24 March 2017

'One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.' Sunday Reflections. Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A

Blind Pensioner with a Stick, Van Gogh [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)


For the shorter form of the Gospel omit the passages [in square brackets].

Gospel John 9:1-41 [9: 1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38] (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition) 

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. [His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’] When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man. [But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’]
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.  Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’
[The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.]
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. [Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.]

In his homily on the Solemnity of the Annunciation in 2014 Pope Francis said, Salvation cannot be bought and sold; it is given as a gift, it is free . . . We cannot save ourselves, salvation is a totally free gift.  The Pope continued: Since it cannot be bought, in order for this salvation to enter into us we need a humble heart, a docile heart, an obedient heart like Mary's. Moreover, the model on this journey of salvation is God himself, his Son, who did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, and was obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

All of the people in this Sunday's gospel had been given the gift of faith but only the man who received the gift of sight from Jesus professed his faith openly, his faith in Jesus: Lord, I believe. Not only that, he began to share the gift of his faith with others, most especially the Pharisees who were trying to intimidate him. They proclaimed themselves as disciples of Moses. As such, they should have been prepared for the coming of the Messiah who was now among them.

But they had developed a sense of 'proprietorship' of their faith, a righteous complacency that blinded them to the extent that they dismissed a man who was born blind as a sinner with nothing from which they could learn. The man born blind, on the other hand, has an acute sense of being gifted, by the gift of sight and by the gift of faith. He is an embodiment of the thrust of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel.

Our Christian faith is a gift that can be lost by an individual and by a whole community. The Church flourished in North Africa and in the Middle East before Islam came into being but the vast majority lost the gift of our faith. In our own lifetime the faith has been rapidly disappearing from places such as Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Quebec. Fifty years ago these places were sending missionaries to every part of the world and their seminaries were full. Now most of the seminaries have been closed down. Just over 100 years ago CICM brothers and priests (Scheut Missionaries, Missionhurst) and ICM Sisters came to the mountains of northern Luzon from a part of Europe that is as flat as a billiard table, most of Belgium and the Netherlands. In February 2014 Belgium made it legal for sick children to be killed, to be put down like sick animals. There was little international reaction to this, though there was to the putting down of a healthy giraffe in a zoo in Denmark a few days earlier.

There still are people in these places and others like them who are living the Christian life faithfully, often heroically. Martyrs such as Fr Ragheed Ganni of Iraq and politician Shahbaz Bhatti of Pakistan are outstanding examples. Another is the late Professor Jérôme Lejeune, doctor and researcher, who in 1959 discovered the cause of Down syndrome (trisomy 21). 


Servant of God Jérôme Lejeune

In so many places in the gospel we find Jesus going out to those considered unimportant such as the blind man in today's gospel. Pope Francis met with thousands of persons who are blind or profoundly deaf on Saturday 29 March 2014, the first ever such gathering in the Vatican. And there were probably some present who were both deaf and blind.


John Milton, who went blind as an adult, in his poem On His Blindness (below) shows an acceptance of what he calls his mild yoke and a sense of our sight and everything else being gifts from God.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium No 264 gives us some pointers:

We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence . . . How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence!

The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart.

Sometimes we lose our enthusiasm for mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters.

The words of Pope Francis suggest a basic attitude of gratitude to God such as we see in the man who tells everyone, One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. 

Somewhat different from the Pharisees' Surely we are not blind, are we?

Which statement/question reflects my stance before God?

On His Blindness by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."


This video, posted by the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, is, I think, an eye-opener.

Columban parish in Peru cut off by devastating floods


March 24, 2017 Media Release –

Flooding in Peru. In wake of the unprecedented flooding in Peru, Columban Fr Kevin McDonagh in his parish in Samanco near Chimbote [420 kms north of Lima], has been cut off from the outside world. He is managing ok, but the situation is getting precarious for the people.

The worst is not quite yet over as rain is still expected over the next few weeks, with some of it moving south. The challenges ahead are enormous in terms of reconstruction, etc. There is little bottled water available, but fortunately there is water flowing again in Lima though with low pressure. It is worrying to think of so many people without clean water especially in the provincial areas.

So far there are 75 known deaths and over 100,000 people who are homeless. That figure will be multiplied when help reaches all the areas that have been incommunicado since the flooding began. It is mind boggling. We had bad flooding in 1982, and we all thought it was terrible. But that was child’s play in comparison to now. The question is how much more can the people take. Their response and solidarity so far has been nothing short of heroic. Even in the midst of all the suffering, we are seeing Peru and Peruvians at their very best. It is inspiring and heartbreaking all at once. These people are really heroic.

Please, we are asking for prayers and positive thoughts in solidarity with the people of Peru in these times of suffering, especially those most directly affected.

In Christ,

Fr Kevin O’Neill

Superior General

Missionary Society of St Columban 

15 March 2017

'To ask for a drink is no big request but to ask it of me?' Sunday Reflections, Third Sunday of Lent, Year A

Christ and the Samaritan Woman, Duccio di Buoninsegna 

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

For the shorter form of the Gospel omit the passages [in square brackets].

Gospel John 4:5-42 [5:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42]  (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition) 

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’  Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
[Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him,] ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
[Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.  The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’]
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him [because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’] So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word.  They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’
The video is taken from The Gospel of John directed by Philip Saville.
I remember reading a story about Pope John Paul I when he was still known as Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice. One of his priests in a rural parish was known more for being absent from his parish than for being present. Cardinal Luciani went to visit the parish - and the priest was away. So the Cardinal covered for him until the priest returned some days later. The wayward parish priest got the shock of his life when his archbishop asked him to hear his confession.

Cardinal Luciani, who later became known as 'The Smiling Pope' and was with us for only 33 days in 1978 as Bishop of Rome, didn't scold the priest. He simply asked him to do for him what only a priest can do - forgive sins in God's name in the sacrament of confession.


Pope John Paul I, 26 August 1978

In the gospel Jesus asks the woman at the well directly, Give me a drink. As she was to point out to Jesus he didn't have the wherewithal to draw water himself from the well. She did.

About twenty-five years ago I was at a sports-fest for children and young people with mental disabilities in the campus of a Catholic high school here in the Philippines. As I was leaving I saw a group of teenage boys, who hadn't been involved in the sports activity, lounging in the lobby. Behind my back they called Hey, Joe! a greeting that goes back to the last days of World War II when American soldiers, 'GI Joes', helped Filipinos to defeat the Japanese. The greeting lingered on for many years and you still hear it occasionally. Often it is well meant but sometimes there's a barb, or at least a lack of respect.

When I heard the Hey, Joe I got mad. Then I saw that my car, an old VW, had a flat tyre. I immediately turned to the boys with whom I was mad and asked, Can you help me change the tyre? Immediately they came to my aid and I didn't have to do anything. (Someone once asked me when I told this story if the boys had had anything to do with the flat tyre. They hadn't. It was just one of those things.) When I was leaving we were all smiling at each other and I was full of gratitude.

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial 
Many 'GI Joes' are buried here [Wikipedia]

In the gospel Jesus gently leads the woman to acknowledge her sinful life, but not by humiliating her. He draws her into an expression of faith, a recognition that he might be the Messiah. Not only that, he leads her to being a missionary. She goes into town to tell others about Jesus.

In a commentary I once read the writer pointed out that the gospel doesn't tell us if the woman actually gave Jesus the drink he had asked for! But his physical thirst, which was real, was secondary to his thirst for the welfare of the woman and the people of Sychar. Jesus wasn't the only one to break the taboo of Jews and Samaritans not speaking to one another. So did the people who asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Presumably the disciples were included in the invitation. All were drawn into something higher than ancient divisions by the presence of Jesus. All were drawn into a relationship with Jesus and in that to a new way of relating to one another.

The teenage boys who said Hey, Joe behind my back were being teenage boys. While perhaps there was some lack of respect there was no real malice and it was more of adolescent bravado. But once I let them know my need they didn't see me anymore as some anonymous foreigner but as a person they could help. A personal relationship, even if fleeting, had been established, one that called on their generosity. When I left we were all smiling at one another and my heart was filled with gratitude.

Cardinal Luciani might well have berated the parish priest for having neglected his parishioners. Instead, he called him to be a priest in the deepest sense, hearing in his archbishop's request for confession the voice of Jesus asking the Samaritan woman, Give me a drink.

Pope John Paul I 
(17 October 1912 - 28 September 1978) [Wikipedia]

A Woman of No Distinction
by Chris Kinsley & Drew Francis [2007]

I am a woman of no distinction
of little importance.
I am a women of no reputation
save that which is bad.

You whisper as I pass by and cast judgmental glances,
Though you don’t really take the time to look at me,
Or even get to know me.

For to be known is to be loved,
And to be loved is to be known.
Otherwise what’s the point in doing
either one of them in the first place?

I WANT TO BE KNOWN.

I want someone to look at my face
And not just see two eyes, a nose,
a mouth and two ears;
But to see all that I am, and could be
all my hopes, loves and fears.

But that’s too much to hope for,
to wish for,
or pray for
So I don’t, not anymore.

Now I keep to myself
And by that I mean the pain
that keeps me in my own private jail
The pain that’s brought me here
at midday to this well.

To ask for a drink is no big request
but to ask it of me?
A woman unclean, ashamed,
Used and abused
An outcast, a failure
a disappointment, a sinner.

No drink passing from these hands
to your lips could ever be refreshing
Only condemning, as I’m sure you condemn me now
But you don't.

You’re a man of no distinction;
Though of the utmost importance.
A man with little reputation, at least so far.

You whisper and tell me to my face
what all those glances have been about, and
You take the time to really look at me.
But don’t need to get to know me.

For to be known is to be loved and
To be loved is to be known.

And you know me.
You actually know me;
all of me and everything about me.
Every thought inside and hair on top of my head;
Every hurt stored up, every hope, every dread.

My past and my future, all I am and could be.
You tell me everything,
you tell me about me!

And that which is spoken by another
would bring hate and condemnation.
Coming from you brings love, grace,
mercy, hope and salvation.

I’ve heard of one to come
who could save a wretch like me
And here in my presence, you say
I AM He.

To be known is to be loved;
And to be loved is to be known.

And I just met you.
But I love you.
I don’t know you,
but I want to get to.

Let me run back to town
this is way to much for just me.
There are others: brothers,
sisters, lovers, haters.

The good and the bad, sinners and saints
who should hear what you’ve told me;
who should see what you’ve shown me;
who should taste what you gave me;
who should feel how you forgave me.

For to be known is to be loved;
And to be loved is to be known.
And they all need this, too.
We all do
Need it for our own.