Tuesday, May 17, 2016

7th Wednesday in Ordinary Time

Jas 4: 13-17
Ps 49:2-3, 6-7, 8-10, 11

The reading from James is not the only time we will be cautioned against counting on tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that.  Or making great plans.  No one can count on tomorrow.  Tomorrow can be changed in the blink of an eye.  We.  Our loved ones.  Our friends.  Our co-workers.  Our neighbors.  We are all puffs of smoke.  When we are gone the memory of us evaporates in the same way that the smoke from candles on a birthday cake dissipates. 

The psalm explains.   

". . . in no way can a man redeem himself,
or pay his own ransom to God; 
Too high is the price
he would never have enough to remain alive always
and not see destruction."

 It reminds us of our fundamental human equality.

"For . . . wise men die,
and likewise the senseless and the stupid pass away, 
leaving their wealth to others."

It is a shock to realize that one is not indispensible. It is an even greater shock to realize that tomorrow may never come. 

The first reading from the breviary yesterday morning was the lyrics of a song composed in the 1950's.  It became a major hit for the American folk-rock group The Byrds in 1965.  It is no joke to say that this particular rock song has the oldest lyrics ever for a top 40 hit.  That is our course Pete Seeger's song to which he added only one word repeated three times:  "Turn, Turn, Turn."

"To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season, (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose under heaven."

Ecclesiastes continues:

"A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant  . . . .
A time to weep, and a time to laugh,
A time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time of war, and a time of peace"

You can find the song on You Tube.  Just type in Turn, Turn, Turn.  You can find the lyrics in Chapter 3 of Ecclesiates.  No matter which you choose, it is critical to recall that our time is now.  We are not guaranteed tomorrow.  Our time is now.  We are called to use it as best we can.  We're called to do the right thing.

This was one of the great songs of the mid-60's.  Who woulda' thought?   I will confess to having more or less sung the first reading from Ecclesiastes in my head.  For the rest of the day.  This was not an ear worm about which to complain.  

The attached photos are candles, obviously, taken in any number of locations.  I prefer black and white photography to color.  Certainly if I had to choose to shoot exclusively in one or the other it would be black and white.  My first roll of film back in 1977 was ASA 400 black and white.  One company makes a camera that shoots only in black and white.  The price would leave my credit card black and blue. 

The votive candles at the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere in Lyon.  These were in the crypt chapel, a space I very much preferred to the overly done and gaudy upper church.   In some of the candle stands the candles higher up were seriously bent due to the heat from the lower candles melting them. 

These are the votive candles at Old St. Joseph Church on Willings Alley in Philadelphia.  Definitely worth a visit when in Philly.  Not easy to find as it is tucked away due to anti-Catholic sentiments during the 17th centuries.  Founded and built by the Society of Jesus. 

One of the candles at the side of the altar at Campion Center 

The altar candles in the chapel at Loyola-Marymount University in Los Angeles.  Took these when I went out for Ryan's vows last August. 

Finally, two candles and a bowl on the table in the men's guest house at the Abbey of Regina Laudis.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Acts 2:1-11
Ps 104
1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13
Jn 20:19-23

Today’s feast is proof that it is impossible to understand the New Testament without knowing the Old.

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.” 

It is important to remember that what we call the last supper, the night before Jesus' crucifixion, was a Passover meal.  It was a seder. The Pentecost referred to in the first reading was the Jewish feast of Pentecost, called Shavuot in Hebrew, a feast that is still celebrated by observant Jews.  Shavuot commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses fifty days after the Exodus.  Thus, Shavuot is celebrated fifty days after Passover.  This year it will be from 11 to 13 June.   Just as Moses received the wisdom and teaching of the Decalogue fifty days after the Exodus, the disciples received the wisdom and teaching of the Holy Spirit fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, when He led our exodus from death to eternal life.  Thus, the Church celebrates Pentecost fifty days after Easter.

The reading from Acts is dramatic.  It is a movie script demanding George Lucas-like special effects:  Wind.  Flame.  Polyglot speaking.  Consider the people’s consternation that these unsophisticated and uneducated Galileans were able to speak in whatever language was necessary for everyone to hear the Good News.  With the speaking in tongues we find what some call “the reversal of Babel;” that which had been split apart by man's arrogance at the Tower of Babel, was made whole again by the Holy Spirit.

It is a pity we did not hear all of Psalm 104 during the responsorial.  Psalm 104 uses exquisite imagery to describe God’s ongoing act of creation.  Ideally God’s action and our response to His action are reciprocal, God's gift flowing from Creator to creature and our thanksgiving and praise from creature to Creator.

Today we celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit; gifts that strengthen our faith; gifts that strengthen our lives.  Each of us has been given unique gifts.  But, we have not been given identical gifts.  Our task is to discover the gifts unique to each of us and develop them.   “As a body is one though it has many parts . . .”  This is an important statement  to which Paul will return later. 

Certain sectors of society no longer acknowledge or accept differences or distinctions.  Indeed, there are concerted attempts to erase them.  There is a bizarre insistence on a kind of false or artificial equality.  It is an extreme version of particularity that is marked by a grandiose narcissistic sense of specialness.  Each individual or faction demands that his or her specialness is most special and thus deserves precedence.  Any discussion generally ends with someone shrieking the equivalent of  "my equality is more equal than your equality."  And then the whiner can go on a talk show to rant, demand an apology and insist on public penance by the accused miscreant.

Medical students hear amusing jokes, some of which can never be shared in sacred space, about the struggle for supremacy within the body.  The general outline is an argument in which each of the body's organs or organ systems is debating which one is the most important, which is MOST critical to the life and comfort of the individual.  However,  except for the appendix, a useless anatomic appendage, the body has no most important system. There is no supreme organ or organ system.  No capo di tutti capi.  There is no pope of the body.  Each of the body's systems is equally necessary to our ability to function and survive.  The lungs cannot do the work of the liver.  The liver cannot do the work of the heart.  The pancreas cannot do the work of the kidneys.  And nothing can cover and protect the body except the skin. If any one vital organ or system is seriously damaged, including the skin, the entire body is at risk of death.  It is that simple. 

None of us is the social equivalent of a stem cell, a totipotential cell that can become anything at all. Insisting that one has a dream does not mean it must or will be fulfilled.  "You can be whatever you want to be" is one of the greatest lies we are fed. That lie is being taken to an absurd and sinful extreme in the U.S.  We all have assets. We all have liabilities.  We all have weaknesses.  We all have strengths.  We are all fallible in some areas and more than competent in others.  The only thing we have is common is that we are sinners.  No exceptions and no counterbalance.  That we are all sinners loved by God is the only true equality.  We rejoice that the Holy Spirit has bestowed his gifts upon us. 

Our vocation is to cooperate with those gifts. We are to cooperate with those gifts  in the manner by which each of us is capable.  Our mission is to share the revelation of Jesus with those we meet using whatever language we know, or, as instructed by Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times, use words only when absolutely necessary."

The Easter Season has ended.  Beginning tonight we will be in ordinary time for about the next six months.  Green vestments.  Sunday Gospel from Luke.  And then we begin to celebrate the events in our redemption with Advent in early December.  

Five years ago at this time I was in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia.  Shortly after Easter, which was very late that year, we were sent all over Australia for three weeks to give retreats in daily life.  I was sent to Warrnambool.  Great place.  The town has about 30,000. It sits on the coast.  St. Joseph Church was on the edge of the Central Business District.  It took about 20 minutes to walk to the coast.  There was an extraordinary amount of rain while I was there.  I couldn't complain as the area had been enmeshed in a years long drought, a not uncommon situation in Australia.  Because the retreat schedule was made to fit around the retreatants' daily lives, there were few periods of time when I could get out with the camera except for Wednesday, assuming it wasn't pouring.  

These rental boats were tied up for the impending winter.  Recall that the seasons are reversed from the northern hemisphere.  The weather was cool and crisp.  

I'd call this photo "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" to honor the Otis Redding classic.  

These lost and broken sunglasses were a poignant reminder of the end of summer.  This is one of the few photos that I converted to black and white and then converted back as the effect is better in the monochrome brown. 

Beaches photograph well in black and white. 

In the trend of pop music the beach boy is searching for his surfer girl.  He wasn't going to find her there that day.  We were the only two on the beach. 

The last two are not identical.  They were taken from the same basic vantage point.  The colored one reminds me of the work of Winslow Homer.  The sun was going down rapidly, as was the temperature, and I had a long way to walk back to the church.  It was worth it, however. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, April 29, 2016

Memorial Mass for the Dead at St. Patrick Manor

I celebrated the memorial Mass for those residents who died at St. Patrick Manor during the month of March.  The Gospel was the beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew.  

One of the great consolations of the Catholic Church is her formalized structure of prayer surrounding death: Masses for the dead,  prayerful care for the dying, and prayer for those who survive.  The prayers in the Mass for the Dead are meant, in part, to comfort us.  Some of the most consoling words of the Mass for the Dead, are found in the preface leading to the consecration, prayers you will hear shortly: "For your faithful Lord, life is changed not ended."

"For your faithful Lord, life is changed not ended." 

The Easter-season Gospel readings have described that change. They reiterate the promise of eternal life, the promise that was fulfilled through Jesus'
incarnation, birth, passion, death, resurrection and ascension.

"For your faithful Lord, life is changed not ended." 

This is true for the one who has died.  It is also true for those who survive.  Life is changed for those who survive.  It is a dramatic change.  Mourning takes time.  It is time measured in months and years not days or weeks.  Grieving demands physical, mental and spiritual energy. Oftentimes it demands more energy than we have at a particular moment.

"Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted."

They will be comforted.  We hear these words and scream:  How?  When?  By whom?  We also scream the angry question.  Why?

The biggest lie fed to those of us who mourn, a lie perpetrated by journalists, social workers, clueless psychologists, inane TV talk-show hosts, the lady at the post-office, the guy down the street, and just about everyone else, is the word "Closure."

Closure.  Does.  Not.  Exist. 

It is a false concept meant to make those who invoke it feel better. "Oh wow, I've like said something like really significant . . . like."  The illusion of this so-called closure does nothing to comfort us who mourn.  Mourning eases with time.  The sharp edges of grief become more rounded.  We no longer mourn with the intensity that marked the first few days following the death.  With time we adapt to the changes that death has forced on our lives. 

Things never return to the way they were before.  But, with time we arrive at a new baseline. We learn a new definition of normal.  We forge a new way of being.  However, we don't forget.  There is no quote closure unquote.  Forgetting.  Ending.  These are what the word closure suggests, indeed closure seems to demand erasing the memory of the one whom we loved.  Closure only exists in the minds of those who have no idea what they are talking about.  Closure is only possible for those who have never endured the death of someone they loved.  Eventually, however, they learn. 

While I was preparing the funeral homily for Jesuit Father Ned Cassem, former Chief of Psychiatry at the Mass General, his former administrative assistant gave me a copy of some of his writing. He titled one of the essays "Creed."  It reads in part, "Death is not depressing.  It's inspiring.  It makes one sad, but being sad is different from being depressed.  If there is a lot of sadness it is a measure of how much the person was loved." 

"Blessed are they who mourn, they will be comforted."

Neither mourning nor grieving is synonymous with depression.  Mourning cannot be treated with a few anti-depressants.  Grief doesn't resolve with a few anti-anxiety pills. Both require a great deal of what physicians a generation ago referred to as tincture of time.

The comfort promised those who mourn comes from those who listen as we, the bereaved, the grief stricken, the sorrowing, as we . . . are given the opportunity to talk. We need listeners as we talk about our loss.  We need listeners as we reminisce, weep, and yes, laugh.  Those who mourn need time and companionship  . . . not Prozac. 

The comfort promised those who mourn comes from prayer, contemplation on the promise of eternal life, and from frequent reception of the sacraments.  Those who mourn need the quiet time of prayer . . . not Valium.

The comfort promised those who mourn comes from sitting alone with the memories of a husband, wife, mother, father, sibling, grandparent, friend.  Even the memories of the last days or weeks of life may be consoling.

As Father Cassem wrote in Creed: "If you confront death with somebody you love who is dying, out of that will come learning, learning that transforms your life.  It leaves you stronger, braver, and calmer."

Life is changed not ended.  Not only for the one who died but also for us who loved, and continue to love albeit in a different way.  With time we do become stronger, braver, and calmer.  Perhaps we also become less anxious at the prospect of our own deaths. 

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.


Cemeteries of religious orders are uniform and quite remarkable.  There is a palpable sense of peace. Two of the cemeteries are Jesuit, one is Trappist and one is Benedictine.   Cemeteries seem to photograph a lot better in black and white than color.  Less distraction.  Only the last one here is in color.

The Jesuit Cemetery at the former novitiate and now retreat house in Chang-hua.  Ignatius and I generally get to the retreat house at least once when I am in the country.  Generally we stop there on the way to Sun Moon Lake, one of the most beautiful places on earth.    I had been raining that morning.   The dark squares on the tombstones to the left have plaques.  The white tombs are waiting to be filled.  

The cemetery at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA.  I made a few retreats there when I lived in D.C.  Would like to go back but it is a much longer drive, one that I don't particularly want to make. 
The archabbey has been in place for about 200 years.  Huge cemetery. 

The cemetery at St. Joseph Abbey.  A Trappist house in Spencer, MA it was the location of my final vow retreat.  The cemetery is in the center of the cloister garth.  The men see it on a daily basis.  It is a silent reminder of our mortality. 

The cemetery at Campion center in the winter.  

This freshly dug grave received the coffin of Fr. Ignatius Ikunza, SJ, a close friend who died at a tragically young age.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD