Friday, July 24, 2015

16th Friday in Ordinary Time

Ex 20:1-17
Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Mt 13:18-23

The God of Exodus is not a God of relativism, accommodation or negotiation.  He is God who expects exclusive obedience from the people with whom he made His covenant. Thus, the first reading began, "You shall not have other gods beside me."  No options.  No other choices. 

The Ten Commandments are short and to the point.  The Jewish Study Bible points out that the commandments are addressed directly to the people. There are no punishments laid out for breaking them.  Obedience is not motivated by fear of punishment but by God's absolute authority and gratitude for what God had done. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery."  The Decalogue both prescribes and proscribes.  It prescribes observing the Sabbath and honoring one's father and mother.  It proscribes: Killing.  Adultery.  Stealing.  Perjury.  There are no exceptions. There is no hint of relativism.

Thou shalt not kill does not exclude abortion because it has been renamed QUOTE women’s health care UNQUOTE.  Planned Parenthood and its abortionists are beneath contempt.

“Honor your father and your mother" does not include asking, or demanding that, a physician put mom or dad to death with pills or an injection because their lives are perceived as having no meaning or dignity.  Or, on a more practical level, because the inheritance is running out. 

The prohibition against adultery should be self-evident from the damage it does to the family and the rest of society.  However, it doesn't take very long wading in the moral swamps of politics or Hollywood, to get an idea how often that proscription is ignored.  Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer,  and John Edwards from politics come quickly to mind. The list in Hollywood is much too long to even begin.  The Decalogue is a moral manual for those who would bear fruit with yields of a hundred, or sixty, or thirtyfold.  It is a clear road map for those who wish to live virtuously.

As we heard in the psalm,

"The ordinances of the Lord are true,
all of them just.
They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
Sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb."

The Lord does have the words of everlasting life. Our challenge is to hear those words and to heed them.

Haven't been out with the camera too much of late.  Last week was crazed attending to the details of Ned's memorial Mass.  Some days my energy flags and I have to stop.  Will be going on retreat in five weeks.  Photography is one of my ways of retreating, contemplating and, while writing meditations on the results, of praying.  

Last August I went to the Penn State-Central Florida game with my former roommate Paul.  Great game.  On Monday, the day before Paul headed to the U.S. (I stayed for five more) we took the short train ride to Dun Laoghaire (pronounced, Dun Leery.  Go figure.)  It was well worth the trip.  

Dun Laoghaire is on the Irish Sea.  It was a point of entry to Ireland from England.  Now it appears that its port action consists of small sailboats and other pleasure craft.  The lighthouse is at the end of a long concrete pier which Paul and I walked.  The sun hitting the pier, lighthouse and flag was the only sun of the day.  Such is travel in Ireland. 

We had just started walking when I noted these guys.  It was fairly early in the AM.  They were either skipping school or have considerable freedom when not in class.

A little further down the pier was this fish shop advertising lobster.  I took this primarily because of the caution cone orange color of the laces in the young man's trainers.  

This van has one of the great philosophical statements of all time on it.  Can't argue with it. 

Looking back at the town about halfway down the pier. 

At the end of the pier beneath the lighthouse.  The drabness of the color interrupted by little bits of red drew me to this scene.  

After reaching the above spot we turned left and found . . . . 
 . . . some decent ice-cream.  By the time we got this far the MG had taken its toll and it was time to sit for a bit for the long walk back.  All in all a tremendous day.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, July 17, 2015

Ned Cassem, SJ, MD

Ned Cassem, SJ, MD former Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital died on 4 July after  long illness.  Ned was my chief when I was on staff at MGH and was, of course, quite involved with the consultation psychiatry fellows.  He and George Murray, SJ, MD entered the Society a month apart though George was a few years older. They met shortly after vows when they did philosophy together in St. Louis.   Ned did all of his post-high school education through the Society.  Won't bother enumerating all the degrees.  Perhaps most impressive is that after receiving his MD from Harvard Medical Ned did his theological studies simultaneously with his psychiatry residency.  

The Mass was this morning at Campion.  As was true for George, I was main celebrant and preached.  I never imagined back in 1991 when the two of them interviewed me for the consultation psychiatry fellowship at Mass General that I would celebrate their funeral Masses.  Of course I was only at the beginning of discerning my vocation to the Society.  But, even after entering, it was one of those things I hoped I wouldn't have to do.  Given the age difference, however, it is no surprise.  Ned was 80.  George would be 85 now.  I am a mere stripling at 66 (in a few weeks).  


Wisdom  3:1-6, 9
Psalm 23
Romans 12:3-9
Mark 4:35-41

There is a degree of comfort in the first 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 gives us a little comfort.  But only a little. It is too soon.  It will take time to get used to the idea that Ned has died.  It will not be easy to internalize that Edwin Cassem, of the Society of Jesus, MD is dead.  It will take a while to comprehend  that he has entered eternal life, that he now knows something none of us know, or will know, until we too have died.

Death has a different meaning for a Christian.  It is no longer simply an inevitable future to which one must be resigned.  It is no longer a condemnation to nothingness.  Dying in Christ is dying to death itself.  Dying in Christ is entering into new life.  Once again the reading from Wisdom, "They seemed in the view of the foolish, to be dead, . . . but they are in peace."   Ned was many things.  Foolish was never one of them.

Barbara McManus, Ned's former administrative assistant, faxed me several pages of his thought. The first page was titled "CREED."  The fourth tenet is:  "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."  Were we to turn on a sadness meter here it would make three or four complete revolutions about the dial before it settled into place.  Ned was loved.  By many.  Ned seems to have condensed the reading from Wisdom in the following tenet: "If you confront death with somebody you love who is dying, out of that will come learning that transforms your life. It leaves you stronger, braver, and calmer."

Paul's letter to the Romans, the second reading, detailed the various gifts with which each of us may be endowed.  The reading implies that we may be granted one or perhaps two of these gifts.  But not all of them.  Obviously St. Paul had never met Ned.  Or, he never considered the possibility that he would exist.

Ned was one of those very rare men who exercised all of the gifts enumerated by Paul . . . simultaneously.  And he did so with great grace in both the secular sense of: "a controlled, polite and pleasant way of interacting, and in the theological sense of: "the gift of God which contains all other gifts, through which he who accepts God's grace finds comfort."

There are many stories about Ned as a generous giver, a superb teacher and lecturer, a man who could exhort others to do their best,  (oftentimes by example rather than word), and as a chairman of psychiatry who was diligent in his duties; sometimes, it seemed, to the point of obsession.

Basil Cardinal Hume, the late Benedictine Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster and son of a physician wrote the following. "The doctor and the priest have much in common.  Both are concerned with people, with their well-being."  Our starting points are different, but inevitably we discover that our interests converge."  (The) experience of people tells us, priest and physician, "that many are still bewildered, indeed haunted, by the perennial problems of pain, suffering and death."

Three tenets of "CREED" flesh out Hume's writing, as if Ned were writing midrash on it:

The first was, "As clinicians our responsibility is to always protect the patient. Our obligation is to stand up for the rights of the patient."

The second, "The secret of care for the patient is caring for the patient."

And the third, "The core of the doctor's healing role is loving the patient as the doctor loves himself."

Then there was the prophetic.  As Paul wrote, "if prophecy, in proportion to the faith."  It was in the prophetic sense that Ned responded intellectually, spiritually and concretely to the perennial problems of pain, suffering and death.  Ned's pioneering work in terminal care, the care of the bereaved and, in particular, with the optimal care committee proved him a visionary, a cousin, at least, to the ancient prophets of Israel.  He saw the need well before anyone else.  But unlike most, after seeing the need he did something about it.  And he did so because of the deep love for others given him through God's gift of grace and his response to that gift in faith. 

I was puzzling over the choice of gospel reading.  None of the recommended options caused the limbic "chung" that said, yes, this is the one.  I asked Bill Foley, another Jesuit physician, if he had any thoughts.  He did.  The calming of the storm at sea. 


Because he did the heavy lifting, because he was always prepared, because he knew his stuff, Ned calmed many a storm, if not actually at sea, then in the hearts of his patients trainees, staff and, at times, entire swatches of Massachusetts General Hospital. 
Ignatian meditation includes inserting oneself into a gospel narrative and exploring it.  In that spirit, place Ned in that boat with Jesus and the anxious whimpering apostles.  What would THAT conversation have been like?  I will refrain from putting exact words into Ned's mouth.  But, I suspect he would have indicated that they shut up, bail, and row. And hearing this Jesus would have grinned, nodded, and said, "Ned, you get it, and you git it.  Now, as for the rest of you poor sorry. . ."

After I sent the e-mail announcing Ned's death and funeral plans to the former Murray fellows and other psychiatrists, replies began to arrive within an hour.  The most common statement across the e-mails was, "it is the end of an era." 

It is the end of an era.  But , the end of the era is not the end of a legacy. The end of an era is not the end of a man's influence. It is, rather, a challenge to those who lived and worked during that era. It is a challenge to those who were graced to experience this multi-gifted man.  The end of this era is the time to reinforce the legacy and to build upon it through your own gifts of teaching, caring, comforting, and in prophetic action.

The prayer on the back of Ned's memorial card was on the back of his ordination card.  It was composed by Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  It summarizes Ned.  It summarizes his mission. 

"May the Lord
only preserve in me
a burning love for the world
and a great gentleness,
and may he help me
to persevere to the end
in the fullness of humanity." 

Ned.  God answered your prayers.  And then some. 

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

"Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord

and let perpetual light shine upon him."

I wrote the homily while at Regina Laudis for a few days last week.  I may go there whenever I have major writing to do.  I will be going back in early September for my annual eight-day retreat.  
I took the photos below when I hit a real snag in getting the homily moving.  

Most of the outbuildings at the abbey are mostly unpainted except for the doors and window frames.  Those are painted red.  It has been a while since the trim was repainted.  I like the effect of the sun-bleached red, the blistering and peeling of the paint and the variation of color. 

A day lily near the barn. 

 These old wooden wagon wheels were begging to be photographed. I obliged.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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