Tuesday, November 18, 2014

33rd Tuesday in Ordinary Time

Lk 19:1-10

The story of Zacchaeus is fascinating.  On the literary level the story is rich in detail:  The unruly crowd, the short man running ahead to climb a sycamore tree, the grumbling  when Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house, the dinner conversation and finally Jesus’ promise that  “Salvation has come to this house.”  It is easy to imagine filming this scene for a movie, the atmosphere and dialogue are already given.   The only thing needed is two stars and a crowd.  The story of Zacchaeus is fascinating because, to paraphrase one of the most famous lines ever to appear in a comic strip,  We have met Zacchaeus and he is us.   Zacchaeus is us because he is a man of contradiction and confusion, a man who doesn’t always do the right thing but who, when he becomes aware of his sinful nature, tries to atone for his sin.  Zacchaues had obviously heard about this Jesus.  Otherwise, why would he have been so strenuous—and even risked looking ridiculous—by climbing a tree just to catch a glimpse of him?  

This story appears late in Jesus’ public ministry.  His reputation had spread.  The question one must ask about Zacchaeus—and thus about ourselves—is:  What did Zacchaeus expect to see?  Who did Zacchaeus expect to see?   A  miracle worker who healed the sick and the lame?  A political leader?  A firebrand who took on the legal and religious establishments? Who was Jesus for this man?  Who is Jesus for each of us?

There is an interesting bit of wordplay in this gospel.  We read that:  “Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was.”    A bit later we hear the words from Jesus’ lips:  “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”  THAT is us.  Those of us who seek to find, to know, to see Jesus are being sought by him more avidly than we can imagine.  We need only come down from our tree to be welcome at the table of the altar.  We need only descend from the perch where we are trying to catch a glimpse of the Son of Man to partake of the supper where we are assured, just as Zacchaeus was assured, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Unlike Zacchaeus climbing trees is not one of my strengths.  There were a few over in "The Field" where we hung out from about 10 to driver's license age.  Several of us built a tree house about twelve feet up in an elm tree.  It could have been a lot higher as it was a huge tree but this kept it accessible, particularly from a bully type (the old meaning not the contemporary one) who, while he was happy to throw rocks at the tree house was afraid to climb up.  It was something of a sanctuary from his annoying behavior.  

Prayer and contemplation are universal needs.  They are part of being human.  I suspect the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes comes from acknowledging this basic fact.  Many are happy to stuff the need for prayer, for meditation, for communion in the non-Mass sense, most of the time or deny that they feel it.  But, after 40 years in medicine and 17 in religious life, I stand by the statement.  

An elderly Jesuit at prayer during his evening meditation.  This was about thirty minutes before Mass at Pymble in Australia.  I was getting ready to go in to say the office when I saw Father sitting there.  My room was at the top of the staircase.  I took the steps two at a time, grabbed the camera and shot about four.  Father had very little vision and multiple other medical problems.  But he was there daily. 

A Buddhist nun at Nan Tien Buddhist temple in Berkley, NSW, Australia.  We stopped there on the way to Gerroa at the very beginning of tertianship.  It was an amazing place to visit.  The bell gonged with a low a very resonant sound.

Longshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan.  This temple is in the oldest part of Taipei where, if one looks closely enough, one sees other evidence of age.  This was New Year's Eve 2010, ten days before going to Australia.  Ignatius and I went there in lieu of going to the fireworks at Taipei 101, then the tallest building in the world.  Turned out to be a good move.  The estimate was that there were close to 2 million people at the fireworks.  We had an easy time getting home.  As we both had Masses the following morning it turned out to be a prudent decision. 

A young Jesuit Brother making his evening meditation at Sevenhill, SA, Australia. 

A woman placing a candle in one of the chapels at ND de Fourviere.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, November 15, 2014

32nd Saturday in Ordinary Time

Lk 18:1-11

In 1969 The Doors released an album titled, “The Soft Parade.”  Critics do not list it among one of their better albums but, for better or for worse, it was part of the soundtrack for my later years at Penn State and beyond.  It is the only Doors album in my collection (I preferred The Moody Blues).  It was a concept album in which the title track was placed last rather than the first on the disc.  That title track, The Soft Parade,  began with Jim Morrison proclaiming “when I was back there in seminary school there was a person who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer.” 

He repeated, “petition the Lord with prayer" twice more with increasing sarcasm in his voice.  And then screamed

By then the drugs had completely addled his brain. He would be dead less than two years later, most likely of a heroin overdose.  He was wrong.  

You can petition the Lord with prayer. 
You should petition the Lord with prayer. 
You must petition the Lord with prayer. 

The gospel illustrates how to petition the Lord with prayer.  One word comes to mind.  Importune.  To importune means: to demand with urgency or persistence; to annoy, to beset with solicitations; to be troublesomely persistent.  A three year-old’s entire job is to importune.  And three year-olds importune very well indeed. 

Only the first of the definitions for importune fits when one is considering prayer:  to demand with urgency and persistence.  One can never annoy or trouble God with prayer.  What one would think is too much is barely enough.   The entire psalter, from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150, is a long, continuous, importuning prayer.  It is a model for how we are to pray.   

The widow in the Gospel would not give up.  No matter what the unjust judge did she returned importuning until he gave her a just judgment.  The judge’s motivations for giving that judgment were less than pure; fear of being struck rather than a desire for justice, motivated his ruling.  Today in Massachusetts the fear would be not being reelected to his or her sinecure.  The judge's actions recall T.S. Eliot’s observation, “The final temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”  But God can never be unjust.  Jesus asks the rhetorical question: “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?”  In the context of this Gospel passage we know the answer.    
Given that the roots of this homily played out in Geary Hall (Chris' and my room) and Tenner Hall (Paul and Al's room) at Penn State,  (Paul brought the album to Penn State at the start of sophomore year) it seems appropriate to include a few shots from the side-trip to Penn State after retreat.  I didn't take as many shots as I thought I would. The skies were very gray and I was tired.  However, I did stop a few times along Rt. 45 on the way down.  Rt. 45 is my favorite road.  Were I to know I had to give up my driver's license I would hope I could take one more drive from Plymouth to Penn State and back along 45.  Then I would be ready.  

Rt 45 is two lanes all the way from just outside of Danville to Boalsburg.  It then breaks at 322 and, after a bit of a dog leg continues west toward Pittsburgh.  I've never traveled that part of it.  One of my favorite places is driving through Mifflinburg and Hartleton.  Hartleton is the location of one of the most infamous speed traps in PA.  It is a real hazard driving to football games.  The limit drops from 55 to 35.  As soon as I see the sign for Hartleton I slow down.  Yes, I got a speeding ticket driving through there many years ago.  Beginning with Mifflinburg and extending west until the state game lands, there are many Amish farms lining the roadways.  And many buggies. 

Whenever possible I pull off at Hairy John State Park, a bit further down 45.  If I ever get another speeding ticket on 45 it will be on the mountainous state game roads.  There is a picnic area in Hairy John that is very popular with people heading to the game early.  The first photo is a road that gradually goes up the side of the mountain.  The other is a detail of a picnic table in the pavilion.  That photo is an interesting survey of texture in natural objects.

I took the first shot of Old Main from the top of the Pugh Street parking garage.  Wonder why I never thought of going up there before?  Will do so again on my next trip. The second photo is from ground level. 

The Rathskellar, universally known as "the Skellar," is on the corner of Pugh St. and College Ave.  I haven't been in there in decades but was a regular once I hit 21.  It is below ground.  If there was ever a fire it would be a catastrophe.  But, the beer is cold and plentiful.  A custom during my time there was that upon turning 21 a student would go to the Skellar to order "a box of rocks" i.e. a case of pony bottles of Rolling Rock beer from nearby Latrobe.  The idea was to drink it all.  I did some foolish things at Penn State involving alcohol but nothing quite that foolish. And, I turned 21 during break.  By the time we returned the glow was off the event of turning 21.  But it was a rush being able to go there in the first place.  Finally. Watched most away football games there. 

Walked through Whitmore Lab.  The second door on the right (open) is where I had organic chemistry lab fall term sophomore year.  The aroma in the building hasn't changed.  There are rumors that it is going to be torn down.  That would be a pity.  The second photo is an architectural detail, the kind of which will never been seen again on a campus anywhere. 

In the homily I quoted Eliot.  Thus the photo of the outdoor pool near the Natatorium.  During my last year at PSU my niece Kate came up for a football game with her parents.  It was Penn State-Pitt, last game of the season.  It was cold.  As we walked back to my apartment downtown we passed the pool which, at the time, was brand new.  A guy was standing on the top platform ready to jump into the water.  I suspect  that first, he was drunk and second, he really didn't want to go through with it but the crowd that had gathered was getting impatient.  So he jumped and received great applause.  My 12 year-old niece was beyond impressed.  She decided then and there that she wanted to attend Penn State.  And she graduated with her degree in microbiology eleven years later in 1982.   

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Back From Retreat

32nd Wednesday in Ordinary Time 
Lk 17:11-19

Leprosy appears regularly in both the Old and New Testaments, particularly the Old.  Leprosy as understood in the Ancient Near East  had, and has, nothing to do with leprosy as known in more modern times, a disease now called Hansen's Disease.  Indeed, there is no good evidence that Hansen's disease existed during Jesus' time in the area where he lived.  In scripture, leprosy was not necessarily a disfiguring physical illness due to nerve destruction.  It was a vaguely defined non-specific group of skin conditions and blemishes that resulted in the bearer of the lesion being cast from society.  Even clothing or the walls of a home could be declared to have leprosy. Today we would call it mold.   

The Gospel highlights the interdependence of faith and thanksgiving. Only one of the ten lepers healed by Jesus in Luke's narrative returned to express his gratitude when he realized that he had been healed.  The response of those healed, the response, or lack of response, of those who could now return to normal society, is the main point of the narrative. The gospel highlights the unfortunate disconnect between faith and thanksgiving that characterizes too many Catholics today.

Obviously the ten lepers had some degree of faith in Jesus.  Otherwise, they would not have yelled to him from a distance, pleading to be cleansed, nor would they have set out to present themselves to the priests simply because he told them to do so.  But only one, a foreigner, returned to give thanks, upon realizing he had been cleansed.

The story recalls the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes.  Alas, many of those who get out of the foxhole alive resume their atheist ways.  We saw a similar phenomenon after 9/11.  Churches were packed in the aftermath.  Briefly.  And then shopping, the childrens' sports competitions, and other forms of diversion resumed their place of primacy thus improving the parking at most churches but keeping the mall humming. 

Faith cannot exist, it cannot grow or persist without prayer.  Faith cannot be maintained without thanksgiving.  Faith depends on prayer.  Prayer is not just for petition.  It is not, or should not even be, primarily for petition.  Prayer is praise.  Prayer is thanksgiving. Prayer expresses gratitude to God for what He has done, for what He is doing, and for what He will do for us, even if we don't understand it at the moment. 
Long hiatus.  I was on retreat at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT from 27 October to 4 November.  Regina Laudis is a cloistered monastery of forty Benedictine nuns.  Their age ranges from the mid-20's to post-80's.  Mother Dolores Hart entered in 1963.  She is the subject of an academy award nominated documentary "God is Bigger than Elvis."  She gave Elvis his first screen kiss.  Her films include "Where the Boys Are" and "Come Fly with Me" where she starred with Dean Martin.  She told me it was her favorite movie.  A very gracious woman. 

After the retreat I drove to Plymouth, made a quick trip to State College to see Al and Karen, and then went to D.C. for a baptism on Sunday.  Got back here Tuesday, fifteen days after leaving.  Except for the time in D.C. I had little access to internet.  Another two-week sojourn, non-retreat, is coming in February, more details later.

It was a good retreat with some important discernment.  Lots of light, a helping of shadow, and much rest.  I celebrated Mass daily  for eight days.  The difference was that the Mass was novus ordo and chanted in Latin using classical Gregorian notation.  Found out that I could actually write a homily longhand and read it, if I was careful.  

I took many photos while there.  The Abbey is on 400 acres of forested land.  Quite a bit of it is outside the enclosure and thus accessible.  The church is on top of a hill and not attached to the monastery.  Interesting arrangements but after seeing the church I can understand it.  Am posting quite a few photos. 

The original monastery for the tiny group of nuns who began it in the late-1940's.  It is now the men's guest house.  The first floor corner in the foreground was the two-room chaplain's quarters.  Rustic but comfortable.

In the rustic theme I was doing some inside photography trying to capture of Dutch genre painting feel.  These things were on the shelf.  It was simply a matter of tilting the brass vase. 

The grounds are lovely.  Autumn leaves were coming to an end but some were falling into a nearby pond. 

The view from the back of the Monastic Church. 

The Church taken from the choir lost.  The nun's choir is behind the grille.  At communion the door in the middle is opened and they approach the opening to receive. 

The door opening for communion. 

The crucifix on the altar.

The nuns during vespers one evening.  I took the photo through a glass door so that the shutter wouldn't disturb the sisters hence the glare. 

The three postulants approaching the altar at the end of vespers.  The woman in the middle entered the novitiate on 1 November in a very moving ceremony when she was clothed with the habit and white veil. 

The chapel in the lower monastery.  This was, I assume the original church.  It is used for some of the hours during the day, compline at night, and for Mass either when the road leading to the church on the hill is inaccessible or, as was the case on All Soul's Day, there is a special Mass for the sisters.  The curtain at the lower half of the grille is pulled back during the hours. 

The Benedictine motto is Ora et Labora (Prayer and Work).  The sister below is wearing the work habit.  You see the ear protector.  You do not see the chain saw she was using to cut trees.  The Abbey has a farm, a small dairy herd whose milk is used to make (excellent) cheese, and sheep.  They grow much of their produce. 

An old barn on the property.

A sun-catcher in an old shed, first from the outside and then from the inside. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD