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

Blind Pensioner with a Stick, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

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

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

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. [And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”] As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Silo′am” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.” He said, “I am the man.” [They said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Silo′am and wash’; so I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”]

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” There was a division among them. So they again said to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

[The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age, ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”] They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshiped him. [Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.]

From The Gospel of John

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

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

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

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

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

Servant of God Jérôme Lejeune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which statement/question reflects my stance before God?

On His Blindness by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide

Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide,

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’er land and ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

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

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Columban parish in Peru cut off by devastating floods

March 24, 2017 Media Release –

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Fr Kevin O’Neill

Superior General

Missionary Society of St Columban 

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

Christ and the Samaritan Woman, Duccio di Buoninsegna 

[Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

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

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

Jesus came to a city of Samar′ia, called Sy′char, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

There came a woman of Samar′ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar′ia?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

[Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”  The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”  The woman said to him,] “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

[Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him.

Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”]

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him [because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”] So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

The video is taken from The Gospel of John directed by Philip Saville.

I remember reading a story about Pope John Paul I when he was still known as Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice. One of his priests in a rural parish was known more for being absent from his parish than for being present. Cardinal Luciani went to visit the parish – and the priest was away. So the Cardinal covered for him until the priest returned some days later. The wayward parish priest got the shock of his life when his archbishop asked him to hear his confession.

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

Pope John Paul I, 26 August 1978

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Woman of No Distinction

by Chris Kinsley & Drew Francis [2007]

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

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

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

I WANT TO BE KNOWN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Columban Fr Charles Duster RIP

Fr Charles Duster

(15 September 1934 – 7 March 2017)

Father Charlie was born on 15 September  1934 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA, where his parents Charles Henry Duster [‘DOOster’] and Cleo Catherine Handley Duster owned and operated a supermarket. He has an older brother William C. Duster (Audrey) of Littleton, Colorado, a sister Mrs Robert Enns (Katie) of Fort Pierce, Florida, and eleven nieces and nephews and their families. His older sister, Margaret Jeanne Duster, died in 1972.

Cedar Rapids, on the Cedar River [Wikipedia]

Fr. Charlie attended Immaculate Conception Grade and High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, (1952). After high school he attended Regis University, Denver, Colorado (1952-53) and Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1953-1954).

After briefly considering medical school he instead decided to enter the seminary to become a Columban missionary priest in 1955. He studied at St Columban’s Seminary, Milton, Massachusetts. As an exchange student, he studied theology at St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland (1958 – ’61). He did his fourth year of theology at St Columban’s, Milton, where he was ordained a priest of the Missionary Society of St Columban on 21 December 1961. He celebrated his first Solemn High Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Cedar Rapids on 31 December.

Immaculate Conception Church, Cedar Rapids [Parish website]

In 1962 Father Charlie was assigned to Japan where he spent the next six years. The first two of these were spent studying Japanese language in Tokyo, the third one as Acting Regional Bursar, and the last three years as Associate Pastor at Shingu Catholic Church, Wakayama Prefecture, in the Diocese of Osaka.

In Japan

In July 1967 Father Charlie visited the Philippines, accompanied by a Columban confrere. After spending some days with Columban colleagues on the island of Negros, they narrowly missed their flight from Bacolod City to Cebu because the plane departed a few minutes ahead of schedule, due to severe weather conditions. The next morning they learned that the plane, a Fokker F27 Friendship, had crashed into a mountain and all 17 passengers and four crew members perished. Father Charlie wrote about this iA Close Shave in the May-June 2016 issue of MISYONonline.com.

From 1969 – 1972, Father Charlie was the Columban Vocation Director for the Midwest Region of the USA based in Omaha. Afterwards, he continued a similar ministry while residing at the Columban house in Chicago. He then served a year in the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis as chaplain at Hennepin County General Hospital in Minneapolis accompanied by studies in Clinical Pastoral Education.

With the late Archbishop Petero Mataca of Suva

In November 1974, Father Charlie was assigned to Fiji, Archdiocese of Suva. After initial language studies, he was appointed as Associate Pastor in Holy Family Parish, Nabala, Macuata, and a year later as Pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Solevu, Bua, where he served for six years. 

Following home leave in 1980 he did renewal studies at Notre Dame University. On his return to Fiji he became the Regional Vice-Director. He returned to the USA to undergo by-pass surgery in Houston, Texas, in 1982. Upon returning to Fiji later that year, Father Charlie was appointed Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Suva, and served in this position for four years.

Offices of the Archdiocese of Suva [Wikipedia]

In September 1986, he was appointed Rector of Collegio San Colombano in Rome where he was Superior of the sixteen-member community. During his eight years in Rome, he also earned a licentiate and doctorate in Canon Law at the Angelicum University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. Before being reassigned to the Fijian Region, he worked for six months in the Marriage Tribunal in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, in order to gain experience in matrimonial law. 

Father Charlie returned to Fiji in November 1994 and served for six years as the Coordinator of the Columban Lay Mission Program, while teaching Canon Law at the Pacific Regional Seminary. In December 1998 he returned to the USA to undergo by-pass surgery for the second time, but returned to Fiji seven months later to continue his ministry to Columban Lay Missionaries. In December, 2003 he was appointed Associate Pastor at Holy Family Parish, Labasa, where he served until returning to the USA in September 2005. This was prompted by the recommendation of his doctors that he should reside in a place where he could receive monitored medical attention, which was unavailable in Fiji. 

With old friends in Fiji

He was assigned to the Columban Magnolia house in Chicago where he worked on Mission Promotion and Vocations (2005 – 2011) and served as house Superior (2008 -2011). In 2011 he began work at the Omaha office in Planned Giving and Development, and later combined this ministry with Superior of the Omaha community (2012 – 2016).

Father Charlie’s warm and outgoing personality, many talents, and deep commitment to his vocation as a Columban missionary priest, drew many people to God in the various places where he ministered. Wherever he was sent, his ability to recognize and celebrate all that was good in the world around him made him a truly joyful messenger of the Good News.

There is one thing I ask of the Lord, 
for this I long,
    to live in the house of the Lord,
    all the days of my life,
to savour the sweetness of the Lord,
    to behold his temple (Psalm 27:4).
 
Some Personal Memories
 
With Fijian Columban Lay Missionary Serafina Vuda in Peru
Serafina died unexpectedly on 31 May 2014
 
I met Father Charlie at long intervals over the years. My abiding memory of him is that he was a joyful person, as the photos of him above indicate. I visited Rome for the first time in April 1988. My first full day there happened to be my birthday and he insisted on taking those of us in the house at the time to a restaurant to celebrate the occasion.
In 2007, if my memory serves me right, he gave a retreat to Columban priests in the Philippines at St Scholastica’s Center of Spirituality in Tagaytay City, south of Manila and much cooler than the latter because of its elevation. The retreat was truly a fraternal one, exemplifying what the psalmist wrote:
How good and how pleasant it is, 
when brothers live in unity (Psalm 133[132]:1).
 
My first time to meet him was in St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Ireland, during Easter Week 1961 when I went there to be interviewed and to have a medical examination before entering the seminary the following September. I went back to Dublin, where I lived, with a group of the seminarians going to the city for the afternoon. I remember him singing a parody on a popular song from 1911, I Want A Girl (Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Old Dad). I never heard Father Charlie’s version again until today when I found it on YouTube.
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:2-3). 
 
May Fr Charles Duster enter the place prepared for him by Jesus and may he add to the joy of the saints in heaven.
[SC]

 

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‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ Second Sunday of Lent, Year A

Transfiguration, Fra Angelico [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 17:1-9 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Upper Basilica, Lourdes [Wikipedia]

Like Peter, James and John, I caught a glimpse of something of the Purity of God on a hill. Tradition tells us that Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor, Israel. My ‘Mount Tabor’ was a hotel at the top of a hill in Lourdes, France.

During Holy Week 2001 I took part in the international pilgrimage of Faith and Light to Lourdes which takes place every ten years. Faith and Light was born of a desire to help people with an intellectual disability and their families find their place within the Church and society. This was the main purpose of the organized pilgrimage to Lourdes at Easter of 1971. The founders of the movement were Jean Vanier and Marie-Hélène Mathieu. 

Jean Vanier is also the founder of L’Arche. In the video below he speaks about the beginnings of that, not as a project or movement but as a covenant with two individuals with learning disabilities and their own dreams, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux.

Jean Vanier speaks about the early days of L’Arche and finding God in others
 
I was based in Britain at the time and traveled with a group from the north of England. However, before I left the Philippines for Britain in 2000 I had been invited to be chaplain to the small contingent from the Philippines, as I had been on the fringes of Faith and Light in the Philippines between 1992 and 2000. The Filipinos were staying in a hotel at a distance from the shrine and at the top of a hill. There was also a group of Faith and Light pilgrims from Hong Kong, including Fr Giosue Bonzi PIME, an Italian, in the same hotel. (I was with the English pilgrims in a hotel close to the shrine.)
Chinese ceramic plate, circa 1680 [Wikipedia]
 
One of those from Hong Kong was Dorothy, a girl of about eleven with Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21). Her father died suddenly when she was very young. Dorothy’s face had the delicate beauty of Chinese ceramics. But she had an extraordinary inner beauty, a purity that could have come only from God. Though I had no Cantonese and she had no English, we were able to communicate simply by looking at one another. She showed complete trust in me. She had a vulnerability that called forth the deepest respect.
Fr Giosue Bonzi PIME with Dorothy, now an adult, in Hong Kong

In Irish there’s an expression used for a person with a severe mental or learning disability, duine le Dia, ‘a person with God’. Dorothy was such for me, in a very full sense of that phrase: she was a clear expression of the beauty and of the purity of God for me.

The Opening Prayer of today’s Mass reads:
O God, who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son,
be pleased, we pray,
to nourish us inwardly by your word,
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.
Through . . .
When Peter, James and John went up Mount Tabor with Jesus they had no idea that would see the divinity of Jesus there. They had no idea they would hear God the Father say This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him! The Entrance Antiphon [below], taken from Psalm 26 [27], prays, It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me. I have no doubt that I saw the face of the Lord in that young girl with Down Syndrome from Hong Kong whom I met in Lourdes in Holy Week 2001.
Jesus may speak to us at any time, unexpectedly, as he revealed his presence to me in that hotel at the top of a hill in Lourdes. May we make the Opening Prayer our own so that, with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory.
Antiphona ad introitum  Cf. Ps 26[27]:8-9; [1]
Tibi dixit cor meum:
quæsívi vultum tuum,
vultum tuum, Dómine, requíram:
ne avértas fáciem tuam a me.
[Dóminus illuminátio mea,
et salus mea: quem timébo?
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, 
et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Tibi dixit cor meum:
quæsívi vultum tuum,
vultum tuum, Dómine, requíram:
ne avértas fáciem tuam a me.]
Entrance Antiphon
Of you my heart has spoken:
Seek his face.
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek;
hide not your face from me.
[The Lord is my light,
and my salvation. Whom should I fear?
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy spirit.
As it was, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Of you my heart has spoken:
Seek his face.
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek;

hide not your face from me.]

The text in bold is used in the Ordinary Form of the Mass and the longer text in the Extraordinary Form, though it may also be used in the Ordinary Form especially if chanted.

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‘Jesus, mercy; Mary, help.’ Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year A

The Tempation of Christ, Juan de Flandes [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 4:1-11 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Matt Talbot statue, Dublin [Wikipedia]
 
I remember vividly a homily given on the First Sunday in Lent in St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, the Columban seminary in Ireland where I studied from 1961 to 1968, by the late Fr Edward McCormack, who taught us Latin. We all recognised Father Ted, as we called him, as a saintly man. It was clear from his preaching that he was experiencing something of the horror of the very idea of the Devil tempting Jesus, God who became man. It was as if the very soul of Father Ted was shuddering.

Matt Talbot was a Dubliner who had become an alcoholic by the age of 13 or 14 and spent the next fourteen years as a drunkard. He went to the extreme once of stealing a fiddle (violin) from a beggar and pawned it to get money for drink. It was his only living, Matt tells us in the video, and I think that was the worst thing I ever did in my life. Matt made many efforts later to trace the beggar but never succeeded.

Yet during his fourteen years of drinking Matt hardly ever missed Sunday Mass, though he didn’t receive Holy Communion, and always said a Hail Mary before sleeping. I think that’s what saved me in the long run, he tells us.

At the beginning of the second video Matt, masterfully played by Irish actor Seamus Forde, goes through a soul-wrenching temptation right at Communion time, something that happens the same Sunday morning at Mass in three different churches, a temptation that drives him out of each, until he falls on his knees outside one of them and prays Jesus, mercy; Mary help, a prayer that most Dubliners would have been familiar with. Perhaps Jesus had called Matt to share in the experience of his three temptations in the desert.
Matt Talbot towards the end of his life [Wikipedia]

The second video shows Matt sending a donation to the Maynooth Mission to China, as the Columbans were first known in Ireland, some time in the mid-1920s. The note he enclosed is in the Columban archives in Ireland. [A Columban priest told me recently that the original is now in Rome, with a copy in Ireland.] The amount, one pound from himself and ten shillings (half of a pound) from his sister, was considerable for poor people.

Towards the end of the video Matt speaks of the things God had asked him to do. He put these thoughts in my mind when I was praying – and I knew they came from him. Only the priest in confession knew about these special things, small things God wanted me to do. They weren’t for anybody else.

Among the special things, small things were the chains he wore on certain occasions. It was these very chains, found on his body when he died, that led to people asking questions about me . . . God must have wanted it that way . . . using me to say something to people today, now.

Lent is a gift that God gives the Church each year, a personal gift to each member of the Church, a time when he wants to put these thoughts in my mind when I am praying.

Matt Talbot was the farthest thing imaginable from the ‘celebrities’ of today during his life. In the more than 90 years since his death he has given hope to many, especially persons struggling with alcoholism and other addictions. 

Will I allow God this Lent to put whatever thoughts he wants to in my mind by giving him time in prayer? Will I allow him, as Mary did when she said Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word, to use me to say something to people today, now?

Will I fall on my knees in moments of great temptation, as Matt did during the terrible struggle he had right at Communion time three times on the one Sunday morning, perhaps reflecting the three temptations of the Lord in today’s gospel, and plead Jesus, mercy, Mary help?

They thought I was missing the good things in life. But God gave me the best part – and he never took it away.

 

St Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner St, Dublin [Wikipedia]
 
Dubliners refer to churches by their street names rather than by their patronal names. The church above, which Matt calls ‘Gardiner Street church’, is that of the Jesuits. Matt also refers a number of times to the ‘chapel’ in Seville Place, the Church of St Laurence O’Toole, once Archbishop of Dublin. This is another old Dublin usage, calling a church a ‘chapel’. The accent and idioms of Matt in the two videos are pure Dublin. 
 
When I was a child my mother, when ‘going into town’, ie into the city centre, would sometimes go through Granby Lane and we’d pray at the spot where Matt died. Everyone in Dublin then knew who Matt Talbot was. I’m not so sure about today.
 
You can discover more about this wonderful man at the Dublin Diocesan Matt Talbot website and by googling, especially on YouTube.
The Annunciation, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]
 
Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38).

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‘I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.’ Sunday Reflections, 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Rest on the Flight into Egypt (detail), Caravaggio [Web Gallery of Art]

But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me,
    my Lord has forgotten me.’
Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,

    yet I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:14-15. First Reading).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 6:24-34 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said to his disciples:

 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Thursday 2 March is the sixth anniversary of the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, seen with Pope Benedict in the video above during an audience in September 2010. He was assassinated in Islamabad, Pakistan, shortly after leaving his mother’s home. Mr Bhatti, a Catholic, was the first Christian to be appointed to the Cabinet in Pakistan and was responsible for minorities. The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for his death.

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. [The link to this no longer works.]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 April 2, 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.

Clement Shahbaz Bhatti شہباز بھٹی
(9 September 1968 – 2 March 2011)

‘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.’

The article in La Civiltà Cattolica was written by Fr Luciano Larivera SJ and includes most of The spiritual testament of Shahbaz Bhatti. I 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.’

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Vermeer [Web Gallery of Art]

Can anyone fail to be moved by the testament of Shahbaz Bhatti who saw his vocation as a Christian to serve his people as a politician but whose only desire was to have a place at the feet of Jesus? This is a member of a small, often despised minority, living out his Christian vocation as a politician and who can say I want to live for Christ and it is for Him that I want to die.

The British band Ooberfuse whose lead singer, Cherrie Anderson, is the daughter of a Filipina mother, wrote the song above for the first death anniversary of the death of Shahbaz Bhatti and sang it at a prayer rally organised by Christian Pakistanis in Britain and held in Trafalgar Square, London. They incorporated part of the last televised interview in English that Shahbaz Bhatti gave in which he said I know what is the meaning of [the] Cross.

The song above was written by Eric Sindhu who knew Shahbaz Bhatti. Fr Finbar Maxwell, a Columban who served in Pakistan for many years and is now here in the Philippines told me that the song is in Urdu and is in the traditional ‘dirge’ form of singing.  The lyrics refer to  Christian faith of Shahbaz, to his blood spilled, and to the ‘book’ of his life. Father Finbar echoed my own comment when he wrote: The tone, sentiment and beauty of the song indeed transcend the need for translation.

Fr Tomás King and Gerard Bhatti
 
Fr Tomás King, an Irish Columban priest in Pakistan, met Gerard Bhatti, a brother of Shahbaz and wrote Shahbaz Bhatti: ‘I know what is the meaning of Cross.’ 
After the death of Shahbaz the Pakistani government offered his position in the Cabinet to the family who decided that Paul, another brother, should take it. He is a medical doctor who worked for some years in Italy. He too has been receiving death threats.
No one can serve two masters, Jesus tells us in this Sunday’s gospel. Shahbaz Bhatti described his Master in detail: 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
In his Mass in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae on Monday 16 September 2013 Pope Francis asked us to Pray for politicians that they govern us well. One politician I don’t pray for but pray to regularly is this Pakistani martyr for the justice that our Catholic Christian faith demands is Clement Shahbaz Bhatti. I truly believe that he has won a place at the feet of Jesus.

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Stories and Statistics of Children Behind Bars. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 17 February 2017

Stories and Statistics of Children Behind Bars
by Father Shay Cullen

Image courtesy of Preda

The Philippine congress is debating to lower the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 years of age to nine years. Those promoting the change in the law say children are criminals and are being used by drug syndicates to commit crimes because they cannot be prosecuted. This is not true. The police should go after the drug lords, not blame the children. It seems that the criminal masterminds are immune and untouched, some are police, while the children are being jailed.

The advocates of the proposed new law claim thousands of children are into criminal acts and into drug peddling and crime. It is not true, the statistics below published by Reuters recently shows the truth that very few minors are involved in crime.

The children may be jailed or shot dead as young as nine years old if the law passes as they will be considered criminal suspects. Researchers from the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) in 2016 visiting the detention centers interviewed the children and discovered that many suffered acts of abuse and even torture.

Eric is an 11-year-old street child. He looks only about six. He is malnourished and stunted like thousands of children living in poverty in the slums and on the streets of the Philippines where the wealth is in the hands of the few.

His schooling is almost zero and he has difficulty writing his name. He committed no crime but ran away from home because his stepfather beat him. He was picked up on the street by officials and was then put in a detention center and then the bad things happened to him. He was treated as a criminal and locked behind bars with other children.

They had just the empty cell, no education, no pictures just bare walls, only boredom and fear of punishment. There were no beds and he slept on a wooden bench or the floor. There was no exercise yard, they were not allowed outdoors into the sunlight. They were allowed to stretch their hands out the barred window into the sun. There were no books, comics, toys, learning materials or TV. They just had boredom and detention, cut off from the freedom they loved.

Full article on Preda website.

 

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‘But I say to you, Love your enemies . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The Inspiration of St Matthew, Caravaggio [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 5: 38-48 (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said to his disciples:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Columban Fr Rufus Halley (1944 – 28 August 2001) 

Father Rufus Halley was one year behind me in the Columban seminary in Ireland. We were close friends. He came to the Philippines in 1969, two years before I did. He spent his early years in the country in Tagalog-speaking parishes in an area of the Archdiocese of Manila south of the metropolitan area, now the Diocese of Antipolo. He was fluent in the language. He began to feel a clear call from God to leave the security of working in an area overwhelmingly Christian and mostly Catholic to a part of Mindanao where Columbans had worked for many years that is overwhelmingly Muslim, the Prelature of Marawi. There he became fluent in two more Filipino languages, Meranao, spoken by the majority of Muslims in the area, and Cebuano, spoken by most of the Christians.

Both Muslims and Christians saw Father Rufus as a man of prayer, a man of peace, a man of God. Over the years he earned the trust of some Muslim leaders despite the long history of distrust between Muslims and Christians that sometimes led to outright conflict. Because of the trust he had built up he got an extraordinary request: to mediate in a feud between two groups of Meranaos. He was a foreigner, a Christian and a Catholic priest.

Father Rufus saw this as another call from God and agreed. He also sought the advice of a Muslim elder who wasn’t involved in the conflict. Over a period of many weeks he was going back and forth between the leaders of the two factions until eventually they agreed to meed. The morning of the meeting was filled with tension but when the leaders arrived they agreed to end the feud.

A week or so later Father Rufus dropped into the house of one of the leaders of the conflict and, to his delight, saw a leader of the other faction having coffee with him, the two men engaged in a lively, friendly conversation into which they invited the Irish priest.

Father Rufus used to speak about this event as the highlight of the twenty years he spent living among Muslims, a period when tension was seldom absent from his life and where there was often danger. Though a person who had a naturally optimistic disposition – five minutes in his company would get rid of any ‘blues’ you might feel – that didn’t keep him going. His Christian hope and faith did.

Father Rufus with young friends
On the afternoon of 29 August 2001 while returning on his motorcycle from an inter-faith meeting in Balabagan, Lanao del Sur, to Malabang, maybe five or six kilometres away and where he was assigned, Father Rufus was ambushed by a group of men who happened to be Muslims and shot dead.

Both Christians and Muslims were devastated by his death.

Father Rufus came from a privileged background and could have entered any profession. But he chose to answer God’s call to be a missionary priest. Our Columban superiors sent him to the Philippines.

He later chose, in answer to God’s call and with the blessing of our superiors, to go to a very difficult mission. That choice led to twenty years of joyful service there to Catholics and Muslims, and to his death. 

Father Rufus wasn’t the enemy of anyone. Because of that and because they saw him as a man of God, two groups of Muslims who were enemies accepted him as a mediator. He wasn’t a man to greet only your brothers and sisters but one who crossed barriers and who brought people together out of a desire to do God’s will.

St Thérèse of Lisieux aged 15 [Wikipedia]

The closing words of Jesus in today’s gospel are Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. For years my understanding of becoming perfect in this sense was of a blueprint like that of an architect. If you found this blueprint and built according to its specifications then you’d have a perfect product.

But a building is inanimate. 

However, I found a very different image of perfection in Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St Thérèse of Lisieux: Perfection consists simply in doing his will, and being just what he wants us to be. This is an image of a living being, of a unique being. God’s will gradually unfolded in the life of Father Rufus, as a flower unfolds, the growth being silent and hardly noticeable most of the time.

I see in the stages of the life of Father Rufus, whose baptismal name was Michael, a testimony of the truth of the words of St Thérèse and a model of how we can follow the words of Jesus. Through his daily prayer, his daily faithfulness, his responding to God’s will at crucial moments in his life, he became what God willed him to be: a Catholic priest who as he laid in death on the side of a road in a remote area of the southern Philippines, became an even stronger bridge between Christians and Muslims, a man who in life and death showed the true face of Jesus Christ, God who became Man out of love for all of us. 

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

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‘But I say to you . . .’ Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Young Jew as Christ, Rembrandt [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 5: 17-37 [20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37] (New Revised  Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

For the shorter reading everything in [square brackets] may be omitted.

Jesus said to his disciples:

[“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.] For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; [and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,  and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.]

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.]

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, [either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.] Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Entrance Antiphon   Antiphona ad introitum

Be my protector, O God, a mighty stronghold to save me.
Esto mihi in Deum protectorem, et in locum refugii, ut salvem me facias.
For your are my rock, my stronghold!
Quoniam firmamentum meum et refugium meum es tu,
Lead me, guide me, for the sake of your name.
et propter nomen tuum dux mihi eris, et enutries me.
 
Ps. ibid. In you, 0 Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in aeternum: 
In your justice rescue me and deliver me. 
in iustitia tua Iibera me, et eripe me
Glory be to the Father.
Gloria Patri . . .
 
Be my protector, O God, a mighty stronghold to save me.
Esto mihi in Deum protectorem, et in locum refugii, ut salvem me facias.
For your are my rock, my stronghold!
Quoniam firmamentum meum et refugium meum es tu,
Lead me, guide me, for the sake of your name.
et propter nomen tuum dux mihi eris, et enutries me.
 
The text in bold is used in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the full text in the Extraordinary Form, though it may also be used in the Ordinary Form.

The Marriage at Cana, Martin de Vos [Web Gallery of Art]

More than thirty-five years ago I spent part of a summer working in a parish near New York City. One day when I was on duty I answered the phone. The man calling gave me his name, which I wrote down. He told me he was living in an irregular situation, having been divorced from his wife. He was asking what the Church could do for him in that situation. I tried to tell him about programs that the Church had in the diocese for Catholics who were divorced and re-married civilly or living with someone else. The latter situation wasn’t nearly as common then as it is now.

I was able to find his mailing address easily and wrote him a letter letting him know that I had understood his situation and the reason for his anger and frustration. Again, I informed him of the ways the Church was trying to be with those who found themselves in situations such as his.

The following day I had another phone call from the man. He thanked me profusely for my letter, for having listened to him and for having heard what he was trying to say. He also acknowledged that he was in a situation that he himself had created.

Today’s Gospel shows us a Jesus who is somewhat different from the ‘domesticated’ meek and mild Jesus that we often imagine or create. He speaks of hard things: the consequences of breaking God’s law, the necessity of forgiving and accepting forgiveness, the fruits of anger – not the feeling, which is something spontaneous, but the decision to remain angry/to hate – and the effects of adultery. Some of the most difficult parts of the gospel may be omitted and probably will be by many priests, for various reasons.

The media at the moment are giving lots of coverage to how the Church approaches those who are living with someone not their spouse. One might be led to think that the Church is being harsh for the sake of being harsh, imposing impossible difficulties on some of its members and failing to be ‘merciful’ and ‘pastoral’.

On 11 February 2014 Fr Edward McNamara LC, who writes for the Catholic news agency Zenitreplied to a question about this very matter. He quotes from The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos 1650 and 1651. The latter says, Toward Christians who live in this situation, and who often keep the faith and desire to bring up their children in a Christian manner, priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate as baptized persons: ‘They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts for justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace.

I have close friends in such situations and in visiting parishes in Britain to do mission appeals for the Columbans I’ve met couples in irregular situations who are very much involved in their parishes, but who accept the teaching of Jesus, expressed through his Church, and live with that painful reality which they know they have created for themselves, for whatever reasons.

[I wrote this reflection three years ago but right now this very question is causing quite a bit of distress, division and confusion in the Church in the context of one part of Amoris Laetitia, the document by Pope Francis on love in the family published last year.]

Christ and the woman taken in adultery, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) we find this exchange at the end:

Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

Jesus shows the woman the greatest respect. Part of that respect is not denying that she had sinned. She knew that she had. God alone knew what had been going on in her heart. Jesus restored her dignity to her, gave her hope: Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.

Jesus has taught us very clearly what marriage is: Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ (Matthew 19:3-6)

This is a hard saying. Many utterly reject it, even the part about male and female. Others wrestle with the consequences of not accepting the teaching of Jesus when they find themselves in difficult situations.

Some think, wrongly, that the Church does not allow persons who are divorced to receive Holy Communion. That is not true. An ongoing seriously sinful situation is created when two persons, at least one of whom is married in the eyes of the Church, choose to live together whether after a civil wedding or otherwise. The same, of course, applies to any two persons not married to each other who live together in a sexually intimate relationship. That is a choice people make. But if a divorced person lives a chaste life he or she isn’t living in a sinful situation.

The First Reading makes it very clear that God gives us the freedom to choose – and that there are consequences to the choices we make:

If you choose, you can keep the commandments,

    and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.

He has placed before you fire and water;

    stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.

 Before each person are life and death,

    and whichever one chooses will be given.

For great is the wisdom of the Lord;

    he is mighty in power and sees everything;

his eyes are on those who fear him,

    and he knows every human action.

 He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,  

    he has not given anyone permission to sin.

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

The response in the responsorial psalm, which is an echo of the first reading, is Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord! (NAB). This is taken from Psalm 119 [118], as are the verses used in the responsorial psalm. this is the longest psalm, 176 verses in groups of eight in praise of God’s law as something that makes us free.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus challenges us in every aspect of our lives. He challenges us to think with a new mindset. St Paul expresses it well: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).

That means taking to heart the words that Jesus repeated a number of times in the Sermon on the Mount: You have heard that it was said . . . But I say to you . . .

God So Loved the World (from Stainer’s ’The Crucifixion’)

Words: Text compiled by William John Sparrow-Simpson

Music: God So Loved the World (from Stainer’s ‘The Crucifixion’) John Stainer

 

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,

That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish,

But have everlasting life.

For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world,

But that the world through Him might be saved.

Communion Antiphon (John 3:16)

God so loved the world 

that he gave his Only Begotten Son, 

so that all who believe in him may not perish, 

but may have eternal life.

 

 

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