I became a pioneer at the age of sixteen. They told me I would have to drink beer when I went to Africa as a missionary, but I found out when I went there it was not the case. Anyway, I was a lapsed Pioneer for many years, but I always had in mind to take it up again later.
Later got later, and later, until grace caught up with me. Sr. Briege McKenna and I have worked for over thirty years now in an apostolate to the priests of the Church. It was at the Intercession for Priests at All Hallows College that we both came across Fr. Bernard McGuckian SJ. Fr. Bernard, as you know, is not a hardsell person when it comes to the Pioneers. He is much more effective than that. In the same way as St. Francis became the word he preached, Fr. Bernard has become the very charism of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. He persuades and convinces without saying anything. So it was with Sr. Briege and myself. We ‘took the pledge’, made our Pioneer commitment before several thousand Filipinos, in the presence of Fr. Bernard, in Manila in 2001. Since then, I have come to appreciate and value this great movement of grace which is now becoming better known internationally.
Drink has had a prideful and destructive place in the cultural life of our people. Our social gatherings are immersed in it, our songs and conversations marinated in it. The lives of many of our young people, now more than ever, are being decimated by it. The abuse of alcohol, like the abuse of sexuality, among the young is one of those things which is hardly ever spoken of: the elephant in the room which everyone ignores. But the rehab centres tell a different story of wounded lives, broken families, and the waste of talented people. The Pioneers is centered on the Sacred Heart and the work of reparation; but it is also a great work of mercy. The prayer of reparation is the prayer of our incarnate Saviour, our ‘heroic offering’ and the wearing of the pin seem a small thing, but there is nothing small about it. This prayer of ours is like a laser beam that goes out from the heart of Christ, reaching to the ends of the earth and to the deepest, darkest places of the human soul. It can free a man who gets up one morning determined, by God’s grace, not to drink any more. It can liberate a woman who looks into the frightened eyes of a child and decides to pour what is left in the bottle down the sink.
In the Tiger Times we forgot about prayer, but our prodigal father in his love will never let us forget how much we need him.
In a recent conversation with Sr. Briege about the Pioneers, she said: ‘Entering the Sisters at such an early age, becoming a Pioneer did not arise for me, though I knew many of my contemporaries who were Pioneers. I lived in a succession of religious communities, where excessive drinking was unheard of. It was my encounter with Fr. Bernard that made me think of it, as a form of witness. So on that day in Manila, before all those people, I became a Pioneer for the first time in my life. Since then I have become very conscious of the power of the grace which operates in the hearts of those who make this commitment. I am sure that their lives and their offering to Christ is very pleasing, and is the cause of many people finding the strength to break free of the bondage of alcohol. I realise that the Pioneer movement might not seem very relevant at the present time, but this is true of many other things in the Church, including priesthood and religious life.’
Priest Retreats in indonesia
In October of 2009 Sr. Briege and I set out for Indonesia to give two retreats to priests. We had been promised that the retreats would take place in a beautiful new hotel on the Island of Flores. When we arrived we found that the hotel was only half finished and that instead of modern elevators, we had to endure the distinctly unmodern practice of climbing one hundred and two steps in tropical heat to the auditorium and chapel where the retreat was taking place. Air conditioning was nonexistent, but the bright sunshine was plentiful. In spite of all of that, the retreats were wonderfully blessed by the Lord and grace flowed like a mighty river.
This was our third occasion to give such priest retreats in Indonesia. They are organised by a committee of lay people who have such great love for their priests and concern for their spiritual advancement, that they collect enough money to pay for their travel to the retreat centre and pay for their board and lodging during the retreat.
One wealthy family involved in this program owns a sugar plantation in another part of the country. They acquired it some years ago as a result of the original owner’s financial difficulties. They even went to meet with Pope John Paul II to seek his advice about how they might best run this business. What they have done there is remarkable and an outstanding example of the Catholic Church’s social teaching in practice. The plantation employs around fifty thousand people. This family decided from the beginning that they would provide good family accommodation for their workers, schools for their children, and free scholarships for every child who wanted it to attend elementary school, high school, and even college. I asked why they didn’t use mechanised methods of harvesting the sugar cane. I was told that they decided from the beginning not to do this, because it would result in several thousands of their employees losing their jobs. This family business was established by a poor woman who escaped from China to Indonesia. She started a small family business which grew and expanded to the business empire that exists today. She was, by all accounts, an exceptional woman, not only because of her social awareness, but also because of her deep Catholic faith.
So the world is full of many surprises and it is refreshing to meet people who take the Gospel and the teachings of the Church to heart.
Year of the Priest
Pope Benedict has named this the Year for Priests, ending on June 11th, the Feast of the Sacred Heart. In Ireland, unfortunately, it has been a year for priests, but in an entirely different way. One television evangelist was asked a few years ago about the crisis in the Catholic priesthood. He said, “Do not imagine that these problems experienced in the Catholic priesthood are confined only to Catholics. It is just that Catholics are the only ones being mentioned in the media.” He went on to say, “I believe that the Lord is purifying his Church and that He is beginning in the sanctuary.” I was very impressed by what he said.
The recent crisis’ effect on the priesthood is unprecedented and has caused great scandal to many people and tremendous hurt to many good, holy priests. I believe, however, that now that the Lord has lifted the veil that has covered these dark deeds for many years, we have an opportunity to come humbly into his presence and make reparation to Our Lord Jesus Christ for the sins against our most vulnerable children.
The spirituality of reparation, which is at the heart of the Pioneer movement, will command a blessing from God and a powerful healing to those who have endured much suffering.
Fr. Kevin Scallon, CM