Saturday, June 17, 2017

Corpus Christi or The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Cor 10-16-17
Jn 6:51-58

This feast is a personal milestone that marks my first Mass on Corpus Christi,  10 June 2007,  the day after ordination.  That was more than two thousand Masses ago.  It was a great joy to celebrate that first Mass on the day that celebrates and meditates upon the great gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, truly and substantially present in the bread and wine consecrated upon the altar. 

A soon-to-be priest has no opportunity to practice celebrating Mass.  As is true of hearing confessions for which there is also no practice, the first Mass is the first time, the very first time, he will get up in front of a congregation and begin, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  He can (and should) practice the movements and the words but it doesn't "count."  It is not a Mass.  It is not even close.  It is daunting to pronounce the words of consecration for the first time while the oil of consecration is still metaphorically fresh on his hands.  Only now, from the perspective of ten years, do I realize it is equally daunting the two thousandth time as I suspect it will be the three thousandth time I pronounce the sacred words.

The moment of the consecration is, or should be, one of overwhelming awe for all.  It is a moment that should never ever be rushed. The words should never tumble out indistinctly, mumbled, or muttered.  The cadence of speech must be slowed.  The words must be distinct and audible.  The most important thing about Mass in the vernacular is that the congregation has the opportunity to hear the words of consecration in its own language.  That privilege must never be taken from the congregation by a sloppy celebrant.

"Take this all of you and eat of it
for this is my Body
which will be given up for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins." 

"Vzemite in jejte od tega vsi,
to je moje telo,
ki se daje za vas."

Because Corpus Christi was celebrated on Thursday here in Slovenia our readings on Sunday will be those for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary time.  Thus the English Language Mass congregation will hear some of the most consoling words St. Paul ever wrote in his Letter to the Romans, words that echo those of the consecration.  "For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.  . . .  only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." 

Without the Church there is no Eucharist.  Without the Eucharist there is no Church.  The Church's most important role is not the struggle for justice or the rights of the current group du jour, however that might be defined.  The priest's most important role is not that of community organizer, social justice warrior, bingo caller, or anything else.  The priest's most important role is as celebrant of the sacred mysteries of the Mass. No other role comes close in importance to that, a role that includes under that rubric  administering the sacraments of the Church that are reserved to him.  Everything else, as nice and relevant as it is, is a mere grace note.  Without the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ the Church has nothing.  Without the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist the Church can offer nothing.  Without offering the Mass and other sacraments regularly and when needed, the priest is just another schlepper--pop open a cold one, sit back, and watch the game schlepper-- regardless of anything else he does.

"Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant,
which will be poured out for you
and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me."

"Vzemite in pijte iz njega vsi,
to je kelih moje krvi
nove in večne zaveze,
ki se za vas in za vse preliva v odpuščanje grehov.
To delajte v moj spomin."

Do this in memory of me.

This is the most important mandate the Church received.  Without the Mass the Church has no meaning or function.  

Pay careful attention to the readings for Corpus Christi on Sunday.  None of them is particularly long.  Listen to the Gospel from John.  You will hear the radical statement,

". . . my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him."

This is what we celebrate today.  

 Got back to Pleterje with some time to shoot more photos.  I will miss the opportunity to visit on a regular basis.  The day was cloudy but not particularly dark.  That made some of the shots easier as there was no risk of 'blow out.'  

There is something wonderful about stucco, even when it is getting rough and peeling.  The ochre paint or tint is very common.  It adds warmth that changes as a function of the light.  Some of the shots were through windows that could use a bit of washing.  The windows act like natural filters to change the experience of the photo.

 Opening the window changed the feeling of the shot compared with the one above taken of the same basic scene.

The handle and partial hinge on the main door to the monastic church. 

 The door to one of the cloister halls.  The primary colored block are not stained glass but plastic.  

I like the bit of color on the arches in the cloister walk.

A partial crucifix with only the torso of the corpus.

A medallion-icon on one of the doors.

The rope for the bell.  As a man comes into the church he takes the rope from whoever is ringing the bell and pulls a few times before passing it off.  The last man in choir puts the rope in this diagonal position.  It takes four or five hard tugs on the rope to get enough inertia so that the bell rings.   It takes a bit of time to get the bell to stop as well.

Looking across the front of the altar from left to right.  The candlesticks are very all even without the candles.

Two views from the loft.  The flowers in the second shot appeared at some point after noon.  Thursday was the celebration of Corpus Christi, a solemnity that will be observed in the U.S. on Sunday.  A few hours after I took this I joined the community for solemn vespers

The rose window over the loft.  There is no narrative or figurative stained glass. 

There is always a vase with some fresh-cut flowers in the room I use. 

I was playing with them.  this is a longish exposure during which I moved the camera slowly from top to bottom.

Approaching the town of Sevnice as seen from the moving train.

Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

 Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
11 June 2017

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. This celebration forces us to contemplate the essential dogma of our faith. We recall this dogma every time we begin and end Mass. We invoke the Trinity every time we pray.  We recall the Trinity whenever we say the words  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What we call the Trinitarian formula  is NOT the absurd gender free version in vogue in certain pathetic circles that chooses to invoke and pray in the name of a creator, a redeemer, and a sanctifier.  While this is linguistically awkward.  It is flat out theologically wrong.  A function is not a person.  No person is fully defined by his function. The dogma of the Holy Trinity is One God in Three Divine Persons.  It does not describe a god--intentional small g--defined by and limited to three functions.  The perversion of the Trinitarian formula to creator, redeemer, and sanctifier reduces God to functions not persons.  Why not use butcher, baker, and candlestick maker, or quarterback, fullback, and waterboy?  It would be equally absurd.

The Trinitarian formula, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is critical to the Church's seven sacraments, from baptism to the anointing of the sick and dying.  The sign of the cross begins and ends everything the Church does. As it should and as it must.

We read in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, (#234):  “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in Himself.  It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.  It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.”

Every time we make the sign of the cross we recall a mystery that remains incomprehensible.  It remains incomprehensible despite the many volumes attempting to explain the interpersonal dynamics within the Trinity, an absurd undertaking if there ever was one.

Each book may contain a tiny kernel of insight into the nature of the Trinity.  However, the sum of all the books written does not come close to capturing the essence of the Trinity.  The dogma of the Trinity depends on faith. It can only be understood through the eyes of faith.

This raises the question: What is faith?

A dictionary definition of faith is:  “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.”  The Letter to the Hebrews gives a better definition: "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. . . . By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible."  Thus, we must become comfortable with faith at its most mysterious and impenetrable because despite the absence of logical proof, despite the impossibility and futility  of philosophy, science, or theology of ever "explaining" the Trinity, no one can declare him or herself a Christian if he or she denies the Trinity.

The word Trinity does not appear in scripture.  The understanding of the Trinity grew in the earliest years of the Church as she began to consider what Jesus said and did during His time on earth.   Jesus always speaks of His Father as distinct from Himself but He also notes that “I and the Father are One.”  The same is true of the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus refers to His oneness with the Father he is referring to substance and NOT the functions of creation, redemption, or enlightenment.  Thus, the ancient Creeds in Greek use homoousion which was translated into consubstantialem  in Latin. It is obvious that the English consubstantial arises directly from the Latin.  Slovenian uses enega bistvam, one essence or one substance.  We are accustomed to persons being distinct rather than the same.  We have a hard time wrapping our minds around three in one. We have a very hard time wrapping our minds around “consubstantial."

Over the past weeks many of the gospel readings have been taken from the farewell discourse in John’s Gospel.  Jesus refers to both the Father and the Holy Spirit in reference to Himself several times in this discourse.  The Trinity is a mystery that, in the end, compels us to sing in praise and thanksgiving with the psalmist:

"Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages."

 Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of our ordination to the priesthood.  Ten years ago today was the first Mass.  It was a spectacularly beautiful day, an important consideration in Campion Center as it was, and remains, without air conditioning, unless something big has happened in my absence.  

Wednesday night was marked by serious insomnia with multiple awakenings every 90 minutes until by 4:30 AM I gave up, took my meds, got dressed, and went out with the camera a bit after 5:00.  Had a very productive time walking along the river.  Chose not to attempt a walk to the castle as the kind of fatigue associated with poor sleep makes it difficult to climb.  Got some shots I like. 

The sterling silver bowl was sitting in the window of a gallery that faces but is set back from the river.  The bowl is reflecting the buildings on the other side of the fiver.

 The curio shop was just a bit down the way.  Many of the window grates here are decorative and functional. 

A small locked cabinet outside an antique store. 

Probably walked a bit farther than I should have given the level of fatigue I managed by the time I got back to the house (and a nap).  Went fairly far down the river.  Didn't notice the spider web until I downloaded the shots. 

This bar is in the same general area as the antique shop.  Everything was set for opening which was quite a few hours away, at least not until 10 AM.  It is not just a bar and does serve food.  However, tourists can develop a powerful thirst at odd hours of the morning. 

I sometimes fantasize living in an apartment overlooking the river.  And then I remember that it is crowded and noisy at this part of the river.  LJ is not a late night city but I don't particularly want to spend my evenings listening to the noise of revelers.  This does look peaceful with the first rays of sun hitting the windows.  Ah, to take morning coffee sitting on a balcony. 

The colors in this scene have the potential to clash audibly if looked at too long.  If you follow the path to the right it would lead to the library, an interesting buildings that is a significant temptation to rock and wall climbers. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, June 3, 2017


Depiction of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Campion Center, Weston, MA

Acts 2:1-11
Ps 104
1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13
Jn 20:19-23

One of the truisms heard in theology school is that you can't understand the New Testament without first understanding the Old. Today’s first reading from Acts of the Apostles is proof.  “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.”  This reference to Pentecost was to the Jewish festival of Pentecost, not to what we are celebrating today.

The Greek root of Pentecost means fifty days.  The feast of Pentecost that ends the Easter season is historically and symbolically linked to the Jewish feast of Pentecost or Shavuot.  Shavuot is a harvest festival that commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses fifty days after the Exodus.  In our liturgical year Pentecost occurs fifty days after Easter.  Thus, just as Moses received the wisdom and teaching of the Decalogue fifty days after the Exodus, the disciples received the wisdom of the Holy Spirit fifty days after Jesus’ led the exodus from death.  Today we rejoice in the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.  If we choose to accept and cooperate with these gifts they will strengthen us in our faith and our daily lives. 

The reading from Acts is dramatic and action packed.  It is almost a movie script demanding heavy use of special effects.  Too bad Cecil B. DeMille didn't make a film of this using modern computerized effects.  Wind.  Flame.  Polyglot speaking.  It would be spectacular.  But, we can't afford to be distracted by the special effects of this reading.  Step into the scene.  Put yourself into the action.  Imagine the people’s consternation when they heard this group of unsophisticated and uneducated Galilean men speaking whatever language was necessary for everyone to hear and comprehend the Good News of Christ Jesus risen from the dead.  In the speaking in tongues we see what some call “the reversal of Babel.” That which had been split apart by man's hubris at the Tower of Babel was made whole again by the Son of Man's obedience to the Father at Pentecost.

It is a pity we did not hear all of Psalm 104 during the responsorial.  Psalm 104 describes God’s ongoing act of creation in exquisite imagery.  It also describes our response--or what our response should be--to God's act of supreme generosity. Ideally, God’s action and our response are reciprocal, flowing from the Creator to the creature and from the creature to the Creator.  In a perfect world the reciprocity would be equal in both directions.  In reality it is not.  God gives us more than we are able to, or choose to, return to Him in thanksgiving.
“As a body is one though it has many parts . . .” is an important statement. Paul will return to it with a more detailed elaboration in the letter to the Romans.  It is relevant in society today.  Certain sectors of modern society no longer acknowledge or accept differences or distinctions.  They insist on a false equality. That false equality is an extreme version of particularity. It is marked by a grandiose sense of specialness and uniqueness.  Each individual or faction insists that his or her specialness is most special and thus deserves most special precedence.  Any arguments to the contrary seem to end with someone shrieking the equivalent of "My equality trumps your equality" followed by attributing some newly coined 'ism' or 'phobia' to the other.

There are a number of amusing anecdotes, most of which can never be shared in a homily, about the struggle for the role of most supreme in the body.  The general outline is an argument in which the body's organs argue about which one is the most important, which one is MOST critical to the life and comfort of the individual.   But you know what?  Except for the appendix, which appears to be a useless though occasionally dangerous anatomical appendage, the body has no most important system or organ, no most special system.  All of the systems are equally necessary, each in its own way, to the function and survival of the individual.  The lungs cannot do the work of the liver even if it wishes to self-identify as liver.  The liver cannot decide to do the work of the heart.  The pancreas cannot substitute for the kidneys.  And nothing can cover the body as well as the skin.  If one organ or system fails the entire body dies. It is that simple. 

None of us is the social or biological equivalent of a stem cell.  None of us can do or become ANYTHING depending only upon our dreams, our passion, or, to use an unfortunate term from the past, following our bliss.  We cannot decide to be whatever we "identify ourselves to be" particularly when that violates natural law.  The statement "you can be whatever you want to be" is one of the greatest lies in the history of lying. We all have assets and liabilities.  We are all limited and have strengths.  We all have specific genetic endowments. We are all fallible in some areas and more than competent in others.   The only thing we share is that we are all sinners.  No exceptions and no counterbalance.  That we are sinners loved by God is the only true equality.  Thus, we are called to rejoice that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have been bestowed on us.  Our vocation is to cooperate with those gifts, along with our natural talents and abilities, in the manner to which each of us is called.  Our common calling as Christians is to share the revelation of Jesus with those we meet in whatever language necessary.  The best instruction on how to do this comes from St. Francis of Assisi:

"Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words only when absolutely necessary."


Returned to Pleterje with the big camera.  
Took this from the train on the way to Krško.  One of the many villages along the 100 minute trip. 

On of the many halls at the charterhouse.

One of the small chapels in which each priests celebrates a private Mass after the conventual Mass.

A detail of the monks choir stalls.

Looking into the the priests' choir from what was the brothers' choir.  That separation is no longer maintained. 

A more detailed look at the carving. 

The winter chapel, formerly the brothers' Mass chapel, that is used during the cold weather.  It would be impossible to heat the church. 

The church as viewed from one of the porches. 

My lunch on Wednesday.  I love Europe. 

+Fr. Jack SJ, MD