21 March 2018

‘Abba, Father, . . . remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ Sunday Reflections, Palm Sunday, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) directed by Philip Saville

[John 12:12-16 runs from 0:00 to 0:56]

The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem

Mark 11:1-10 (NRSVACE)

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.”’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’  They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
     Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

or John 12:12-16 (NRSVACE)

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
    the King of Israel!’
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
    sitting on a donkey’s colt!’
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

At the Mass

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Mark 14:1 – 15:47 [or 15:1-49] (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Chalice, Unknown Hungarian goldsmith [Web Gallery of Art]

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many (Mark 14:23-24).

 Christ on the Mount of Olives, Goya [Web Gallery of Art]

Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want (Mark 14:36).

As we enter Holy Week we can be overwhelmed by the sheer richness of the liturgy. I have always found it difficult to say anything about it during these days. American writer Flannery O'Connor in the quotation below touches on the inner suffering of some as they struggle to believe in Jesus, something she knew from personal experience. She also embraced the Cross in coming to terms with lupus, which had caused her father's early death. His death was for her when she was 15, an experience of embracing the Cross.

Flannery O'Connor [Wikipedia]
(25 March 1929 - 3 August 1964)

Flannery O'Connor, who was born on this day in 1925, grew up as a devout Catholic in Georgia, in the 'Bible Belt' of the USA. In 1951 she was diagnosed with lupus, from which her father had died when she was 15. She said of her writings, The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. She also wrote, Grace changes us and change is painful. The following quotation reflects this [emphasis added]:

I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.

May Holy Week be a time when each of us can embrace whatever share in the Cross God has in mind for us and may it prepare us to celebrate the Joy and Hope of Easter once again.

Pope Francis [Wikipedia]

World Youth Day 2018

In years when World Youth Day is not a major international gathering it is observed in Rome on Palm Sunday. 

The Message of Pope Francis for this year's WYD has as its theme Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God (Lk 1:30). Palm Sunday this year fall on 25 March, which is normally the Solemnity of the Annunciation. However, as that date this year is Palm Sunday the celebration of the Annunciation has been transferred to Monday of the Second Week of Easter, 9 April. Holy Week and Easter Week take precedence over any other liturgical celebration.

However, the theme of this year’s World Youth Day reflects the Annunciation. The message of Pope Francis for the occasion is here.

The Donkey

by GK Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked   
   And figs grew upon thorn,   
Some moment when the moon was blood   
   Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,   
The devil’s walking parody   
   On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,   
   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.

Source: The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton (Dodd Mead & Company, 1927)

14 March 2018

'Sir, we wish to see Jesus.' Sunday Reflections, Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

Sheaves of Wheat, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel John 12:20-33 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

The readings for Year A may be used instead of those above.

Christ in Agony on the Cross, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:32).

Sir, we wish to see Jesus. This was the request of some Greek pilgrims to Jerusalem who spoke to Philip. Jesus when told of this said to Philip and Andrew, Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Presumably, these words were conveyed to the Greeks by the two apostles or perhaps repeated to them by Jesus himself.

St Philip the Apostle, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

The Lord was making it very clear that there are consequences to following him. Philip himself was to end his life as a martyr.

On 12 March 2015 Pope Francis addressed the bishops of Korea during their ad limina visit. He recalled his visit to Korea the previous year when he beatified a group of martyrs. The Bishop of Rome said [emphasis added]: For me, one of the most beautiful moments of my visit to Korea was the beatification of the martyrs Paul Yun Ji-chung and companions.  In enrolling them among the Blessed, we praised God for the countless graces which he showered upon the Church in Korea during her infancy, and equally gave thanks for the faithful response given to these gifts of God.  Even before their faith found full expression in the sacramental life of the Church, these first Korean Christians not only fostered their personal relationship with Jesus, but brought him to others, regardless of class or social standing, and dwelt in a community of faith and charity like the first disciples of the Lord (cf. Acts 4:32).  “They were willing to make great sacrifices and let themselves be stripped of whatever kept them from Christ… Christ alone was their true treasure” (Homily in Seoul, 16 August 2014). Their love of God and neighbor was fulfilled in the ultimate act of freely laying down their lives, thereby watering with their own blood the seedbed of the Church.

The previous Sunday, 9 March 2015, there were attacks on a Catholic church and a Protestant church in an area of Lahore where many Christians live as my Columban confrere Fr Liam O'Callaghan, who is based in Pakistan, reports. Pope Francis expressed his grief during his Angelus talk later in the day and noted: Our brothers' and sisters' blood is shed only because they are Christians.

When we say, We wish to see Jesus we have no idea what this might entail. But we do have the assurance of Jesus himself today where our following him will lead us: Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

Let us pray for the Christians of Pakistan, the Christians of the Middle East, the Christians in those parts of Africa where they are being persecuted simply for being followers of Jesus. May the promise of Jesus, Whoever serves me, the Father will honor give them courage and honour.

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

12 March 2018

Week of Prayer for persons with dementia, 12 - 19 March 2018

Painting owned by Pastoral Care Project
Pastoral Care Project © Charity No. 1094766.  All rights reserved.

There is more on this painting by Sr Annie Bromhan IBVM along with reflections on the Pastoral Care Project website here.

This is an edited version of a post published on 13 March 2013. May I ask anyone who reads this to check out the website of Pastoral Care Project. This wonderful ecumenical ministry, initiated by Mrs Frances Molloy in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, focuses on the spiritual needs of persons with dementia.

This is the tenth annual Dementia Prayer Week initiated by Pastoral Care Project.

Long ago I used to be a young man
and dear Margaret remembers that for me.

The Dutchman is a song written by Michael Peter Smith in 1968. It's about an elderly couple living in Amsterdam, Margaret and the title character. The unnamed Dutchman has dementia and Margaret cares for him with a sadness over what has happened to him over the years. It's a story of unconditional love.

Portrait of an Old Man with Beard, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Pastoral Care Project logo

I became involved with The Pastoral Care Project in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, while based in the Columban house in Solihull from September 2000 to April 2002 when I moved to Glasgow, Scotland, though I stayed there for only a few months before returning to the Philippines. The mission statement of the Project is above. I first got involved when the founder of the Project, Mrs Frances Molloy, invited me to celebrate Mass in a home for old people.

The mission statement of the Project is above. The focus is on the spiritual needs of those who are frail, especially mentally. The Project also works with carers, not all of whom would understand the spiritual needs of those they are looking after. And the carers themselves need some care too as their work can be very demanding.

Michael Peter Smith's song, sung with such feeling by the late Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, captures something of what is asked of those taking care of a person with dementia, who is very often a spouse or a parent, in the lines, Long ago I used to be a young man / and dear Margaret remembers that for me.

The Project's Dementia Prayer Week runs from 12 March and ends on the Feast of St Joseph, 19 March. 

I studied Shakespeare's As You Like It in school. (Stratford-on-Avon is in the Archdiocese of Birmingham and not far from the office of The Pastoral Care Project.) I always liked the famous speech of Jacques, The Seven Ages of Man or All the world's a stage. But a 15-year-old cannot fully understand these closing lines:

Last scene of all, 
That ends this strange eventful history,  
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,  
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

(28 October 1939 - 5 March 2018)

Last Friday, on a beautiful early spring day, we Columbans buried one of our confreres, Fr Michael McCarthy, in our cemetery at St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland. In his funeral homily his classmate and great friend Fr Noel Daly said, But surely, the biggest challenge he faced was to do all this while fighting bouts of illness and to keep going to the end despite the onset of dementia. And that’s what he did and he did it in style.

Father Noel then told us what Fr Ji Kwang-kyu Peter, a young Korean Columban working in the Philippines who was in Ireland recently to study English, had told him. Father Peter had been a seminarian in Korea when Father Michael was a member of the formation team.

At one of his first meals with the students in the Formation House where people were introducing themselves, the one thing that they remembered Father Michael saying was that he was really looking forward to learning about young people and the new Korea.

Father Noel went on to say, Just a few months ago when Kwang-kyu (Father Peter) came to meet again with Father Michael here in Dalgan, Michael could not remember him. All he said was, ‘I am sorry I cannot remember you now but thank you – I received so much love from people in Korea – I was very happy there’. Father Peter could only say that he hoped he’d be able to say that after a life on mission.


The contact details of Pastoral Care Project are here.

09 March 2018

Columban Fr Michael McCarthy RIP

Fr Michael McCarthy
(28 October 1939 - 5 March 2018)

Fr Michael McCarthy was born on 28 October 1939 in Bealnadeega, County Kerry, Ireland, and attended Meentogues National School before going to St Brendan's College, Killarney, and joined the Columbans from there in 1958. 

St Mary's Cathedral, Killarney [Wikipedia]

Ordained in 1964, he was appointed to Korea and after language studies was stationed in the southern Diocese of Gwangju. Within a short time he became diocesan chaplain to the Young Christian Workers (YCW). It was the beginning of a life-long involvement with people on the margins of society.

Heuksando Island [Wikipedia]

Before a home vacation in 1970 Father Michael moved from the city to the island parish of Heuksando, eight hours out into the Yellow Sea. So by the time he took charge of his first parish in Sadangdong, Seoul, in 1975 he was well acquainted with Korea, its culture and language as well as the skills required for ministry there at an anxious time. These were years of agitation and political strife as the Church responded to the needs of the workers and the poor in the expanding urban areas.

St Joseph's Church, Balcurris [Source]

As a committed Kerryman his cultural adaptibility was further enhanced by a four-year appointment to the then Columban parish of St Joseph, Balcurris, Ballymun, Dublin, in 1980. He relished that experience for its opportunity to 'dialogue with the Dubs' and to discover the new Ireland in whose politics and progress he always maintained a keen interest. [Note: Between 1975 and 1979 Kerry and Dublin had played each other in the All-Ireland Gaelic Football Final four times, each winning twice!]

By 1984 Father Michael was back in Korea, in Tobong parish, Seoul, before being asked to develop a new parish in Unamdong in Gwangju. From 1993 he was drawn more into the Columban effort to develop Korea as an independent Region of the Society with its own support base and training programmes for overseas mission. He made lasting friends with supporters all over the country and always kept in touch over the following years. Appointed Vice-Director of the Region of Korea in 2004 he helped to ensure that Korean Columbans would become an essential part or our mission teams around the world.

Myeongdong Cathedral, Seoul [Wikipedia]

Father Mick had the temperament to contribute to mission in a myriad of ways, not least in sitting down to chat and share stories into the night. Ill health began to curtail his ministry in latter years and he returned to Ireland diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2014. Even as his memory deteriorated he never let go of the determination to keep in touch with friends and neighbours even if he could only smile in recognition at the end.

Father Michael died in St Columban's, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland, on 5 March 2018. He was a friend for life to so many people who were blessed by his care and companionship.

May he rest in peace.                                    [Fr Noel Daly]

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park

One very poignant moment at the end of the burial, after we sang the Salve Regina was when three Korean women, Columban lay missionaries Lee Kyung-ja, Noh Hye-in and Columban Sister Kim Mihwa sang Arirang, a very old Korean folk song that has many versions in terms of lyrics. The themes of sorrow, separation, reunion, and love appear in most versions. The song has become, in a very real sense, an expression of the 'Koreanness' of the people in both parts of Korea. 

At the removal service (vigil) in the chapel the evening before the burial Fr Anthony O'Brien told us how Father Michael loved to walk in the mountains of Korea. An English translation of one of the many versions of the song contains these lines:

There, over there, that mountain is Baekdu Mountain,
Where, even in the middle of winter days, flowers bloom.

Father Michael loved Korea and its people. May the flowers bloom for him in heaven.