Helping Drug Dependents. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 26 August 2016

Helping Drug Dependents

by Fr Shay Cullen

The Venerable Matt Talbot, Dublin [Wikipedia]

Matt Talbot (1856 – 1925) was born to a poor family in Dublin, Ireland. He became addicted to alcohol while still in his teens. ‘This website gives us an opportunity to gain a deeper insight into the life and times of the Venerable Matt Talbot. His is a story of triumph over addiction. It is a story of faith and of how the power of God’s grace can help us overcome the struggles and difficulties of life.’ [Editor]

Working for over twenty years helping drug dependents recover from abuse and addiction in a rehabilitation sanctuary for young people using chemical substances, I learned a few important things. First is that they are not criminals but in need of medical help and intervention. Drug abuse is a health issue. The most common answer given by the youth when asked why they began substance abuse is “To forget my problems.” But behind those answers, I learned about the causes and the nature of those problems they try to forget by substance use.

Substance abuse is trying to change bad feelings with chemicals. Millions of adults and young people are using alcohol, a legal drug to “forget their problems.” We need to be compassionate and caring of the substance user, not take a punitive approach of condemnation and punishment.

They are people suffering, hurting and with a troubled life. So the use and abuse of chemical substances is a form of self-medication for some. The use of substances ought not to be a criminal offense but a medical health issue. Those who use chemical substances need and deserve treatment, care and rehabilitation- not the death penalty.

Full post here.

‘But when you give a banquet, invite the poor . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion at Holy Family Home for Girls, Bacolod City

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 14:1, 7-14  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.  “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed . . . 

Last Sunday I experienced this after Mass at Holy Family Home for Girls (HFH) here in Bacolod City. Kathy wished to share her birthday joy – the day itself was actually the day before – with the girls at Holy Family Home along with her family and co-workers. Most of the more than 30 girls in Holy Family Home have had traumatic experiences in their lives and the majority are from poor families.

Kathy and her husband Hernan have been celebrating their birthdays with the girls at HFH and the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family who run it for some years now. There are other families who have been doing the same, some in HFH, some in orphanages or homes for the aged in Bacolod City.

And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you . . .

Kathy, whose father died suddenly when she was only three months old, spoke briefly at the end of the programme after the catered lunch but asked Hernan to take over. (The programme included a magician, some games and dances by the girls.) He told us how blessed his whole family was simply by the joy they saw in the faces of the girls. That has been my own experience since I became involved with HFH nearly 14 years ago. That involvement has been one of the greatest blessings of my life, an ongoing one and all the greater because it was something I had never expected when I returned to the Philippines in 2002 after a two-year stint in Britain that was supposed to be a four-year one.

Most of these girls have had experiences that no child or young person should ever have. But in HFH they get the best of truly caring professional help that enables them to feel the healing power of God’s love. Much of that healing comes form their interaction with each other and from their shared responsibilities. For example, each cubicle for personal hygiene is used by three girls, who also have to maintain it. And something that touched me when I first began to go to HFH and given the ‘grand tour’ was to learn that each new girl, whether still a child or already an adolescent, is given a cuddly toy which she keeps on her bed. There are two large dormitories, again maintained by the girls. And they make their bed first thing in the morning, have an early breakfast, gather for prayers and then go off to the local elementary and high schools, both within walking distance.

Columban Fr Michael Sinnott visits HFH

The girls had been praying their hearts out for Fr Sinnott, then 79, after he was kidnapped in October 2009. He came to visit them later. This was their reaction when I told them of his release:

Hernan reminded us in his ‘few words’ of Jesus and children: Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs (Matthew 19:14).

The First Reading and the Gospel remind me of a line in the Handbook of the Legion of MaryAlways will the legionary bear in mind that he is visiting not as a superior to an inferior, not as one equal to another, but as an inferior to his superior, as the servant to the Lord. This is the opposite of what I have heard many well-meaning people say: We must go down to the level of the poor (or whoever). Jesus identifies himself with the ‘outsider’, with the ‘other’, whoever the ‘other’ may be. And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40)

Children’s Games, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559-60

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna [Web Gallery of Art]

‘Alleluia’ by Ronald Raz

Hail Mary the Queen Children’s Choir

Quezon City, Philippines

The Death Penalty is Being Implemented. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 18 August 2016

The Death Penalty is Being Implemented

by Fr Shay Cullen

The Killing of Abel, Nicolas of Verdun, 1181

Augustinian Monastery, Klosterneuburg, Austria [Web Gallery of Art]

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Capiz Congressman Fredenil Castro want to bring back the death penalty in the Philippines as a deterrent to crime. It can be said that the death penalty is already effectively and practically in force daily. As many as ten suspects are killed daily in the war on illegal drugs.

Some are killed in what is said to be police shoot-outs. Others are the work of vigilante death squads. They bind the hands and feet of the victims, gag them with tape and shoot them and leave them in a public place with a crude sign saying, ‘I am a pusher’ or a similar message.

Some of those killed are victims of mistaken identity; others are victims of criminals who kill and use the signboard to forestall any investigation. With the sign left on the body, it is presumed that the victim is a drug pusher. It is another case of a false accusation, a wrongful killing.

The suspects are lined up on lists prepared by the local barangay officials and given to the police. This denunciation of one’s neighbors by those elected to protect their rights is a contradiction. In the gated communities of the rich, the officials are not cooperating with the police demands for a list of suspects. Many end up dead and most of them are poor, small-time ‘suspected’ drug users. The big drug lords have yet to fall.

Full post here.

‘Then people will come from east and west . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Crowning during a Syro-Malabar Catholic wedding [Wikipedia]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Luke 13:22-30  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.  Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.  Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

Three years ago when I was at home in Dublin a friend of mine from the Philippines, Marifel, who was a parishioner of mine in Tangub City, Mindanao, when she was a child and now works as a receptionist for a community of Dominican Sisters near Dublin, invited me for a meal in a hotel. When the waitress came along I asked her if she was from Poland or Lithuania or ‘one of those countries. ‘One of those countries’, she replied with a smile, ‘Latvia.’ She took our orders but the food was brought by an Indian waiter. Later on an Irish waiter looked after us.

St Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, Dublin [Wikipedia]

A week later I found myself in St Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, beside one of Dublin’s main railway stations. While I was praying there a grandfather and his grandson aged about three came in. The grandfather was wearing bright summer clothes – unlike grandparents when I was young who seemed to be always dressed in dark clothes – and genuflected before kneeling in the pew. After a while the little boy asked him some questions. His grandfather pointed at the altar and also at some of the Stations of the Cross as he explained things to the youngster. They then left.

St Brigid’s Church, Blanchardstown, Archdiocese of Dublin

On one Sunday a month in St Brigid’s Church, Blanchardstown, in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the parish I go home to when I visit Ireland, has Mass for the Syro-Malabar Catholic community in Dublin. Many of these are nurses from Kerala, India, working in Irish hospitals. St Brigid’s Parish also has a Filipino choir that sings at one of the Masses on the last Sunday of the month, except during the summer.

Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God, Jesus tells us in the Gospel this Sunday. Thirty years ago churches in Ireland were still full at Sunday Masses, with young and old, and almost everyone Irish. Today there are fewer priests,  fewer Sunday Masses and fewer people attending them, most of them old. A large proportion of Sunday congregations are from places such as India, Nigeria, Poland, the Philippines. Mass servers – and there aren’t too many of these anymore – are likely to be either immigrants or the Irish-born children of immigrants.

The above are snapshots of contemporary Ireland, as different from the Ireland of my childhood as are the mobile phones that everyone has from the box cameras that a few had and the telephones  that even fewer had in my time. 

But we had something precious that has been largely lost – our Catholic faith. There are various reasons for the rejection of the Church by many and the outright rejection of the Christian faith by some. But this can remind us that our faith is pure gift from God, a gift that can be shared and that was generously shared, even to the point of giving up life itself, by the countless missionaries who went overseas, or it can be lost, not only by individuals bu by whole communities.

The gift of faith can be lost by taking it for granted, by apathy, by not taking it seriously, by not passing it on. Jesus in the Gospel is telling his fellow Jews – and we must never forget that he is and will be for all eternity a Jew, just like Mary – that many of them are in danger of losing the precious gift of the faith, the faith they inherited from Abraham, our father in faith (Eucharistic Prayer I – Roman Canon) Isaac and Jacob, and that others will accept that same gift with gratitude.

Antonio Luis Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila [Wikipedia]

In 2003, at a gathering of priests in Antipolo City, near Manila, sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, then Bishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle, now Cardinal-Archbishop of Manila, spoke about a then recent survey on the values of young Filipinos. What he projected could happen within twenty years in terms of the loss of the Catholic faith in the Philippines was what had been happening in Ireland over the previous twenty years.

I was heartened by the sight of the grandfather passing on our Catholic Christian faith to his young grandson by his example and his readiness to answer the boy’s questions. I am heartened by the living faith of so many immigrants to Ireland.

My hope is that the Catholic faith will continues to be passed on in Ireland and elsewhere by grandfathers – and grandmothers and parents – like the one I saw in St Andrew’s Church. My hope is that the Catholic faith will be renewed in Ireland and elsewhere by the example and fervour of immigrants from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, by people from east and west, from north and south and that together we will all will eat in the kingdom of God, not only in heaven but here and now as brothers and sisters working together to build a world where the values  of the Gospel prevail, a world where everyone will have heard the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed to them, especially by the lives we lead. 

My hope is that the nurses from Kerala, who trace their Catholic faith back to St Thomas the Apostle, the waiters, caregivers and nurses from the Philippines, whose faith embodies a tender love of Mary the Mother of God as our Mother, will help the Irish to re-discover the greatness of the gift that their ancestors received more than 1,500 years ago from a great missionary who first arrived in Ireland at the age of 16 as a kidnapped slave, St Patrick.

My fear is that there will not be enough grandfathers – and grandmothers and parents – who will know and value the gift of faith enough to pass it on and that the youngsters, children of immigrants to Ireland and elsewhere in the Western world, will succumb to the values of their contemporaries and reject the most precious gift that God has given us – our Catholic Christian faith, an invitation to share in the love of God for all eternity.

Though the video was made for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord it invites us to reflect on our faith, received through baptism, as pure gift from God, something we should do constantly.


O God, who cause the minds of the faithful to unite in a single purpose, grant your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that, amid the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found.

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.

Columban Fr Daniel Fitzgerald dies at the age of 100

Fr Daniel Patrick Fitzgerald

(28 June 1916 – 9 August 2016)

Father Dan celebrated his 100th birthday on 28 June, a celebration in which he delighted, and died peacefully exactly six weeks later.

With Fr Patrick Raleigh and Columban Sisters after Mass on his 100th birthday

Fr Patrick Raleigh, Regional Director of the Columbans in Ireland, wrote about the celebration. Here are some extracts.

Fr Dan was born in the city of Cork on 28 June 1916. He grew up with the beginnings of the Society of St Columban. His great hero was Bishop Edward Galvin, Co-founder of the Society. Fr Dan was educated by the Christian Brothers at Sullivan’s Quay in Cork and entered the old Dalgan Park in Shrule, on the Galway – Mayo border in 1933. He was ordained there in December 1939.

Images of Cork city shortly before Fr Fitzgerald was born

When he was asked about the influences that drew him to the priesthood he spontaneously pointed to the influence of his parents who were daily Mass goers. The family Rosary was said each night in the house. Time and again he has expressed his deep gratitude to his parents for all that they did for him. Here in the Nursing Home in Dalgan Park the words ‘thank you’ are always on his lips. He is very much appreciated by all the staff in the Nursing Home. They left no stone unturned in making sure that everything would go well for the day. They put a huge effort into decorating the place beforehand.

Early years as a Columban

His first appointment was to the Philippines in 1940 but because of World War II he never got there. In the early 1940s he served as chaplain to the Maria Reparatrix Sisters in Cork. At this time he took up golf, a sport in which he became quite proficient. He has said on many occasions that to keep his mind off exile and not knowing the day or the hour he would be called he would hit golf balls in the golf course in Douglas in Cork.

Where Father Dan played golf [Source: Douglas Golf Club website]


In 1946 he set sail for China with five Columban priests and five Columban Sisters. Sr Damien Rooney, Columban Sister and now living in the Columban Sisters Home in Magheramore, County Wicklow, was one of those. It was indeed very symbolic that she was able to attend the Ceremony in Dalgan. While Father Dan was the centre of attention, Sr Damien made a great impression on those who attended. She is now in her 96th year. In a strong and very clear voice and without a microphone she read out the special message that she had prepared for Fr Dan. I’m very happy to be here today to celebrate the 100th birthday of Fr Dan. Fr Dan has been a life-long friend since we first met in Hanyang, China in 1946. That was a very difficult time in China; a time of great destruction during the communist regime. Through it all Fr Dan was always calm – a source of strength and consolation for all of us. For all my life Fr Dan’s friendship and his faithful life as a Columban missionary, has kept me going. We are both a little advanced in age now, but we are still on the way. We are both on the road with Jesus as our constant companion, and who could have a better companion than Jesus !

A young Fr Edward Galvin in China, 1912-1916

During his six years in China the political situation was quite chaotic. Nevertheless, for Fr Dan it was a great privilege to work in the diocese with his great hero and friend, Bishop Edward Galvin whom to this day he has held in such high esteem. His first impressions of China were of the heat and mosquitoes. The Diocese of Hanyang was roughly the size of Munster. Only one per cent of the population were Catholics.

Bishop Edward Galvin and Fr Dan Fitzgerald were forced to leave China in 1952

In 1952 he left China but he left it with a great love for the Chinese people which continues to this day. He says that they were like a sheep without a shepherd. It was indeed very fitting that Dan received a number of emails from China including emails from Columbans there.

After China

After his years in China Father Dan worked in Australia where he spent seven years. There was a lovely email from Fr Pat Baker in the Philippines to Fr Dan thanking him for all the help and encouragement he gave him as his Spiritual Director in Turramurra back in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. Fr Pat said that Fr Dan was an inspiration to the students and he was delighted to have the opportunity to thank him. Fr Dan also worked on Promotion in Australia with the late Frs Gerry O’Collins and Pat Hennessy. In his email Fr Pat refers to them as the ‘Dream Team’. Wonderful stories circulated about Fr Dan’s experiences in some of the parishes he visited, especially his feats on the golf course.


St Mary of the Rosary Church, Nenagh [Source: Parish website]

After his time in Australia, he was assigned to Scotland from ’73 to ’81.When he returned to Ireland he worked in many different places including being Chaplain for eight years at the Care Home run by the Bon Sauveur Sisters in Carriglea, Dungarvan, County Waterford. When most people would have considered retiring Dan in his seventies set out on a new Mission to the Diocese of Killaloe. He spent a short time in Sixmilebridge, County Clare before moving on to Nenagh. 

He immersed himself wholeheartedly in the life of Nenagh and its people. Over the years in Nenagh Dan spent many hours every day praying in St Mary of the Rosary Church. As the people of Nenagh dropped in to the Church to say a prayer Fr Dan could be seen praying before Our Lady’s Altar. He built up many very genuine and strong rapport with everyone with a special attachment to Hospital visitation. During his time in Nenagh he visited the Hospital every night. Almost every family in Nenagh and in North Tipperary has some story to tell about meeting Fr Dan and his kindness to them. His nightly visits to the Hospital were eagerly looked forward to by not only the patients of all creeds but also by their families and the staff in the Hospital. His words of encouragement were always very much appreciated. 

His daily Communion rounds to the sick are legendary. Fr Dan has often said that the people of Nenagh are a very decent people. When in Nenagh he spent many hours in the Confessional. During his time there he brought something very special to the people.. When the time came for him to return to Dalgan Park to the Nursing Home the people made every effort to keep him there and had organised a rota of nurses to look after his medical needs. As Columbans we owe a huge debt of gratitude to so many people in Nenagh, too numerous to mention. He continues to receive visitors from there on a weekly basis.

A visit from Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA of Cashel and Emly, previously Bishop of Killaloe

His endearing presence

Since his return to Dalgan he has endeared himself to so many. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the very caring staff in the Nursing Home here in Dalgan for the very special way that they minister to his needs.

After the celebration of the Eucharist people were very anxious to gather around him to greet him and have their photo taken with him. He certainly rose to the occasion and was very effusive in his words of gratitude. Everybody enjoyed an excellent meal after Mass in the College dining room. 

St Columban’s, Dalgan Park

Columban Fr Sean McDonagh, from Nenagh, spoke in his homily at the 100th birthday celebration of how Fr Fitzgerald had served the people of the parish of St Mary of the Rosary.

His daily communion rounds were legendary. He brought my own mother communion every day for the last six-and-a-half years of her life when she was housebound.

During his 23 years of service, Fr Dan visited the hospital every night. Almost every family in North Tipperary has some story to tell about meeting Fr Dan on nightly rounds. I remember my own mother being rushed into Nenagh hospital. I received a call to come home as they thought my mother was dying. When I reached the hospital it seemed that she was dying. It was only after Fr Dan’s visit that I wondered whether her potassium levels had fallen. In fact, her potassium levels had fallen. The procedure to address that helped save her life.

Not alone the patients, but all the hospital staff valued Fr Dan’s contribution to healing in the hospital. In an email to Fr Donal Hogan (who at the time was the Columban Regional Director) in March 2012, Fr Pat Malone, the parish priest of Nenagh, wrote: ‘Fr Dan is deeply loved, highly respected and greatly valued by the whole community.’ He wrote that 21 nurses were willing to organise a rota to look after Fr Dan’s medical needs.

Fr Dan also spent many hours in the confessional serving the needs of people. His pastoral presence at the Christian Brothers School was deeply appreciated by both the staff and the students.

Fr Pat Raleigh concluded his article about Father Dan’s 100th birthday celebration with these words: The occasion would not have been complete without the singing of the The Banks and with great gusto everybody joined in the singing.

(‘The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee’, usually referred to colloquially as ‘De Banks’, is the anthem of Cork people, especially those from the city. It was sung again after the lunch that followed the funeral Mass and burial of Father Dan on 12 August.)

Father Dan died in the evening of 9 August. That afternoon he prayed the Rosary for the last time. In his homily at the Mass on Father Dan’s 100th birthday and at the funeral Mass Fr Sean McDonagh spoke of the great devotion of this holy priest to our Blessed Mother. As the people of Nenagh know very well – any time you would visit the Church to say a prayer, Fr Dan could be seen praying right before Our Lady’s Altar . . . I   wondered   whether there was anything akin to a   Guinness   Book   of Records in Heaven. If there is Fr Dan would certainly be close to winning the prize for the person who has said the most rosaries in his life.

Nenagh is in County Tipperary, as is Clonmel, where the late Irish tenor Frank Patterson was from. In this video he is singing this hymn to our Blessed Mother, not as a performer but as the man of faith he was.


Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal. May his noble soul be at the right hand of God.

Thanks to Frs Cyril Lovett, Patrick Raleigh and Sean McDonagh.

The Trafficking of Humans. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 12 August 2016

The Trafficking of Humans

by Fr Shay Cullen

[Photo: Wikipedia]

A few weeks ago, 69 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking were found in the Philippines. These migrants had been brought from Vietnam two at a time on a tourist visa by a syndicate and made to work for three years on low wages or none at all by human traffickers. They were then abandoned by their gang-masters, declared indigent and deported.

The Philippines is now a destination for low-paid or even slave labor as if it didn’t have enough itself. The Philippines is mostly a source of human trafficking victims both internal and international.

There is significant trafficking from the Philippines to South Korea using E6 visas and also to Japan as an entertainer. What happens to the thousands of young Filipino women there is anybody’s guess.

The Philippines is doing more to combat the trade in persons and has finally reached the US Tier 1 status and is among the top 39 countries whose government‘s fully meet the US minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This has only been achieved this 2016 after many years on the Tier 2 Watchlist. At one stage a few years ago, the Philippines was on the verge of dropping to Tier 3, a very low standard of compliance indeed.

The Trafficking in Persons Report for 2016 issued for every country in the world by the US State Department states that being on Tier 1 does not mean there is no human trafficking, just that the government is meeting the minimum standards.

Full post here.

‘From now on five in one household will be divided . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

The Marriage at Cana, Marten de Vos, 1596-97

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)

Gospel Luke 12:49-53  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said to his disciples: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
    and son against father,
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Blessed Paul VI [Wikipedia]

About 40 years ago when I had some programs on DXDD, a radio station in Ozamiz City, Mindanao, started by a Columban priest, Fr Charles Nolan, and now owned by the Archdiocese of Ozamiz, two friends of mine brought in a boy of about three whom they had found wandering at night. I appealed on the air for his family to come and bring him home. There was no response. My program was the last for the night and I was wondering what we’d do with the boy. The janitor and his wife, whom I’ll call Carlos and Teresa, happened to be there and said, ‘We’ll take him home. What’s one more mouth to feed?’ They had a small house and a large family.

The boy’s mother, who worked in a night club, was found a day or two later and Carlos and Teresa reunited them.

On 25 July 1968 Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, which begins with these words:   

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

The fulfillment of this duty has always posed problems to the conscience of married people, but the recent course of human society and the concomitant changes have provoked new questions. The Church cannot ignore these questions, for they concern matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings

Officiating at the wedding of friends in 2007

[M & J now have five children, God bless them]

The encyclical, which upholds the Church’s traditional teaching on family planning, immediately caused dissension within the Church, much of it quite bitter. It still provokes strong feelings and has been dismissed by many, maybe even by a majority of Catholics, especially in the West.

While no one threw Pope Paul into a well, as happened to the Prophet Jeremiah (First Reading), many did so metaphorically. Jeremiah had preached a message the authorities and the people didn’t want to hear. The message wasn’t his own but from God. He had told the people that those who stayed in Jerusalem would be slaughtered by the Babylonians, while those who fled, while losing their possessions, wouldn’t lose their lives. All of this came about because leaders and people had ignored God’s Covenant with them.

The role of the prophet can be summed up in the title of a book by Fr Bruce Vawter CM that we used in Scripture studies in he seminary: The Conscience of Israel.

Forty years after Humanae Vitae Pope Benedict spoke of the division that it had causedThe Document very soon became a sign of contradiction. Drafted to treat a difficult situation, it constitutes a significant show of courage in reasserting the continuity of the Church’s doctrine and tradition. This text, all too often misunderstood and misinterpreted, also sparked much discussion because it was published at the beginning of profound contestations that marked the lives of entire generations. Forty years after its publication this teaching not only expresses its unchanged truth but also reveals the farsightedness with which the problem is treated.

The Church has always seen marriage as the proper and only context for the most intimate relations between a man and a woman. And every human society has seen marriage in the context of the continuation of the human race, more specifically of the particular clan/tribe/nation and most specifically of the two families united through a wedding. And it’s hardly an accident that in St John’s Gospel the first sign or miracle of Jesus was the changing of the water into wine in Cana so that the marriage festivities could continue.

Pope Paul was reiterating in Humanae Vitae what the Church had always taught and what the Second Vatican Council teaches in Gaudium et Spes, Nos 47-52. No 51 includes this passage that speaks of the relationship between husband and wife in a way that calls them to the highest idealism: For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. The sexual characteristics of man and the human faculty of reproduction wonderfully exceed the dispositions of lower forms of life. Hence the acts themselves which are proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity must be honored with great reverence.

Advice of Pope Francis to married couples

Down the years since Vatican II individuals who have rejected the Church’s teaching have sometimes been described as ‘prophets’. Many, no doubt, honestly thought that they were right and the Church’s leaders wrong.

But we see the results of the most intimate act between a man and a woman being removed from its proper context or when a responsible openness to new life is lacking. There is now an imbalance in many countries in the developed world where the proportion of younger people is getting smaller and smaller, where the one-child family is becoming more and more common, sometimes by coercion, as in China, sometimes by the choice that couples make. Many more than before now have no brothers or sisters, no uncles or aunts.

We see in many countries the increase in abortion, despite the availability of contraceptives.

Gaudium et Spes says, Hence the acts themselves which are proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity must be honored with great reverence. We see the very opposite in today’s world where the acts that the Council speaks of are seen as a form of ‘recreation’, not even within the context of some kind of commitment, and where the openness to cooperating with God in the creation of new life is thwarted.

We see the utterly bizarre notion of ‘marriage’ between two persons of the same sex being passed into law in many jurisdictions as a ‘right’ and the perhaps even more bizarre reality that so many think this is right and proper.

Pope Paul was reviled and dismissed by many for Humanae Vitae. The experience of married couples who have generously planned their families in a way that respects nature has not, by and large, been taken seriously.

The DXDD janitor, Carlos, and his wife Teresa had an openness to accepting new life, even if temporarily, that reflected a generosity of heart. They had no idea how long they might have to look after their new charge.

Vatican II and Pope Paul were both addressing that generosity that we are capable of, even when great sacrifice may be demanded. Pope Paul must have been aware of the great division that his encyclical would cause. Pope Benedict speaks of its publication as a significant show of courage in reasserting the continuity of the Church’s doctrine and tradition.

Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhoration Amoris Laetitia, published earlier this year, reiterates the teaching of Humanae Vitae:

Blessed Paul VI, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, further developed the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family. In a particular way, with the Encyclical Humanae Vitae he brought out the intrinsic bond between conjugal love and the generation of life: ‘Married love requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time must be rightly understood… The exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties towards God, themselves, their families and human society’ (No 68). In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI highlighted the relationship between the family and the Church”.

Nearly fifty years after Humanae Vitae perhaps we should recognise as true prophets Blessed Paul VI who taught clearly and lovingly and the many married couples who, down the years, have faithfully lived the teaching of the Church that Jesus founded on the rock of Peter.

Wedding rings of M & J

Ego sum panis vivusGiovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1535 – 1594)

Cappella Victoria, Jakarta, Indonesia.

 A choir that mostly specializes in 16th-century sacred polyphony, especially the works of Palestrina and Victoria. A choir in line with the spirit of diaspora; has developed to include 33 singers from 14 parishes throughout the Jakarta Archdiocese (from its blog).

Communion Antiphon (John 6:51-52)

I am the living bread that came down from heaven, says the Lord. 

Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever.

Antiphona ad Communionem (Johannes 6:51-52)

Ego sum panis vivus, qui de caelo descendi, dicit Dominus: 

si quis manducaverit ex hoc pane, vivet in aeternum.

The Green Platform, the Positive Force for Change. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 5 August 2016

The Green Platform, the Positive Force for Change

by Fr Shay Cullen

Preda Girls Home

A friend of mine wrote a dedication to his latest publication, a book titled Living the Green Platform. In the dedication, he said, ‘Continue to find joy in your life and bring joy to others. You are truly Good News for the suffering poor.’

He is one of the most positive and affirming persons I have ever met. And it is from this belief in the goodness that is in everyone and the capacity of everyone to be positive, self- affirming and affirming of others that he has developed a basic philosophy of positive living which he names ‘The Green Platform.’

This is taking a dedicated, positive view of life even amid hardship, loss and setbacks in life as opposed to taking a negative self-defeating position. The contrast he makes is with the opposite, the negative ‘Red Platform’ where many people unfortunately stand. That is an attitude to life we are challenged to leave and transfer to the positive ‘Green Platform.’

Full article here.

‘For the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’ Sunday Reflections, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

St Francis and Brother Leo Meditating on Death

 El Greco, 1600-02, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa [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 Luke 12:32-48 [or 12: 35-40]  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

[For shorter version omit italics.]

Jesus said to his disciples: [“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.]

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

[Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful.  That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.]

A stamp with Liam Whelan’s photo, issued by An Post, the Irish Postal Service, for the 50th anniversary of the Munich Disaster. The clock is in Old Trafford, the Manchester United stadium, showing the time and date of the crash.

You also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

I’ve posted a number of times before about the death of Irish footballer Liam Whelan in a plane crash in Munich in 1958. His life and death for me show the meaning of the words of Jesus in the gospel today: You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour. I’ll use here, with some changes, what I’ve posted before.

I remember the moment I heard of the crash that killed so many young sportsmen in their prime. It was late afternoon and already dark and a man whom I knew as a street-singer, someone I had perceived, wrongly perhaps, to be a beggar, was running around, almost frantically, telling everyone the tragic news. It was my first experience of what some call ‘a public private moment’.

‘If this is the end, then I’m ready for it’. (Posted 6 February 2008).

These were the last words of Liam Whelan who died more than 58 years ago and who is buried near my parents. Nine or ten years ago  I learned that when they were both around 14 Liam rescued a close friend of mine who had got into difficulties in a swimming pool. [Brendan, my friend, celebrates his 80th birthday this Sunday. I have baptized two of his grandchildren in recent years].

The average age of Manchester United’s players was only 22. One who was only 21, Duncan Edwards, from the English Midlands, was considered by many to have the potential to become perhaps the greatest footballer ever. He died 15 days after the crash.

These young men who filled stadiums were being paid only £15 a week, a little more than a tradesman could earn at the time, though very few played beyond the age of 35. Endorsements could bring in a little more income for a few talented players r. Their counterparts today are often spoiled millionaires.

Those who knew him described Liam Whelan as ‘a devout Catholic’. I know that he sent his mother some money for her to go to Lourdes. 11 February 1958 was the centennial of the first apparition of our Blessed Mother to St Bernadette. Mrs Whelan, a widow since 1943 when Liam was 8, used the money instead towards a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes over the grave of her son (photo below). I pass it each time I visit my parents’ grave.

Clearly young Liam Whelan had his life focused on what was most important. He was ready to meet death. I have often spoken about him at Mass and on retreats. Today’s gospel invites us to focus on the essentials, God’s love for us sinners, the hope that the life and death of Jesus offer us, the necessity of acknowledging our sinfulness to enable God’s love to break through and the importance of being always prepared for death.

But the deaths of so many talented young men still leaves a deep sadness among those who saw them play and followed their fortunes. I feel that sadness when I recall the Munich crash. The February 2008 issue of The Word, a magazine that sadly no longer exists and that was published by the Divine Word Missionaries in Ireland and Britain, had an article, A Sporting Tragedy, in which John Scally spoke for me : Their funerals were like no other. Most funerals are a burial of someone or something already gone. These young deaths pointed in exactly the opposite direction and were therefore the more poignant. Normally we bury the past but in burying Liam Whelan and his colleagues, in some deep and gnawing way we buried the future.

I remember reading about Liam Whelan’s last words in a newspaper a few days after the tragedy. I’ve heard Harry Gregg, the Manchester United goalkeeper who survived the crash, speaking about them. They still move me and challenge me to be ready whenever death may come. Jesus isn’t trying to frighten us in today’s gospel but to keep us focused on the supremely important realities of The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. (That article by Monsignor Charles Pope is well worth reading).

Jesus tells us that when we are honestly trying to follow him in doing the Father’s will we are blessed: Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.

You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Liam Whelan’s grave, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin

Responsorial Psalm, NAB Lectionary

Prayer Intentions of Pope Francis for August 2016

Universal Intention

Sports. That sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world.

Evangelization Intention

Living the Gospel. That Christians may live the Gospel, giving witness to faith, honesty, and love of neighbor.

The Good SamaritanThéodule-Augustin Ribot, before 1870
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Pau, France [Web Gallery of Art]

Reflections on the Intentions here.

[The second video and the Reflections are from the website of the Apostleship of Prayer, Milwaukee, WI, USA. The first video is from the website of Zenit.]