Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. New Year’s Day. World Day of Peace. Sunday Reflections

Altar of Our Lady, Church of St Nicholas, Überlingen, Germany, Jörg Zurn [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 2:16-21 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition) 

The shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The Adoration of the Name of Jesus, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

At the moment I am re-reading Finola Kennedy’s Frank Duff: A Life Story published by Burns and Oates in 2011. Frank Duff founded the Legion of Mary on 7 September 1921, though for a very long time he did not consider himself the founder. The biographer relates how a friend in the Vincent de Paul Society in Dublin, Vincent Kelly, introduced him to St Louis Marie de Montfort’s Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, usually referred to as True Devotionor True Devotion to Mary. Though Frank Duff was almost repelled initially by this book – it seemed to him ‘to border on the absurd’ –  he read it five or six times, encouraged by another friend in the Vincent de Paul Society, Tom Fallon. 

After ‘the final forced reading’ Frank Duff recalled, Without any process of thought leading up to it, something which I could but regard as a Divine favour was granted to me. It was the sudden realisation that the Book was true.

Fifty years later in a letter to Vincent Kelly he wrote, It was definitely that book which threw my life into the Marian channels which it has ever since followed.

Elsewhere Frank Duff wrote, Somewhere in 1919 some of us had encountered St Louis Marie de Montfort’s book on True Devotion to Mary. It depicted Our Lady in a devastatingly different dimension to what we were accustomed. The catechism had never shown us anything even remotely like that. De Montfort exhibited her sharply as the Mother of the Christian life, absolutely indispensable, concerned in every grace. The vastness of the role which he attributed to her and the very vehemence of the way in which he describe it gave the initial impression of gross exaggeration. Nevertheless he gripped the mind and forced one to read and enquire. At some stage in this process the conviction was gained that the book was justified and that the common presentation of Our Lady was not.

The seriousness of this was like an electric shock. for virtually it meant that we were leaving Mary out.
Then the biographer notes that the catechism taught that it was ‘lawful’ to be devout to the Blessed Virgin. In relation to this statement, Duff later made the acid comment: ‘In other words it was not a sin, a ludicrous description which would almost amount to placing it in the same category as backing horses or moderate drinking’.
Luke Paints the Icon of the Mother of God Hodegetria, Unknown Russian icon painter [Web Gallery of Art]
The Council of Ephesus in 431 gave the Greek title Theotokos to Mary, meaning ‘Mother of God’ or ‘God-bearer’. Her Son Jesus is both God and Man. This teaching is part of the heritage of all Christians as the Council took place more than 600 years before the East-West Schism and 1,100 years before the Protestant Reformation.
The Collect of the Mass, also used in the Liturgy of the Hours, states clearly what Mary’s role is.
O God, who through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary bestowed on the human race 
the grace of eternal salvation, 
grant, we pray, 
that we may experience the intercession of her, 
through whom we were found worthy 
to receive the author of life, 
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.
This prayer is directed to God the Father. It refers to our Lord Jesus Christ as the author of life. God the Father gave us the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ, the Word [who] became flesh and lived among us, through Mary. It is her mission, given by the Father, to bring his Son to us and to bring us to his Son who is Mary’s Son too. Perfectly attuned to the will of the Father she cannot possibly do anything else. In the icon above St Luke is shown depicting Mary, the Mother of God, presenting her Son, God who became Man, to us.
St John of the Cross captures the meaning of this Sunday’s celebration in his poem Del Verbo Divino – Concerning the Divine Word.

Del Verbo Divino

San Juan de la Cruz

Del Verbo divino
la Virgen preñada
viene de camino :
¡ si les dais posada !

Concerning the Divine Word

St John of the Cross

With the divinest Word, the Virgin

Made pregnant, down the road

Comes walking, if you’ll grant her

A room in your abode

Translation by Roy Campbell

Queen of Peace, EDSA Shrine, Metro Manila [Wikipedia]

World Day of Peace

Today is the Church’s 50th World Day of Peace. Here is the conclusion of the message of Pope Francis for this day.

As is traditional, I am signing this Message on 8 December, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is the Queen of Peace. At the birth of her Son, the angels gave glory to God and wished peace on earth to men and women of good will (cf. Luke 2:14). Let us pray for her guidance.

‘All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers’. In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. ‘Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace’.




Columban Fr Fintan Murtagh RIP

Fr Fintan Murtagh
(12 February 1940 – 23 December 2016)
Fr Fintan J. Murtagh was born at Moyvore, County Westmeath, Ireland, on 12 February 1940.  He was educated at Moyvore National School and at St Finian’s College, Mullingar, County Westmeath. 
Entrance to St Finian’s College, Mullingar [Wikipedia]
Father Fintan was one of many Columbans who had their secondary education in this school, which is owned by the Diocese of Meath.
He came to St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan, County Meath, in September 1957 and was ordained priest there, on 22 December 1963 and died on 23 December 2016.
St Columban’s, Dalgan Park
Appointed to the Philippines, and to the Diocese of Iba, which covers the province of Zambales, he served initially in San Marcelino, and Botolan. He spent longer periods in San Antonio, before returning again to Botolan and later to Candelaria and to Olongapo City.
San Antonio Town Plaza [Wikipedia]
In 1972 Father Fintan became aware that he was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. With his sunny temperament, he did not allow his condition to determine what he could or could not do, and he actually continued to play golf long after others would have given up. From 1985, he began to develop a systematic approach to parishioners of Candelaria with disabilities.

Father Fintan with friend

The result was Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) for People with Disabilities and Families. By 2010 this organization was serving in thirteen parishes of the Diocese of Iba. In all, it was serving 1,037 members in a broad variety of programmes for persons with disabilities. It is serving those with cerebral palsy, stroke victims, those with Parkinson’s Disease, spinal cord injuries, and epilepsy.

With friends in Zambales

It also helps persons with learning disabilities such as those with Down Syndrome. There are programs too for the profoundly deaf, the blind and the partially blind, and a variety of other disabling conditions.

Friends of Father Fintan

You can read articles by Father Fintan about his his work here, here and here.

As he coped with his own disability, Father Fintan gave courage and hope to so many other families in the Philippines and elsewhere. When he could no longer cope he came home to Ireland, but a mechanized wheelchair, and a special vehicle enabled him to be part of everything that was going on until he suffered a major stroke earlier this year.

Father Fintan will be remembered as a man of humor, hope and indomitable courage, a witness to all of us on how to cope  with life’s difficulties.

He was buried in St Columban’s Cemetery on 27 December.

Solas na bhFlaitheas air! The light of Heaven upon him!

St Columban’s Cemetery, Dalgan Park

The students in Dalgan Park produced My Fair Lady for St Columban’s Day, 23 November 1962. If your editor’s memory serves him right, Father Fintan was one of ‘Eliza Doolittle’s’ Cockney companions in this number.

Columban Fr Maurice Foley RIP

Fr Maurice Vincent Foley
(2 February 1933 – 18 December 2016)
Castlefinn [Wikipedia]
Fr Maurice Foley was born at Castlefinn, County Donegal, Ireland on 2 February 1933. He was educated at Dunbeacon National School, Ballydehob, County Cork, Belvedere College Preparatory School and Belvedere College, Dublin, St Patrick’s College, Armagh, and University College Dublin. He entered St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan, in 1952 and was ordained priest there on 21 December 1958.
Appointed to Korea in 1959, Father Maurice was assigned to Ulchin and Chunchon after language studies. After the division of the Diocese of Chunchon, he was assigned to the new Diocese of Wonju and to the new parish of Tokgae. He ministered there for most of the remainder of his years in Korea during the difficult period of the military dictatorship.
Huancavalica [Wikipedia]
By 1977, it was clear to him that the Church in Korea was growing rapidly and producing enough priests to cater to its own needs. He asked the Superior General to be assigned to Peru; as he wrote himself ‘I saw space for my missionary zeal in the land of the Incas’. After language studies his initial assignment was to Huancavalica, working at high altitude in the Sierra, until he was advised that working at sea-level would be easier on his health.
Cathedral, Huancavalica [Wikipedia]
Assignments in the Lima area included the parishes of Santíssimo Redentor, Santa María de la Reconciliación and Nuestra Señora de la Paz. In all these areas he enjoyed a happy and successful ministry. He could come across at times as rather abrupt, and could be impetuous, especially when the poor were being treated unjustly. However nobody could doubt his goodness and kindness, and the love that he lavished on the people was repaid with interest.
High Altar, Cathedral, Lima [Wikipedia]
In 2012 his health had begun to deteriorate and he returned to Ireland. For a short period he had enough energy to ride his beloved bicycle but in recent months his illness confined him to his room. There he loved to welcome visitors.  Father Maurice was blessed with a childlike simplicity, a generous heart and a quality of being so genuine that his sincerity could not be doubted. We will miss his truly unique presence.
Father Maurice was buried in St Columban’s Cemetery, Dalgan Park, on 21 December, the 58th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

May he rest in peace.

Crucifix, St Columban’s Cemetery, Dalgan Park

Silent Night / Sumaq Tuta
Sung in Quechua, the mother-tongue of the majority of people in Huancavalica, where Father Maurice first worked in Peru.

What is the Happiness of Christmas? Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 16 December 2016

What is the Happiness of Christmas?

by Fr Shay Cullen

The Nativity, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

What is it that makes Christmas so beautiful, so cheerful and a happy time especially for children? It has to be the gift-giving, the time when children look forward to gifts and signs of love and caring and sharing. The children of some well-off families receive so many gifts through the years that it has no special impact on them to receive more. There are the children of poor families that a gift at Christmas is a joy they never forget because they have so little in this world. And so that is what Christmas is about: the change of heart and mind when the rich and the well-off reach out to the poor to do something to make this a more just and equal society. It’s about caring and sharing.

It may not be much to ask but with the millions of displaced children in the world today, hundreds of thousands hungry and starving, it will be our duty and honor and a blessing for us to be able to share with them. To give from our abundance and not to keep it all for ourselves is the spirit of Christmas. This is what should be with us all our lives- helping others not just ourselves. It’s a natural virtue to care and share with our own families, but to help the stranger in need is an act of great goodness and virtue. That is being the good neighbor.

A frugal Christmas is in order and we are challenged to have the courage and the love of neighbors and to stop and ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Well in case you have forgotten that important teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, I remind you it is the traveler who was beaten and robbed and left for dead.

Continue here.

Embassy of Pakistan in Rome celebrates Christmas

A Christmas Song from Pakistan

Columban Fr Robert McCulloch at Embassy of Pakistan, Rome

Fr McCulloch, an Australian, is Procurator General of the Columbans in Rome. He spent the early years of his priesthood in Mindanao, Philippines, and later spent 34 years in Pakistan, being one of the pioneering group of Columbans to go there in 1979.

Ambassador Nadeem Riyyaz of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Italy again hosted the annual Christmas celebration on December 14 at the embassy chancery in Rome. The celebration was attended by Pakistani seminarians, sisters and priests studying in Rome as well as members of the general councils of religious congregations who have foundations in Pakistan.

Members of the diplomatic corps including the ambassador of Italy to the Holy See, chancery staff and Pakistanis working at FAO and other international organizations based in Rome were also present. The celebration including singing of Christmas carols in Urdu, Punjabi, Italian and English.

Fr Robert McCulloch, Procurator-General of the Missionary Society of St Columban, thanked Ambassador Riyyaz for hosting the Christmas celebration and extended greetings both for Christmas and for the Muslim feast of Eid-e-Milad-ul- Nabi which had been celebrated several days earlier. Fr McCulloch noted that this was the fifth celebration of Christmas at the Pakistan embassy which had been begun by Ambassador Tehmina Janjua, currently the Pakistan ambassador to the UN in Geneva. Both ambassadors received their education at Catholic schools in Pakistan, Ambassador Janjua from Jesus and Mary convent schools and Ambassador Riyyaz from the Patrician Brothers at St Anthony’s High School in Lahore.

Fr McCulloch thanked Ambassador Riyyaz for his outstanding gesture of friendship which manifests the commitment both of the Pakistan Embassy in Italy and of the Government of Pakistan to work towards religious harmony. 

A Christmas Song from Pakistan 

‘But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed, And for the secret Scripture of the poor.’ Sunday Reflections, Christmas Day

Adoration of the Shepherds

Jacopo Bassano [Web Gallery of Art]

What has come into being  in him was life, and the life was the light of all people (John 1:4).

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord has four different Mass formularies, each with its own prayer and readings. Any of the four fulfills our obligation to attend Mass. These are:

Vigil Mass, celebrated ‘either before or after First Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Nativity’; that means starting between 5pm and 7pm.

Mass During the Night, known before as ‘Midnight Mass’. In many parts of the world it does begin at midnight but here in the Philippines since the 1980s it begins earlier, usually at 8:30pm or 9pm.

Mass at Dawn.

Mass During the Day.

When you click on ‘Readings’ below from the New American Bible you will find links to the readings for each of the four Masses. The readings from the Jerusalem Bible for the four Masses are all on one page.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 1:1-18 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being  in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.  (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

John 1:1-4

This is the Sign Language I am familiar with in the Philippines.

The Census at Bethlehem (detail)

Pieter Bruegel the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

This was the moment when even energetic Romans

Could find nothing better to do

Than counting heads in remote provinces.



By U.A. Fanthorpe

This was the moment when Before

Turned into After, and the future’s

Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.


This was the moment when nothing

Happened. Only dull peace

Sprawled boringly over the earth.


This was the moment when even energetic Romans

Could find nothing better to do

Than counting heads in remote provinces.


And this was the moment

When a few farm workers and three

Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight

Into the kingdom of heaven.


Adoration of the ShepherdsMurillo [Web Gallery of Art]

And this was the moment

When a few farm workers and three

Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight

Into the kingdom of heaven.

Gradual 1 for San Michele a Murano

Don Silvestro Dei Gherarducci [WebGallery of Art]

But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,

And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God

by Thomas Kettle


In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown

To beauty proud as was your Mother’s prime.

In that desired, delayed, incredible time,

You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,

And the dear heart that was your baby throne,

To die with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme

And reason: some will call the thing sublime,

And some decry it in a knowing tone.

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,

And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,

Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,

But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,

And for the secret Scripture of the poor.


Tom Kettle wrote To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God just four days before he was killed during an assault on the village of Ginchy, France, on 9 September 1916.

The Secret Scripture of the Poor was the title given to a collection of writings by Columban Fr John Henaghan published posthumously in 1951. He was killed by the Japanese during the Battle of Manila in February 1945.

Mary’s Boy Child

Written by Jester Hairston in 1956. The lyrics are in a Caribbean dialect of English.





‘St Joseph’ in Manila. Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Dream of St Joseph, Georges de la Tour [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 Matthew 3:1-12 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition) 

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’  All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel’,

which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.

Responsorial Psalm [NAB Lectionary]

In December 2002 I met a man in Manila, Mang Pepe, and his daughter Ligaya whose story reminded me so much of that of Joseph and Jesus in today’s gospel. The story of Mang Pepe and Ligaya is told here by a Columban lay missionary from Korea, Columba Chang, who worked for many years in the Manila area and whose ministry at the time she wrote this story was to families affected by HIV/AIDS. The names used aren’t their real names. ‘Pepe’ is a nickname for a man named Jose or Joseph. ‘Mang’ is a Tagalog term of respect for a man older than oneself. ‘Aling’ is the equivalent term for a woman. The name ‘Ligaya’ means ‘Joy’. The story was first published, as I recall, in a newsletter of Caritas Manila and I used it in the November-December 2003 issue of MISYON, the Columban magazine in the Philippines that I edit. I republished it in the November-December 2015 issue of the magazine, now called I think it is a story worth telling over and over again. Columba is now based in Myanmar as a member of a small team of Columban Lay Missionaries there. I have updated the introduction.

I Met St Joseph in Manila

by Columba Chang

Columba Chang, 2012

According to official Philippine government figures there were more than ten million Filipinos, about ten percent of the population, overseas as of December 2012, more than half of them temporary or irregular in the countries where they are staying. These temporary and irregular residents are mostly Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). They greatly help our country’s economy by the money they send home.  However sometimes we seem to take them for granted, thinking that they have an easy life abroad.  Read Aling Maria’s story  and find out the dangers our OFWs face and the abuses they experience.  We thank ‘Mang Pepe’ for his help in writing this article in which we’ve changed the names.

I met Mang Pepe and his daughter Ligaya through my work with Caritas Manila.  I visit the family regularly.  They live in a poor part of the city and Mang Pepe makes a living by doing odd jobs.  My work takes me to families affected by HIV/AIDS.  I knew Mang Pepe’s story before he shared it with the congregation at the Saturday evening Mass in Baclaran Church on 7 December 2002 at the end of a celebration organized by Caritas Manila for World AIDS Day. (Baclaran Church is the huge Redemptorist church in Parañaque City, Metro Manila, filled to capacity all day every Wednesday when the Perpetual Novena to the Mother of Perpetual Help is celebrated from morning till evening.)

Baclaran Church [Wikipedia]

Greener Pastures

Mang Pepe and his wife Aling Maria were having difficulties putting their five children through school.  This sometimes led to arguments.  Eventually Aling Maria decided to work in the Middle East.  She felt happy when accepted as a nursing aide with a two-year contract in the UAE.  She prepared her documents.  She and Pepe sold their house and lot for her fare and placement fee.  She flew out on 5 February 1989, full of hope for her family’s future financial stability.

Aling Maria soon discovered that her contract as a nursing aid was terminated just a few months after she arrived, without any hope of renewal.  But she didn’t want to go back to the Philippines with an empty pocket.  She decided to take the ‘TNT’ (‘Tago ng tago’, a Tagalog expression meaning to be an illegal immigrant worker) route.  She managed to find a series of jobs as a saleslady, cashier and office worker.

Columba (inset) when working in Metro Manila

Hope turns into a nightmare

As an illegal worker, Aling Maria was often subjected to different abuses like underpayment, long hours of working without a day off and so on. But the worst thing was when one of her employers took advantage of her and made her pregnant.  When she came home to the Philippines in October 1993 Mang Pepe and the family were very shocked to learn that Aling Maria carried a child in her womb.  She hadn’t mentioned anything about this before.  However, despite this they still welcomed her and the child with joy . . . but deep in their hearts there was a shadow of sadness, fear and uncertainty.

After a few days the tabloids reported that three Filipino overseas workers had been sent home because of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS – and that one of them was Aling Maria.  These stories, and the rumors they spawned, continued for a month.  Some relatives, neighbors and friends rejected Aling Maria.  The children of Mang Pepe and Aling Maria were torn apart.  Some wanted to quit school and leave the area.  The family suffered greatly because of the stigma.

Columba with a friend in Manila

Confirmed HIV

Aling Maria and Mang Pepe went to the Department of Health (DOH) for a series of blood tests.  The tests confirmed what Aling Maria knew already, that she and her ‘little mercy child,’ as Mang Pepe called his wife’s daughter had HIV.  The doctor gave them counseling and advice and information about HIV/AIDS.

Ligaya is born

Aling Maria decided not to say in the hospital and continued to work as a pension plan insurance agent.  In time she gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Ligaya.  Gradually, however, Mang Pepe saw his dear wife turning into a picture of misery as she suffered from constant headaches and flu.  Aling Maria was hoping for a miracle that would ease her agony.  It was not to be.  The HIV developed into full-blown AIDS.  Her appetite disappeared until she couldn’t eat anymore.  MangPepe and the children saw Aling Maria slowly dying.  He prepared the family to accept her death as the will of God.  She died on 15 December 1997, aged 46.

Like everyone else in Baclaran Church, I was deeply touched by MangPepe’s story, even though he had told it to me many times.  I was touched by the great love of this simple man who accepted as his own a daughter who was the fruit of the brutal violation of his wife.  MangPepe is ‘Tatay’ to Ligaya.  Her schoolmates sometimes tease her because her features clearly show her Middle Eastern origins.  But her Tatay stands by her, as do her brothers and sisters.

Baclaran Church [Wikipedia]

Proud to be her Tatay

Tatay Pepe is proud of Ligaya’s singing ability and smiled as she sang at the celebration in Baclaran.  Ligaya is very proud of her Tatay and knows the depth of his love as a father.  She has very uncertain health and is often in the hospital.  The shadow of AIDS hangs over her.

St Joseph named Jesus, the Son of Mary, and thereby became his legal father.  He loved Mary, his wife, and raised Jesus as his own son.  MangPepe has gone through the agony of knowing that his wife was violated overseas, after dishonest employers had taken advantage of her in other ways.  When she brought home a child who was not his, he made her his own.  This latter-day St Joseph in Manila has given much joy to his daughter Ligaya as she has given much joy to him and others, like myself, who have come to know and love her.

I was in Baclaran Church that day at the invitation of Columba and, during an activity before Mass, came to know ‘Ligaya’ as a friend. Shortly before she died towards the end of 2004 I had the privilege of talking to her on Columba’s cellphone. She was a delightful child. The light of heaven upon her.

St Joseph and the Christ Child, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

The late American Scripture scholar Fr Raymond E. Brown SS points out that St Joseph, by taking Mary as his wife and by naming her Son, as the angel in today’s gospel told him to do, in Jewish law, became the legal father of Jesus, something more than being his foster-father, as he is often described. And because St Joseph was of the line of David, so was Jesus, as the Messiah was foretold to be.

The Church honours St Joseph above all as the Husband (or Spouse) of Mary. Pope Francis has underlined this by adding the words ‘and blessed Joseph her spouse’ to Eucharistic Prayers I, II and III, as they were added to the Roman Canon (now also known as ‘Eucharistic Prayer I’) by Blessed Pope John XXIII.

Mang Pepe totally welcomed Aling Maria back from the Middle East as his wife whom he loved, despite his initial shock at what had happened to her. And he totally welcomed her daughter Ligaya as his own, as St Joseph welcomed the Son of Mary as his own.

Today’s Gospel reminds us of the fact that the basic vocation, ie, call from God, of every married couple is to be spouses, not to be parents. Being parents is a consequence of their being spouses. I’m well aware that there are single parents, many of whom have never been married, who are heroically raising their children, often in very difficult circumstances. But it is God’s will that children be born within marriage.

St Joseph was a loving husband to Mary and a loving father to her Son Jesus, God who became Man. Mang Pepe continued to be a loving husband to Aling Maria until she died and was a proud and loving father to her daughter Ligaya, as I could see so clearly.

Today’s Gospel shows us something of the wonder of being called to be a husband and father and of the immense responsibility that goes with that. St Joseph as husband and father enabled Mary and Jesus to carry out the mission that God the Father had given them.

What applies to husbands/fathers applies equally to wives/mothers. 

And the Gospel reminds us very clearly that in God’s plan the foundation of the family is marriage, that is, of husband and wife, of man and woman. It can never be anything else.

Motet for five voices (SATTB) by William Byrd (c. 1540-1623)

Antiphona ad communionem

Communion Antiphon   Isaiah 7:14

Ecce Virgo concipiet, et pariet filium;

Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son;

et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel.

and his name will be called Emmanuel.


Murder of barangay captain in Bonifacio, Misamis Occidental, Philippines

Fr Sean Martin

This story was published in the 20 November 2016 issue of Sunday Examiner, the English-language Catholic weekly of the Diocese of Hong Kong, edited by Australian Columban Fr James Mulroney. Fr Sean Martin, quoted in the story, is a Columban from County Meath, Ireland, who has been in the Philippines for more than 40 years. I have made one or two minor corrections about the location of the incident.

‘He was one of our best barangay captains and a great servant of the people,’ Father Sean Martin said from his parish in Liloan, Bonifacio, Misamis Occidental, of Jovani Romo, who was shot 14 times by unknown assailants and died on the road just 30 metres from his home in Barangay Kanokano on July 29. [Note: The barangay is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines.]

Romo’s is one of the faceless deaths in a Philippines swamped in a frenzied daily attack on the poor being carried out by the state under the guise of a war on drugs. He is one of the victims of the regular round of murders of human rights advocates, journalists and indigenous leaders protecting their land that has been going on for decades, whose murders now struggle to even get reported let alone investigated in the midst of the drug-related frenzy of bloodletting.

The silence surrounding their deaths is chilling, as what is being covered up by the curtain of silence that has been pulled across the steady flow of political murders, together with the rule of fear instigated by the current president, Rodrigo Duterte, becomes more and more difficult to uncover.

‘Romo was not involved in drugs,’ Father Martin attests, ‘but he was deeply involved in protecting the forests of Mount Malindang, a unique and beautiful park, which has already been depleted by some 30 per cent.’

Romo had crossed swords with vested interests in the area through his work with the Department of Energy and Natural Resources aimed at stopping the logging and protecting the wildlife in the area which houses some of the richest varieties of fauna and flora in Asia.

‘That is one possibility,’ Father Martin told the Sunday Examiner. ‘But the reason could have other political overtones, as he was in line to become the chairperson of the Association of Barangay Councils in Bonifacio, as the incumbent has completed three terms and must step down.’

Father Martin said that he cannot unearth any information about the reason for Romo’s death, as the atmosphere of fear is still so prevalent in the area.

‘Celebrating the funeral Mass was a profoundly moving event,’ the Columban missionary said. ‘He was only 34-years-old and had made great improvements in the barangay.’

However, the longtime missionary believes that the motive for the crime, as well as the identity of those who ordered and carried out the  murder will never be known.

‘The court system is so weak and so many officials are compromised that the problem will never be solved by relying on them, so we can only try and minimise the killings as best we can,’ he lamented.

Mount Malindang []

Father Martin added in an email to me: ‘[Jovani] did a lot of work and had good projects for the people.  He was encouraging the people to plant flowers.  It would have been successful because the barangay is so high up on Malindang and the hills are so steep.

‘It took me a good while to adjust to the fact that Jovani had been killed so violently.’  

‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: . . . the deaf hear . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A

St John the Baptist in Prison 

Juan Fernández de Navarrete [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 Matthew 11:2-11 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples  and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Responsorial Psalm [Philippines, USA Lectionary]

Father Joseph Coyle was a Columban priest from Derry, Northern Ireland. He died in the Philippines on 18 December 1991, aged 54, and is buried in a Catholic cemetery here in Bacolod City where I live. Father Joe and I weren’t related – my Coyle ancestors moved centuries ago from the north-west of Ireland, where the surname originated, to Rush, a fishing village north of Dublin city – but we felt a sense of kinship. He was ordained on 21 December 1961 during my first year in the Columban seminary in Ireland.
Father Joe spent most of his life as a priest in the island of Negros. He gradually became aware of persons with disabilities and of how their needs weren’t being met. He was able to obtain artificial limbs for some. But he noticed that there was one group in every community that was almost totally isolated, because they didn’t share a common language with those around them, not even with their own families. This group was people who are profoundly deaf.
Fr Joseph Coyle 
(28 February 1937 – 18 December 1991)
More and more Father Joe became involved with deaf people, celebrating Mass in Sign Language in a number of places. In the late 1980s he established Welcome Home in Bacolod City as a residence for out-of-town deaf students so that they could attend special schools here in the city. Special Education has spread now to many towns and that particular need is no longer urgent. But Welcome Home Foundation, Inc., continues with a small number of residents, a school for young children, deaf and hearing, catechetical programmes in public schools with both deaf and hearing catechists, and other activities.
Father Joe’s death was devastating initially to the young deaf people with whom he had worked. But his vision was continued and developed by others, most noticeably by Mrs Salvacion V. Tinsay who died in 2008. Her daughter Mrs Agnes T. Jalandoni, President and CEO, along with her board and staff have enabled the work begun by Father Joe to grow and adapt to current needs.
Fr Mike Depcik OSFS is an Oblate of St Francis de Sales, one of very few profoundly deaf priests in the world. He has his own vlog, Fr. MD’s Kitchen Table, where, among other things, he posts videos of homilies for Sunday Masses in American Sign Language, such as that above for this Sunday’s Mass.
John the Baptist sends his followers to ask Jesus,  Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Jesus replies, Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 
For Catholics who are profoundly deaf priests such as Fr Mike Depcik, deaf from birth, and Fr Joe Coyle, who became aware of the isolation of the profoundly deaf, especially within their own families, are included in the response of Jesus to his cousin St John the Baptist: the deaf hear. The deaf aren’t isolated to the same degree as before, though I have known of priests and people who consider a signing interpreter at Mass as a ‘distraction’. 
And the ministry of priests such as Fr Depcik and Fr Coyle isn’t limited to the deaf. Indeed, part of their ministry, and of those who work with them, whether deaf or hearing, is to bring about the change of heart that is central to Advent, not only a turning away from sin but a recognition of the needs of others that we weren’t aware of before. It was through having friends deaf in varying degrees from birth and through knowing Father Joe that I became aware of the isolation of the deaf within the Church and in society at large. The same can be said to some extent of persons with other disabilities. But profound deafness is the only physical disability that of its nature can totally isolate a person from the community.
There will always be some, for whatever reason, on the margins. Pope Francis has on a number of occasions very strikingly shown his respect and love – the respect and love of Jesus himself – for such persons. The gradual inclusion of those who are profoundly deaf in all activities of the Church and of wider society, shown, for example, in the use of signing interpreters at public functions and on television, is one of the signs that Jesus spoke about to assure St John the Baptist that he truly was the one who is to come.
Renato G. Cruz and his wife Anastacia, a profoundly deaf couple, and their five children, all hearing, teach Pope Francis how to say ‘Thank you’ in Sign Language. [16 January 2015]
by Columban Fr Thomas Rouse

It was to the credit of the Columbans that I was accepted as a candidate for priesthood. That was back in 1969 when I was completing Form Seven in high school at St John’s College, Hastings, New Zealand.

I was accepted despite the fact that I was not only deaf but I also suffered a serious speech impediment which was a consequence of my hearing disability. My deafness was more peculiar rather than pronounced. I cannot hear high-pitched sounds. As a result, I cannot hear many of the consonants in my own ‘native’ English language.

Read the rest of Fr Tom Rouse’s article and the responses to it of five Deaf Filipinos, Norman, Willy, Eli, Noel and Marinela, here.

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).