Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sam Sara, SJ

Sam Sara, of the Society of Jesus, of the Georgetown University Jesuit Community for over forty years, and for the past three years of the Campion Community, was a model Jesuit in a quiet unassuming way. 

A native Iraqi who attended Baghdad College, he entered the Society at Shadowbrook in 1950 at age 20.   He was ordained in 1963.  Should you go to the hallway leading to the lounge you will see the photo of his ordination class.  It is the only one in color.  On the day of his ordination Sam looked the same as he did on the day of his death.  The same fringe of hair, the same intense gaze, and the same wiry frame. It is unlikely his weight ever varied by more than a pound or two.  I think he was able to wear the slacks he wore at ordination until he was about seventy. And he probably did.  More on matters sartorial later.  

After the usual formation Sam received his PhD in linguistics from Georgetown.  I thought of reading off the list of things from the Georgetown website in which he was considered an expert.  However, I couldn't pronounce half of them, so we'll leave things at Arabic linguistics and phonology.  He taught at Georgetown his entire career.  He was a loved member of the Georgetown Jesuit Community.  One could say he was one of "the old guard."   He did his work, teaching, grading, and committees without whining or complaining.  It took a little while to get to know him when I first went to Georgetown. He never went to pre-prans, he ate dinner early, generally returned to his room for the news in Arabic, and then went back to his books and work.  An exemplary man for others he was quietly involved in other forms or service. 

Sam celebrated Mass every Sunday for almost forty years at Epiphany Catholic Church down on Dumbarton St., less than a mile from the university.  It was an easy walk from campus.  He only stopped when it became too difficult to get there.  It pained him to give up this ministry.  During good weather one would see Sam crossing campus in wrinkled but immaculate tennis whites, a white bucket hat protecting his bare pate and a tennis racquet gripped in his hand. He was a fierce competitor.  He continued to play even after bypass surgery, until Parkinson's made it impossible for him to continue. 

Sam's two major summer joys were:  tomatoes and figs. Every midweek during tomato growing season he traveled to the Georgetown villa house in Centreville, Maryland to tend his tomato plants.  When they were ripe he brought overflowing trays to the community dining room.  We all awaited that moment.  He grew the standard reds, of course, but also a number of heirloom varieties.  Sam's tomatoes, black bread, a bit of mayo and a lot of pepper was my lunch and supper when the harvest was flowing into the house. 

Figs are delicate and not easy to grow.  When the community moved to the new house in 2003 Sam had the two fig trees from behind the old house transplanted to the front of the new one.  He picked the ripe figs with the touch of a neurosurgeon, gently placing them in a metal bowl that was nestled in ice.  He even tolerated a degree of fig-loss to the birds with reasonable, though not total, equanimity. The end of summer was approaching when Sam asked, "Have you ever had a fresh fig?" as he proffered some of his take.

Sam came to Campion Center in September 2013 when the combination of Parkinson's disease, the side effects of the medication necessary for treatment of the motor disorder, and the discontinuation of assisted-living at the Georgetown community made the move necessary.  But even before his move he was no stranger to Campion.  About twice a year he traveled here for a few days to visit the men who had been in Baghdad.  He maintained a tremendous affection for them and seemed a bit diminished each time one of them died.  One of his great personal losses was the death of his longtime friend, colleague, and Jesuit brother, Fr. John Witek, of the Chicago province, whose tenure teaching Asian history matched Sam's endurance teaching linguistics.  Some of the spark went out of Sam when John, his companion in weekly conversation, died.

Sam had a difficult transition during his first few weeks here at Campion.  It was painful to watch.  He missed his friends in D.C.--he had many--and he missed the support system at Georgetown where he spent almost half his life. There were periods of anxiety and confusion when he first arrived, but he eventually settled into the routine thanks to two men here: Father George Galarelli and Brother Ed Niziolek.  Within a few weeks of his arrival they became a kind of three musketeers, at table, walking outdoors in good weather, visiting in each others' rooms, and hanging out in general.  It was great to watch.  Jesuits taking care of each other.  There is much to learn from their example.

As promised earlier we come back to the sartorial question.  Sam was not what one would call a snazzy dresser.  He was either in clerics, with a shirt that was more faded steel gray than black, in khakis and a bland shirt showing obvious evidence of wear, or the aforementioned tennis whites.  Among the benefits of the three musketeers was that our own fashion icon, George Gallarelli, who was about the same size, immensely improved Sam's sartorial style, particularly with sweaters and shirts. Things matched. They were color coordinated. This was the new improved GQ Sam Sara. 

The last months were difficult.  Parkinson's is a devastating disease. The man who played tennis several times a week, who walked about a mile each way to celebrate Mass every Sunday, to say nothing of to and from his classes on Georgetown's surprisingly hilly campus, now struggled to get out of his chair, to walk down a hallway, or to cut his food.  He accepted assistance with grace and without complaint.  On Ignatius Feast two weeks ago I was catching Sam up with the doings at Georgetown.  At dinner he allowed me to dissect his lobster without fuss, resistance, or protesting "I can do it myself." 

I am grateful to Sam for his assistance and example when I was new in the Georgetown community.  The night before being admitted for bypass surgery, something Sam had already endured, I went to his room for the sacrament of the sick.  He was kind, compassionate, and calming when kindness, compassion, and a calm voice were more than necessary.

Sam's quiet competence, his dedication to his work, and  his graceful acceptance of aging and disability should be a model for all of us, Jesuit and non-Jesuit. 

Requiem aeternam
dona ei, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat ei!

Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon him.

It seem reasonable to post a few shots from Georgetown University, Sam's home for four decades.

The first is a lantern at the main entrance to Copley Hall, an impressive dorm. 

Bell tower of Dahlgren Chapel

The main floor of Healey Hall

Tower of Healey Hall

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pilgrim.  Statue in front of White-Gravenor

 Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Feast of St. Ignatius

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam
To the Greater Glory of God.

Jesuits frequently use AMDG at the end of a letter.  My vow ring is engraved with it.  It is the Jesuit motto. 

Ignatius of Loyola was a complex man.  He was born in 1491.  Most of his youth was spent learning to be a soldier and a member of the royal court.  Though poorly educated, he could read and had very fine penmanship.  At twenty-two years of age the hot-headed Basque soldier was injured while leading his overmatched men in the Battle of Pamplona.  It was one of the most blessed injuries in the history of war.  While convalescing in the castle of Loyola he was gradually drawn to the desire to follow in the footsteps of Christ, to do great things for the Greater Glory of God.  It is a fascinating story. 

Ignatius was charismatic.  A group of men gathered around him at university to do the Spiritual Exercises that he composed while in Manresa.  Some of those men, including Francis Xavier and Peter Faber, who were both canonized, were among the original nine companions when the Society of Jesus was established in 1540. 

Two days ago we heard the well known Gospel narrative of Martha and Mary.  Mary at prayer as she sat at Jesus' feet and Martha grumbling and whining as she did the work of preparing the meal.  In St. Ignatius we see a combination of Mary's contemplation of Jesus' word  and Martha's busy-ness in response to demands of work without the complaining. 

The totality of Ignatius’ presence to Jesus word was like Mary’s.  Like Martha he had many distractions. He wrote an enormous number of letters.  He was writing the Jesuit Constitutions, missioning men throughout the world, and answering hundreds of questions as the Society grew. At times he had to put his foot down.  All novices read his famous letter on obedience, a 4000 word missive that he wrote to young Jesuits in Portugal who were in a rebellious mood. But it was the fruit of his prayer that influenced and changed world history in ways that can never be overestimated.  

Despite the enormous demands of the rapidly growing Society, establishing schools, dealing with hostility from other orders and the occasional pope, missioning men throughout the world, and writing the constitutions for the Society, he was disposed to hear and contemplate the word of God in the midst of, and despite, many distractions.  His health was not good. Yet, he continued to pray and work without grumbling, always to the Greater Glory of God.

Ignatius died in 1556, age 65.  He had been named the first general of the Society in 1541 and was still holding that office at the time of his death.

Jesuits pray a number of prayers written by Holy Father Ignatius. One of these is the prayer for Generosity.  It outlines how to live AMDG.

"O Lord, teach me to be generous
To serve you as you deserve
To give and not to count the cost
To fight and not to heed the wounds
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labor and not to ask for reward
Save that of knowing I do your holy will."

Ignatius Feast is always a fine celebration no matter where in the world it is celebrated.  I've done so in several countries.  We will celebrate later tonight at dinner with community vespers beforehand.  

An interesting fact from Ignatius' autobiography is that after his conversion and well before the Society was founded he wondered about entering the Carthusians, an eremetic monastic order founded by St. Bruno in 1082.  Had he done so world history would have been different.  He would have disappeared anonymously into a hermitage somewhere in Europe.  Period.  Even today, if a Carthusian publishes anything he remains anonymous, publishing under the name, "A Carthusian."  The Exercises never would have happened however and nothing would have been published.

Last weekend I made my second visit to the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Arlington, VT, the only Carthusian Monastery in the U.S.  I'd been invited to give some talks on loss, grieving and mourning with a focus on religious life.   

The Charterhouse sits on 7000 acres of land donated to them in the 1950's.  The monastery that is completely closed to visitors, retreatants, and tourists, sits about halfway up Mt. Equinox.  Mt. Equinox is accessible only via a toll road open from 9 to 5 daily.  Though not like driving up Mt. Washington in NH, be sure brakes are working well before heading up to the top, a drive that features some impressive hairpin turns.  Below the summit is the monastery outlook that affords one a view of the entire sprawling monastery way below.  

I was staying on the mountain in a house built by the donors before they gave the land.  It is a classic 1950's house overlooking the valley.  Because I was already on the mountain I had the chance to go to the outlook and summit at times when the access road was closed to visitors.  It is a joy to be absolutely alone at the top of a mountain hearing only wind (there was lots of it and it was cold) and the sounds of birds.  No traffic noise reaches the summit or the monastery that sits in a mountainside valley.  Of  course there is next to no traffic in Arlington, VT to make sounds anyway.  The superior of the monastery pointed out that the charterhouse is the most geographically isolated of all houses of the order.  

Below are some of the photos from multiple trips up the mountain.  

Two views of the monastery from the outlook, one with a wide-angle lens and the other telephoto, the equivalent of 400 mm.  The wind was so fierce that I had to use a weighted tripod.  The entrance is to the right of the photo.  The monastery is entirely concrete and granite.  The poured concrete cross at the entrance is a bit larger than life size.  

The dam seen on the right of the wide angle view with the base of Mt. Equinox. It is about a mile from the monastery and at a higher elevation.  The road to the summit of Mt. Equinox are good.  The roads on the monastery grounds are a challenge.

The monastery in the center of the photo at sunset.

 Various sunset views taken from the ourtook and the top of the mountain. 

 A shot taken on Sunday AM at dawn.  Cold and windy.  Wearing thick sweatshirt.  I departed around noon when the sky was clear, brilliantly sunny, and the temp was 64.  A bit more than an hour later I drove through Brattleboro, VT.  The temp was 89.

The Carthusian seal and motto. The clouds are reflections in the glass of the visitors center. The center includes information on the order, an example of the distinctive Carthusian habit, and splendid views.

Happy Feast
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Memorial of Augustine Zhao-rong and Companions

Today is the memorial of St. Augustine Zhao-rong and one hundred nineteen companion martyrs of China who were slaughtered from 1648 to 1930. These first saints of China were beatified at various times over the years.  John Paul II canonized them as a group on 1 October 2000.  The canonization infuriated the government controlled Patriotic Association. Eighty-seven were native Chinese ranging in age from toddlers to the elderly.  The rest were foreign missionaries, both men and women, from several orders.  The missionaries included four Jesuits. 

Augustine Zhao-rong was martyred in 1815.  He had been one of the soldiers
escorting Msgr. Dufresse of the MEP to Beijing to his own martyrdom.  Augustine was impressed with the monsignor's witness and asked to be received into the church.  He was sent to seminary and ordained prior to his own death.  Some of the martyrs were barely teenagers who held to their faith to the point of death despite the choice to apostasize. 

We need to know their stories.  The numbers and time, one hundred twenty dying over three centuries, softens the impact.  Only the individual stories make the martyrs real.  That reality is painful.  The reality of martyrdom, the reality of death through the intention of another, is even more painful when we can identify with those who died.  Even those who were martyred in modern times. 

I did my undergrad at Penn State from '68 to '71.  The 9/11 terrorists murdered ten of our alumni, men and women who walked the same routes I did, used the same library, and came to maturity in that special place. One was a stewardess for American Airlines.  One graduated two years before I matriculated.  Only when we hear the details does the pain hit. Only when we come to know the individuals behind the numbers do the tears flow as they did when I read the story of Michael Ferugio, class of '87.

He had befriended the maintenance and cleaning staff.  His address book found by his wife after his death had a phone number with the following notation: "Ludmilla, cleaning woman, 31st floor-WT2, son is at Penn State!!" 

The abstract numbers mask the pain. They hide the human dimension.  The frequency of mass murders and deaths decreed by terrorists overwhelm our ability to appreciate or understand the human cost.  Each death ripples out, affecting many others.  We become inured. Yet the numbers of martyred Catholics continues to increase.  The number increases in the Middle East, in India, in China and elsewhere.  We pray for those whose faith was strong.  We pray that they will be examples for us.  The following describes the deaths of Jesuit Fathers Mangin and Denn in 1900.

The assailants broke through the doors to find the congregation at Mass. The two Jesuits were at the altar. The killers offered to spare those who would apostasized. A frightened few did. As guns were fired Jesuit Fr. Denn began the Confiteor and Jesuit Fr. Mangin gave absolution. The priests died first.  Some of the assailants began shooting while others slashed their victims with swords. The chapel roof was set on fire and smoked filled the building. A few worshippers escaped through the windows, uttering words of apostasy. The majority of the Catholics, however, died on the altar of holocaust.

The collect for Mass asked for what we all need, even today.
"As you gave Augustine Zhao-rong
and the martyrs of China
the courage to suffer death for Christ,
give us the courage
to live in faithful witness to you."

I was in France two years ago.  It was a wonderful time.  I went berserk with the camera, particularly on Friday afternoons and weekends.  

 Garden scene in the garth at the Jesuit community in Lyon.

Gladiola in the garth.

Lemonade shop in Vieux Lyon.

Light sculpture in the train station. 

Train station in Lyon. 

Basilique ND de Fourviere

Fireworks at the Basilique on 14 July.   If you are in France DO NOT call it Bastille Day.  You will be severely corrected.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, June 26, 2016

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21
Ps 23: 16:1-2, 5,7-8, 9-10,11
Gal 5:1, 12-18
Luke 9:51-62           

Today’s readings and gospel are rich in meaning and symbolism.  They are also dense and complex.  One common thread among them that speaks to us today is the question of our vocations, receiving, living and the cost of accepting them.

The Latin root of vocation, voco, vocare, vocatus means: to summon, to call, to name, to call upon, to invite, to challenge.  The meanings overlap a bit  but each is also distinct. A standard dictionary defines vocation as: a regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly qualified or suited, an inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a particular kind of work, especially a religious career.  Then there is the very personal definition of vocation of Mother Dolores Hart, the movie actress who became a nun at Connecticut's Abbey of Regina Laudis 53 year ago: "A vocation is a call from God but not one you necessarily want."

One's vocation may involve membership in a particular order or congregation, vows, or ordination.  Those of us who came of age in the 50’s and 60’s tend to automatically associate the word ‘vocation’ with being a priest, sister, or brother.  ‘Vocation Day’ was always eagerly anticipated in parochial school, if for no other reason than several classes were suspended in favor of vocation talks.  Something like an in-school field trip.  It was certainly better than enduring arithmetic or, God forbid, algebra.  The Church's understanding of vocation has expanded since those days.

Today we speak of:
The vocation TO religious life
The vocation TO marriage
The vocation TO medicine
The vocation TO teaching
The vocation TO parenthood

Ultimately our vocations hinge on radical witness to Gospel values.  That radical witness is summarized in Paul’s letter the Galatians,  “For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Elisha’s dramatic summons is fascinating.  Imagine being him. There you are working on a day like any other when a stranger comes up, tosses his cloak over you, and expects you to follow him? It would be odd. It would be frightening.  But that is what happens when we realize:
“This is it." 
"This is the life I will live." 
"This is the path I will follow." 
"This is the one whom I will follow."  

Many of us here probably have stories of how we came to realize our vocations at the most inconvenient time possible, much as it was for Elisha.  But we accepted the summons because in the end, when we realize our vocations, there really is no choice, something Mother Dolores knows very well. 

Jesus tells us of the cost of discipleship, the cost of accepting, following, and living out our vocations with integrity in the last verses of the Gospel.  That cost is very high.  When three men ask or are asked to follow Him Jesus does not respond with a warm and affirming “Great” or  “Welcome Aboard”  or  "Thank you for joining us.”  He gives them a reality check.  The first interchange reflects the challenge of being itinerant.  The demands of a vocation may keep us from being rooted in one place.  Or may force us to leave home for a place far away.  The last two replies seem almost cruel.  The late scripture scholar, Jesuit Fr. Dan Harrington, notes that the statement about not returning to bury one’s father is probably to be understood as deliberate hyperbole meant to shock the hearer into realizing that nothing is to be preferred to following Jesus, not even the solemn obligation to bury one’s parent.  Nothing takes precedence to discipleship and its demands.  Nothing takes precedence to living out one’s vocation.   The interchange with the third man has a modern counterpart.  “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” 

Most of us have never been behind a plow or even on the seat of a tractor.  But we’ve driven cars.   When driving our eyes must be fixed on where we’re going not where we’ve been.  Looking back while behind a plow causes a crooked row.  Looking back . . .  or, to put things in a contemporary setting, texting while driving results in disaster.   As the birthday card my older sister sent a few years ago says, "Honk if you love Jesus, text while driving if you want to meet Him."

To follow Jesus, to accept and live out one’s vocation, requires that we remain with our gaze fixed ahead, not behind from whence we came.  Our freedom to do so is radical.  We are free to accept or reject a vocation.  We are free to love our neighbor or treat our neighbor as a means to an end.  Ultimately we are free to say with the psalmist:

"You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld
Nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption
you will show me the path to life
Fullness of joy in your presence
the delights at your right hand forever."

The readings, particularly Jesus' advice in the gospel, are interesting.  Looking back on two of the marriages at which I officiated that have ended, I wish I'd had the foresight to remind the couples that once the ceremony is over you can't look back.  You can't continue to hang out with your buddies the way you did before being married, you can't put your girlfriends  first.  The relationships will change drastically.  You cannot live the life you did before committing to marriage.  You have said yes to another.  You have said yes to a particular way of life.  This way of life cannot be part-time.  It must be full-time with everything else taking second place.  The same is true when parenthood happens.  Stay behind the plow, keep going forward.  

The same is true for a man or woman entering religious life.  Your old life is gone.  A few years ago while making manifestation to the provincial he asked if I had ever thought of leaving the Society.  I responded that I had, generally once a year, and almost invariably when I was in Philadelphia.  I liked living in Philly during med school and loved it during psychiatry residency fifteen years later.  Whenever I found myself in Philly after entering I would eventually wander over toward the Parkway with the Art Museum at one end (think Rocky running up the steps) and the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul at the other.  And my apartment  with a view of the cathedral nearby.  During the three years I lived there I ran along the Parkway four or five days a week, attended concerts at the Academy of Music regularly (hearing violinist Sarah Chang's debut with the Orchestra remains the most memorable concert), explored restaurants, bookstores, and wandered.  Unfortunately I had not yet returned to photography as a hobby so there is no record.

Each of those times I would wonder about why I'd entered the Society and why I stayed.  And then at one of the medical school reunions it hit me.  I didn't want to leave the Society.  What fueled my thoughts was a sloppily sentimental nostalgia for being forty years-old again.  And THAT wasn't going to happen.  I was looking back at the energy I had then to run five or six miles early Sunday AM and then walk two miles to Mass followed by wandering the city for a few hours on the way back home.  One can look back and enjoy the memories but to recreate and relive those memories is impossible if for no other reason than age.  Once I figured out what drove my looking back the thoughts disappeared.  No, I ain't never gonna be forty again.  Might as well get used to the idea and stay behind the plow.  

Ljubljana at night was fascinating.  Just before I went to Slovenia I acquired 50 mm equivalent f 1.4 lens that allows hand held photography at night as opposed to needing a tripod.  A few days after arriving I went out in the neighborhood.  Am pleased with the results. 

This first is not technically a night shot but it is low-light.  It is the chapel at the Jesuit church.  The church is huge.  Vast.  It would be brutally expensive to heat in the winter.  Thus, the English-language Mass was held in here on Sunday.  The chapel was redesigned by Br. Robert who is an accomplished architect.  The simplicity is breathtaking.  He used/uses light very creatively as seen in the tabernacle that is lit from behind.  The translucent door is etched with the Jesuit sunburst IHS logo.  

This is the street alongside the Jesuit community and church.  It was about 9 PM when I took these.  Ljubljana is very quiet at night.

A little further down on the road leading to the canal. 

The canal runs through a significant swath of the city.

A viaduct over the canal. 

I'd had coffee earlier in the day at this coffee house with two men.  Lovely little place adjacent to the canal.   The table in the window (indoors, unlike most Slovenians I am not keen on sitting at an outdoor cafĂ© in 50 degree weather drinking coffee.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD