05 December 2016

Prayer Intentions of Pope Francis for December 2016

Cartoon by  Rafaela Tasca and Carlos Latuff  [Wikipedia]

Universal Intention
End to Child-Soldiers: That the scandal of child-soldiers may be eliminated the world over.

Reflection from The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer).

Chartres Cathedral (France)
South Transept Rose Window [Wikipedia]

Evangelization Intention
Europe: That the peoples of Europe may rediscover the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel which gives joy and hope to life. 

Reflection from The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer).

02 December 2016

¡Adios, Manuel!

'Uno, dos, tres'

Andrew Sachs in 2004
7 April 1930 - 23 November 2016 [Wikipedia]

The death of Andrew Sachs was announced today. He had been suffering from dementia for the last four years. He played Manuel, a Spanish waiter from Barcelona, in the twelve episodes of Fawlty Towers, six made in 1975 and six in 1979. 'Manuel' is one of the funniest characters ever to appear on TV and, I would venture, in the whole of literature. He was put-upon by his employer, Basil Fawlty, but everyone was on his side.

The Uno, dos, tres clip above is one of my favourites, as I have a smattering of Spanish. And, as an Irishman, I really enjoyed the episode below involving the 'Orally men', men working for a cheap, corner-cutting Irish builder named O'Reilly, doing some 'repairs' to Fawlty Towers, a small hotel located in Torquay in the south-west of England.

I remember watching the first series of Fawlty Towers with my late Dad in 1976 while at home in Dublin from the Philippines for the first time. That must have been the first of countless re-runs as it came out in 1975.

'Orally men'

¡Adios, Manuel/Andrew! You brought, and continue to bring, joy into the lives of so many people. ¡Adios! - 'To God!' - in the very fullest meaning of that beautiful greeting. May the joy of heaven be yours.

'Manuel' [Wikipedia]

01 December 2016

'Prepare the way of the Lord . . .' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A

St John the Baptist, El Greco, c.1600 [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)

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’  This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.”’
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,  and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near is the stark message of St John the Baptist. He says of his ministry, I baptize you with water for repentance. The response to the Responsorial Psalm is Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.

Repentance, justice and peace go together - with God's mercy. Pope Francis has spoken many times about that. In that context he has also reminded us, especially priests, of the importance of the sacrament of confession/penance/reconciliation.

Jesus speaks to us through his Church this Sunday reminding us of the importance of repenting in order to welcome him into our lives. In Advent we prepare to celebrate his birth and also for his Second coming, whenever that will be. And we also prepare for his daily coming into our lives.

We frequently fail Jesus by our sins. But he doesn't leave us in despair. He doesn't turn his back on us.

In his Wednesday General Audience on 20 November 2013 Pope Francis spoke about the remission of sins. As he often does, he used three points. The first was that the principal agent in the forgiveness of sins is the Holy Spirit. I'll print the rest of his talk and highlight parts of it. I'll also add some (comments).

And we come to the second element: Jesus gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins. It is a little difficult to understand how a man can forgive sins, but Jesus gives this power. The Church is the depository of the power of the keys, of opening or closing to forgivenessGod forgives every man in his sovereign mercy, but he himself willed that those who belong to Christ and to the Church receive forgiveness by means of the ministers of the community(This means that the sacrament of confession is an explicit expression of God's will and that God forgives us through the ministry of the priest.) Through the apostolic ministry the mercy of God reaches me, my faults are forgiven and joy is bestowed on me. (God's mercy and the joy that comes from this, two realities that Pope Francis has spoken about again and again.) In this way Jesus calls us to live out reconciliation in the ecclesial, the community, dimension as well. And this is very beautiful. The Church, who is holy and at the same time in need of penitence, accompanies us on the journey of conversion throughout our life. The Church is not mistress of the power of the keys, but a servant of the ministry of mercy and rejoices every time she can offer this divine gift.

Perhaps many do not understand the ecclesial dimension of forgiveness, because individualism, subjectivism, always dominates, and even we Christians are affected by this. Certainly, God forgives every penitent sinner, personally, but the Christian is tied to Christ, and Christ is united to the Church. For us Christians there is a further gift, there is also a further duty: to pass humbly through the ecclesial community. (Through baptism we are related to Jesus Christ and to one another through the Church. It can never be a matter simply of 'Jesus and I', though he calls each of us into an intimate relationship with him, but never apart from his and our relationship with others.) We have to appreciate it; it is a gift, a cure, a protection as well as the assurance that God has forgiven me. I go to my brother priest and I say: 'Father, I did this...'. And he responds: 'But I forgive you; God forgives you'. At that moment, I am sure that God has forgiven me! 

And this is beautiful, this is having the surety that God forgives us always, he never tires of forgiving usAnd we must never tire of going to ask for forgiveness. You may feel ashamed to tell your sins, but as our mothers and our grandmothers used to say, it is better to be red once than yellow a thousand times. We blush once but then our sins are forgiven and we go forward.

Confession, Giuseppe Maria Crespi, 1712 [Web Gallery of Art]

Lastly, a final point: the priest is the instrument for the forgiveness of sinsGod’s forgiveness is given to us in the Church, it is transmitted to us by means of the ministry of our brother, the priest; and he too is a man, who, like us in need of mercy, truly becomes the instrument of mercy, bestowing on us the boundless love of God the Father. Priests and bishops too have to go to confession: we are all sinners. Even the Pope confesses every 15 days, because the Pope is also a sinner(I often encourage people to go to confession and provide opportunities for them to do so. But it seems that most don't see any need for confession. But on one occasion here in the Philippines when I was asked to celebrate Mass at the end of a recollection day for students in a Catholic girls' high school I made myself available for confession. It became very clear that this was what the girls wanted. We ended up cancelling the Mass so that all could go to confession and having it on another day in the school.) And the confessor hears what I tell him, he counsels me and forgives me, because we are all in need of this forgiveness. Sometimes you hear someone claiming to confess directly to God... Yes, as I said before, God is always listening, but in the Sacrament of Reconciliation he sends a brother to bestow his pardon, the certainty of forgiveness, in the name of the Church. (God sends a brother to assure of us his forgiveness. This is another expression of the reality expressed so beautifully at the beginning of St John's Gospel, 1:14, words that we use when we pray the Angelus: And the Word became flesh and lived among us.)

Pope Francis hearing the confessions of young adults

Pope Francis goes to confession

The service that the priest assumes a ministry, on behalf of God, to forgive sins is very delicate and requires that his heart be at peace, that the priest have peace in his heart; that he not mistreat the faithful, but that he be gentle, benevolent and merciful; that he know how to plant hope in hearts and, above all, that he be aware that the brother or sister who approaches the Sacrament of Reconciliation seeking forgiveness does so just as many people approached Jesus to be healedThe priest who is not of this disposition of mind had better not administer this sacrament until he has addressed it. The penitent faithful have the right, all faithful have the right, to find in priests servants of the forgiveness of God(While Pope Francis doesn't call priests a 'brood of vipers', as St John the Baptist calls some of the Sadducees and Pharisees in today's gospel, he implies that those who are not 'gentle, benevolent and merciful' in the confessional are such.)

Dear brothers, as members of the Church are we conscious of the beauty of this gift that God himself offers us? Do we feel the joy of this cure, of this motherly attention that the Church has for us? Do we know how to appreciate it with simplicity and diligence? Let us not forget that God never tires of forgiving us; through the ministry of priests he holds us close in a new embrace and regenerates us and allows us to rise again and resume the journey. For this is our life: to rise again continuously and to resume our journey.

[This is the form of absolution given by the priest. The highlighted words are essential for the validity of the sacrament.
God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and the resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

This extract from Handel's Messiah includes part of the quotation from the Prophet Isaiah used by St Matthew when he tells us that it refers to St John the Baptist. Handel uses the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible, slightly adapting it.

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her,
that her warfare is accomplished,
that her iniquity is pardoned . . .

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted,
and every mountain and hill [shall be] made low:
and the crooked [shall be made] straight,
and the rough places plain (Isaiah 40:2-4).

24 November 2016

'One will be taken and one will be left.' Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

Aleppo, Syria [Wikipedia]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Jesus said to his disciples:  For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,  and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

One will be taken and one will be left (Matthew 24:40 and 41).

In February 2000 a friend of mine, Daisy, an engineer who teaches at Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro, was travelling home to Ozamiz City for the weekend. This involved a journey of about three or four hours by road to Mukas, Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte, where the bus then went on board a ferry for the 20-minute trip across Panguil Bay to Ozamiz City. While waiting for the bus to take the next ferry from Mukas Daisy got off and bought some crabs, a favourite with Filipinos.

Because of the crabs Daisy went up on the upper deck of the ferry instead of sitting in the bus. Halfway across the bay there was a huge explosion. 37 passengers on the three buses on board were killed and others injured.

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. We could add, Two women will be travelling together in a bus; one will be taken and one will be left.

On Thursday 21 November 2013 Pope Francis met the Filipino community in Rome in St Peter's Basilica. With them, in the light of the recent calamities in the Philippines, a powerful earthquake in October and Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in November, he asks why these things happen.

Pope Francis doesn't offer any easy answers. He encourages us to ask God 'Why?', like little children, as this will catch the attention of our loving Father.

The ending of the old liturgical year and the beginning of the new both remind us of the importance of being ready whenever the Lord comes. This readiness is essential both for the individual and for the whole Christian community. When Jesus returns will he find that we have built a community where God's justice reigns? At the moment of the death of each of us will be in a right relationship with God? Will we have directed our lives towards him? 

One way to be ready for whatever may come is to go to confession regularly.

Pope Francis with victims of Haiyan/Yolanda
Palo, Leyte, 17 January 2015 [Wikipedia]

The old hymn, O Christ who art the light and day, a translation by R. R. Terry of the original Latin Christe Qui Lux Es Et Dies, in a setting here by English composer William Byrd, is often sung as part of Compline, the Night Prayer of the Church. It is a hymn that recognises the reality of sin but also God's desire to protect us. Though it's not specifically an Advent hymn it recalls the purpose of that blessed season that we are just beginning: to prepare to celebrate the First Coming of Jesus at his birth but also to prepare for his daily coming into our lives and for his Second Coming at the end of time.

Antiphona ad Introitum
Entrance Antiphon   Cf. Psalm 24[25]:1-3

Ad te levávi ánimam meam, Deus meus,
To you, I lift up my soul, O my God.
in te confído, non erubéscam.
In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame.
Neque irrídeant me inimíci mei,
Nor let my enemies exult over me;
étenim univérsi qui te exspéctant non confundéntur.
and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

23 November 2016

Columban Fr Michael Duffy RIP

Fr Michael Augustine Duffy
(1931 - 2016)

St Mary's Church, Navan [Wikipedia]

Father Michael died peacefully in Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, on 21 November 2016. Born on 28 November 1931 in Johnstown, County Meath, Ireland, he was educated at Loreto School, Abbey School, St Patrick’s Classical School, all in Navan, and at St Mary’s College, Rathmines, Dublin. He came to St Columban's, Dalgan Park, in September 1950 and was ordained priest there on 21 December 1956. During his student days he was outstanding at sports and regularly played for the Dalgan team against visiting teams in Gaelic Football, Hurling, Soccer and Rugby. Dalgan Park is very near Johnstown, where he grew up. He was a younger brother of Columban Fr Fergus Duffy who died in 1983.

St Francis Xavier University, Antigonish [Wikipedia]

Father Michael was appointed to post-graduate studies  at St Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, where he obtained an MA in Social Studies; this was followed by studies in Journalism at Denver in 1959 while awaiting a visa to Burma. In May 1960, when his request for a visa had been refused, he was assigned to promotion work in the US from Westminster and San Francisco houses. In 1962, he was appointed to the college staff at Milton, MA and in 1963 to Silver Creek.

Zambales Mountains, San Narciso [Wikipedia]

In 1966 he was appointed to the Philippines. He spent 20 years in Zambales in the parishes of San Narciso, San Antonio, San Felipe, Castillejos, Poonbato, and Botolan. In 1984 he was appointed the College Formation Program in Cebu City and in 1988 was sent to Manila where for three years he worked on Justice and Peace issues from a base in Tondo.

In 1989 he was appointed to the Region of Britain where he served until 2003. During those years he worked on Mission Promotion and served several terms as  Vice-Director of the Region from 1995 to 2003.

River Boyne, Brú na Bóinne, County Meath [Wikipedia]
The Boyne flows by St Columban's, Dalgan Park, by Johnstown and through Navan.

Appointed to Ireland in 2003, he served as editor of the Regional Newsletter until deteriorating health confined him to the Dalgan Nursing Home. Father Michael was a gentle, quiet man with a self-deprecating sense of humour. He deeply appreciated the care that he received during his years in the Dalgan Nursing Home. 

May he rest in peace. 

Blessing of St Columban's Formation House, Cebu City by Archbishop (later Cardinal) Ricardo J. Vidal of Cebu, 23 November 1984, St Columban's Day.
L: Fr Seán Coyle, R: Fr Michael Duffy

A Philippine Folk Dance in San Narciso, Zambales

Thanks to Fr Patrick Raleigh, Regional Director, Ireland.

17 November 2016

'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.' Sunday Reflections, Christ the King, Year C

CrucifixionPedro de Campaña, c.1550
Musée du Louvre, Paris [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)

The people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at Jesus, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom (Luke 23:42) Taizé chant

About six years ago Dominican friar in Dublin told me about one of his confreres who was to celebrate Mass one morning in a nearby Sisters' convent. Since it was only a short walk he decided to wear his habit. (It was the Dominican habit that first caught my imagination about the priesthood when I was six or seven, though later on I never considered joining the Dominicans.) Along the way the friar met a Sister from another convent who chided him for being so 'old-fashioned' or 'pre-Vatican 2' or words to that effect. A little further on a young man stopped him. This was the conversation that followed:

You're a priest, right?


Well I'm getting married tomorrow and I need to go to confession.

So Father heard the young man's confession on the street and went on his 'pre-Vatican 2' way to celebrate Mass.

Today's Gospel shows us Jesus hanging on the Cross under a sign that said in Greek, Hebrew and Latin 'King of the Jews'. And the Kingdom he came to establish broke through in the conversation between him and one of the two thieves crucified with him. 

The brief conversation that St Luke records shows us what the Sacrament of Confession is all about. This young man acknowledged his sinful ways and accepted the punishment he received. He recognised the innocence of Jesus and saw in him something that spoke profoundly to him of God's love and mercy. It is very unlikely that he could see that Jesus was indeed God who became Man. But he saw in him a man of God and saw in some way the true nature of the Kingdom that Jesus had established.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

(3 March 1873 - 16 August 1917)

Received my appointment from the War Office as chaplain to the 16th Division. Fiat voluntas tua. What the future has in store I know not but I have given Jesus all to dispose of as He sees best. My heart is full of gratitude to Him for giving me this chance of being really generous and of leading a life that will be truly crucified. (Fr William Doyle, 15 November 1915). 

Having fulfilled his priestly duties in an outstanding fashion for almost two years, he was killed in the Battle of Ypres, Belgium, on August 16, 1917, having run 'all day hither and thither over the battlefield like an angel of mercy'. This good shepherd truly gave his life for his sheep.
Fr Doyle’s body was never recovered.
Wounded British soldiers, 16 July 1916, Battle of the Somme [Wikipedia]

The soldier carrying a staff is a German prisoner-or-war, now helping his erstwhile enemy.

[The battle ended exactly 100 years ago, 18 November 1916, with more than a million casualties, killed and wounded.]
The June 2013 issue of The Pioneer, the magazine of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association has an extraordinary story of how a young woman received the grace of forgiveness in baptism hours before her execution for murder in England just over a century ago. Snatched from the Brink tells how a young woman, Fanny Cranbush, a former prostitute, had asked if she could see a priest whose name she didn't know and had no idea where he was.
Through God's grace the priest, Fr Willie Doyle SJ, who was to die in Belgium on 16 August 1916 as a chaplain in the British army during the Great War, was located, travelled across from Ireland and spent the last few hours with Fanny. She wanted to be baptised and was also able to receive her First and Last Holy Communion as Fr Doyle celebrated Mass with her in her cell. The Bread of Life was the last food she ate.

A couple of years before this Father Willie had been giving a mission in a parish in the east of England. He had been hearing confessions well into the night and happened to pass Fanny on the street as he went to his lodging and she was plying her 'trade'.

Father Doyle was totally in the dark when he arrived at the prison but Fanny reminded him of their previous encounter.

You said to me, ‘Child, aren’t you out very late? Won’t you go home? Don’t hurt Jesus. He loves you.’ You said this so gently, so appealingly, and then you gave me a look that seemed to go right through me.

The memory of those words were what led her to the moment when she knew that Jesus was speaking the same words to her as she went to her execution that he spoke to the thief on the cross on his right: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

The Jubilee Year of Mercy that began last year on 8 December, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, ends this Sunday. In the video above Pope Francis, in his homily during a Lenten penitential service on 13 March 2015 announces the Jubilee Year and explains, why he called it.

In his homily Pope Francis said: Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought of how the Church may render more clear her mission to be a witness to mercy; and we have to make this journey. It is a journey which begins with spiritual conversion. Therefore, I have decided to announce an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its centre the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live in the light of the word of the Lord: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (cf. Lk 6:36). And this especially applies to confessors! So much mercy!

As a priest who isas every priest should be, familiar with both sides of the confessional box, I am truly grateful to Pope Francis for reminding us so often of God's love, of the reality of sin and of the Devil, of the reality of God's mercy, expressed most especially through the beautiful Sacrament of Confession, Penance, Reconciliation, Forgiveness.

About 15 minutes before he died on the battlefield while trying to rescue a wounded soldier Fr Willie Doyle, who had an extraordinary gift of bringing hardened sinners back to God, himself went to confession for the last time.

Christ in Agony on the Cross, El Greco, 1600s
Art Museum, Cincinnati [Web Gallery of Art]

Christ the King is a King of Mercy

Antiphona ad Communionem
Communion Antiphon    Psalm 28[29]:10-11

Sedebit Dominus Rex in aeternum;
The Lord sits as King for ever.
Dominus benedicet populo suo in pace.
The Lrod will bless his people with peace.