Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Penultimate Sunday of the Liturgical Year

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time  
Dn 12:1-3
Ps 16 5-11
Mk 13:24-32

The apocalyptic tenor of today's readings and Gospel tells us that the end of the liturgical year is approaching.  Next Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, marks the end of the year. The following Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, begins a new Church year.  The Gospel of Mark will be replaced by Luke on Sundays.  Year I will replace Year II in the daily readings.

Apocalyptic is a genre that strikes fear in the hearts of preachers, bizarre thinking in the minds of millennialists, and perplexity in most of the rest of the faithful.   Apocalyptic is many things.   Ancient Near Eastern science fiction is not one of those things.  Apocalyptic is a literature of hope.  It is a literature of hope that emerged during times of persecution.  The imagery is odd and, at times, plainly weird.  It is, however, neither bizarre nor odd to those for whom it was written.  Apocalyptic was a means of engendering hope in those suffering persecution while hiding the message from the persecutors.  Even today some of the symbolism and meaning in apocalyptic remains hidden from interpreters and commentators.

One of the unhealthy ways of meditating on readings such as these readings that describe those who will be saved and those who won't, is to assume oneself among the saved, then to make a list of family, friends, and co-religionists who will be among the elect. Then make another list of co-workers, the date who stood you up for the prom, a particularly unhelpful family member, and those whose religious thought is different from yours, and assign them among those not destined to be saved.  Dante, of course, created a masterpiece out of such thinking, but most of us are not Dante.  

The reading from Daniel appears toward the end of the book.  It is less obscure than much of what precedes it.  But, for the time it was radical.  It was radical in its description of the resurrection of the dead and, even more radical with the mention of life everlasting. 

Like the reading from Daniel, the Gospel, taken from what is called, Jesus' Eschatological Discourse, is not warm, cuddly, or consoling. The images are terrifying.  In the preceding verses, Jesus described the earthly manifestations of the tribulation: reports of wars, earthquake, famine and a general breakdown of society.  It reads like the headlines in today's papers.  In today's reading Jesus details the cosmic signs that will follow the earthly chaos.  The cosmic signs also sound as if they were taken from contemporary headlines. The earthly and cosmic signs of Jesus coming have been happening for millennia. They will continue to happen until time ceases to exist. 

Just as the Church repeats the liturgical cycles from Advent to the Feast of Christ the King, the signs of end of times continue to cycle.  Thus we see the problem of time as we understand it.  Our time and God's time are not at all the same.  The first words of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament are: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  The penultimate verse of Revelation the final book of the New Testament is: "Surely I am coming soon."  All of Scripture is contained within a parenthesis of time: the beginning of time and the end of time.  God's time not ours.

God transcends both cosmic time, the rhythms of nature, the cycle of days and nights, of seasons and epochs.  But He also transcends and transforms historical time, the only concept of time with which we are comfortable, the form of time we have superimposed over cosmic time.  Thus, most of us are preparing for Christmas 2015.  A birthday may have passed or it may be on the horizon. Tomorrow afternoon is already booked.  The date on which one will die is a mystery.

Prognostication has been a fact of life since ancient times.  Nostradamus. Tarot cards and other pagan divinations.  The Farmer's Almanac. The Weather Channel (highly suspect prognostications).  And the new religion of global warming.  We want to know the how, the why, and the when.  It is not for us to know.  "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."  Most of us will never be comfortable with that saying. 

The alleluia verse gave critical advice. 
"Be vigilant at all times. 
And pray that you have the strength
to stand before the Son of Man."
Went down to State College, PA for a few days last week.  The proximate reason for the trip was to give a talk at a CCRC (Continued Care Retirement Center) where my former roommate's daughter is administrator.  The talk was titled, "Fun Fun Fun 'Til the Staties Take the License Away."  It looked at the difficult question of aging and driving, particularly the problem of dementing disorders and driving.  The less proximate reason for the trip was to spend some time with Al and Karen and to show my niece, an alumna class of '81, the changes in campus since she was lack back some twenty-five years ago.  

The weather was spectacular.  On Saturday and Sunday the four of us wandered campus.  While I enjoyed the wandering, company of others is not the ideal situation for photography.  Monday was a different story.  I was alone.  Spent four hours on campus with the camera.  Below are some of the results.  I will be editing for quite a long time and post-processing even longer.  

Most of the photos are a study of Old Main, my favorite building on the face of the earth.  It was a very different building when my dad graduated in 1927.  A fire in the then small bell tower resulted in the building being dismantled and the stones reassembled into a new building with the addition of the front portico and a much taller and more graceful bell tower.  

These two are from the top of the Pugh Street parking garage.  I took a few during the summer but the leaves obscured most of the building.  

This is one of my favorite views from the southeast side of the mall just at the top of a short flight of steps near the College of Health and Human Development.  

 A black and white from the same perspective in landscape orientation. 

The sundial in front of Old Main is about eight feet tall.  It is visible in the black and white.  Not at all impressive.  However, shooting through the top of the sundial gave an interesting effect.  Watching me get up after practically lying down on the grass was a tad comical.  I had to think about it for a bit.  Fortunately the kiddos were in class and there were few witnesses to my potential humiliation. 

A close up of the columns.

I spent some time in the arboretum.  Will post more of those later.  However, I spent some time playing with the post-processing to create something a bit more whimsical.  There is a bit of an Asian silk aspect to it. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, October 26, 2015

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Ps 126
Mk 10:46-52

"Master, I want to see." 
"Master, I want to see." 

What did Bartimaeus' voice sound like?  Was it high or low, loud or soft?  What was the tone of his voice?  Was it angry and demanding or desperate and pleading?  What did his face look like?  What was his posture?  Enter into this narrative as if you were in the cast of a movie about Jesus. Place yourself in the scene.  Spend as much time as you wish recreating it. This composition of the scene and placing yourself in the action is one of the fundamental practices of contemplation as St. Ignatius described in the Spiritual Exercises.  Be there in as much detail as you can create or as long as you can tolerate.

We are all Bartimaeus, at least some of the time.  We are all blind to God's presence in our lives, at least some of the time. That blindness may come on us suddenly as we stand at the bedside of a dying spouse or watch the house burn down.  Bartimaeus' plea, "Master I want to see" may emerge from our lips in different words:  The angry WHY? of the suddenly bereaved, the desperate Help Me! as cancer pain becomes worse. Where is your mercy?  Where is your power?  Where . . . . .is your love?  We are all Bartimaeus.  We are all, at some point, that man sitting at the roadside blind, disoriented, confused and desperate to see and understand.

One of the challenges of getting old is seeing. Or rather, the challenge is loss of the ability to see in the same way we saw at age twenty-five.  Cataracts.  Macular degeneration. Diabetic eye disease. Glaucoma. They all impair the ability to see.  But even in uncomplicated aging, the changes in the eye result in diminished vision.  By age sixty the retina receives only receives one-third the light than it did at twenty-one.  THAT is why gray-haired old dudes like me--I am now a patient in the geriatric medicine clinic at MGH--that is why gray-haired old dudes always have the high beams on.  CAUSE THEY CAN'T SEE WITH THE LOW BEAMS.  Even when we are not blind to Jesus, we can always see better.  It is rather like  cleaning our glasses, putting them on, getting a stronger prescription, or the startling improvement in vision after cataract extraction and lens implant.  With prayer, with the sacraments, with contemplation on God's word, we can always see even better.

Whenever we hear one of Jesus' healing miracles, it is important to remember that those miracles did not create faith in a vacuum. They were not like David Henning's magic tricks. They were not feats meant to awe, amaze, confuse and impress people. With one or two exceptions faith in Jesus' ability to make him whole, faith in Jesus' ability to return her to society, prompted the request for healing.  (We will hear one of the exceptions in tomorrow's Gospel). Thus we heard Bartimaeus say, "I want to see."  Jesus said nothing about vision to him. "Go . .  your faith has made you well."  That's all. "Go, your faith has made you well." Jesus is saying the same thing to us. He says the same thing to us. Your faith has made you well.  And your faith keeps you well.

"They left in tears 
I will comfort them 
as I lead them back 
I will guide them."  

Sometimes we need Jesus to find us when we are lost, when we are blind, when we are confused and hurting.  All of us go out in life full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing.  Sowing is backbreaking, exhausting, and painful work. That is the reality of life, it is the cross of being human.  But as we come back rejoicing, carrying the sheaves we realize what God has done for us. We know what God will do for us.

"Master, I want to see."

That should be our prayer for all of this coming week.

Life has been very busy.  A little too busy.  I've been on the road and will be heading out again soon.  Driving 300 or 400 miles each way is tiring.  In general I leave a day earlier than needed so as to have recovery time.  Am putting the finishing touches on a talk on aging and driving that I will be giving in State College, PA.  Fascinating topic.  It is a lot more fascinating, a anxiety-provoking, the deeper one goes into old age.  

American Jesuits are all required to take the AARP 55 and Alive class at 70.  At 75, when the rate and incidence of driving impairment increases, each man must take an on-road supervised driving exam with an occupational therapist, not a driving school.  four years to the course and nine to the driving test.  

The photos below are an example of my first attempt at light painting.  My niece has a pond on her property.  The pond has a dock, the end of which floats on pontoons.  I went down in the early AM to get photos of some of the leaves.  While adjusting my stance on the dock I noticed the reflections in the ripples.  So, I began to bounce up and down on the dock and take photos of the reflections in the ripples.  The first few were early in the AM, before the sun was visible on the water.  After breakfast I took some with much more sun resulting in a dramatic difference in color and effect. 

A photo of the reflections before I started bouncing on the dock. 

The first three were taken in the early AM and the last three around 10:30 AM.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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