Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Field Trip

Three men are making the thirty-day Spiritual Exercises at the Campion Retreat Center.  Monday was their second break day.  During the retreat there is a break day around day 10 and another around day 20.  The break is not rigidly set at days 10 and 20.  In Australia one of the break days was changed in favor of better weather two days hence.  The men wanted to visit St. Joseph Abbey (Trappist) in Spencer.  The director could not take them and asked if I could.  With pleasure.  The two Carmelites were most interested in seeing the Trappist Preserves operation.  They make small batches of jams and jellies at their monastery in TX.  

After lunch at a place with good pub grub near the monastery we perused the gift shop and spent some time in prayer in the church awaiting the 3:00 PM meeting at the guest house.  One of the men who is a friend of mine took us to Trappist Preserves at 3:00.  As I simply buy the stuff and have little interest in how it is made I wandered throughout with the camera.  Then as a treat we wound up in the Holy Rood Guild where the vestments are made.  Spencer-made vestments are instantly recognizable and exquisitely made. They are also made with impeccable taste.  In general there are no pictures of saints, no mottos or anything else.  Most especially they are nothing at all like the dreadful vestment that has faux-tapestry of the children of the world all over it  There are few vestments I refuse to wear but that is one of them.  By the time it was all over I'd taken over 200 photos.  

The leaves were at peak color at the monastery.  Given the wind and rain that is falling at the moment I suspect they will all be down by the weekend.  However, one can't complain because we have had a splendid autumn.  Rather than posting a homily today I want to post photos and some explanation.  Lots of photos.

Details of a Celtic Cross in front of the gift shop at the entrance to the Abbey.

 The  bell tower of the monastic church taken from a hallway.

The second is "the cottage" where men who are testing their vocation to the abbey spend time until it is felt they are ready to stay in the monastery itself for an observership.  I made last year's vow retreat in the cottage, indeed in the room that is pictured.  It is the only self-contained room with its own entrance thus I didn't distract the other men who were there. 

The foliage in front of the cottage was brilliant, as it was last year when I made my retreat at the end of September. 

There was ivy climbing on the pink wall of one of the buildings.

 The road leads about a mile before it ends at the boundaries of the enclosure.  There is another road in the other direction about the same distance.  The abbey sits on 2000 acres of beautiful rolling land. 

The Trappist Preserve plant is highly mechanized.  The monastery, founded in Rhode Island, was moved to MA in the 1950's.  The original plan was to make a foundation in MA but the monastery in RI burned and thus everything moved to Spencer.  

The storage area fascinated me.  One of the monks wondered why I was taking a photo of an ugly green and very large storage area.  Answer:  Because it looks great in black and white as a study in angles and geometry. 

The prior (second after the abbott) gave the men the tour.  He is the one in the white robe and black scapular.

The boxes are filled automatically.  The preserves are made in small batches and are delicious.  The best is the Red Pepper Jelly that is hard to find in markets but is easy at the gift shop.  I go to Spencer monthly so I rarely run out.  There is nothing like peanut butter on a Ritz cracker with a dollop of red pepper jelly first thing int he AM to help "the medicine go down, the medicine go down, the medicine go down. . . . in a most delightful way."

These are some of the preserves.  The ginger preserve is also amazing (along with mango pepper, cranberry pepper, and the usual flavors).

The Holy Rood Guild showroom where the vestments are displayed and sold is like Nordstrom's or Sak's for Catholic priests.  The colors and textures of the fabrics were the reason for the photos.  The first is a watered silk chasuble that is on display.  They don't make anything of watered silk these days. 

I took the next three because of the color and texture.  Sometimes photography needs an abstract or at least a non-figurative approach.  

As we were leaving the cloud cover arrived allowing this photo of the sun's rays. 

And here we have the happy group at the end of a good day. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, October 5, 2014

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 5:1-7
Ps 80
Phil 4:6-9
Mt 21:33-43

Today’s gospel begins where last Sunday’s ended.  The first reading and the Gospel illustrate the dependence of the New Testament upon the Old Testament.  They remind us that Jesus came not to abolish the Old Covenant  but to fulfill it.  The images that Jesus used in the parable, the vineyard, the wine press, and the tower came directly from Isaiah. They make the same painful point about fidelity to God’s law.  But Jesus moved beyond Isaiah. 

Cultivating a vineyard is an extremely complicated and difficult undertaking. 
During tertianship, the last formal training a Jesuit does before he is called to final vows, our twelve-man tertian class made the thirty-day retreat at the Sevenhill Jesuit Retreat House on the grounds of the Jesuit winery just outside of Clare, South Australia.  The Clare Valley, with 35 wineries, is one of the centers of the Australian wine industry.  Sevenhill, established 135 years ago, was the first of the wineries.  It sits on 1000 acres rolling hills covered with grape vines.  The setting is beyond beautiful.  But, the beauty obscures an important fact, caring for a vineyard is difficult ,demanding, and at times, thankless work.  Sometimes, despite precautions, backbreaking work, the commitment of the wine master and the  dedication of the workers, the harvest is not good and the wines are less than wonderful. 

Unfortunately, 2011 was a catastrophic year in the Clare Valley.  It was unusually cold and cloudy. There was way too much rain during the critical harvest period.  In the end only sixty percent of the grapes were harvested.  The others died on the vine.  But, the winemakers at Sevenhill and the rest of the Valley did not give up.   At out place, Brother John and his staff continued to nurture the vines, nourish the soil, and do whatever else was necessary for the following year's harvest.  So it is with God who loves us and forgives sin.

In the first reading we heard the vineyard owner’s dismay when, despite constructing the vineyard, putting in a watchtower to prevent sabotage, and carefully cultivating the grapes, he harvested not sweet grapes but useless sour wild grapes. 

Isaiah was, like Jesus in the gospel, using the image of the vineyard for the people of Israel, people who, despite God’s care for them, worshipped false idols, ignored the law, and became like sour wild grapes that could not be used for fine wine.  But there is hope.  There is hope of reestablishing the loving relationship between God and His people.

The psalm plays off Isaiah’s images.  Once again the vineyard is a symbol for the people.  The psalmist asks the Lord to restore the vineyard, to resume caring for it, despite the poor harvest, despite the people abandoning the covenant yet again.  If He does this they will no longer withdraw from Him.  There is a combination of confession, faith, and bargaining going on in the psalm.  But the psalmist, who captured the essence of human behavior in this psalm, knows that God is forgiving and will relent. 

Jesus takes the vineyard image further than Isaiah.  He predicts his death.  But he also tells of the mission to the Gentiles, those who were not part of the original covenant.  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  Truer words have never been uttered.

There are three more verses at the end of this parable.  The last two are critical to put the parable’s effect, and of all of Jesus’ teaching in context.  “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them.  And although they were attempting to arrest him, they feared the crowds for they regarded him as a prophet.”  The truth hurts.  Sometimes the truth hurts the one who states it.  Killing the bearer of the truth may be much easier than making fundamental changes in our lives and actions as a result of being told that truth.

Five more chapters of parables and discourses  follow chapter 21 before Matthew recounts Jesus’ passion and death.  They are worth reading at home.  All of them are familiar.  All of them challenge us, just as they challenged Jesus’ hearers.  At times they are painful because we see ourselves in them. It is not a pretty picture.  We can clean up that picture easily enough. The instructions are in the second reading:  Do “what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”  That peace will surpass all understanding.  That peace will trump anything we can imagine.  

Yesterday, was perhaps one of the most mind-blowing days for those who love Division I College Football.  Penn State was not playing nor was Boston College.  However, the upsets, the 'last plays' and everything else came together for one of the most fun days of football watching in a long time.  Even when a buddy stopped in unexpectedly and we decided to grab a pizza, the fun was merely interrupted not ended.  The end of the USC-Arizona State game may have pushed "The Pass" (Doug Flutie to Gerald Phalen) out of advertising.  Alas, the next few Saturdays are going to be very busy and football watching will be at a minimum.  Then comes my 8-day retreat.  At a monastery.  No football.

Below are some of the photos from Chad.  I didn't take many during the month there.  I was forbidden from being seen in public with the camera.  Thus the shots I took were limited to the hospital, school, the grounds, and other private settings.  Did get a few from the roof of the medical school.  I wanted to get some more but the friend who took me up to the roof came down with malaria.  Asking him to walk up five flights did not seem like a good idea.  Next year perhaps.  

Doing an EKG in class at the medical school.  I haven't seen the sucker cups in years.  There was nothing worse in medical school than having to apply these to a man's chest if it was hairy.  Even on smooth skin they didn't always adhere well despite the goop.  

The front entrance of the medical school. 

Carlos, a Jesuit MD, teaching.  He was using a tree branch as a pointer.  A few minutes after this I remembered the laser pointer with slide advancer in my briefcase.  With a total lack of tact and class I got up, walked to the front of the room, took the twig and gave him the pointer.  "Use this."  He did.  It is still there.  

The view from the medical school across the street.  The people are not walking on the wall though it appears that way.  The hospital complex grounds were below the grade of the road.  Drivers had to go slowly pulling into the hospital because of the dip. 

A statue of the Bon Samaritain (Good Samaritan) on the hospital grounds.

Teaching how to take blood pressure.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, September 28, 2014

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ez 18:25-28
Ps 25
Phil 2:1-11
Mt 21:28-32

In August 2011 I was in Saigon, Vietnam.  The high point of ten days there was a visit to the Jesuit novitiate where I spent over an hour with the 29 novices.  After about twenty minutes speaking to them about the nature of tertianship, the long retreat, and a few other topics relevant to Jesuit novices, I threw things open to questions. The first question was a challenge: “Father, of the three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience, which is the most difficult?”  I looked at my questioner, sighed and said, “Some days, all three of them” and went on to dissect each vow before stating that, of the three vows, obedience is the most difficult, a feeling shared by many religious of other orders. Obedience was the most important of the three vows for St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.  It was the vow on which he expended the most energy in the section of the constitutions dealing with the vows.  Obedience is a prominent theme in today’s readings

The second half of the first reading is familiar from the Liturgy of the Hours.   “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at . . . .He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will was perfect obedience.  It was an obedience that we humans are, for the most part, incapable of attaining, though that is not an excuse for not trying.  Obedience is the point of today's Gospel reading.

These verses appear late in Matthew’s Gospel just after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  In the days between that entry, paved with palm branches and hosannas, and the arduous journey carrying the cross, Jesus engaged in a number of debates and discussions with the chief priests and elders. These debates helped to seal His death warrant.  He was cutting too close to the bone for the authorities to bear.  There is a reason for the saying, “the truth hurts.”  Sometimes it hurts the one who tells it.  Through the use of parables Jesus pointed out the contradictions between what the priests and elders preached and how they lived.  He demonstrated how they heard John’s call to repentance but failed to heed it.  He pointed out their fundamental disobedience to God’s will.

The second son, the one who said he would go to work in the vineyard but did not go, represents those who proclaimed the law but failed to follow through on its principles and demands. They are the hypocrites. They are the actors who play a role they do not believe in.  Many of them are now officials in all levels of government from small municipalities to the highest national levels, the very highest.

The first son, who initially refused to work in the vineyard but then obeyed the father’s request, represents the social and religious outcasts of the time, the sinners, who, despite not following the law in the beginning, heard John's call to repentance and eventually heeded it.  They are like those of us who, after many attempts, finally quit smoking, or get sober, or stop gossiping about our neighbors, or resist taking Christ’s name in vain, or . . . fill in the blank.  It took them time.  But, they eventually heard the message of obedience to the will of God. They heard message to repent for their sins and acted on it.

How often have we acted like the second brother?  How often have we promised to do something and then reneged on that promise?  How often have we made a commitment and then not honored it?  How often have we said we will avoid sin, and then happily went about committing the same ones?  How often have we acted like the first brother who refused the request but who, perhaps as the result of a guilty conscience, quietly went and did what we were originally asked to do? 

The most likely answer to both questions is often.  We can all accuse ourselves of mouthing principles that we fail to practice, the “do as I say not as I do” syndrome.  However, we can all take comfort in the fact that sometimes, after an initial misstep or series of missteps, we get it right and follow God’s will for us. 

We heard in the responsorial psalms,
“Good and upright is the Lord;
thus he shows sinners the way.” 

We need only heed the message, and follow the way.

We also heard,
“The sins of my youth and my frailties,
remember not;
in your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness.” 

Even when we have acted like the second son in the parable, when we have been hypocritical or disobedient, it is not too late.  We heard the promise in the first reading that, if anyone turns from wickedness and does what is right and just, his life shall be preserved, he shall live and not die.

Truly the Lord is good and upright.
The first photo is of the 29 Vietnamese novices.  Their questions were also to the point and a real challenge. 

Detail of a baptismal chapel gate in a 12th century church in Lyon

The gladiola has never been a particular favorite, probably because it seems invariable in funeral bouquets.  I had a standing order with the florist in Plymouth when I ordered flowers, "No Gladiolas."  But, they are rather attractive in their natural setting.  These were in the cloister garth of the community in Lyon, a community in an old Visitation monastery.  

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, September 22, 2014

25th Monday in Ordinary Time

Lk 8:16-18

“To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away."  This is not the only time we hear these sentiments in the Gospel.   The recurrence of this thought suggests that we must pay attention to what Jesus is saying. 

On the surface these words sound like the antithesis of a preferential option for the poor.  In general wealth begets greater wealth and poverty begets worse poverty.  However, while Jesus sometimes uses financial images, here He is referring not to shekels but to faith. 

Just as wealth begets more wealth, active faith, faith that drives one’s life, multiplies itself to greater faith. But, just as the wealthy investor must work hard to generate more wealth, occasionally taking significant risks, faith only increases when it is used and put to the test, particularly when that test is not of our own choosing. 

Putting the light of faith under a basket obscures it from others and, more significantly, obscures it from oneself.  Can anyone afford to be a Catholic of convenience?  Should anyone allow the light of faith to shine only when it is acceptable to others, or politically correct. Should one's faith be hidden when it might be challenged?  Or if it might potentially offend someone?  Is it true faith when one is diffident about morality, ethics or naming sin for what it is because the cocktail conversation crowd wouldn't approve?    

Maintaining financial wealth is not easy.  Maintaining one's faith is not easy either.  The choice is stark. Conceal one's faith or allow it to shine.  It is not a risk free option.

It is nice getting back to celebrating Mass regularly.  Am on various schedules today through Wednesday and then on Sunday.  

The first role of film I ever with my first camera was black and white.  It is a wonderful medium in that it affects the eye and the soul in a different way than color.  It is less distracting, allowing one to focus on the shape, light and shadow rather than color.  These are the result of a fantastic Saturday morning when I went over to Vieux Lyon at about 6:30  and wandered for four hours at which point tourists began to clog the streets.  

The Eglise Saint-Georges was about 1/4 mile from the community.  It is the only church in Lyon in which the Mass is celebrated exclusively in the extraordinary form.  I went there often as I could not make Mass in the community because of school.  

The Basilica ND de Fourviere looms over the city to the west.  It can be reached via a short walk from Saint-Georges and a funiculaire, a cable car that ascends the very steep mountain.  

The Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste is almost directly below ND de Fourviere and about 1/4 mile from Saint Georges.  It wasn't as if there were no options for Mass any day of the week. 

The court building is very close to the Cathedral overlooking the River Saone. 

These balconies were catching the early morning sun. 

I was fascinated by the facade of this apartment building.  Each of the five floors had as different take on the windows.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

24th Tuesday in Ordinary Time

Lk 7:11-17

The narrative of the Widow of Nain is unique to Luke’s Gospel.  There is nothing close to it in the other synoptics or John.  It begins with one of the most heart-rending scenes in all of scripture.  There are two significant aspects to this miracle that are rarely noticed or commented upon.  But they are obvious when pointed out.

First, this is one of the rare healing miracles in which Jesus took the initiative.  No leper asked him for healing.  There were no friends lowering a stretcher through a roof.  There was no request of any kind.  “When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.”   Then Jesus stopped the funeral procession and said, “Young man, I tell you arise.”  It is easy to understand Jesus' unrequested intervention in the pathetic scene.

There is nothing more difficult for a young physician (something I once was), or for an old physician (something I now am) than being with a parent whose child is dying or who has just died, regardless of the circumstances.  It doesn’t matter if it is the three year-old in a young family, or a seventy year-old child of nonagenarian parents.  The pain is indescribable.  The impact on the physician is extraordinary. 

The second significant aspect is that this is a healing miracle in which there is no mention of sin. In many of the healing miracles the healing if effected with the blessing, you're sins are forgiven, sin no more.  This may be even more significant than Jesus’ unsolicited action because it tells us of God’s loving mercy. The death of a child, the suffering of one's child raises the unanswerable question that mankind has struggled with for millennia, and will continue to struggle for the next few millennia: How is it possible for God, who we are told is kind and loving, to permit a child to suffer or die?

Particularly in the case of the young child, because we tend to equate suffering with sin, we wonder what could the child have done to deserve this?  The question implies that an adult may have done something to cause his or her own suffering. Talk to those who survive a lifetime smoker who died of lung cancer.  Many will blame the deceased for causing his  death.  But a child.  Did he sin?  Did his parents sin?  No.

One of the most painful scenes in Albert Camus’ great novel The Plague is the protracted agony and death of a young boy.  Because he had received a vaccine his course of suffering and dying was particularly prolonged.   Each of the main characters was more shaken by the child’s agony and death than by the sufferings and deaths of any of the adults.  The child’s excruciating pain caused a severe crisis of faith for the Jesuit, Father Paneloux.  Fr. Paneloux did not recover from this crisis before his own death from plague not long afterwards. 

Who was not praying for a miraculous response to the primitive vaccine?  How many parents today have prayed, or are praying, for a miraculous response to a last ditch and perhaps experimental treatment for their child?  We are seeing this reenacted today in the context of Ebola.  This is where the lack of mention of sin comes in the healing is significant. 

The great theologian Karl Barth contends that the important thing about the needs in the miracles stories is not that they are sinners but they are sufferers.   

Not that they are sinners but they are sufferers. 

The widow of Nain was suffering in ways that we cannot comprehend today.  She had not sinned but she was suffering indescribable pain nonetheless.  Jesus relieved that suffering.

Not that they are sinners but they are sufferers. 

This is a statement worthy of a long period of contemplation during today’s examen.

It is great getting back to celebrating daily Mass in scattered venues, Framingham, Waltham, the community here (next week) and others.  One of the most difficult things about being in French-speaking countries for three months was my inability to preach.  The first month I could barely do anything in French.  Things are a bit better now but there is a long way to go.  Am taking a bit of a vacation from French and will return in about a week.  

The photos attached are from Dublin.  They are all the same subject, The Samuel Beckett Bridge.  The bridge is new.  It opened in 2008 after two years of construction.  There is one photo of it in the previous set but it is worth showing some others.  I took the photo in the previous entry on Sunday when Paul and I were walking along the river.  I went back on Wednesday after Paul returned to the U.S. to take more targeted photos, a process that took over an hour.  One of the challenges for a photographer is not boring friends to death as he is taking multiple photos of the same thing.  Photography is a solitary hobby.  

I like this bridge because it is asymmetrical, like the Zakim Bridge in Boston.  The resemblance to an Irish harp is obvious.  Fortunately there are small islands for pedestrians at the ends of the bridge so I wasn't standing in the middle of traffic.  

This is the bridge from the north.  The port is on the other side.  A bit of a cruise ship is visible.

This is a view of the western side of the bridge looking east (I think, my sense of direction and orientation is very suspect).  

The view through the porthole that is visible in the first photo at the bottom of "harp."  

Eastern side of bridge looking up the harp.  Note the seagull.  Couldn't do anything about his presence in the photo.  

Eastern side of bridge looking at the strings of the harp.

Reflection of the bridge in a kiosk.  One of my favorite types of photos is reflections.  This one is nicely distorted.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD