Archive for August, 2014


AMDG

This letter from Marquette University 1996 graduate and journalist James Foley was published in Marquette Magazine’s fall 2011 issue after he returned safely from Libya, where he had been captured. Foley was kidnapped again in November 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war. He was executed this week by Islamic militants.

26514236-mjs_foley_02_nws_wood_foley-2b6q92oMarquette University has always been a friend to me. The kind who challenges you to do more and be better and ultimately shapes who you become.  With Marquette, I went on some volunteer trips to South Dakota and Mississippi and learned I was a sheltered kid and the world had real problems. I came to know young people who wanted to give their hearts for others. Later I volunteered in a Milwaukee junior high school up the street from the university and was inspired to become an inner-city teacher. But Marquette was perhaps never a bigger friend to me than when I was imprisoned as a journalist. Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention centre in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her. I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused. Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone. Later we were taken to another prison where the regime kept hundreds of political prisoners. I was quickly welcomed by the other prisoners and treated well. One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. In the hall I saw Manu, another colleague, for the first time in a week. We were haggard but overjoyed to see each other. Upstairs in the warden’s office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, “We felt you might want to call your families.”

download (7)I said a final prayer and dialled the number. My mom answered the phone. “Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.” “Jimmy, where are you?”-“I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.” – “Don’t be sorry, Jim,” she pleaded. “Oh, Daddy just left. Oh … He so wants to talk to you. How are you, Jim?” I told her I was being fed, that I was getting the best bed and being treated like a guest. – “Are they making you say these things, Jim?” – “No, the Libyans are beautiful people,” I told her. “I’ve been praying for you to know that I’m OK,” I said. “Haven’t you felt my prayers?” – “Oh, Jimmy, so many people are praying for you. All your friends, Donnie, Michael Joyce, Dan Hanrahan, Suree, Tom Durkin, Sarah Fang have been calling. Your brother Michael loves you so much.” She started to cry. “The Turkish embassy is trying to see you and also Human Rights Watch. Did you see them?” I said I hadn’t. – “They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked. – “I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat. The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. “Mom, I’m strong. I’m OK. I should be home by Katie’s graduation,” which was a month away. “We love you, Jim!” she said. Then I hung up.  I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.

My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released.

AMDG

During these weeks we are following the story of Ezekiel in the readings at mass.  Some of the readings and the violence of God are very challenging, especially at a time when our news bulletins are full of stories of religious violence.   A sign of a good preacher is not to avoid the challenging readings but to tackle them face on.  Last week we had an excellent reflection from Karen Eliasen – one of the team at St Beuno’s.  Karen has given me permission to share it on the blog.  

Ent. antiphon: “Arise, O God, and defend your cause, and forget not the cries of those who seek you.”  

Karen Eliasen, St Beuno’s

80All this week, and next week, we have readings from the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel himself comes across as many things: he’s part prophet, part priest, part visionary mystic, part plain old madman. But however we label him, Ezekiel is above all someone who is in continuous dialogue with God. The whole of the Book of Ezekiel bristles with passionate exchanges between God and this mad prophet. Mostly these exchanges are about people doing wrong, and about what God is doing about people doing wrong. In today’s reading, we encounter a terrifying God, terrifying because he is furious at his own people, and he’s furious because his people are doing wrong. And so in his fury, God commands death for them. “Kill and exterminate them all,” God shouts to a group of armed men. God commands death for his own people, and the command is carried out; all is destroyed, and Ezekiel is witness to this:  Jerusalem is laid waste, the Temple is burnt to the ground, the people are starved, slaughtered, hauled into exile. These are the events that Ezekiel is writing out of – extreme, drastic events of unimaginable violence. And it is such events that Ezekiel and God are having their passionate exchanges about. God’s people are doing wrong; but what kind of a God then makes everything, everything – come to such an end? Will God not show pity, will he not show mercy, at all? Ezekiel, like God, is angry; but he is also concerned about God’s seeming lack of mercy.

Now we might easily convince ourselves that this merciless God lunging out at us from the pages of Ezekiel has little to do with the God of the Gospels. Here is what Jesus in today’s Matthew Gospel has to say about people doing wrong: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone” … talk it over, and if that doesn’t work, go and tell the community. And if that doesn’t work … well there is a cool, calm, and collected legal system in place to deal with it. Dealing with people who do wrong is not to be fuelled by the fury of a great armed anger, but by law. At least that’s how it is if you are a human being. But what if you are not a human being. What if you are God? What if you are Ezekiel’s God? This is not a God different from Jesus’ God. The God who is at the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple is the same God who is at the crucifixion of Jesus. And this same God is Lord not only of death but Lord also of life. For we all know very well that Ezekiel’s God not only commands death, he also promises us life – he promises us new hearts and rivers flowing with living waters, he promises his people a covenant of peace, of shalom. Just like the God of the Gospels, who is there at the crucifixion, does.

3_11_2010_christians_iraqSo when we find ourselves far from shalom, even find ourselves in extreme and drastic circumstances far beyond law, when it feels like our whole world is being undone, what about God then? How do we, like Ezekiel, even begin to exchange words with God then? What is our prayer then? Scripture has one hope: we can cry out. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we can cry out. That’s the very prayer we heard in the entrance antiphon today– did you catch that plea right at the beginning of Mass just now: “Arise, O God, and defend your cause, and forget not the cries of those who seek you.” Let us not forget the cries of those who seek God –  including ourselves.

Ezekiel 9:1-7; 10:18-22; Mt 18:15-20

AMDG

Pope-Francis-South-KoreaAs Pope Francis beatifies 124 martyrs from Korea today, with huge crowds turning out in Seoul to meet the Pope, it may be opportune to look at unique origins of the church in Korea.  Catholicism has grown rapidly in South Korea from 1% of the population ten years ago to over 10% now.  South Korea is a fascinating country that has seen rapid development and economic growth.  It is  the only country in the history of the world that has gone from being a foreign aid recipient to being a major foreign aid donor in only one generation.  It also has huge ‘soft power’ now, not only as the home of Samsung. and being a technology leader in many fields – but also in the popularity of their films, soap operas and music – Remember Gangnam Style? K-Pop has overtaken Japan’s J Pop as the music on the iphones in the Pacific Rim and further afield.  I remember when I was in the Philippines I would often ask the young people which country they  would most like to visit, and the answer universally wasn’t US, or the UK but South Korea.

The origins of the Catholic Church in Korea are fascinating.  Christianity has struggled to make inroads into Asia – and the exceptions – Philippines, East Timor which received Spanish and Portuguese missionaries,  the Korean Catholic Church grew for the first hundred years without any priests or visits from missionaries. Christianity was brought to Korea by a Korean diplomat who had encountered the books of Matteo Ricci in the court in Beijing.  Ricci is an incredible character, an Italian Jesuit, who missionary work was so successful that he gained access to the Forbidden City – the first westerner to do so.  His appreciation of Chinese culture and the peoples admiration of him as a learned scholar gave Ricci great inroads.  He was the first to translate Kong Fuzi’s teachings into Latin – thus coining the name Confucius – Ricci became a bridge between the east and the west.

ricciThe book that probably marks his greatest legacy was ‘The true meaning of the Lord of Heaven’ which argues that Confucianism and Christianity are not opposed and in fact are remarkably similar in key ways.  It was a way of explaining Christian doctrine into Confucian thought and proved to be very successful.  Ricci used this treatise in his missionary effort to convert Chinese intellectuals, men who were educated in Confucianism and the Chinese classics.   It was this book that brought Christianity to Korea in 1603, where it was to grow, without access to the sacraments, without any active priestly ministry.