Saturday, March 21, 2015

5th Sunday of Lent

Jer 31:31-34
Ps 51
Heb 5:7-9
Jn 12:20-33

We are rapidly moving toward the singular event in Jesus’ life.  We are moving toward the reason for the Incarnation that we celebrated three months ago.  Next Sunday we will hear the chilling introduction to the Gospel:  The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark.  Throughout the rest of Holy Week we will recall the most important event in the history of the world; we will recall the most important event for our lives;  we will move from the institution of the Eucharist, through another hearing of Our Lord’s Passion, to the long peculiar emptiness of Holy Saturday to the ecstatic joy of the Easter Vigil when we will hear again the forging of the Old Covenant and sing Alleluia, He is Risen,  in celebration of the New. 

The covenant God formed with His people was not, and is not, a pact between equals.  It was not, is not, and never will be a democracy.  God decided in freedom to grant His allegiance to Israel and dictated His own conditions.  We are free to accept or reject those conditions.  We are not free to negotiate them to suit our taste. God chose Israel without any merit on its part.  God has chosen us without any merit on our own parts.  Like Ancient Israel we are sinners.  But we are sinners loved by God.  God has given his love freely.  We can only respond with a love that translates itself into obedience to the conditions of that covenant.  We heard the how of that obedience in today’s Gospel.

In Jeremiah we heard a prophecy that the covenant would be reestablished.  The covenant had to be reestablished because the Israelites, by worshiping foreign gods, had violated the first covenant in a manner like the total betrayal when adultery violates the marriage covenant.  The difference is that the new covenant won’t be inscribed on stone.  It will be inscribed on the human heart.  And that new covenant inscribed on the human heart will change it.  It will change it unless that heart chooses to reject the covenant and become stone.

The reading from Hebrews reminds us that Jesus, fully divine and fully human, was acquainted with the trials and suffering of our nature.  Next Sunday we will recall Jesus’ fear.  Three times he prayed, “Abba . . . take this cup away from me.”  And three times he offered his obedience, “But not what I will but what you will.”  

After his exaltation Jesus no longer knows weakness.  But, having experienced weakness: fear of death, fear of pain, fear of dying,  and the sorrow of abandonment, he knows our fear of death, dying, pain and abandonment.   Truly God.  Yes.  And truly human, like us in all things but sin. 

John’s Gospel picks up as Jesus approached the final days of His life on earth.  The next chapter begins with the words,  “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father . . . . “ 

Jesus is giving his final instructions to his followers.  In this instruction we hear the how of our obedience.  In the Revised Standard Edition translation one hears:  “If any one serves me he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him."  Confessing Jesus, believing in Him as Son of God, as Revealer of the Father, and Messiah is not an intellectual or mental exercise. Faith in Jesus is not something to pull out when convenient, or just for holidays. It is not something one can store on a shelf.

Back around 1996 Fr. John, the Franciscan chaplain at Dartmouth College, preached a challenging and squirm-inducing homily at the heavily attended 11 AM Mass.   While leaving Mass I overheard a young woman telling a classmate in response to Father's challenge, “I don’t want my religion to influence my political and economic decisions.”   The absurdity of that comment is right up there with, “I’m very spiritual but not at all religious.”  Those who claim to serve the Lord must follow Him in the service of His Father. They do that by the totality of their obedience to the Father and in their love for one another. 

Jesus’ words: “where I am, there shall my servant be also” radically alter our understanding of death.  Prior to Jesus' act of obedience, death was a descent into Sheol, the dank and dismal habitation of the dead.  Henceforth, the death of those who serve and follow the Lord is an ascent to the Father where the Son also is.  Thus we can say with the psalmist in today’s responsorial, the great Miserere

"A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me. . . .

Give me back the joy of your salvation, 
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you."

Today is the first full day of spring.  It has been a very long winter.  We got an additional inch  or so of snow this AM.  Very wet but very little.  Temps going up.  Roads no problem.  Mass this afternoon and again in the AM.  One question preoccupies me.  Where have all the flowers gone?  The secondary question is whether or not they will ever return.  The attached photos without commentary were taken in a variety of places both in and out of the U.S.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, March 12, 2015

3rd Friday of Lent

Mk 12:28-34

“Hear O Israel
The Lord our God
is Lord alone!”

Thus begins Jesus’ reply to the scribe.  It is a direct quote from Deuteronomy of what came to be known as the shema.  As a prayer, the Shema became central to Judaism beginning in the late Second Temple period.  Even today devout Jewish men are required to recite this prayer twice daily. The Shema is held in the mezuzah which Jews place on the doorpost of their homes. 

Unfortunately, Catholics only hear these words proclaimed more fully in the reading from Deuteronomy at Mass every other year on the 18th Saturday of ordinary time.  This is generally not a heavily attended Mass in most parishes. Fortunately, we encounter the shema weekly in Night Prayer after Evening Prayer I on Sundays in the breviary. 

From his reply here we recall that Jesus did not abolish the ten commandments.  He perfected them.   He placed them in the context of love; love for God love for one’s neighbor. Jesus shifted the focus of religious observance from the multiple laws governing diet, work and other minutiae of life, to love for God and neighbor. 

One of the early rabbinic sages described these two commandments as containing all of the Torah with the rest serving as commentary.  It is a good thought to keep in mind.  Two commandments as opposed to six hundred plus laws?  Sounds simpler on the surface.  But, as is true of much of what Jesus taught, apparent simplification is, in the end, considerably more complex and difficult. 

“Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is Lord alone!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul, with all your mind and will all your strength.” 

Nothing else is needed for meditation.
Heading to Bethlehem, CT on Saturday into Sunday.  Am going to be the celebrant for the entire Triduum.  As it will in Latin with large amounts of chant, this trip is to pick up the chants and rubrics necessary for the complicated liturgy.  

Photos are all black and white.  All of them were taken at one of three monasteries,Abbey of  Regina Laudis, St. Joseph Abbey, and St. Vincent Archabbey.  

Regina Laudis is a seriously active farm.  The tractor is sitting in a barn awaiting its next job.

The monastic choir at Regina Laudis.  The sun was dramatic.

A still life in the men's guest house at Regina Laudis. 

Small chapel at St. Vincent Archabbey for adoration in AM.

The graveyard at St. Vincent.  The archabbey was established over two hundred years ago. Many long rows of identical crosses marking the grave.  

St. Joseph Abbey graveyard from the cottage. 

One of the libraries at St. Joseph Abbey.

The monastic choir at St. Joseph.

My favorite.  I did my final vow retreat at St. Joseph.  With two days left in the eight day retreat it was time to write out three copies of each of the two sets of vows that a Jesuit pronounces.  The paper with holes are practice sheets.  Everything had to fit within the lines and on one page.  No problem for the public vows but a real challenge with the five "simple vows" that I pronounced in the sacristy after Mass with eight Jesuits present, including George.  Fr. General and I both signed them, a total of six signatures each.  

Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On the Fecklessness of ESPN and Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann.  The currently suspended news reader for ESPN is contemptible.  Suspension is not sufficient.  Based on his recent rant against Penn State students and the annual Dance Marathon, universally known as THON, firing is the only appropriate punishment that ESPN can dole out.  I doubt that ESPN has the guts to do it but that is a topic for another day.

When a student tweeted him WE ARE (a standard greeting among Penn State alumni) with a link to THON, the Penn State Dance Marathon that raised over 13 MILLION dollars for the Five Diamonds Fund again this past weekend, he responded with "pitiful" and then went on to denounce the value of a Penn State degree, Penn State's students and suggest the donors should be refunded. 

While it is tempting to describe him using adjectives that would involve various body parts modified by adjectives that some would find offensive I will refrain.  Almost.  The man does not have the balls to say the same thing to the twelve year-old at THON who is bald from chemotherapy.  Or to the kid with a IV port who is sitting on the shoulders of a student.  Or to the kid engaged in a water gun match with a student.  He would definitely not have the balls to decry the Penn State students face-to-face.   And he would most likely cringe if he had to recite his screed to the parents of the "THON kids," some of whom come back even after their child has died of cancer.   

Penn State's THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.  THON has raised over 100 million dollars.  The money is spent on cancer research, treatment, and to cover costs that families can't meet such as a missed mortgage payment, new tires, medication, and the like. 

I don't have a lot of discretionary money.  The only two charities to which I donate annually are the Jesuit Arca during lent and THON, the last week of February.  For months beforehand students are out in all kinds of weather "canning" i.e. standing in front of stores, in roadways, and anywhere else, with specially marked cans, raising money for THON.  Most of it is small bills.  During canning season one relative, who is a Penn State alumna, keeps wads of dollar bills in her car, the better to drop something into every can she sees.  But she lives in PA.  I have to be more efficient up here. I try to donate via a can rather than the internet whenever possible but unfortunately had to resort to internet this year. 

It is hard work raising millions in small bills.  A few days before I went in for bypass surgery in December 2011 I was with a friend who was helping me pick up one or two things I knew I would need post-op.  We went to Panera in Maryland for lunch.  Yes, there are canners in Maryland.  Going in I reached into the hidden part of my wallet for the fifty-dollar bill I keep there during canning season and dropped it in.  On the way out there was a different group.  When the can was proffered I responded, "I gave on the way in."  One of the students looked at me and said, "Oh yeah, we heard about you."  Made my day. 

It is impossible to quantify the effort that goes on behind the scenes in preparation for THON.  It involves many more students than those in the more visible role as dancers (for 46 hours without being allowed to sit) and supporters.  THON galvanizes the campus from about midway through fall semester.  Planning is already underway for next year.

I've oftentimes wanted to go to witness THON, particularly the reveal on Sunday evening.  However, the place is packed with the people who need to be there: the dancers, other supporters, the kids who are benefitting from THON, some of the kids who were successfully treated for cancer, a few of whom are now dancers themselves, the parents of kids who are being helped by THON, were helped by THON and the parents of kids who have died but who need to come back.  They need to be there for the reveal I do not. 

The psychiatrist part of me is mulling over a range of personality pathology diagnoses for Olbermann.  There are many.  However, the man in me, Penn State ex '72, '96  is not constrained by a diagnostic manual.  Keith Olbermann has no balls.  He is feckless and ball-free unless he is behind the safety of his TV studio or social media. 

Go ahead dude, say the same thing facing the students, the kids with cancer, or their parents. 

What did you say?  Oh.  Well I didn't think you had the balls to take up the offer anyway.  
Some photos

The top is the entrance gate in the west end of campus on 322.

Ever wonder about the etymology of Nittany?  Read the sign.  I like the story about the Algonquin princess named Nita-Nee better but this will do.

Whitmore Lab.  That was the site of organic chem labs.  Blindfold me and I could identify the aroma in the halls as Whitmore.  It has not changed in over 45 years.

Main library entrance

Old Main. 
For the Glory . . . .

WE ARE . . . . 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD