd Army Field hospitals, we wasted no time. Briefed though we were, the shock excelled all the horrors of the battles of the 12 months since Normandy.
As we passed through the camp gates, the Royal Military Police requested us to drive very slowly to avoid the numerous disoriented prisoners. We were handed adhesive tape to put over the vehicle horns in order to prevent them going off accidentally, lest the shock would cause still more deaths. [This little detail is surely telling.]
The British liberators were staggered and shocked by the inhuman behaviour of some of the former guards, who continued to abuse and torment prisoners nearing death when they assumed we were looking the other way. I confess that on such occasions I may have breached the Geneva Convention to prevent further ill treatment of helpless victims. Their behaviour after we had arrived contradicted the excuse that the SS had forced them to carry out orders. Our new orders to them were "Stop acting like savages".
The 'Thousand Year Reich' of Hitler was in ruins after twelve years, and millions dead all over the world. These deaths, like countless deaths since, were caused by persons who chose evil over good. Each choice we make for sin is not at the level of choosing the evil of Belsen but it moves us towards that. Other dictators have tried their hand at their own version of Hitler's distorted vision and people have gone along with them.
Each of us likes to have power. We may not be conscious of this and in many instances there's no sin at all. I remember once  seeing in a Catholic magazine a cartoon  of people assembled for Mass where you were asked to 'spot the errors'. One was the proverbial 'little old lady' kneeling in the middle of a pew instead of blocking it at one end. There are times, especially as I grow older, when I can see the 'little old lady' in myself, trying to subtly ensure that things are done my way. Indeed, in the parish in Idaho where that kind young Mormon woman asked me to go to the dying elderly woman, the housekeeper asked me what time I'd like to have dinner at each day. I told her - but she always served it thirty minutes earlier.
But if I am a spouse, a parent, a teacher, a boss, a priest who doesn't listen to the other, who rules my little domain with a heavy hand, the words of Jesus are directed at me. 
What is the 'hand', the 'foot', the 'eye' that causes me to sin, especially in the use of power?

World Maritime Day
Ships in Distress off a Rocky Coast, Ludolf Backhuysen, 1617 
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC [Web Gallery of Art]

World Maritime Day was observed this week on Thursday, 24 September, but this Sunday is National Seafarers' Day in the Church in the Philippines. 

A huge percentage of the world's international seafarers are Filipinos. MISYONonline.com, the Columban magazine in the Philippines that I edit, carried a story about some of them in the November-December 2007 issue, Christmas in Teesport. In September-October 2006 Misyon published Evangelizing Seafarers, a title that can be understood in two different ways. The opening paragraph expresses one of those:

Father Arsenio ‘Dodo’ Redulla from Bohol, Philippines, now a priest of the Diocese of Lubbock, Texas, USA, worked for some years with the Columbans in Ireland. Early one Sunday morning he was driving out of the small southeastern port city of Waterford to celebrate Mass in a nearby town and to speak about the work of the Columbans. As we say in Ireland, ‘There wasn’t a sinner to be seen’ – the Irish aren’t early risers on Sunday morning – except for a young Filipino thumbing a lift. At the time there were very few Filipinos in the country and Father ‘Dodo’ was the only Filipino priest there. Of course, he stopped. To his amazement the young man said, ‘I was hoping someone would take me to a church for Mass.’ His ship had just docked and he had never been in Ireland before.

Please remember all seafarers in your prayers.

One of my favourite poems in school was John Masefield's Sea-Fever. Here it is read by Fred Proud. There is some controversy as to whether the first line in each stanza should read 'I must down . . .' or 'I must go down . . .' Fred Proud opts for the former. John Masefield himself uses the latter here.

I must down to the seas again, 
to the lonely sea and the sky,
and all I ask is a tall ship 
and a star to steer her by,
and the wheel's kick and the wind's song 
and the white sail's shaking,
and a grey mist on the sea's face 
and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, 
for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call 
that may not be denied;
and all I ask is a windy day 
with the white clouds flying,
and the flung spray and the blown spume, 
and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again 
to the vagrant gypsy life.
To the gull's way and the whale's way 
where the wind's like a whetted knife;
and all I ask is a merry yarn 
from a laughing fellow-rover,
and a quiet sleep and a sweet dream 
when the long trick's over.

John Ireland's setting of the poem, sung here by Michael Lampard, opts for 'I must go down . . .'

23 September 2015

Columban Fr Desmond Quinn RIP

Fr Desmond Quinn
(1931 - 2015)

Fr Desmond Quinn was born at Quignashee, Ballina, County Mayo on 14 December 1931. He was educated at Behymór National School, and St Muredach’s College, Ballina. He came to St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan in September 1948 and was ordained priest on 21 December 1954.

St Muredach's Cathedral, Ballina [Wikipedia]

After two years of post-graduate study at Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute, now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Louisiana, USA, he was appointed to the Philippines and to the island of Negros. From 1957 to 1962 he served in Cauayan, La Castellana and Binalbagan.

Cauayan Municipal Hall [Wikipedia] 

After his first home vacation he was assigned to promotion work in Britain where he would spend the following ten years.  In 1969 he was appointed Rector of the new London House at Hampstead, London.

In October 1973, Father Des was reassigned to the Philippines. During the years that followed, he served in Isabela, Himamaylan and Binalbagan. all in Negros Occidental. There followed a two-year assignment to Vocations Ministry in the USA, working from Quincy MA.  From 1981-1987 he was pastor of Hinoba-an, and became District Superior of Negros from 1987 to 1991, residing at Batang, Himamaylan. 

Part of Isabela [Wikipedia]

In September 1991 he was assigned to Manila on Mission Awareness and Promotion. From 1993 to 1999 he served two terms as Vice-Director of the Philippine Region. After a year as assistant in Malate Parish, he was appointed Regional Bursar of the Region of Ireland where he served until 2008.

Coat of arms of County Mayo. [Wikipedia]
The motto is the Irish for 'God and Mary with us'.

Father Des will be remembered as a man of integrity and efficiency. Cheerful, good-humoured, unfailingly friendly, courteous and obliging, he was a familiar figure on his daily walks in the Dalgan grounds. He had suffered a couple of minor strokes in recent years, yet the suddenness of his final illness took us by surprise. He died in Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, on 20 September 2015. We mourn the death of this great-hearted and loyal Columban colleague.

May he rest in peace.

Fr Des Quinn in Manila with his classmate Fr Michael Sinnott on 12 November 2009 after the latter was released by those who had kidnapped him in Mindanao.

Father Des is survived by four siblings, Sr Josephine FMM, Father Peter, Pat and Jerry. Father Peter was ordained as a Columban priest in December 1950. He too was assigned to Negros Occidental and left Ireland for the Philippines after helping Mayo win the All-Ireland Football Final on 23 September 1951, the last time that the county has won the championship. He later became a priest in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, and is now retired.

17 September 2015

'Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.' Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(6 April 1901 - 4 July 1925)

Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Responsorial Psalm (Philippines, USA)

In the first week of June I went on a pilgrimage from Ireland to northern Italy with members of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. On our first morning there we visited the Shroud of Turin. When we entered the cathedral proper I saw on one of the side-altars to my left a portrait I was familiar with, that of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. I was probably the only one in our group who noticed it and whose heart leaped with joy on seeing it. I went over to pray, not realizing at the time that under the altar was the tomb of this young man who when he died was only one-third of the age that I am now. When we were back on the bus I was happy to tell my fellow pilgrims about this most attractive of saintly people of our times.

Thanks to St John Paul II, who beatified Pier Giorgio on 20 May 1990, the 4oth anniversary of my First Holy Communion, I had come to know something of the inspiring life of this young man, born into privilege but who had both a great zest for life and a great love for the poor, the latter something his family knew very little about, though they had seen signs of it in his childhood. One time when a woman with a young son came begging at the Frassati home Pier Giorgio noticed that the boy had no shoes. He took off his own and gave them to the boy. There is a very good summary of his life here.

Tomb and shrine of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Turin Cathedral [Wikipedia]

St John Paul saw the importance of bringing to our attention the lives of saints of our times, from every walk of life. In his homily at the beatification Pope John Paul, who all his life as a priest had a special love for young adults, said: 

Faith and charity, the true driving forces of his existence, made him active and diligent in the milieu in which he lived, in his family and school, in the university and society; they transformed him into a joyful, enthusiastic apostle of Christ, a passionate follower of his message and charity. The secret of his apostolic zeal and holiness is to be sought in the ascetical and spiritual journey which he traveled; in prayer, in persevering adoration, even at night, of the Blessed Sacrament, in his thirst for the Word of God, which he sought in Biblical texts; in the peaceful acceptance of life’s difficulties, in family life as well; in chastity lived as a cheerful, uncompromising discipline; in his daily love of silence and life’s 'ordinariness'. It is precisely in these factors that we are given to understand the deep well-spring of his spiritual vitality. Indeed, it is through the Eucharist that Christ communicates his Spirit; it is through listening to the word that the readiness to welcome others grows, and it is also through prayerful abandonment to God’s will that life’s great decisions mature. Only by adoring God who is present in his or her own heart can the baptized Christian respond to the person who 'asks you for a reason for your hope' (1 Pt 3:15). And the young Frassati knew it, felt it, lived it. In his life, faith was fused with charity: firm in faith and active in charity, because without works, faith is dead (cf. James 2:20).

Blessed Pier Giorgio mountain-climbing

Like Pope Pius XI, Blessed Pier Giorgio loved to climb mountains and, like Pope John Paul II, he loved to ski.
Pope St John Paul gave the name 'The Man of the Eight Beatitudes' to Blessed Pier Giorgio. He said in 1989I, too, in my youth, felt the beneficial influence of his example and, as a student, I was impressed by the force of his Christian testimony. 

In a message to the youth of Turin in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI saidLike [Piergiorgio],discover that it is worth it to commit oneself for God and with God, to respond to his call in the fundamental decisions and the daily ones, even when it is costly.

In his Message for World Youth Day 2014 Pope Francis quoted the young man from Turin: As Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati once said, 'To live without faith, to have no heritage to uphold, to fail to struggle constantly to defend the truth: this is not living. It is scraping by. We should never just scrape by, but really live'.

In 1925, the year of his death [Wikipedia]

Blessed Pier Giorgio died from polio, after a week of great pain. He very probably contracted it from some of the poor whom he visited in their homes. His family were astonished at the huge numbers of poor people who lined the streets of Turin for his funeral.

This young man is such a great model of discipleship for all, not only young people, because he took the words of Jesus in today's gospel to heart: Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. He enjoyed life. He had a very strong sense of justice along with a real awareness of the person in front of him. Charity is not enough: we need social reform, he used to sayHe was, in the words of St John Paul II, a joyful, enthusiastic apostle of Christ, the kind of follower of Jesus that Pope Francis frequently calls us to be.

Blessed Pier Giorgio lived each moment. In his homily at the beatification Pope St John Paul II highlighted something very important: his daily love of silence and life’s 'ordinariness'. This is where we find God.

The World Meeting of Families takes place in Philadelphia this coming week. Pope Francis will be there on 26-27 September. The video above, produced by Salt and Light in Toronto, was produced for the occasion.

Antiphona ad communionem  
Communion Antiphon John 10: 14
Ego sum pastor bonus, dicit Dominus;
I am the Good Shepherd, says the Lord;
et cognosco oves meas, et cognoscunt me meae.
I know my sheep, and mine know me.

10 September 2015

'Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.' Sunday Reflections, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Apostle Peter in Prison, Rembrandt, 1631
Israel Museum, Jerusalem [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 went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

This Sunday Benedict Daswa will be beatified in South Africa, the first South African to be formally recognized by the Church as a martyr. He was martyred on 2 February 1990, the day that Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Blessed Benedict - he took that name when he became a Catholic in 1963 - was 43 when he died, a husband and father of eight children and a school principal. He was killed because of his opposition to witchcraft, which was widespread in his community, practised, out of fear, even by some Catholics.

The beatification ceremony takes place on a day when the First Reading and the Gospel focus on the cost of being a follower of Jesus Christ. 

Pope Benedict XVI visited Lebanon three years ago, 14-16 September. The 16th was the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, the same as this Sunday.

During his times as pontiff Benedict XVI constantly emphasised that our faith as Catholic Christians is in the person of Jesus Christ, something that Pope Francis often does too.

Pope Benedict's homily at the Sunday Mass at the Beirut City Center Waterfront was based on the readings of the day, as a homily should be, and he focused mainly on the gospel. Here are some extracts from that homily, with some parts highlighted.
St George Maronite Cathedral and Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, side by side in Beirut
[Photo: Wikipedia]

On this Sunday when the Gospel asks us about the true identity of Jesus, we find ourselves transported with the disciples to the road leading to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks them: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29). The moment he chose to ask this question is not insignificant. Jesus was facing a decisive turning-point in his life. He was going up to Jerusalem, to the place where the central events of our salvation would take place: his crucifixion and resurrection. In Jerusalem too, following these events, the Church would be born. 

And at this decisive moment, Jesus first asks his disciples: “Who do men say that I am?” (Mk 8:27). They give very different answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets! Today, as down the centuries, those who encounter Jesus along their own way give their own answers. These are approaches which can be helpful in finding the way to truth. But while not necessarily false, they remain insufficient, for they do not go to the heart of who Jesus is. Only those willing to follow him on his path, to live in fellowship with him in the community of his disciples, can truly know who he is

Finally, Peter, who had dwelt with Jesus for some time, gives his answer: “You are the Christ” (Mk 8:29). It is the right answer, of course, but it is still not enough, since Jesus feels the need to clarify it. He realizes that people could use this answer to advance agendas which are not his, to raise false temporal hopes in his regard.  He does not let himself be confined to the attributes of the human saviour which many were expecting.

By telling his disciples that he must suffer and be put to death, and then rise again, Jesus wants to make them understand his true identity. He is a Messiah who suffers, a Messiah who serves, and not some triumphant political saviour. He is the Servant who obeys his Father’s will, even to giving up his life. This had already been foretold by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading. Jesus thus contradicts the expectations of many. What he says is shocking and disturbing. We can understand the reaction of Peter who rebukes him, refusing to accept that his Master should suffer and die! Jesus is stern with Peter; he makes him realize that anyone who would be his disciple must become a servant, just as he became Servant

Sistine Chapel, Vatican [Web Gallery of Art]

Following Jesus means taking up one’s cross and walking in his footsteps, along a difficult path which leads not to earthly power or glory but, if necessary, to self-abandonment, to losing one’s life for Christ and the Gospel in order to save it. We are assured that this is the way to the resurrection, to true and definitive life with God.

Choosing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who made himself the Servant of all, requires drawing ever closer to him, attentively listening to his word and drawing from it the inspiration for all that we do

(16 June 1946 - 2 February 1990)

The final verse of today's Responsorial Psalm, which includes the response, has been surely fulfilled in the life of Blessed Benedict Daswa: 

For he has freed my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

Responsorial Psalm (Philippines, USA)

Antiphona at introitum       
Entrance Antiphon Cf. Sirach 36:18

Da pacem, Domine sustinentibus te,
Give peace, O Lord, to those who wait for you,
ut prophetae tui fideles inveniantur,
that your prophets be found true.
exaudi preces servi tui, et plebis tuae Israel.
Hear the prayers of your servants, and of your people Israel.

(Ps 122 [121]: 1) Laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi: 
I was glad when they said to me,
in domum Domini ibimus.
'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever will be,
et in saecula saecolorum. Amen.
world without end. Amen.

Da pacem, Domine sustinentibus te,
Give peace, O Lord, to those who wait for you,
ut prophetae tui fideles inveniantur,
that your prophets be found true.
exaudi preces servi tui, et plebis tuae Israel.
Hear the prayers of your servants, and of your people Israel.

The text above in bold is the Entrance Antiphon for this Sunday in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. The complete text is the Entrance Antiphon or Introit used on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost in the Extraordinary Form.