Monday, February 11, 2019

Four days at the monastery

No homily today.  Just photos.  Was up in Vermont from Wednesday to Sunday.  Fortunately I left Boston on Wednesday rather than the planned Thursday.  Great three and one-half hour drive up.  A few sprinkles began upon arrival.  The skies went berserk by the time vespers ended.  Thursday was marked by very heavy rain, thick fog, and ice in parts of VT though not the mountain.  Not certain I would have made it.  If I did I would not have enjoyed the trip.   Friday was ugly.  By Saturday the temp had dropped 30 plus degrees to 9.  Road dried out from heavy wind and got solid.   All shots taken inside. 

This outside garth was taken through an open window in one of the halls.

The choir stalls are very deep, rather like a phone booth (remember those?).  The wood is bird's eye maple.  Beautiful wood that photographs well.  Too often I've encountered cheap wood that has been varnished. It  photographs very oddly. 

The sanctuary lamp.  A real candle not an electric one. 

As wide-angle as I can take with my equipment from the back of the monastic church.  The light along the sides and above the altar is skylight.  The only overhead lighting in the church comes from the rectangular boxes over the stalls.  The light is controlled with a switch under the arm of the stall.  It is turned on only when absolutely necessary.

The choir from a different angle.  

Overlooking the cemetery.  Focused on the condensation on the window and the sun-catcher rather than the crosses over the graves. 

Books ready for the next office.  

Sacred vessels at the ready for Mass. 

Father preparing for the consecration. 

Elevation of the Precious Body of Our Lord.  

The monks in their stalls.  There are sixteen men there are the moment.  Their habit is white with a very deep hood.  The bands connecting the scapular are a hallmark.  

The lectionary containing the readings for Mass.

The bell ropes.  The lighter colored one is for the bell that signals the Angelus and is rung during the consecration.  The darker pull, is for the large bell that is rung before the liturgical hours and Mass. 

The cemetery.  Once again taken from one of the cloister walks after opening the window for as short a time as possible.  By the time I took this the temps were in the single digits. 

The cemetery from the other end of the walk.  Once again through a long slit window that was open long enough to permit the shot. 

The monastery is constructed of unfinished concrete and granite blocks with the milling marks in place.  This is one of them.  The textures are fascinating.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

St. Paul Miki, SJ and Companions

Galatians 2:19-20
Matthew 19a, 20b

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. . . ." 
"Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." 
These verses from the first reading and gospel are particularly resonant today when we honor the memory of three Jesuits and their companions who were martyred in Japan in 1597. 
St. Paul Miki was killed at 33 years of age, just a few months short of his ordination to priesthood. His two companions were St. John Soan de Goto, a 19 year-old scholastic novice and St James Kisai, a 64 year-old brother novice. Twenty-three other Japanese Catholics, both lay men and women as well as members of religious orders, were crucified with them.
Miki was from a well-to-do Japanese family. He was baptized a Catholic at four or five years of age when his family converted. Goto was born to Catholic parents who had to immigrate to Nagasaki to escape persecution. Kisai converted some time in his youth. He later married a Christian woman. When his wife returned to Buddhist beliefs the couple separated. He entered the Society many years later. The novices Goto and Kisai secretly pronounced their perpetual vows two days before they received the crown of martyrdom. 
Catholicism spread rapidly in Japan in the 41 years after Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier arrived in 1549. Scattered persecutions began around 1590. Things got ugly by 1596. Shusaku Endo's horrifying novel Silence, (also made into a movie) set during the persecutions, details how ugly.
After enduring a month-long 600 mile journey while bound in an open horse cart the condemned arrived at the hill of crucifixion in Nagasaki. There they sang the 'Te Deum' and embraced the crosses on which they were to die. As they awaited death the group chanted the Canticle of Zechariah from Luke's gospel, a canticle that is said or chanted every morning.
"Blessed be the Lord,
the God of Israel,
He has come to His people
and set them free. . . . "
While hanging on the cross Goto greeted his father who was in the crowd with the words, "Father, remember the soul's salvation is to be preferred to everything else." Miki's last words, before two lances were thrust into his chest were, "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." These three martyrs along with the others who died with them remain relevant today, in particular for their adherence to their faith despite extreme torture. 
Crucifixion is more or less out of fashion in the U.S as a penalty for not hewing to the party line. But, just as Paul's words were metaphorical, crucifixion of believers today is a metaphorical one, a crucifixion of words, exclusion, and threat rather being nailed to a few pieces of wood. 
"You're a what?" 
"You're kidding!" 
"You don't support abortion of full-term infants, what are you anti-feminist?"
The late Carl Sagan reportedly had the following exchange with a woman friend who was a Methodist minister:
Sagan: "You're so smart, how can you believe that nonsense?"
Minister: "You're so smart how can you not believe?" 
The rejection, hostility, or horror of others toward those who profess and live their faith is frightening. There are some who would like to exile any one who takes a stand against abortion, rejects killing the sick elderly as an option, and believes that natural law trumps political correctness. Consider the recent remark made to conservative republicans by Mario Cuomo, governor of New York that 'anyone who is pro-traditional marriage, pro-life, or pro-guns has no place in the state of New York.'  His daddy wasted one ton of money sending him to private Catholic schools. 
This kind of hostility and threat replaces the physical crosses of Miki, Goto, Kisai, and companions. They could have recanted. They didn't. We can modify our beliefs or life-styles to conform to the hip, the edgy, the politically correct party line, or the murderous when it seems expedient. 
We must not. 
St. Paul Miki ora te pro nobis. 
Am posting a bit early. The memorial is not until tomorrow. I head to Vermont tomorrow after the 11 AM Mass. Won't return until Sunday. Computer and phone access are minimal to non-existent. Nice break. 
I did not see the movie Silence. I'd read the book three times by the time the film was released. Sometimes I avoid seeing the movie of a book that had a profound impact on me. Many years ago I realized that I would never see the movie of The Name of the Rose if one were made. The movie was made. The idea of seeing Sean Connery, fine actor, as a Franciscan priest did not work.

The first two photos are of the same cross on the grounds of the retreat house in Guronys, Lithuania.  I gave two weekend retreats to physicians and others there while spending the weekdays in Vilnius.  I did not do much outdoor photography, none in Vilnius, because the weather was finger freezing and camera killing.  My body no longer does well in cold weather.  There is only one option: stay indoors. 

The cross if at least 15 tall perhaps more.  

The little "roof" over the corpus is typical of Lithuanian crucifixes though I've seen it in Slovenia as well.  I was standing directly below and shooting up.  

A small altar prepared for evening prayer. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Ps 19 8-15
Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

A basic truth when studying scripture is that one cannot understand the New Testament without first understanding the Old.  It is impossible to know the New Testament without knowing the Old Testament, that long compilation of the history of the People of the Covenant and an unsurpassed treasury of prayers.  It was the only scripture Jesus knew.  He cited it often. 

Nehemiah was written in the fifth century before Christ.  It details the story of a people returned from long exile.  They were confused. They had no knowledge of the Torah. They were oblivious of the covenant between God and his people. When Nehemiah learned that the wall surrounding Jerusalem had been destroyed he vowed to rebuild it.  When the wall was rebuilt all the people: men, women, and children above a certain age, were summoned before Ezra who read and interpreted the Torah to them. The people wept when they heard words of the Law.  They wept because they realized their guilt in not upholding the law of the Lord.  They were overcome with sorrow. However, Ezra did not condemn them.  In his mercy he told them not to weep, but to eat, drink, and celebrate because the day was holy to the Lord.  

Paul's letter is important. It is particularly important in view of today's hysterically delusional social climate.  Each of us has been given unique gifts.  We have not been given identical gifts.  Our task is to discover and develop the gifts unique to each of us rather than pining for those we do not have and will never be able to develop.  

“. . . a body is one though it has many parts . . .” This is an important idea to which Paul will return. 

Certain sectors of society deny the possibility, to say nothing of the reality, of differences and distinctions.  Indeed, there are concerted attempts to erase them, even when those differences are biologically determined and cannot be legitimately modified or maintained. 
We see in this nothing more than an extreme version of particularity with a grandiose and narcissistic sense of specialness.  Each individual or faction insists that his, her, or their specialness is THE most special and thus deserving pride of place.  Statements to the contrary generally result in the equivalent of a shrieked,  "My equality trumps your equality" followed by the invention of a new 'ism' or 'phobia' to throw about. If all goes well the tantrum will be followed by a ranting talk show appearance demanding an apology complete with public penance. 

As recent events have shown, we, as a society, have made no progress since the Salem Witch trials that took place a mere 75 miles north of here.  Indeed, American society seems to have regressed to the same mean as Salem's hysterical accusers of 1692.  When feeling is allowed to trump fact, when political correctness is given precedence over basic science, when the unsubstantiated accusations by an agenda-driven media are uncritically accepted, we are in serious trouble as a society.  

Medical students hear amusing anecdotes about the struggle for supremacy within the body.  Most can never be shared in sacred space. The general outline is an debate in which each of the body's organs or organ systems is arguing which of them is the most important;  which is THE most critical to the life, comfort, and well-being of the individual.  But you know what?  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 for normal function and survival. The lungs cannot do the work of the liver.  The liver cannot do the work of the heart.  And the poor pancreas cannot be a kidney no matter how much it might want to self-identify as one.  And nothing can cover or protect the body except the skin.  If any vital organ or organ system is seriously damaged, the entire body is at risk of death.  It is that simple.  

None of us is the social or biological equivalent of a stem cell that is pluripotent.  None of us can be anything we want to be, depending only upon our dreams, our passions, or, to use an unfortunate term from the past, following our bliss.  We cannot decide to be whatever we "identify ourselves to be" particularly when that violates both natural law and the dictates of human physiology.  

The saying "you can be whatever you want to be" is one of the greatest lies in the history of lying.  We all have specific genetic endowments.  We all have assets and liabilities.  We are all limited in some ways and strong in others.  We are all fallible in some areas and more than competent in others. The only thing we have in common is that we are sinners.  No exceptions.  

We are all sinners loved by God.

That is the only equality we will ever know.

Ljubljana has been on my mind a lot.  Finally realized today that three years ago I was on a three week look-see visit, my first, to discern if I could go back and work.  I made the decision in about 36 hours.  Returned to U.S. in early February, right after Ash Wednesday, and returned in September for ten months.  LJ at night is a magnificent place for photography.  Hope to get back this summer 

The Triple Bridge leading to Prešernov Trg (trg means square or plaza).  This is the very heart of the old city. 

The lover's locks on the Buucher's Bridge.  Thousands upon thousands of them. 

A party on Plečnik's colonnade, one of my favorite spots in the city.  

The full extent of the colonnade.

Prešernov Trg with the triple bridges and the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation.  I did my annual retreat with the Franciscan community there.  It was 1/2 mile from the Jesuit community in which I lived.  

Glassware at night is an unbeatable subject. 

A December night.  It was frigid.  The temp was dropping by the minute.  My hands were already hurting though I was only three or four hundred yards from the house, i.e. I had just gone out.  Lasted about an hour and then had to return to concelebrate the 7 PM Mass.  It gets dark in Eastern Europe very early in the winter. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Homily for the 46th Annual March for Life

Homily for the 46thAnnual March for Life 

The 46th Annual March for Life is taking place today, Friday 18 January, in Washington, D.C.  The march began as a response to the Supreme Court's disastrous Roe vs. Wade decision that signed the death warrants for millions of children in the womb. It was the first push that sent American Society down the slippery slope of killing the imperfect, the undesirable, the unwanted, the unplanned, and now the inconveniently sick and elderly. 

What was euphemistically called "physician-assisted suicide" became, through the manipulation of language, "physician-guided death." It is now being called "physician prescribed death."  Exactly when did old age, terminal illness, or imperfection become a capital offense demanding a prescription to die?  I did not attend med school--Temple Med class of 1975--and complete seven years worth of residency training to be able to write the prescription:  "Kill grandma or grandpa as desired.  Call me for instructions."  

In the spring of 1978 I spent six weeks as a visiting house officer with Dr. Cicely Saunders at St. Christopher's Hospice in London.  St. Christopher's was not the first hospice in England.  Dr. Saunders, however, brought the hospice concept to international notice and awareness.  And it spread widely.

She was a fierce opponent of what was then called euthanasia.  She said in an interview: "Impending death is no excuse for ending life. Rather than rushing to kill the dying in the name of ending their suffering, we should focus on practical measures for alleviating their pain and spiritual means to make their final moments worth living." She was quite the contrast to Lord High Executioner Jack Kevorkian.

Kevorkian, died at age 87 . . . . in a hospital bed . . .  of natural causes. Kind of ironic dontcha think?  He was a pathologist. Pathologists don't usually see patients with body temperatures higher than that of the ambient air.  Indeed, they alone, among physicians, do not do an internship with living patients and their families.

Kevorkian's initial seven or eight patients were women who are probably more likely to choose to be "offed" so as not to burden anyone.  There was a photo of one of those patients, perhaps the first, waving fondly to her family as she entered the death chamber.  She was in an early stage of Alzheimer's.  The photo was disturbing. It raised questions.  Was this her free choice?  Were her thought processes already skewed by the disease? Did the family play a role in manipulating her decision?  Did anyone try to discourage her?  Was she depressed?

In his encyclical Evangelium VitaeSt. John Paul II, Pope, condemned "therapeutic interventions--which accept life only under certain conditions and reject it when it is affected by any limitation, handicap, or illness."  

It pains me to admit that physicians and medical schools are a significant part of the problem.  In ancient time physicians who pronounced and lived according to the Oath of Hippocrates were called "Hippocratic Physicians."  It was not a universally administered oath at the time.  Not all physicians took it nor abided by its precepts.  Today, reciting the so-called Hippocratic oath is, at best, a trite medical school graduation photo-op.  It is unrecognizable when compared to the original.  Some of the bowdlerized oaths seem to focus mostly on never violating HIPPA or not doing anything illegal, a definition that is at best elastic these days.

The promises live ethically and morally have been deleted. Thus, new physicians no longer agree: "Into whatsoever houses I enter, . . .I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman," 

Today's young doctors do not say: "I will use treatment to help the sick . . . but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course . . . . Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion. But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art."  

The Hippocratic oath was composed between the third and fifth centuries B.C. thus the current whining about a judge who belongs to the Knights of Columbus and the extreme teachings of the Catholic Church is invalid in this argument.  The sanctity of life was very much respected by pagans. 

John Paul pointed out in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae:  "A danger today is the tendency to disguise certain crimes against life in its early or final stages by using innocuous medical terms which distract attention from the fact that what is involved is the right to life of an actual human person."

Iceland has almost completely eliminated Down's Syndrome through selective abortion following intrauterine testing.  Genocide would be the appropriate term.  Physician Prescribed Death is a another example of semantic manipulation.  Killing the sick is a much more accurate term.  Abortion is a more accurate description than the pastel tinted euphemism "Women's Health."  

Unfortunately, there will be a 47th, 48th, and even 55th Annual March for Life.  The need for such witness may be even more desperate over the coming years. 

We pray for those who are marching, the legions of young people treading the streets of the District of Columbia at great cost and inconvenience to themselves.

We pray for the victims of these unnatural deaths and the hidden collateral damage to the families that participated in such abominable procedures. The cost to them is much higher than anyone realizes.

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." 


Meant to post yesterday on the day of the march but got a little distracted.  Gave it at Mass at Carmel terrace.  

 The cross on the summit of sv. Višarje in Italy, just across the border from Slovenia. 

+ Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Epiphany of the Lord

Is 60:1-6
Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13
Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
Mt 2:1-12

One of the challenges to getting through the Christmas season is the amount of sickly sweet imagery that clings to the narrative of Jesus' birth.  These include images of a toddler-sized newborn baby and depictions of Mary in blue and white watered silk encrusted with pearls, rhinestones, and glitter.  Morbidly obese Santas, reindeer, elf cards, and chubby angel creatures are beneath contempt. The images imposed on Jesus' birth are frequently painful and embarrassing. Much too often we hear about "The Magic of Christmas."  Or "Christmas is for Children."  Christmas is not a holiday for children.  It is a holy day for all people of the world.  Christmas is not a David Henning magic show.  It is a holy and sacred season.

It is not a panacea for sorrow.  No one is required to be happy at Christmas.  Too often the sorrowful, the dying, and those who are struggling with the realities of life, are told that if they surrender to the magic of Christmas they will feel better.  Families, friends and neighbors of those grieving another's death oftentimes insist that a large dinner at someone's house will make all cares disappear, or, at the very least, begin what is called closure, a made up word and concept that is at best a pseudo-psychological phantasm. It does not exist. Unfortunately,  Epiphany is not exempt from the gooey sweetness.  

Epiphany derives from the Greek:  epi: forth and pheinein: to show.  Thus Epiphany:  to show forth.  Among the dictionary definitions one finds, "a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something, . . .a sudden intuitive realization."  An intuitive realization of Jesus as Messiah is the perfect description of this feast.  But, then there is the problem of "the kings."  

The word "kings" does not appear in Matthew's Gospel.  Those who bore the gifts are called magi.  Some translations use wise men.  No matter the translation, they were not monarchs. The word kings came into use only around the sixth century.  Matthew used the plural but did not give a number. There could have been as few as two or many more than three.   Because the gifts were described as gold, frankincense, and myrrh, tradition holds that there were three magi.  Despite the custom of Kasper, Melchior, and Balthazar their names are not included in scripture. In the end, the number of magi, their names, and their kingly or non-kingly status, are all irrelevant distractions.  

However, the magi are important.  They are very important. They are important because  they represent the first Gentiles to worship Jesus.  They were the first Gentiles to recognize Jesus. They were the first Gentiles to experience the sudden realization of that for which the world had waited. Their epiphany was not exclusive then. That epiphany, that revelation, is not exclusive now.  We will hear of more epiphanies in the cycle of readings this liturgical year.  There are many epiphanies scattered throughout our lives, if we are willing to notice them, if we are willing to see them through the eyes of faith. 

The reality of Christmas and Epiphany, the place of the Nativity of Our Lord in the history of salvation, is more easily found in today's Gospel. "When King Herod heard of this he was greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him."  In private he instructed the magi, "Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."  This, from an increasingly crazy megalomaniac with a cruel streak!  

Herod's jealousy and the duplicity underlying his conversation with the magi gets closer to the reality of the Nativity of Our Lord than do the lyrics of  "O Little Town of Bethlehem" or "We Three Kings of Orient Are."  We see the first shadow of the cross in Herod's evil desires.  We see the path from Bethlehem to Calvary traced out in Herod's malevolence.

The first reading from Isaiah assured Jerusalem that the glory of the Lord would shine upon her.  We hear echoes of the covenant, of God's promise to His people.  In the context of the prophecy from Isaiah, the reading from Ephesians is consoling because it assures the Gentiles that they--that we--are included in the promise.  We are reminded of that inclusion daily in the words of consecration that you will hear in a few minutes: "This is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."  

"for you and for many." 

Once we wash away the treacle, once the sloppy sentimentality is discarded, once the word magic is forever disassociated from Christmas, we can begin to understand the Nativity of Jesus.  We can begin to understand the real Christmas story,  a story that did not end when the magi returned home, wherever that might have been.  

Several times a year, as I did here on Christmas morning, I cite a haiku from Dag Hammarskjöld's small journal Markings.  In literary terms it is unsurpassed in how it fulfills the description of haiku as a form that:"expresses much and suggests more in the fewest possible words."  Hammarskjöld captured the entire meaning of Christmas and the entire arc of the New Testament in seventeen syllables.

There is nothing gooey, sticky, sappy, or treacly about it.

There is no magic of Christmas in it. It is not just for children. It does not suggest a celebration of food, booze and consumer insanity.  It has nothing to do with a holiday.  It has everything to do with a holy day.  It defines a holy season that does not end for another week. It is for all people, for all times, in all places. 

"On Christmas Eve Good Friday
was foretold them 
in a trumpet fanfare."

We cannot and we must not
separate the wood of the manger from the wood of the cross.

Neither event was magical. 


Celebrated the 8 AM Mass at St. Mary's Hall on the BC campus.  About two hours before Mass I was saying morning prayer and drinking coffee when the realization hit.  Twenty-two years ago on Epiphany my novice class piled into two cars after lunch for the one hour plus change trip to the retreat house at Gloucester, MA where we would begin the long retreat two or three days later.  A completely life-changing experience.  

A man makes the long retreat, the full 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, twice in his life in the Society.  Once as a novice and the second time as a tertian, the last step in a man's formation before he is called to final vows.  Though both retreats are conducted in the same manner the experience is vastly different when they are compared.  

The statue of St. Ignatius in the rotunda at Campion Center in Weston, MA.  Shot from the second floor.  The statue is most likely larger than life-sized as Ignatius was apparently short, something that was true of most people in that era.  

A close-up of the book in his hands.  Ad Mariorem Dei Gloriam is the Latin motto of the Society: To the Greater Glory of God.  The shorthand version that we often use is AMDG. 

A photo of a cloister in Slovenia.  It encapsulates my experience of both long retreats made fourteen years apart.  It would take a very long time, many words, and the risk of sounding inarticulate, to describe how.  I will let things rest with the statement that the photo encapsulates the experience.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve Mass During the Day

Christmas Eve Morning  

"Your house and your Kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.'"

We will begin to celebrate and recall the fulfillment of this promise to David in just a few hours.  The Kingdom of which the prophet speaks shall endure forever and beyond forever. It shall endure after time has ceased to exist. The Kingdom of God shall endure when the universe no longer endures.   

"O Radiant Dawn,Splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death."

The gospel antiphon is one of the ancient O Antiphons that are chanted before the Magnificatbetween December 17 and December 23.  They are called the "O Antiphons" because each one begins with "O." The Latin first word of this antiphon "O Oriens"  is translated variously as "O Radiant Dawn," ''O Morning Star,"  "O Dawn of the East," "O Dayspring from on high," "O Glorious Dayspring." 

The multiple translations illustrates the difficulty of using any language to express that which is inexpressible, to explain that which is inexplicable, and to describe that which is indescribable.  Words cannot adequately describe Jesus' advent, his ad venire,his coming into the world, or his ongoing presence in the world. Fully God and fully man, like us in all things but sin,  no word can capture this reality.  We can only understand it when we sit with it in silence.  

Today's gospel from Luke, the Canticle of Zechariah, is known as the Benedictus, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel."   The Church prays it daily toward the end of lauds or morning prayer.  Zechariah proclaimed these words, after a prolonged period of mutism, at the birth of his son, John the Baptist.  Remember, Zechariah became mute following the vision in the Temple.  To counter the objections of others to the name given by the angel he wrote on a tablet: "His name is John."  Zechariah's tongue was immediately loosed and he prayed this canticle of praise and thanksgiving. One can spend an entire week meditating on it. 

Christmas Eve is a day of chaos for many as they prepare for Christmas celebrations.  I am of Polish descent.  In the past Christmas Eve included hours in the kitchen preparing the elaborate Wigilia supper, a meal that is crucial to our celebration of Christmas.  To those who are wondering--I made the pierogi though definitely not on Christmas Eve.  With my mom's death, my sister's death, and the overall shrinkage of the family, it is now a quieter and more reflective day.

Despite the chaos, traveling, cooking, cleaning, decorating, arranging cookies, slicing fruitcake, and so on, it is important to take a bit of time for quiet. It is important to realize the meaning of this great feast, a feast that has nothing to do with Frosty, Rudolph, or any of the other bizarre accretions. 

The final verses of the Benedictus summarize the meaning of the Nativity of Our Lord and all that is to follow for the rest of the liturgical year: 

"In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness 
and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace."

The Vigil Masses for Christmas will begin in just a few hours, and we will sing: 

Venite adoremus Dominum.

Come, let us adore him, 

Come, let us adore Christ the Lord. 

Just after Thanksgiving I went up to Mt. Equinox in Vermont.  No consistent internet access explains why the snow that kept me there for two additional days was a complete surprise.  Woke on Tuesday, the planned departure day, to find 8 inches of snow with an additional ten to come by the time we were able to leave two days later.  Not a bad thing.   Nothing beats freshly fallen untrod-upon snow. 

 Have a most Blessed Christmas
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception 
Gn 3:9-15,20
Ps 98:1-4
Eph 1:3-6, 11-12
Lk 1:26-38

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  The dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, was declared by Pius IX in 1854.  It states that "from the first moment of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."  

This feast has a long and controversial history.  Reading even an abbreviated account of the history gives the impression that comparedto the 12th and 13th century debates about the Immaculate Conception the current debates on global warning have been pleasant, civilized, and even cordial.  Much of the debate centered on determining the moment when Mary's soul was sanctified; was it before, during or after its entry into her body?  These are arguments don't surface often today.  Thus, rather than focusing on the metaphysical we are better served by considering the scriptural text.  

The reading from Genesis and the recounting of the Annunciation from Luke’s Gospel form a set of parentheses.  Action and reaction.  Doing and undoing.  Disobedience and obedience.  

The sin of Adam and Eve had little, or more likely, nothing to do with an apple or any other kind of fruit in the concrete sense.  The interchange with the serpent about the fruit found on the tree in the center of the garden, the tree which God explicitly forbade Adam and Eve to taste, is a metaphor for something very complex and uniquely human, the action of free will.  The ability to say yes or no.  The choice to obey or disobey.  Even today much of human sin turns on the same axis of obedience and disobedience that we first hear in the ancient Book of Genesis.  

We heard of Eve's disobedience.  Despite being aware of the injunction not to eat of the fruit of the tree, it took little persuasion on the part of the serpent for Eve to choose to eat the fruit and share it with Adam. The ancient author certainly understood modern human nature well.  It is amazing how little persuasion we need to intentionally sin, indeed, sometimes it becomes habitual.  The contrast between Eve's disobedience and Mary's radical obedience could not be more dramatic. 

Because she was preserved from original sin, Mary's yes, Mary's obedience to the will of God, could be perfect.  There was fear and confusion on Mary's part; we hear it in her words in the Gospel, “How can this be?”  What thoughts went through her mind as she said these words?  What went through her mind when she heard the angel's message?

The answer matters little because we hear her yes.  We hear the yes that changed the history of the world up to and including this moment and all moments to come. It is a yes that echoed through the universe more loudly than the cumulative volume of all the bombs ever dropped in the 20th century, the bloodiest in history.  It is a yes that continues to echo through the universe today. A yes that will continue to echo even after the universe has ended and history is no more.  

If you listen closely you can hear those words even now: 

Ecce ancilla domini,
fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

The first three  photos are from the Christmas Market along the Ljubljanica River in Ljubljana, Slovenia.  It ran for about a month beginning just after Thanksgiving and ending on Christmas.  I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around in the crowds with or without camera. The last photo is one of the shops along the river.   

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD