‘The greatest among you will be your servant.’ Sunday Reflections, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Christ as Saviour, El Greco [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 23:1-12 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised CatholicEdition) 

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Apostle St Matthew, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

The Philippine Daily Inquirer carried a a story of extraordinary courage on 28 October: How Scout Ranger commander won hostages’ release.
MARAWI CITY—He took off his helmet and bullet-proof vest, laid down his firearm and turned on the megaphone to speak to the Islamic State-inspired gunmen here on Oct. 19.

“I just wanted to get the children, the women and the injured (hostages),” Capt. Jeffrey Buada said through the megaphone.

At the risk of being shot, Buada, commander of the Army’s 15th Scout Ranger Company, slowly walked through the rubble and tried to get near the building, where hungry and thirsty hostages were anxiously waiting to be rescued.
The Battle of Marawi started on 23 May and ended on 23 October. The fighting was basically between militants connected with ISIS and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. At the beginning the militants destroyed part of St Mary’s Cathedral in this city where the vast majority are Muslims. Fr Teresito ‘Chito’ Suganob, the parish priest, and a number of parishioners were taken hostage the day the battle began. Father Chito, whom I know, was released on 17 September.
As the battle intensified most of the residents of the city evacuated. There were stories of how Muslim students at Marawi State University protected their Christian friends and enabled them to escape and similar stories of Muslim members of the Philippine National Police protecting Christina construction workers.
On 19 October, while covering one of his men who was trying to rescue a wounded hostage, Captain Buada saw an opportunity to rescue some more and decided to negotiate with the militants. He removed all his battle gear and armour, against the advice of his men. The militants did not attack him and asked for food and water. The Captain ordered his men to bring them what they needed. The young officer, a father of two young daughters, drank some of the water to assure the enemy that it was safe.
As five hostages came out some of the soldiers removed their battle gear and armour, imitating their officer. They managed to rescue at least five hostages. But gunfire broke out again before they could rescue more. However, the soldiers and the rescued hostages were unharmed.

Captain Jeffrey Buada [PDI]

In today’s Gospel Jesus recognises the authority of scribes and Pharisees as teachers of the Law of Moses. But he also says, do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. He tells us what to do: The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Captain Buada was ‘the greatest’ – the highest ranking – among the soldiers in his unit. But he put his own life on the line first and some of the others did the same. But my thought was if I die, at least we got the hostages, the brave soldier said later.

This man was a servant in the truest sense, ready to die for his men and for the rescue of the hostages.

I know nothing about the inner life of Captain Jeffrey Buada but I see St Paul’s words in the second reading being lived out by him: We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

God’s word was surely at work in him. May we constantly give thanks for this and for the many other examples we can see around us, often in the midst of horror and evil,  of God’s word at work in believers.

Antiphona ad Introitum      Entrance Antiphon

Ne derelinquas me, Domine Deus meus; ne discesseris a me.

Forsake me not, O Lord, my God; be not far from me!

Intende in adjutorium meum, Domine Deus salutis meæ.

Make haste and come to my help, O Lord, my strong salvation!

Sunday Reflections, Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A. Columban ordination to diaconate.

The Good Shepherd, Martin van Cleve the Elder [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 John 10:1-10  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said:

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

You’ll find the Reflections here.


Columban Ordination to Diaconate

Bishop Honesto F. Ongtioco of Cubao ordained Erl Dylan J. Tabaco to the diaconate on 30 April in the Columban House of Studies, Cubao, Quezon City. The new deacon is from Holy Rosary Parish, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro City. He spent two years, 2014 to 2016, on First Mission Assignment in Peru as part of his preparation for the Columban missionary priesthood. You can read about his work there with children who are profoundly deaf and with young persons with intellectual disabilities here

Erl Dylan J. Tabaco with youngsters in Peru
Bring Flowers of the Fairest, also known as Queen of the May, a very popular Marian hymn in Ireland, especially during the month of May, was written by Mary E. Walsh and is sung here by the late Irish tenor, Frank Patterson.

Prayer Intentions of Pope Francis for February 2017

Pope Francis, Palo, Leyte, Philippines
17 January 2015 [Wikipedia]
Universal Intention
Comfort for the Afflicted: That all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized, may find welcome and comfort in our communities.
This Reflection is from the website of The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) USA.
Urgent Intention
Sacredness of Life: We pray for the children who are in danger of the interruption of pregnancy, as well as for persons who are at the end of life — every life is sacred! — so that no one is left alone and that love may defend the meaning of life. 
Thanks to The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) USA.

Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Pinacoteca Malaspina, Pavia [Web Gallery of Art]
The glory of the Virgin was all within
For a long time I have wondered and been at a loss to understand why the evangelists should have spoken at such length about John the Baptist and the apostles, and yet told us so little about the Virgin Mary, who in life and distinction excels them all.
Being at a loss, as I say, to understand this, all I can think is that it pleased the Holy Spirit that it should be so. It was by the providence of the Holy Spisit that the evangelists kept silent, because the glory of the Virgin, as we read in the psalms, was all within, and could more truly be thought of than described. 
The most important fact of her life, that Jesus was born of her, is enough to tell her whole story. What more do you want to know? What further inquire would you make concerning the Virgin? It is enough for you that she is the Mother of God. What beauty, I as you, what virtue, what perfection, what grace, what glory does not befit the Mother of God? (St Thomas of Villanova OSA) 
From Tradition Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle OSA, Augustinian Press 1994


Women in Power and Out of It. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 28 July 2016

Women in Power and Out of It

by Fr Shay Cullen

Sheik Hasina Wased, Prime Minister of Bangladesh [Wikipedia]

The rise of women into to high public office has given a new dimension to the global political scene. In the United States for the first time in history, a woman, Hillary Clinton, has been nominated by one of the two major parties to run for the Office of President.

The decisions and direction women in powerful positions bring to their national governments can determine the fate of millions of people. Theresa May in the United Kingdom has recently become prime minister.
Angela Merkel, the Chancellor (prime minister) of Germany, is the most powerful woman in the European Union. The women leaders in Bangladesh, Brazil and other countries have the historic opportunity to combat the exploitation of the most vulnerable women and children.

But they are not without opposition, mostly male, who degrade and denounce them like Donald Trump who holds no punches in insulting Hillary Clinton on her way to the likely position of the most powerful woman in the world.

Despite the rise to position of influence for some, millions of women still struggle in other countries for their identity, freedom and dignity. They are routinely degraded and subjected to exploitation and domestic violence by their spouses or partners. Many endure the physical and verbal abuse for the sake of the children and because they are dependent. Poverty and illiteracy are for women and children the bars of a prison cage.

Full Reflections here.

A Home for Refugees. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 8 April 2016

A Home for Refugees

by Fr Shay Cullen

Wounded civilians, Aleppo, Syria, 2012 [Wikipedia]

BERLIN, GERMANY. I met Alamid here in Germany and he told me he was a refugee from Syria. Their house was partly destroyed by the barrel bombs of Assad, the tyrannical Syrian dictator who is being supported by Russian forces and warplanes. Alamid is one of the hundreds of non-combatant families bombed out and who lost all their possessions. They are surviving the bombs by hiding in building and basements . He was with his whole family including cousins and uncles.

His male cousin Jambal, 25 years old, volunteered to go out into the danger zone and get food and water but he was caught by the Isis or Dash killers. Alamid later learned that he was taken to a camp and forced to wear a suicide vest and blow himself up at an army checkpoint. Otherwise his entire family would be killed. This is a regular tactic used by the detested Isis.

The Isis fighters were grabbing any one they could catch in the ruins of the town where Alamid lives. They took away any women and girls they caught to another town and sold them into sex slavery to other fighters of the Isis. The young girls are commodities sold in exchange for money, guns or ammunition.

When Jamal did not return, Alamid and his family feared the worst and they hid for weeks surviving on the meager supplies that they had stored up. After the counterattack by rebel forces, the Isis withdrew and Alamid and his family survived.

Alamid told his story to the generous and kind Germany family that had given him a welcome in their house and he was given a room and was learning to speak and write German. He was treated like a member of their family. There are many thousands of German families doing just that. Communities are taking in refugees from this horrific war and without media attention or fanfare they share and protect them. This is largely unknown to the world.

This is going on all over Germany. It puts to shame those few who drive out the refugees. A German lady working with Caritas Germany told me, “The German people will prevail over the neo-Nazis.” An anti-refugee and anti-migrant party won a considerable number of seats in a recent regional election.

Alamid explained the terrible fears and suffering the people in Syria endure. Some other families feared they would be captured by Isis so they as a family had made a suicide pack. They had surrounded themselves with explosives ready to blow themselves up and die together rather than suffer rape and murder. The Isis fighters rape mothers and girls in front of their husbands, fathers or brothers and then they would be shot. For some families, mass suicide is the only solution.

A German woman, 90 years old, said during a parish meeting, “We were all refugees after the war, with nothing to eat and nowhere to go. Our houses were all destroyed. We know what it feels like to be like them.”

Full post here.

German internal refugees, February 1945 [Wikipedia]

Archdiocese of Seoul sending two priests as missionaries with the Columbans

[Photo: Zenit]

Zenit reports on 10 March 2016: 

A Holy Mass was celebrated in Myeongdong Cathedral last week to give special blessings to five Seoul archdiocesan priests who will soon begin their missionary work outside Korea.

This year, five priests from the Archdiocese of Seoul will start missionary work in a foreign country. Fr. Nam Goong-eun will go to the Diocese of Saitama, Japan; Fr Shin Gwang-ho to the Diocese of Sydney, Australia; Fr Kim Sung-min to the Diocese of Xi’an, China; Fr Lee Hyun-gyu and Fr Jung Sung-hoon will join the Missionary Society of St. Columban as associate missionaries.

Since 2006, 19 priests from Seoul are working as foreign missionaries in 10 countries around the world, including Taiwan, China, Japan, Tanzania, Peru, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Spain, and France.

Full Zenit report here.

Fifth Anniversary of the assassination of Catholic politician Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan

Clement Shahbaz Bhatti

شہباز بھٹی

(9 September 1968 – 2 March 2011)

Shahbaz Bhatti, the first Federal Minister for Minorities in Pakistan, a position he held since 2 November 2008, was shot dead on 2 March 2011 shortly after he left his mother’s home in Islamabad. He came from a Catholic family deeply committed to justice. Of his work he said‘I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ’.

On TV in Dubai a month before he died.

Here are his own words from the video above:

Minister Bhatti, you forgot one question in the interview. Your life is threatened by whom and what sort of threats are you receiving?

The forces of violence, militant banned organizations, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, they want to impose their radical philosophy on Pakistan. And whoever stands against their radical philosophy that threatens them, when I’m leading this campaign against the Sharia Law, for the abolishment (abolition) of (the) Blasphemy Law, and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized, persecuted Christian and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me.

But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of (the) Cross and I’m following of the Cross and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles. I will prefer to die for my principle and for the justice of my community rather (than) to compromise on these threats.

Funeral of Shahbaz Bhatti

Sandro Magister, one of the leading journalists covering the Vatican, wrote about the death of Shahbaz Bhatti on 14 April 2011 in A Lesson of Holiness from Remote Pakistan. Magister writes: 

The Bible that Shahbaz always had with him is now in Rome in the memorial for the martyrs of the past century, in the basilica of Saint Bartholomew on the Isola Tiberina.


One of the most informative and concerned articles on what his murder has meant in Pakistan and in the whole world is without a doubt the one published in La Civiltà Cattolica dated 2 April 2011.

An article that is all the more significant given that this magazine of the Rome Jesuits is printed after inspection and authorization by the Vatican secretariat of state. So it reflects the thinking of the Holy See in this regard.

In Pakistan, out of a population of 185 million inhabitants, Christians are 2 percent, one million of them Catholic. But among the Muslims as well there are minorities in danger: Shiites, Sufis, Ismaili, Ahmadis.

With Pope Benedict, September 2010

The article in La Civiltà Cattolica was written by Fr Luciano Larivera SJ and includes most of The spiritual testament of Shahbaz BhattiI have highlighted parts of this.

‘My name is Shahbaz Bhatti. I was born into a Catholic family. My father, a retired teacher, and my mother, a housewife, raised me according to Christian values and the teachings of the Bible, which influenced my childhood. Since I was a child, I was accustomed to going to church and finding profound inspiration in the teachings, the sacrifice, and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was his love that led me to offer my service to the Church.

‘The frightening conditions into which the Christians of Pakistan had fallen disturbed me. I remember one Good Friday when I was just thirteen years old: I heard a homily on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to his love by giving love to my brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially of the poor, the needy, and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country.

‘I have been asked to put an end to my battle, but I have always refused, even at the risk of my own life. My response has always been the same. I do not want popularity, I do not want positions of power. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.

This desire is so strong in me that I consider myself privileged whenever – in my combative effort to help the needy, the poor, the persecuted Christians of Pakistan – Jesus should wish to accept the sacrifice of my life. I want to live for Christ and it is for Him that I want to die. I do not feel any fear in this country. Many times the extremists have wanted to kill me, imprison me; they have threatened me, persecuted me, and terrorized my family.

I say that, as long as I am alive, until the last breath, I will continue to serve Jesus and this poor, suffering humanity, the Christians, the needy, the poor. I believe that the Christians of the world who have reached out to the Muslims hit by the tragedy of the earthquake of 2005 have built bridges of solidarity, of love, of comprehension, and of tolerance between the two religions. If these efforts continue, I am convinced that we will succeed in winning the hearts and minds of the extremists. This will produce a change for the better: the people will not hate, will not kill in the name of religion, but will love each other, will bring harmony, will cultivate peace and comprehension in this region.

I believe that the needy, the poor, the orphans, whatever their religion, must be considered above all as human beings. I think that these persons are part of my body in Christ, that they are the persecuted and needy part of the body of Christ. If we bring this mission to its conclusion, then we will have won a place at the feet of Jesus, and I will be able to look at him without feeling shame.’

Columban Fr Tomás King and Gerard Bhatti. a brother of Shahbaz

This song was written and performed by Ooberfuse, a British band, for the first anniversary of the death of Shahbaz Bhatti. The lead singer, Cherrie Anderson, is Filipino-British.

His Blood Cries Out

Verse 1.
These are the hands
They praise the life of you
These are the veins
Your life and love flow through
These are the words we try to write for you
We sing this song

His Blood Cries Out
His Blood Cries Out

Verse 2. 
Peace is the star
That guides our hearts to you
Hear all the angels
How they sing for you
These are the words we try to write for you
Help us to erase
This war, this rage
We need to turn the page and
Find true peace within love’s heart
In the silence hear the shout
His blood cries out


His blood cries out
His blood cries out

Verse 3.
These are the prayers
Helpless and the weak
His was the voice
For those that couldn’t speak
For this we cry
Freedom, Love and Peace
What have you done
This war, this rage,
We need to turn the page and
Find true peace within love’s heart
In the silence hear the shout
His blood cries out

His blood cries out
His blood cries out………

Porferio D. Matulac RIP, the father of a Columban priest

Porferio D. Matulac was the father of Fr Cirineo ‘Dodong’ Matulac, a Columban priest ordained a few days after Christmas 2002. Father Dodong started off under my care as a 16-year-old first-year college seminarian in Cebu City, studying at the University of San Carlos. Later in his formation Dodong spent two years on mission in Chile as a seminarian on what we call ‘First Mission Assignment’. After his ordination he spent some years in China and is now involved in the formation of Columban seminarians in Quezon City but is currently doing a year’s study in Chicago.
I remember being very touched when he told me how his family welcomed each New Year. Shortly after his ordination I asked him to write an article about that for MISYON, now MISYONonline.com. It was published in the January-February 2004 issue. The Matulac Family live in a remote part of southwestern Mindanao, in a small village that is part of the municipality of Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay.Father Dodong was able to spend nearly a month with his family over Christmas and the New Year before returning to Chicago.

The funeral of Porferio takes place in Payao on 30 January at 10am.

How My Family Welcomes The New Year

by Fr Cirineo Matulac
Father Dodong with his parents ‘Poping’ and ‘Vering’ on his ordination day
There’s growing excitement in our family as we prepare for the New Year’s celebration. My brother has just left for the población to buy ice cream, the only time we have it, a real New Year’s treat. I feel that this New Year’s celebration will be different. My mother has insisted on baking rice cakes which she hadn’t done for years. My two sisters are preparing their favorite dish and my other brother is preparing his usual pork and chicken barbecue. My family has certainly become a lot bigger. I now have seventeen nephews and nieces, the oldest in his early twenties, and all of them are extremely excited. I’ve heard the younger ones say, ‘Uncle will celebrate Mass for the New Year in Lola’s house.’ [‘Lola’ is ‘Grandma’].
Our time of the year
Celebrating the New Year has always been a happy occasion for my family. We welcome it in a festive manner even in dire times. My father makes sure that everyone is present and leads us in our family para-liturgical celebration, like a family Gagmayng Simbahanong Katilingban, (GSK), or basic ecclesial community. We start at 11pm and finish a few minutes before midnight when we wish each other ‘Happy New Year.’
My father selects a gospel reading and then expounds on it with the passionate homily he has prepared weeks before. His sermon usually revolves around how our family has gone through hardships and difficulties but has always been able to move forward. He attributes this not to any of his strengths and gifts but to prayer that God always answers. He reminds us that every evening my mother leads us in the rosary. I remember that as a child I always fell asleep before we finished. My father speaks of the generosity of God who continues to bless us all the days of our lives. When he comes to this point, my mother seconds him with her sobs and tears. She isn’t particularly sad. Her tears express a joy for which there are no words.
Father Dodong on a recent ‘field-trip’ in the USA
What binds my family
After our liturgy, we have the family dinner. This is the time when we make wishes for the coming year. When I was a young boy I asked God to make me a little taller. God answered my other prayers but not this one. This New Year, however, I can’t wish for anything more except for our family to be always together.
I know that this New Year will be different. I am the youngest child and I was ordained to the priesthood only a a few days ago. My mother told her grandchildren that this time we would have Mass instead of my father leading the family liturgy. Secretly, to his great delight, I asked my father to prepare the homily. Deep in my heart I know that this is a tradition that sustains us as a Christian family and that my vocation sprang mainly from my parents’ faith articulated by my father in his New Year’s sermon and made a lot more profound by my mother’s sobs and tears. I’m sure that it is going to be a different celebration this year, as my mother has told her grandchildren. But then it’s always different because each time we welcome the New Year we’re growing deeper in our faith in God. This yearly ritual has always been a wellspring of my family’s faith and my vocation to the priesthood.
Every New Year is indeed different and yet a continuation of what we’ve always been doing.