Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Good Samaritan (27th Monday of Ordinary Time)

Luke 10:25-37

The Good Samaritan is a parable which Jesuit Father Joe Fitzmyer, S.J. notes,  “. . . supplies a practical model for Christian conduct, and  includes radical demands that require the approval or rejection of certain modes of action.”  However, the parable of the Good Samaritan is more than that.  It is an image.  It is an image which, along with the Prodigal Son, is part of the English language, even among those who profess no faith, even among those who are militantly atheistic.  A generic definition for Good Samaritan is, “A compassionate person who unselfishly helps another.”   The Good Samaritan is much more than just a nice guy.
The bumper sticker that advises one to “commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” annoys me beyond tolerance.  It annoys me almost as much as baby on board stickers on cars to which I want to scream, "Then drive carefully."  Perhaps my annoyance springs from the words random and senseless. The Samaritan did not commit a random act of kindness.  That would have been too easy.   The critical component in this parable is that the Samaritan made a commitment to another. 

“Look after him, and if there is any further expense I will repay you on my way back,”   It was the act of making a commitment, the creation of a future relationship, that took this act from the category of random good deed or senseless act of beauty into something more important.     

Suppose the two pieces of silver didn't cover all of the expenses and the Samaritan didn’t return because he forgot?  Or he didn’t feel like stopping?  Or was too busy and took a shorter route back?  Or, the dreaded, SOMETHING came up?   The victim would have been stuck with the bill.  Since he was robbed of everything, he might have been put in prison as a debtor. 

What does it cost someone else when I break a commitment?  What is the impact on another when I renege on a promise?  What does it cost us when we break a commitment or renege on a promise?

Like many of the parables the parable of the Good Samaritan is ultimately frustrating.  The story ends too soon.   It is like seeing only the first act of a two-act play.  We don’t know if the Samaritan kept his word. The Samaritan forced the innkeeper into a commitment he may not have wanted.   Did he care for the man or did he pocket the silver?  

Perhaps it's better to have only part of the story.  The incompleteness allows us to insert ourselves into the parable and explore it's meaning without a preordained conclusion, or a comfortable: And they lived happily ever after.  We don’t know if the Samaritan kept his word.  We don’t know if the innkeeper kept up his part of the bargain. However, we know that Jesus keeps His word to us.    We know that Jesus’ commitment has never wavered.  We need only go to Him in prayer and we will be cared for.  No silver necessary.
It has been a while since I've posted.   Busy is part of the answer.  I've been on the road a bit with a trip to Germantown, NY coming up to give some lectures.  I concelebrated the wedding Mass of a former college roommate.  Both were widowed a few years ago.  It was one of the most enjoyable weddings I've ever attended.  Long drive back and forth but in the end it was worth every leg cramp.  

Attached are some fall photos.  So far things are looking good.  There are some dramatic oranges and scarlets appearing in spotty fashion.  We are about a week away from the usual peak.  These are from last year as I've not been out.  I will take the camera to Germantown, a town just off the Taconic Parkway overlooking the Hudson.  See what I can get during the off hours.  

The read leaves clinging to the slightly pink plaster outside wall caught my attention.  It screams "FALL."  Bit of trivia.  If an American says fall in Australia the Australian has no idea what he is talking about.  Autumn?  Yes.  Fall?  Excuse me?  Eucalypts don't drop their leaves.  

 Squirrel grabbing a quick snack.

St. Joseph Abbey at sunrise.  As I'd already been in the chapel for vigils at 3:30 AM there was no real effort being up for sunrise. 

The abbey infirmary at sunrise. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, September 11, 2015

Commemoration of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today we commemorate The Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a memorial that occurs within the octave of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was on Tuesday.  It is a quiet commemoration in which we contemplate the name of Mary.  

On Tuesday we heard Jesus' genealogy.  We know nothing of Mary’s except through the undocumented tradition that her parents were Joachim and Ann.   Mary would have remained anonymous, her name forgotten rather than celebrated, had it not been for her yes.  “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to your word.”  Mary’s yes changed history. It continues to echo through the universe.  That yes will echo through the universe until and beyond the end of the universe, until and beyond the end of time. 

Today, however, we hear another sound that echoed through the universe.  It is a sound that continues to echo, though it will not endure in the manner of Mary’s yes.  It is the sound of terror.  It is a sound to which we shrieked NO.  Fourteen years ago today we were walking around in a catatonic-like state.  The full extent of the tragedy was still unraveling.  New York City.  Washington, D.C.  Shanksville, PA.  Terrorist-caused plane crashes in all three. 

Fourteen years ago today was the first full day following the September 11 tragedy.  The tally of deaths was still climbing.  Fourteen years ago today the communal shriek of NO!! contrasted with a strange silence. The flight paths in all major metropolitan areas, and even minor ones, were empty. The country was on an aviation lockdown. The silence was occasionally interrupted by the sound of jet fighters patrolling the sky but the comforting roar of the jets departing from and landing at city airports was absent.  It was an eerie silence.  Millions screamed GOD! WHY?  Their screams were greeted by the same eerie silence.  Those whys continue to echo today and we hear the same silence in response.  Good trees and rotten trees were destroyed in equal measure without attention to which was which.  We remain perplexed.  We continue to utter WHY?

Only a fool would stand in a pulpit and answer that why.  Only unadulterated hubris would permit anyone to survey the devastation and explain it.  Only the most arrogant would interrupt the silence following the blast with babble.  Sometimes we can only sit in and with the silence and listen. 

In the silence that continues since the terrorist attack we hear nothing. We hear nothing until we listen more closely. Then we hear Mary’s yes. 

Blessed art though amongst women.
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.  

Got back from retreat early Sunday evening after a few hours at Spencer.  As Monday was Labor Day the Sunday traffic was non-existent.  Actually enjoyed the drive.  The same cannot be said for getting to Regina Laudis the previous Saturday.  I hadn't used the car for two days prior to leaving for retreat.  Imagine my chagrin when I discovered the rear passenger flat tire.  Very flat.  This as I was preparing to pack.  I had Mass at St. Patrick's Nursing Home in Framingham at 11:15 (this little drama unfolded about 9).  Once I calmed down and started thinking clearly I was able to arrange another car from the community.  One of the drivers would take care of getting the tire fixed.  OK. However, as I had to get to Framingham I didn't get to pack until after Mass.  Instead of leaving for Bethlehem (CT) after Mass at noon I left from Campion about 2 PM.  And hit Mass Pike Saturday afternoon traffic at Worcester.  It got ugly.  

Like the saying about bad dress rehearsal good show, the prelude to the retreat augured a good retreat.  It was, in fact, a terrific retreat.  I arrived with no agenda.  While getting settled I was looking at the bookshelves in the chaplain's quarters.  Lots of shelves with lots of old, musty, dusty, vaguely mildewy, and semi-arranged tomes that will probably never be looked at again.  A very small paperback caught my eye.  Title:  The Hunted Priest.  It was the autobiography of Fr. John Gerard, SJ, who ministered in England during the terror foisted upon Catholics by the Protestant heretics.  Gerard's contemporaries were some of the great martyr's: Campion, Southwell, Garnet and Owen.  Gerard escaped England eventually and died at age 73 in Belgium.  

The book was riveting.  Gerard wrote in almost matter-of-fact fashion about the suffering he endured.  It was harsh.  It is definitely worth reading if you can lay hand on it.  

I celebrated and preached at 6 Masses and concelebrated two others.  It was a  prayerful and very revealing retreat.  Will have much to ponder over the coming year.  

There were photo opportunities.  Some of them are below.  

I was wandering through a parking lot.  There was a pile of what looked like railroad ties covered with plant life and a broken jar.  The reds were fantastic.  I took close to 100 shots of the jar.  Maybe I got what I was looking for but a lot of post-processing remains to be done.  

The gladiola is not a particularly favorite flower.  Saw too many of them in bad funeral bouquet arrangements, always in a triangular shape, when I was an altar boy.  When I finally arrived at the Abbey in time for vespers (it was a LONG drive with the traffic) I stopped in my tracks upon seeing the gladioli that Mother Margaret Georgina had arranged.  They were being backlit and flooded with sunlight.  The colors almost vibrated.  Alas, the best light was during vespers, hardly a time I could crawl around on the floor with the camera.  But I was able to return at various times to catch other light.  

Some of the buds were disarticulated from the stem and placed in the small rock font on the floor. 

This is my favorite of all the gladiola shots.  The light was a problem  I took multiple exposures at various parameters and shot RAW.  More than pleased with the chiaroscuro.  Did very little processing here except to straighten and crop a little bit.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, August 24, 2015

21st Sunday Ordinary Time

Did not have time to post this yesterday.  Today, 24 August, is the 18th anniversary of my entering the novitiate.  Better than my birthday that will be in a few days. 

Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Eph 5:21-32
Jn 6:60-69

The readings and gospel all present a problem for preaching. The reading from the 24th chapter of Joshua is a problem because it is discontinuous. After hearing the first two verses it jumps to verses fifteen to eighteen.  Joshua had led the people into the promised land.  He is now a dying old man.  He is making his valedictory address.  From verses two to fifteen Joshua reviews the history of what God had done for his people and how he led them in their journey.  We only heard that the people pledged their loyalty. 

Loyalty to God was the major point of the covenant.  Loyalty to the one with whom a covenant was made is always the most important element of the covenant. This includes the marriage covenant.  Being loyal to God is the first commandment.  In the flush of enthusiasm the people pledged that loyalty.  Alas, we know they would go on to forget the covenant many times. 

The reading from Ephesians is a problem because some people respond to it in hostile, defensive, angry or dismissive fashion. Or they ignore  the line "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands."  It is a prime example of responding negatively to something taken out of context without thought.  Many forget what immediately precedes it, "Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ."  The letter compares the relationship between husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and His Church.  Thus we hear, "even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her . . . so husbands should love their wives as their own body."  We cannot separate Christ from the Church of which he is the head. 

In the ideal marriage husband and wife subordinate their needs and desires to those of the other.  Both must be constantly aware that loving the other means honoring, obeying, and subordinating oneself to the other in equal measure.  And both are called in turn to subordinate themselves to God.  As one commentary puts it,  "Just as the God of old encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so Christ encounters Christian spouses in the sacrament of marriage.  He remains with them so that by their mutual self-giving spouses will love each other with enduring fidelity. . . " 

In the sacrament of marriage both man and woman, both woman and man, are called into a relationship of dignity and equality.   The common denominator in most failed marriages is the lack or loss of the mutual self-giving and sacrifice that are crucial to marriage.  The "irreconcilable differences" that seem to be the excuse for the failure of most celebrity marriages is, in fact, the result of a marital philosophy of  you do your thing and I'll do mine.  And don't bother me. 

The problem with John's Gospel is that we need to know the previous thirty verses so as to understand what the disciples were "murmuring" about.  Many of the disciples could not accept the revelation of Jesus as Bread of Life, as The Word Made Flesh.  They could not accept Jesus as the revelation of the Father. It got challenging. Thus  many of the disciples returned to their former ways of life and no longer followed Jesus.

Jesus even gave the twelve apostles the option to leave.   But Peter, acting as their spokesman said, "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."  This is a radical statement of faith. We must keep it in mind  because it describes the necessary growth and evolution of faith in each of us.  That faith is nurtured in the triple presence of Christ: his presence in the assembly of people at prayer, his presence in the word proclaimed in scripture and in His real presence in the Eucharist.

Through most of the past week the gospel readings at Mass have focused on being called and chosen.  We heard "many are called and few are chosen,"  "the last shall be first and the first shall be last."  This gospel reading reminds us that those who are called, that those who are chosen, are free to reject the revelation that is Jesus.  Many did.  Many do today.  Just as the Israelites forgot and rejected the covenant with God over and over, just as some of those who enter into the covenant of marriage ignore the terms of that covenant, there are those who reject the revelation of Jesus as Bread of Life, as the Word come down from Heaven. 

They are to be pitied.

Some of the photos from the recent trip to California.  I made one error in not taking a tripod.  The opportunities for night photography are splendid.  I had one lens that could mostly manage but barely.  

The campus at Loyola Marymount (LMU) is beautiful.  It is very spread out, dotted with palm trees and quite flat.  The university sits on a bluff overlooking LA with views from the ocean to many miles to the east.  The backdrop for the cityscape is mountains.  I'd only been there once before, nine years ago and, because I did not have a camera at the time, did not remember much about the setting.  

The chapel in which the vows was held is simple but not stripped down.  Indeed, it has pews rather than chairs that would allow it to be a "multi-purpose" space.  A chapel should not be a multi-purpose space.  It has one purpose and one purpose only:  prayer.  

The entrance.  There are three gothic arches over the porch area.  Interesting saw-tooth pattern. 

The view of the chapel from the sanctuary.  The chapel was packed for the vow Mass. 

The stained glass windows at eye-level along the aisle are each dedicated to a famous man though not necessarily a saint.  I've always been a fan of Thomas More. 

The view of the chapel from the back with the focus on the holy water font.  

There is a piece of the Berlin Wall on Campus.

This cluster of houses was fascinating.  It sits at the base of the bluff. The stark white broken up with blocks of primary color bring Mondrian to mind. 

The view of LA from the bluff.  The weather was close to perfect.  There was no smoke from the forest fires to the north. 

A reflection of LA in the rounded glass wall of the library. 

LA by night.  Why did I not think to take the tripod?  I had space. 

I am going on retreat on Saturday 29 August until the Sunday before Labor Day (eight days).  Please keep me in your prayers.  Looking forward to the silence and isolation.  Will be at the Abbey. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, August 14, 2015

An Anniversary and a New Jesuit

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Prov 9:1-6
Ps 33
Eph 5:15-20
Jn 6:51-58

Last Saturday, the Chapel of the Sacred Heart at Loyola Marymount University-Los Angeles was packed. Behind the processional cross eight men, all in clerical dress, preceded the celebrants.  Mass went on as usual until communion.  After the Lamb of God the Jesuit Provincial of California stood in front of the altar. He was holding the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord. The eight men were kneeling at the foot of the altar.  One by one, each man began,

“Almighty and eternal God. 
I understand how unworthy I am in your divine sight. 
Yet I am strengthened
by your infinite compassion and mercy,
and I am moved by the desire to serve you. . . . “ 

He continued for a bit longer.  When he returned to his place he was a perpetually vowed Jesuit.  Sixteen years  ago I read the same vow formula that, except for being in English rather than Latin, has not changed in centuries. 
The Jesuit vow Mass is unusual because rather than pronouncing vows after the homily as in other orders, the men pronounce their vows kneeling in front of the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord, just as St. Ignatius of Loyola and his original companions did 471 years ago yesterday, August 15, 1534.  The newly vowed man then partakes of the Eucharistic Banquet, the banquet that Jesus brought to its fullest expression.  The banquet in which you will share in a few minutes.

The first reading describes the banquet that Wisdom has prepared for all who choose to partake.  True wisdom comes from God, who gave humans, and only humans, hearts capable of discerning good from evil, hearts capable of returning God’s love with love.  A few verses after the end of this reading one reads:  “The beginning of Wisdom is fear of the Lord; and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” 

The reading from Ephesians gives good advice.  “Do not drug yourselves with wine.”  Paul is not referring only to drinkable wine. He is referring to the wine of power, the wine of money, the wine of sensual pleasure, the wine of Florida condos and yachts, and the resulting intoxication that clouds one's judgment.  Paul is referring to the drunkenness that takes one’s mind from discerning God’s will to the inebriation that destroys Wisdom. 

Here in the Valley we are too familiar with the stories of those intoxicated by power, money and QUOTE the good life UQUOTE.  The names of the corrupt tripped off our tongues. It was quite a list.  How many lives have been damaged by these senseless people, drunk on their own greed and intoxicated by their lust for power and possessions?  Contrast this drunkenness on the wine of power and the gluttony at the banquet of money with the Gospel. 

Jesus tells the crowds:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven: Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

At the end He reiterates.

“This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Jesus wants to guide us on a challenging journey of faith.  A journey for which we are nourished at the Eucharistic Banquet.  Unlike the wine of power and greed, unlike the junk food of position and privilege, partaking of the banquet of the Eucharist, hearing and following the Word of God, brings us to eternal life. 

However, there is one thing we must never ever forget.  Jesus is NOT promising that our lives will be free of pain and suffering.  Jesus is not promising that we won’t die, sometimes peacefully and sometimes after a prolonged struggle.  Jesus is not promising that those we love won’t die, be it before their time or after a long long life. We all must die if we are to know eternal life.  Eternal life is possible only through the Living Word, through Jesus the Son of God.  It is only possible because Jesus gave Himself for our salvation.  Eternal life is possible only if we avail ourselves of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  In a few moments, just as those brand new Jesuit scholastics did last Saturday, you will kneel and gaze up at the Body and Blood of Christ. You will hear the words:

”Behold the Lamb of God.
Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called
to the supper of the Lamb."

You are being invited to the banquet of Wisdom.  You are being invited to the banquet that leads to eternal life. You need only respond: Amen.  So be it.
Two Happy Jesuits.  

Only one photo today.  I am in my home town to baptize the fifth grandchild of very long time friends.  That the baptism coincides with the 12th (or so) annual kielbasa festival makes it a bit more interesting.  Haven't been to this event in about seven years.  Spent some time wandering around.  Ran into a number of people from high school who I haven't seen in years.  Pierogi for lunch today.  Kielbasa tomorrow.  Probably lunch and dinner. 

I was in Los Angeles last week for vows.  That was apparent in the homily.  It was a lot of travel for a weekend but worth every leg cramp.  I've known Ryan for four years when he was still wondering if he was being called to the Society.  There is no doubt in my mind that he was.  It was very moving to see him and the other seven men, pronounce their vows one by one.  It hearkened back to our vow Mass back in 1999 (last century!).  There was a sense of solidarity and renewal for all the men attending the Mass.  Perhaps friends and families of the men did not, some never will, understand exactly what each man did.  But those of us who have pronounced vows were with the each man with every word he said.

It is odd to look back on each of the steps in formation that we all have in common.  Entry day, the long retreat, the experiments, the Jesuit history course, the long experiment, the vow retreat a few days before vows, and that moment of approaching the altar, kneeling and repeating the formula.  That was only the beginning.  There was much more.  Ordination, tertianship and then final vows.  Jesuit final vows are a very different experience from first vows.  The formula is different, there is a fourth vow for many, and there are the simple vows after Mass.  I suggested that my siblings and family not attend.  I pronounced the vows on a weekday, it would have been a very long and costly trip and it was over in three minutes.  The second part, the simple vows and signing the documents, takes place in the sacristy with only other Jesuits present.  "We drove all that way for that?"  It would have been a reasonable question.  No drama, prostrations, litanies, signing documents on the altar or anything else.  I like it that way. 

I explain to people who are surprised that I am not going to my second home town, Philadelphia, when the pope is there that I don't need to see him.  I know him.  We had the same experiences of walking into the novitiate on entry day, going through formation, vows, ordination, and so on.  Religious can identify with each other on a fundamental level, even across orders and congregations.

I drive back to Boston very early Monday.  In town for twelve days and then it is time for my eight-day retreat.  Will be counting the days.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD