Saturday, June 27, 2015

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wis 1:13-15, 2:23-24
Ps 30:2,4,5,6,11-13,
2 Cor 8:7,9, 11-13
Mk 5:21-43

One of the most spectacular choruses in Handel's Messiah is a study in contrast.  In the superb recording by Boston Baroque it begins with a short minor chord on the organ after which the chorus sings a cappella: "Since by man came death, since by man came death."  Then the organ and orchestra explode in joy as the chorus proclaims: "By man came also the resurrection of the dead" three times.   Another somber chord leads into another a cappella passage:  "For as in Adam all die, for as in Adam all die."  That is followed by another explosion of rejoicing as organ, orchestra and chorus proclaim:  "Even so in Christ shall all be made alive" four times.  This contrast is apparent in today's readings. 

The first reading began with "God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living." 

God is not a sadistic marionetteer who induces personal tragedy in random fashion.  Nor is God a benign magician who guides a desperation pass into the arms of a receiver in the end-zone, not even the magnificent Flutie to Phalen pass at Miami, or, to think of it, the pass on 27 December that allowed Penn State to defeat Boston College.  Both ends of this continuum represent a faith that is fit only for three year-olds.

God created the world for humankind.  God created us in His own image to be imperishable.  We promptly rejected the gifts of that creation--we continue to reject the gifts of that creation--for the hubris of being completely self-determining.  Thus death entered the world.  And so it remains: hubris, sin, and death. But then we see hope in today's long Gospel reading. It would be easy to spend most of a semester on this particular Gospel passage.  Faith, death, ritual impurity, the significance of a 12 year-old girl and a 12 year duration of blood flow.  Sociology, medicine, theology, philosophy and more, all wrapped up in one reading.

In the gospel we hear what is sometimes called a "Markan Sandwich."  A Markan sandwich begins with a narrative that is interrupted by a different self-contained narrative followed by the conclusion of the first narrative.  The themes uniting both are faith and the most dire forms of ritual impurity: menstrual blood and death.

The woman was excluded from full-participation in the land of the living by her chronic state of ritual impurity.  That state was due to what today is called dysfunctional uterine bleeding.  Uterine cancer?  Firbroids?  No clue.  She was not only continuously bleeding; she was also infertile, something that was understood as a great curse.  Merely being touched by her, intentionally or unintentionally, would transmit that ritual impurity.  That contagion of impurity was a very bad thing for all concerned. 

In the situation of the young girl Jesus risked ritual impurity by touching her dead body.  Of course today we are much too sophisticated to believe in ritual impurity.  We are too modern to believe that contact with another individual could defile or contaminate us.  Yeah, right!

Try being a smoker.  Banished to the physical margins, a portico, a store overhang, the back porch, and being treated with disdain by a certain self-righteous tribe.  Suggest that animals have their place, and it does not equal that of humans, and one may be castigated or accused--horror of horrors--of being a "speciesist," whatever that might mean.   Are you against abortion?  Would you rather not kill grand pop because he is demented?  Don't admit that at a cocktail party in Manhattan.  "I could never socialize with someone with such unenlightened views" would be the sniffed retort.  We still believe in ritual impurity.  We call it by other names but we still believe in it.  Because of ritual impurity this is probably not a good week to display a confederate flag on the porch.

"Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead."  We heard this reiterated in the Alleluia verse:  "Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel."

He offers that life to all of us through faith, the faith of the woman who had heard about Jesus, a woman who was sufficiently daring to mingle with a crowd to whom she could impart her impurity. She risked being beaten for touching others.  She took the risk to touch Jesus' clothing so that she might be healed.  Jesus offers life to us through the faith of the little girl's father who was willing to endure the crowd's ridicule to seek help for his daughter.  Jesus' miracles did not cause faith. They were driven by faith.

Jesus offers us the same.  He offers us the same healing in the sacraments of the Church: in baptism that cleanses us from original sin and begins our journey into full communion with the Church.  He offers that healing in confession that removes the stain of the sins we consciously choose to commit.  He offers that healing at Mass where we are privileged to hear His word and receive His sacred body and blood.

In light of this great gift we sing with the psalmist:
"Hear O Lord, and have pity on me;
O Lord, be my helper.
You changed my mourning into dancing:
O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks."

Am recovering from a miserable cold.  It hit two days after I got home from Lorraine's funeral and laid me low for an entire week.  The coughing was severe and exhausting.  Sleep was difficult for several nights.  Am now on the mend though chanting is still a bit dicey.  However, I should be back to normal voice when I go to Regina Laudis in two weeks.  

School has finally ended in Boston after all the make-up time for the snow days.  I forgot that fact on Friday morning and, as a result, arrived at the convent for Mass rather early.  NO SCHOOL BUSES!!!!!!  Best part of summer.  

The photos below are a study in color, shape, texture and light.  They are closeups of the stained glass on the entrance ramp at St. Mary's Church in Plymouth, PA, my home parish.  The last one is a quick snapshot of the area to give an idea of what the windows look like as it would be impossible to tell from the first photos. 

Finally, the windows. These were done by Baut Studios in Swoyersville, PA, not too far from Plymouth.  Baut is a longstanding family owned and run stained glass studio that has received commissions from all over the world including the Vatican.  Magnificent work.  The technique of embedding thick pieces of glass in metal, at times very thick and heavy metal, is one of their innovations.  

Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More

What does it cost to take a stand for one’s faith?  What does it cost to go against the court of public opinion?  What does it cost to believe?  It costs a lot.  Today we celebrate the memorial of two great English martyrs. Both died because they held to the principles of their faith.  Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More were both martyred in 1535.  Their deaths were ordered by King Henry VIII because they opposed his plan to name himself head of the church so that he could divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.  Of course Henry went on to marry as many times as Elizabeth Taylor thereby making a mockery of the sacrament.  But, that is a different homily.

Both men had the courage of their convictions.  They stood alone in defying the king.  Fisher was the only bishop to speak out against the king’s plan.  But he did not criticize those bishops who lacked the courage to speak out.  Thomas More, who had held the highest legal post in England, would not budge from his principles.  He bore no ill will toward the judges who condemned him to death.  Neither man wavered in his beliefs.  Both died for them.  The courage of these two great saints should be a model for us when we have to speak out against the abuses of our age.  

We don’t face martyrdom in quite the same way.  We face something we may dread more.  Criticism.  We face being considered hopelessly “behind the times.”  We face ostracism or exclusion because of our beliefs. We face the public execution by the perpetually aggrieved. Trying saying in the public that Bruce Jenner is not a woman. The demands for apologies, groveling, and job loss would reach a fever pitch immediately.

Confucius described  “the rectification of names.”  One explanation of this key concept of Chinese philosophy is that the corruption of society begins with the failure to call things by their proper names… and its reconstruction begins with reattaching words to real things and precise concepts.   Is it women’s health care or abortion?  Is it death with dignity or killing a sick old man?  Is it just a little affair or is it adultery?  We cannot afford euphemisms that deny the reality of sin or rationalize it into something else.  We cannot bear the cost of words that normalize wrong or evil action. 

John Fisher and Thomas More died because they called the king’s actions what they were.  Sin. We should expect no less of ourselves.  We should expect no less of our Church.  

The cold is letting up.  Slowly.  The timing was perfect as I'd planned on being away for a few days but then canceled the plans after Lorraine died.  Thus I had no Mass commitments.  Good thing.  I can barely speak a sentence without coughing, much to the chagrin of some of my friends.  Going to Regina Laudis for a few days later.  I assume the chanting voice will have returned by then.  

When I was at Longwood I took over 400 photos.  Besides the water lilies a must stop is the orchid room.  Orchids are very different on the stem than leering up from the left shoulder of a prom gown.  In the sixties if it wasn't an orchid is was carnations died colors that God never planned for a carnation or any other flower.  As long as it matched the dress.  Bridezillas in training.  

Herewith, the orchids. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, June 12, 2015

Difficult Time

My oldest sister, Lorraine, died on Tuesday 2 June.   Her death, while sudden, was not entirely unexpected in the context of some medical problems that were diagnosed about a year ago.  It was one of those settings in which being a physician is a tremendous disadvantage.  We know too much.  That makes it difficult to deny the reality of the future.  The funeral was Wednesday 10 June.  I celebrated and preached.  The readings and homily are below. 

Lorraine lived in the Wilmington, DE area for at least 50 years.  I drove to PA the Thursday after she died and, after a few days in our hometown, checked into an Inn about 15 minutes away from the church.  It was also 15 minutes away from Longwood Gardens.  Once the homily was finished I went over to Longwood for several hours with the camera, the better to wrap my head around the changes that will overtake the family.  

Lorraine was 14 years old (our other sister Ellie was 10) when my twin brother and I were born.  We didn't really get to know each other until we were adults.  When I was in medical school at Temple in Philadelphia, it was about 1/2 mile walk to the North Philly train station and a similar distance to her house from the Claymont (DE) station.  We had great times together and she, for the most part, taught me to cook long distance.  We parted cooking ways when I began baking bread.  Though she was a superb cook she turned the page immediately upon seeing the word yeast.  

Wisdom 3:1-6,9
First Letter to the Corinthians 15L:51-57
John 14:1-6


" . . . in an instant
in the blink of an eye."

For Lorraine it was exactly that, an instant, a mere instant between life and eternal life.  For those of us left behind to mourn  it was, is, and will be for a long time, an instant we wish had not happened.  It was an instant that plunged us into a world of perplexity, a world of grief, a time of sorrow and confusion. It will take a long time before things seem to make some sense.  There is a degree of comfort in the reading from the ancient Book of Wisdom. But only a degree.

"The souls of the just
are in the hands of God
and no torment shall touch them."

Hearing these words of assurance  so soon after Lorraine's unexpected death gives us only a hint of comfort.  For now.   However, the readings from Wisdom, from Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, and from John's Gospel remind us that death is not the end.  It is a beginning.  It is a beginning that none of us can know or describe or fully apprehend no matter how hard we try.
Lorraine will be missed by many people.  She will be missed in a manner that will be unique to each of us.  She will be missed in a way that is specific to the nature of the relationship each of us had with her.  For many, if not most of us, it will be the absence of the little things in particular that will provoke  some of the most severe pangs of grief over the coming months and years.  It will be difficult at Christmas when I have to actually purchase for myself  the toothbrush and 12-pack of Penn State embossed pencils that arrived annually without fail for the past twenty or so years. 

Lorraine had a close relationship with our cousin Susan Gaylor and, in particular, with her daughter Rosie, now a 24 year-old who will start medical school in August.  Susan is in Ireland today and could not be here.  She sent a long letter of recollections of Lorraine.  I want to share some of them with you.

"I can remember the phone call from Lorraine as I lay in my hospital bed, holding Rosie who was one day old.  'Congratulations, and would you mind if Jim and I sort of adopted Rosie?'"  She went on to explain that Lorraine wanted to do special things for her on holidays and the like.

A forty-one year old first-time mother Susan wrote, "Mind?  I needed all the help I could get!!!"  She continued.  "Little did I realize what Lorraine would go on to do for us. There was all that exquisite needlepoint.  There were the carefully smocked dresses. They were works of art."  But, "over the years, Lorraine was always there.  She was not a distant supporter. First communion, confirmation, graduation .  .usually showing up with some wonderful delectable foods to share.

Lorraine was a role model for me. Raising an only child has certain challenges.  When I see the beautiful job Lorraine did raising Kate,  a strong, smart, successful and happy woman, it is inspiring.  One day Lorraine said,  'Don't worry, Susan, there IS life after 50!'  How right she was.  One only had to look at her and Jim planning their next trip or adventure."  She ended, "Yes, Lorraine, you were right, life is what you make it, and it can be great an any age.

Thank you for being such a great role model."

"Don't worry, Susan, there IS life after 50!"  For Lorraine there was life after 50, after 60, and deep, very deep, into her seventies.  But, it is the promise of our faith that there is always life, even after life as we know it on this earth, has ended. That is the gift of eternal life.

It is that sure knowledge, it is that faith in eternal life, that allowed St. Paul to ask, with a tone of defiance and perhaps even sarcasm,

"O death, where is thy victory,
O grave, where is thy sting?"

That faith is strengthened when we hear Jesus proclaim,

"I am the resurrection and the life,
whoever believes in me
will not die for ever"

Death has a different meaning for those who profess themselves to be Christian.  It is no longer simply an inevitable future to which you must resign yourself.  It is no longer a condemnation.  Dying in Christ is dying to death itself.  As we heard in the first reading moments ago,

"They seemed in the view of the foolish, to be dead, . . . but they are in peace."

In the Gospel, Jesus instructed his disciples, as he instructs us at this moment, "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God, have faith also in me."  We know, of course, that we will have a difficult time following this instruction.  Our hearts will be troubled for a long time. Our faith will waver, it may seem to disappear.  We hear of that tenuous faith in the Gospel when Thomas, the one who doubted Jesus' resurrection, asked,  ". . . we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?"

"How can we know the way?"  We will ask ourselves that question multiple times over the coming months. "How can we know the way?"

Many of you may not know that for a woman who did not drive, Lorraine was a superb navigator. She was better than GPS.  And she pre-dated GPS by a few years.  You ignored her instruction to turn right at your own peril.   (You know who you are.)

At the end of the Gospel Jesus replied to Thomas,  "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  We will leave this church bereaved but we are also called to leave with a small degree of comfort.

Lorraine always knew the way.  Now she knows the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis!

Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord`
and let perpetual light shine upon her.


The water liles at Longwood

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, May 29, 2015

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity compels us to consider the most important truth of our faith.  We recall this truth every time we begin and end Mass.  We invoke the Trinity every time we pray.  We call upon the Trinity whenever we say the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  What we call the Trinitarian formula is critical to every sacrament from baptism to the anointing of the sick and dying. The sign of the cross with the Trinitarian formula begins and ends everything the Church does.  As it should.

We read in The Catechism of the Catholic Church,  “Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. "  I would add that they are never, and can never be, baptized in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, a formula that some with delicate but bizarre sensitivities would like to use.

The Catechism continues, "The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith . . . (It is) the light that enlightens them.  It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.”

The most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.

Every time we make the sign of the cross, we recall a mystery that is inexplicable. The Trinity remains inexplicable despite the vast number of books written about it.  Though each book may contain a bit of insight into the nature of the Trinity, no book captures the essence of the Trinity.  No book, or the sum of all books, will ever capture that full essence.  The dogma of the Trinity depends on faith and faith alone.

One definition of faith is:  “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.”  Another definition of faith comes from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the conviction of things unseen.”   Both definitions tell us something important in light of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity:  There will never be a logical proof of that doctrine.

We must become comfortable with the definition of faith as mysterious because despite the absence of logical proof, despite the impossibility of philosophy or science to begin to explain the Trinity,  one cannot call oneself Christian if he or she denies the Trinity.  Father.  Son.  Holy Spirit.

Many of you have probably heard the story that I did back in grade school a lot of decades ago.  It still serves to illustrate the impossibility of understanding the dogma of the Trinity.  The great theologian and philosopher St. Augustine was walking along a beach trying to understand One God in Three Divine Persons.  He wanted to explain the Trinity through logic.   He saw a child who had dug a hole in the sand.  The child was walking back and forth between the water and the hole with a small cup.  He would fill the cup at the water’s edge and then empty it into the hole in the sand.  Augustine observed this for a while and then moved closer to ask what he was doing.  The child responded that he was emptying the sea into the hole.  Augustine asked, “How do you expect to be able to empty something as vast as the sea into this small hole?”  The child responded, “I can empty the sea into this hole more easily than you can understand the Trinity.” 

The child’s point is still valid.  Only through faith can we understand some things that our inadequate intelligence will never be able to comprehend.  Even if we were to comprehend the Trinity, the limits of human vocabulary, the emptiness of all languages, the pallid nature of similes and metaphors, would not allow us to explain it in a way that others could understand.

The word Trinity does not appear anywhere in the Bible.  Rather, the understanding of the Trinity grew in the early years of the Church as the Church began to consider what Jesus had said and done during His time on earth.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine that in the unity of God there are three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each of these three Persons is God.  There is only One God  yet the Persons are distinct. Thus, Jesus always speaks of His Father as distinct from Himself, yet also notes that  “I and the Father are One.”  The same is true of the Holy Spirit.

We are accustomed to persons being distinct and not the same, even when the persons are identical twins. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around three in one the same yet distinct.  Thus, Augustine’s walk along that distant shore. 

Over the past weeks many of the gospels have been taken from the farewell discourse of John’s Gospel.  Jesus refers to both the Father and the Holy Spirit in reference to Himself several times throughout this farewell.  Ultimately though, the Trinity is, and will remain forever, a mystery.

The Gospel antiphon following the Alleluia tells us everything we need to know.  "Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to God who is, who was, and who is to come."
A very busy couple of weeks.  Spent Wednesday to Sunday before Memorial Day at Regina Laudis.  It was a nice time to be there.  So as not to repeat the dreadful drive of Easter Sunday that took 3 1/2 hours (should be about 2 1/2) I left not too long after Mass on Pentecost.  Will go back in July.  

Today is the 40th anniversary of our graduation from Temple Medical.  Shocking in some ways.  Despite sounding like the cliche that it is, it doesn't seem to have been that long.  But after forty years in medicine I can say I've done it all my life.  On Thursday night I sent an e-mail with some of the photos below to several friends with whom I have stayed in touch these forty years.  

The Kresge Building.  This was where it all happened.  I have strong memories of walking into that building the first time and being struck by its ugliness.  It wasn't too great inside.  Brutalist architecture was one of the saddest chapters in the history of American architecture.  The building was dark, cold, ungainly, and ugly.  Almost no natural light came through the small slit windows in the second photo.  The sad thing is that building faced directly east. It would have been nice to have direct sunlight at least some of the time.  

The building beyond Kresge was the research building.  It had no windows.  The guy who designed the building and the deans who thought it was a good idea should have been shot. 

John Franklin "Daddy" Huber, PhD.   Dr. Huber was universally called Daddy.  He interviewed me.  It was a pleasant interview of which I still have fond memories.  At one point Dean Brigham happened into the room.  He asked if I wanted a Coke.  Given that my mouth was so dry that my tongue was like a velcro blood pressure cuff on the roof of my mouth I was more than happy to accept.  At that point the dean carefully picked a few quarters of of his pocket, disappeared for a minute and returned from the soda machine in the "mezzanine" that was actually in the basement with two cans of Coke.  

The mailboxes.  These haven't changed though I don't think they are in use any longer now that the new school is opened.  These were a lifeline to the outside world in a day before e-mail, texting and face time.  

Jones Hall.  This was a dorm.  A number of the women in our class lived there during freshman year.  The roof was the scene of many a boozy party.  Superb views of Center City Philadelphia.  

The "Old Medical School."  I referred to it as that when I came home from my first semester. Dad asked what the "old" medical school looked like.  When I told him he noted that it was the brand new medical school when he was there (graduated in 1931).  It opened in 1929 or 30.  Unfortunately it is slated for demolition.  It was a much warmer, friendlier, and attractive building than bloody Kresge. 

Sitting on the wall.  A lot happened on that wall.  We ate lunch there on nice days.  Sat out there reading, chatting or trying to get a date.  There were a number of food trucks in front.  Cheap, good, and high volume food.  Yeah, that's me.  Forty years gone by.  Wow.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD