Thursday, September 24, 2020

A Homily for 25 September: To Everything There is a Season The Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Today's first reading contains the oldest pop lyrics ever to hit #1 on the U.S. charts. They were adapted by Pete Seeger who added the words by the which the song became known when it was released by The Byrds on October 1,1965:  "Turn, Turn, Turn."  


How many of us knew, as we drove our Chevies to the levees during that magical autumn that we were singing along with scripture?


To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season, (turn, turn, turn)

And a time to every purpose under heaven.  . . . . .


The Book of Ecclesiastes, part of the Wisdom literature, is concerned with the purpose and value of human life, concerns that remain primary today, particularly as  U.S. society steps up its immoral attacks on life at its very beginning in the womb and the life of the ill and elderly approaching the end.


In the book, the Preacher, also known as Qoholeth, wonders if enduring happiness is possible in this life;  particularly in a life that is materialistic, overly concerned with possessions, and striving after honors, and power. The Book begins with the charge,

“Vanity of vanities,  all things are vanity.”  


Among the most malignant of those vanities, a vanity we hold with delusional intensity, is that we can control the future, molding it to conform to our desires. Some of the realities of human life are realities over which we had and have no control. 


When, where, and to whom we were born.  


The age into which we were born.  


The IQ, physical attributes, strengths, and weaknesses with which we were endowed and with which we live.  


We had no control over the social conditions into which we were born be they dire poverty, comfortable middle-class, or great wealth. 


But . . . . 


We do have control over how we choose to live.  


We control what we choose to make of our lives, 

we determine how we maximize attributes and strengths 

while minimizing weaknesses and deficits.  


And we have control over whether we admit our dependence on God's grace.  Only we determine if we cooperate with that grace or succumb to the ultimate vanity that tells us 


I. DO.  NOT.  NEED.  GOD. 


Humans are set apart from all lower animals by the knowledge that they will die, a knowledge that does not become fully conscious until somewhere around mid-adolescence. It is then that the fear begins, the irrational fear being acted out in response to covid and the at times insane struggles to stave off death or the signs of aging that begin in middle-age.  Botox is one of the saddest metaphors of modern time. 


There truly is a time, a season, and an era for everything, be it the entire planet or the beginning of life seen in a newborn infant.  The seeming pessimism of Qoheleth is a great comfort to those of us who are now old.  It allows us to look back without terror or regret, grateful for the time into which we were born and prepared to face the last reality. 




This song hit when I was 16 years-old with a driver's license acquired only a month earlier,  It got a lot of airplay particularly on WARM.  Not sure my fingers have the strength to press those industrial-sized car radio buttons but it did that lot when there was more than one rock station on. 


Turn, Turn, Turn, triggers enough memories to crash the internet were I to try to post them.  It was a magical autumn despite the looming consolidation of schools into WVW, taking the SATs for the first time to get ready for the real time, and many other things. 


Driving dad's Chrysler New Yorker at times with eight or nine friends packed in.  He never found out.  Obviously.  I lived to write this.  The sound of eight adolescent voices singing along with this is something to hear.  Not exactly a great something but something.  


At 16 the song had some meaning but it is a very different meaning now as I am closer to death than middle age.  Then we were in Erikson's fourth stage, now we are deep into the eighth and final stage.  The song can at times trigger great joy but also painful memories of friends who have died, relationships that went down the tubes, the loss of a certain naiveté, and questioning idealism.  


Vietnam was a reality.  Some classmates did not return. 

Questions of what will I be?  How will I become it?  Que será será.


About once every year or two or even three, I sit down with a few beers knowing that when I am done I will  be no-sober.  I listen to music from the sixties randomly (only of the advantages of iTunes and computers), skipping the ones that don't resonate but perhaps replaying others two or three times.  Among the latter are:  'Turn, Turn, Turn', Chad and Jeremy's 'A Summer Song,'  'Downtown', 'California Dreaming' and 'Monday, Monday' the list could go on for most of my play list that is in four digits.  I think the event is approaching once it gets a bit more autumnal.  It will be a Friday as I have no Mass commitments for Saturday.  As the second beer hits there will more than likely be a few tears for those who have died, some laughs, and a chance for deep reflection.  

(Attached You Tube Clip as well)


In lieu of a few photos it only makes sense to insert the Byrds recording of their hit. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Ordination to the priesthood 19 Sptember 2020

 No homily today.  Spent much of yesterday shooting the ordination of two Jesuit priests and eight deacons.  The two priests were added onto the diaconate ordination when they were unable to get home to Congo and Nigeria for the ordinations that were scheduled for July.  The new Fr. Reginald from Nigeria is my spiritual directee.  He will return home next May or June at which point there will be a major celebration.   The ordination was live-streamed to Africa.  

Ultimately I took about 700 photos.  HIs first Mass is this evening.  More shooting planned  

Last phone call before life changes forever. 

Ca't resist shooting through what is called a 'natural frame.'  Especially when it works well in black and white.

At the beginning each candidate for ordination, either to priesthood or diaconate, responds to his name by saying 'present.'  The congregation signals its approval via applause.  

Prostration during the litany of the saints, one of the most moving parts of the rite of ordination.  I've never gotten through the chanting of the litany without tears.  

Cardinal O'Malley, who ordained me in the same church (The Church of St Ignatius of Loyola) thirteen years ago.  

This is the shot I planned for for weeks.  One of the rules of shooting is that if you take every shot standing you are doing it wrong.  There was a lot of up and down, kneeling, squatting, sitting on a prie-dieu, and so on.  Felt as if I'd run the Boston Marathon by the time it was over.  

Prayer over the two men who wil be vested as priests in moments. 

Vesting.  The vesting priest removes the deacon's stole and then vests the newly ordained.  George Murray SJ, MD, who trained me as a psychiatrist, also vested me.  A deeply moving moment for both.  

The chasuble and the vesting is complete.

Anointing the priest's hands with the sacred chrism. 

Being instructed in the liturgy and how to conform his life. 

Now ordained, the men assume their place at the altar as concelebrants.

A newly ordained priest's first blessing is bestowed on the ordaining prelate.  This was one of the parts of the liturgy during which I almost became unglued. 

Reginald with Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston 

The Church of St. Ignatius in Chestnut Hill, MA.  When the three of us were ordained 13 years ago the church was packed.  Before the invention of social distancing.  

At some point I ducked into a confessional to rest.  Nothing much was going on photographically.  Saw this bit of sun penetrating a window of thick blue stained glass.  The sort of find that makes photography deeply satisfying. 

Some friends and family living in the U.S.  They began chanting and dancing.  Father got into the dancing.  The role of singing and dancing cannot be minimized when talking about the African Catholic Church.  Alas, what I've been subjected to as  "liturgical dance" in the U.S. is a combination of bad Martha Graham and even worse Isadora Duncan, artificial rather than endogenous.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Amish and Forgiveness: Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sir 27:30-28:7

Ps 103

Mt 18:21-35


Peter asked, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how many times must I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”  Forgiving someone seven times seems reasonable.  Indeed forgiving someone seven times seems positively magnanimous, even saint-like if you will.  Jesus’ reply must have startled Peter.  Not seven times but seven times seventy-seven times.  Jesus was not giving Peter a specific number or setting limits on forgiveness.  Rather, by using hyperbole he was indicating that forgiveness must be infinite.  Jesus' hyperbolic reply is analogous to something most of us heard when we were kids and, for many, something we swore we would never say upon becoming parents or uncles. But we did and we continue to do so. “If I told you once I told you a thousand times.”  Sometimes a thousand underestimates the real number but mostly it is hyperbole for effect.


The gospel parable is chilling on two levels:  The first is the servant’s callous behavior toward a fellow servant where he revealed himself as man who couldn't or wouldn't forgive as he was forgiven. The second chilling element is the punishment meted out to him when the master learned of his actions.  


One could ask why the master was not forgiving toward the wicked servant.  It is a good question.  Perhaps there are actions that are unforgivable.  The message Jesus gave to Peter is to forgive as God forgives, that is perfectly and without limit.  That kind of forgiveness is an ideal humans generally can’t attain though some may be able to do so. They are the exception.  One of those exceptional circumstances went on international display in 2006.  The fourteenth  anniversary of the tragedy will be in a few weeks. On 2 October 2006 Charles Roberts, IV entered the Amish one-room school house in Nickel Mines, PA.  


After sending all of the boys out of the school he murdered five girls between the ages of nine and thirteen, shooting them in their heads.  He critically injured five others, one of whom was severely brain-damaged. He killed himself when the police arrived.  His actions horrified the world.  The actions of the Amish community horrified the world even more.  Roberts horrified the world by the brutality of his act.  The Amish horrified the world by their forgiveness.  


On the day of the shooting the grandfather of one of the murdered girls told young relatives, "We must not think evil of this man.” Another man noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God."  Still another Amish man held the shooter’s sobbing father in his arms for an hour in an attempt comfort him. Thirty members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral.  


The Book of Sirach, the source of the first reading, is considered canonical and inspired by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  Protestant churches do not include Sirach in the canon of the Bible, designating it part of apocrypha rather than a critical element of the wisdom literature.  The Amish may or may not be familiar with the Sirach. But it contributes an important element to their response to the Nickel Mines tragedy. 


"The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance, 

for he remembers their sins in detail.  

Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;

then when you pray, 

your own sins will be forgiven."  


This explains, in part, the behavior that most of the world found incomprehensible and some found repulsive.  Most of us are willing to forgive.  Sometimes.  Under certain circumstances.  For a limited number of times.  For some things.  In response to Peter's question Jesus instructs that seven times is not enough.  Through the use of hyperbole or exaggeration Jesus is telling us we must always forgive.  It is not an easy instruction to understand.  It is not an easy instruction to accept.  And yet, that is what God gives us.  God offers us forgiveness even more heroic than the forgiveness the Amish extended to the man who killed and maimed their daughters.  


The psalm assures us.                                     


"The Lord is kind and merciful, 

slow to anger, and rich in compassion. . . .

He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
crowns you with kindness and compassion


God offers us forgiveness every time we receive the sacrament of confession.  We need only begin, “I confess that I have sinned.” 


And ask for pardon and forgiveness.  


Books prepared for Mass in a monastic church.

Fr. Jack, SJ, MD



Friday, September 11, 2020

Homily for September 11, 2020

Homily for September 11, 2020


Nineteen years ago yesterday was the day before the morning of.  But we didn't know it.  The only ones who did were Islamic terrorists.  They were busy making the final checks on their coordinated plan of murder.


Nineteen years ago last night most of us went to bed as usual. Some easily drifted off into deep slumber. Others tossed and turned with worry about the family, or finances, or the weekend weather forecast. 


Nineteen years ago last night the Church ended her day with the hour of compline that concluded, as always, with the Salve Regina. The great silence descended on monasteries throughout the country.


Nineteen years ago last night the killers knew it would be their last night alive.  None of their almost three thousand victims knew they would see only one more sunrise, kiss their children for a final time, or receive the Precious Body and Blood of Christ at Mass at their last communion. 


Nineteen years ago this morning we woke.  Some of us feeling refreshed and eager for the day while others wanted another hour or six of sleep.  It was time to brush the teeth, take a shower, and have that first cup of coffee. 


Nineteen years ago today, at 8:45 AM EDT we went to work or to school. Some went for an early morning run.  Others walked the dog.  Daily tasks had to be done.  Perhaps it was garbage day.  Perhaps it was the first day on a new job.  It was the last day


Life changed at 8:46 EDT.


Nineteen years ago tonight few of us slept.  For those who did it was troubled non-restoring and interrupted by tears.


Today, as we have for the past nineteen years, we pray for those who were killed by Islamic terrorists:


Requiem aeternam                                  

dona eis, Domine, 

et lux perpetua luceat eis. 

Requiescant in pace. 


"Eternal rest 

grant unto them O Lord, 

and let perpetual light shine upon them. 

May they rest in peace."






Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Memorial St. Peter Claver

9 September 2020


Today is the Memorial of St. Peter Claver, a fearless Spanish Jesuit Missionary whose life should be a model for all of us and the Church.  Claver was born in Catalonia, Spain in 1580.  Little is known of his younger years except that he had already decided he wanted to be a priest by age 13.  At 16 he began studies at the University of Barcelona, where he met the Society of Jesus for the first time.  He entered the Society in August 1602 and pronounced first vows two years later.  


Claver’s spiritual director was Jesuit Brother St. Alphonsus Rodriguez whom we will celebrate at the end of October.  In response to Claver’s desire to do great things for God, Rodriguez suggested that he consider going to the New World where there was much to be done.  Claver arrived in Cartagena, Colombia in the summer of 1610 after a six-month voyage.  He completed his theological studies in Bogota and was ordained a priest in 1616. Describing Claver’s work over the next 35 years as extraordinary  is an understatement.  He ministered to what one historian described as “the world’s most unfortunate creatures,”  the men and women brought to Cartagena from Africa to be sold as slaves.  


His way of proceding was to board  a slave ship as soon as it arrived in port, giving whatever biscuits and fruit he could beg from the townspeople to those on deck. He then went below deck to minister to the sick and dying where,  despite the stench, Peter remained for as long as it took to care for the sick and baptize the dying.  He instructed the slaves in the Catholic faith and baptized them.  His biographer notes, “These baptisms were so numerous that in response to a Jesuit brother’s question about the number of baptisms he performed in Cartagena, Peter humbly answered, “a little over 300,000.”


He never left Cartagena.  He never took a vacation.  After more than three decades ministering to the most deprived, neglected, and ill-treated in the world he developed Parkinson's disease, becoming a bed-bound invalid for the last four years of his life, a time during which he was severely abused by a former slave who was hired to care for him.  He accepted the mistreatment without complaint seeing it as just punishment for his sins. He died on September 8, 1654, was beatified in 1851. and canonized on January 15, 1888, in the same ceremony as his spiritual director St. Alphonsus Rodriguez.  


Peter Claver heard Jesus' call to give up everything to follow Jesus, serving others despite the risk of diseases that were considerably worse than covid-19. That he did so is cause for rejoicing and imitation.  


 While I don't pump iron I do shoot it.  Black and whites of wrought iron are among one of my favorite things to take.  

The first is a bridal shop in Ljubljana. 

This is the entrance to a bar.  

The second bank in Philadelphia on Walnut (I think) Street, about a block from Independence Hall.  

Had a bad moment of insomnia in LJ.  Went walking at 4:30 AM.  This is one of the bridges crossing the Ljubljanica River.  Did not notice the spider web until the download at which point I was out of my mind with joy.  

A grate on the Longfellow Bridge in Boston from last November. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD


Saturday, September 5, 2020

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

6 September 2020

Ez 33:7-9

Ps 95

Rom 13:8-10

Mt 16:15-20


I grew up, lived, and worked in Eastern and Central Pennsylvania until I was in my mid-forties. Much of that time was spent on the edge of Amish enclaves located along Rt. 45 between Lewisburg and State College.  Regular travelers on 45 learn to be alert for the black buggies traveling on the shoulder.   An outsider does not enter into or become close to an Amish community.  Their communities are closed to those whom they call 'The English.'  Their lifestyle is simple, non-technology dependent, and led according to church teaching.  


One of the misunderstood features of Amish life is the practice of 'shunning' a church member who repeatedly sins by violating church ordinances. This particular part of Matthew's gospel is used as justification for  shunning, a practice that is meant to maintain the good of the community.


The errant individual will be confronted  in the step-by-step manner outlined in the gospel.  Only after repeated attempts at correction at higher levels will the individual be shunned, cut off from social interaction with the community, from worship with the community, or even being able to do business within the community.  However, the individual is not completely abandoned.  Even when shunned the community will help if needed.  If the individual confesses and repents he or she or she will be welcomed back.  Only the completely unrepentant who refuse to confess  will be excommunicated.  


While many feel shunning to be harsh and inhumane, sometimes the only way to prevent the sinner from worse is through the remedy suggested in Matthew. A corollary is the first reading from Ezekiel in which the prophet is warned that he will be held equally guilty if he does not correct the sinner, whereas if he offers correction but the sinner persists, the sinner will be lost but the prophet will be blameless. 


Were the topic of shunning to be introduced into cocktail party conversation  many would roll their eyes  and allude to cruelty, perhaps with an "oh myyy gawwwwwd.'  Oftentimes they would add, "I never judge others,"  a sanctimonious lie that is among the biggest virtue signaling lies ever told by anyone . . . but that is another homily.


We have the same responsibilities to confront sinners as Matthew and Ezekiel outlined.  Are we culpable--legally and/or morally--for another's sin?  Most of the time we are not, but there are times when action on our part could have made a difference, saved a marriage, or saved a life.  Consider drunk driving.


Driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drugs is a serious and lethal problem in the United States.  Texting while driving is not much better.  Bars, bartenders, friends who over-serve, and that special class of idiot parents who purchase alcohol for their teenagers' parties, are being included in the legal blame and prosecuted for deaths and injuries stemming from their action or inaction.  Confronting a drunk driver is critical. Refusing to allow the individual to drive involves an act of judgment of the other's behavior. The penalty may involve confiscating the car keys, offering a place to stay over night, or calling Uber and even footing the bill.  Too frequently this kind of action doesn't go well.  Sometimes it goes very very badly.  Friendships have been ruptured and family bonds strained.  But action is necessary to prevent death or injury to the driver or others.  


Paul elaborated four of the ten commandments:  adultery, killing, stealing, and coveting in his letter.  Among the four, all of which are the antithesis of loving, adultery is the most fascinating.  Adultery is the family gift that keeps on giving, though what it frequently gives is nothing anyone wants: pain, separation, divorce, mistrust, loneliness, and for any involved children, a lot more difficulty than society is willing to admit. 


About thirty-five years ago I was attending a medical meeting a few hundred miles from home.  I was not prepared to run into a casual friend walking down the street hand-in-hand with a woman not his wife.  There was a fascinating moment of guilty discomfort on his part--she had no idea who I was or why he suddenly let go of her hand--or why he became obviously anxious.  His marriage ended not long after our accidental encounter.  The kids became alienated from their father, and the financial costs were huge.  It also ended any further socialization between us except for a nod when passing in the hallways.  


It is never easy or pleasant to correct another who is publicly sinning be it drunk driving or adultery. be it the formalized shunning practiced by the Amish or saying, "Give me your keys, you are in no condition to drive."  The confrontation frequently involves pain. It may result in screaming accusations along the lines of: "Who are you to judge me?"  


Sometimes that confrontation and punishment is necessary so as to prevent greater pain, greater sin, and greater hurt.  


Terrific weather in store for the weekend.  Am wondering how busy the Cape beaches will be despite the covid warnings.  BC tested 12,000 people (I was one).  I last heard that ten covid positives were picked up, seven in students and three in staff.  

The photos below are all from a monastery of nuns that I've been unable to visit since all the covid stuff began.  Hoping to be able to get back one day soon.  

I took photos of this accidental arrangement for two years until the day I walked up and the logs, glass, and everything else had been removed.  We are getting the first nips of autumn up here.  Am ready for more than simply a taste.  Without the prospect of Penn State football on the tube in Saturday afternoon things are looking grim. 


The purple and green go together nicely. 

I like the wild unfussy look. 

This weed can be described with one word: elegant

My grandmother had a bush of these in her yard but they were blue.  

Filling the frame removes distractions to the flowers. 

Dogwood is my favorite flowering tree.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD




Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Renewal of Temporary Vows

On Sunday 30 August, rather than celebrating the Mass for Sunday I celebrated the Mass of Renewal of Temporary Religious Vows for Sr. Catherine Angeline, O. Carm. It was a great pleasure to do so as writing the homily compelled some meditation and prayer on the nature of religious life and the commitment those of us who enter have undertaken.  

Hosea 2:16-17; 21-23
Ps 63: 2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Rom 12:1-2
Gospel: Luke 23: 33-34; 39-43

Entering religious life is a choice. It is a voluntary step and a mode of self-giving that is fully comprehensible only to those who have taken the same step.  Entering and persevering in religious life is completely understandable only to those who have given the same response to God's insistent summons, full understanding of religious vows is really only possible to those who repeated Mary's words, 

"Ecce ancilla Domini, 
fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, 
May it be done unto me according to your word." 

Only after that first discernment on her part does the young sister enter into the step-by-step process of progressing more deeply into the heart and soul of the congregation.  Thus, each step, each renewal of vows, is weighted with its own significance and importance.  The time to solemn profession is never quick, no matter the congregation or order.  It is always measured in years rather than months.  No matter the order or congregation to count the years from entry to final profession one needs more than one hand.  

Thus, at this Mass for Renewal of Vows, Sister takes moves further into the congregation.  While each vow renewal takes a sister deeper into the heart of the order, it also takes her deeper into her own heart. That journey into her own heart is the most important part of the process.  Each  reaffirmed 'yes' to God's invitation, each renewed 'yes' to God's summons, brings Sister deeper into the Heart of Mary and deeper into the Heart of Jesus. 

"Ecce ancilla Domini, 
fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."

Mary's words were an act of faith and trust.  So it is for the religious who pronounces vows, be they first vows, renewal of temporary vows, or solemn vows.  Sister's choice of readings indicates the movements into her own heart, into the heart of the congregation, and toward a more intimate union with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.  

The first reading tells us "I will allure her."  This is the insistent call to religious life, the call that cannot be silenced, no matter how hard we try.  It also contains a warning of what is to come when the religious succumbs to that allurement,  "I will lead her into the wilderness." The wilderness is the place of confrontation with oneself, with one's desires, and with God's will.  It is a place of testing in which things do not always run smoothly. The wilderness is not an easy place to be but it cannot be avoided in religious life.  However, there are promises to her who is allured and led into the wilderness: "I will speak persuasively to her."

Only in the wilderness, and perhaps after the first few crises there, can a vowed religious hear that persuasive voice, the still small voice Elijah heard in the same wilderness, a voice heard only after the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. 

"I will betroth you to me forever"

The word betroth is rarely used today.  It has two roots; "Be" is a form of the word 'by.' "Troth" means 'truth.' Thus 'betroth' means to promise 'by my truth.'  The vows that Sister will renew shortly will be made 'by her truth' and by her free agreement. They are a reminder to herself, the congregation, and the body of the Church, of the journey she embarked upon and upon which she reaffirms her desire to continue. 

"Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind"

The second reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans, reminds Sister and all of us who share the commitment to vowed religious life, that part of the vocation to this way of life demands non-conformity with the present age and a self-transformation so as to discern what is good and pleasing to God. If one were limited to a single word to describe this commitment it would be 'countercultural.'  Having realized the empty promises of today's culture, the religious seeks her own path, a path which she must carve out on her own with the help of the rule, tradition, and the charism, and customs of the congregation.  

In one of the emails we exchanged, Sister noted that the themes for today's Mass would be: The Greatness of God’s Love and Forgiveness.  To Jesus through Mary

That greatness of God's love and forgiveness is immediately apparent in the Gospel.  As life was ebbing from His body following the brutal assaults inflicted on it before being hung on the cross, Jesus forgave those who did not know what they were doing.  He then promised salvation to one of the thieves crucified alongside him. That forgiveness, that promise of redemption was a result of the thief's confession of his own sin and his subsequent act of faith in Jesus as Messiah. 

May Sister's act of faith and trust demonstrated as she renews her vows be heard in heaven in the way Mary's words at the Annunciation were heard.  

"Ecce ancilla Domini, 
fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."
 Because I was otherwise oppupied there was no opportunity to do photos.  The website for the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, however, had photos of the two sisters who renewed their vows, each in the community at which she is stationed.   The website connection is:

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD