Thursday, December 11, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Luke 1:36-28

Luke's Gospel has given the Church some of her most beautiful prayers:  The Canticle of Zechariah, the Magnitificat,  and the Nunc Dimittis, each of which is said daily in the office.  It is also gave her the first half of the Hail Mary, which may be the most frequently said of all prayers in the Catholic Church. It is the frequent repetition that sometimes moves the Hail Mary from prayer to auto-pilot.  It is important when saying this prayer to listen and pay attention not only to what is said. It is important to listen to the silence. 

The gospel passage here gives the Angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary:  "Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee."  Simply saying the Latin words, Ave Maria gratia plena is sufficient to trigger cascades of melody in the minds of music lovers with each one hearing his or her own particular favorite, the famous melodies of Schubert and Bach/Gounod or the equally beautiful but much less well-known settings of Bruckner or Holst.  It is an exquisite prayer set to exquisite music. 

The alternate gospel for today's feast, verses 39-47 of the same chapter of Luke includes Elizabeth's greeting to Mary, "Blessed art though amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."   The Annunciation, the Visitation, and all that occurred between those two events, are summed up in these two short sentences straight from the Gospel. The history of the second half of the prayer is clouded in tradition, custom, and conjecture.  The historical analysis is irrelevant here. 

The most neglected part of the Hail Mary is the silence. 

When recited in common custom dictates that the first lines of the prayer are recited by the individual leading the congregation.  After the name Jesus, the multitude picks up in response with Holy Mary, Mother of God.  Most individuals, if asked to recite the Hail Mary aloud would similarly break, perhaps for only a second or two, between the name of Jesus and the second half of the prayer.  For some the break is unthinking and habitual while for others it is the opportunity to take a breath. 

Something important happens during that silence. 
Something important happened during that silence. 

Until the name of Jesus is pronounced we are in a state of advent, waiting for something that is ad venire, coming toward. Mary was in the same state of expectation as we are in this season. She was, as we are, awaiting the coming of Jesus.  After the silence Mary is now 'Mother of God.'   We can't not salute her as Holy, Holy Mary Mother of God? How else can one describe the Theotokos, the God-bearer, than with the word holy?

It was during that silence that we were redeemed.  The promise of the first half of the prayer is fulfilled in the transition to the second.  Some time today say the Hail Mary slowly.  Pay attention to the words and phrases.  Feel the rhythm of the prayer.  Savor the silence.  Avoid the temptation to jump over it with a quick downward bob of the head at the name of Jesus or a quick breath.  Sit in that silence.  It is the silence that enveloped Mary after the Angel departed.  It is the silence that Mary and Elizabeth shared.  It is the silence of that night on which Jesus was born.  It is also the silence that covered the earth after Jesus' body was placed in the tomb and the stunned silence in front of the empty tomb. 

Sit with the silence of this prayer. 
It contains the entire history of our redemption.
The photos below require no commentary or explanation except for a bit of history.  The Abbey of Regina Laudis was founded in Bethlehem, CT in 1947.  In 1949 Loretta Hines Howard donated a creche thought to be given to Victor Amadeus II, King of Sardinia for his coronation in 1720.  She donated a similar one to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it is part of the annual Christmas display.  

The creche at Regina Laudis is on permanent display in a climate controlled converted barn and displayed behind glass.  I wandered into the barn during retreat and almost shot out of there to return to the house to get the camera, tripod, cable release and everything else.  And the car.  Too heavy to schlep.  Spent two sessions there.  Am looking forward to a third when I go there for the Triduum or, more than likely, when I go there to prepare for the Triduum at Easter.  

The photos were taken as time exposures up to 40 seconds using a slow film speed and f22 so as to keep everything in focus.  

There are some spiritual excesses.  Mary and Joseph look decidedly non-Middle Eastern  The work on the clothing and ceramic figures is astonishing.  These are not life-size by any means but they are not tiny, under-the-tree figurines unless it is a very large tree.  The full display spans at least ten feet and contains 68 figurines and 20 small animals.  Imagine having to unwrap and wrap all of that every year.  Probably easier keeping it on display. 

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent

Is 40:1-5, 9-11
Ps 85:9-14
2 Pt 3:8-14
Mk 1:1-8

When the Church begins her new year on the first Sunday of Advent she begins a new cycle of reading from the lectionary.  The cycle of weekday readings switches between years I and II.  The Sunday readings cycle every three years with each year focusing on one of the synoptic Gospels.  This year is year B during which the Church proclaims Mark.  No matter which Sunday cycle is being read the second and third Sundays of Advent focus on John the Baptist and his message.  John the Baptist the prophet who was Jesus’ herald but who described himself as unworthy to hold or untie Jesus’ sandals.  

John was a kinsman of Jesus though the degree of kinship is unclear.  The magnificent first chapter of Luke’s Gospel describes the first encounter between John and Jesus at Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth. “. . . and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit cried out in a loud voice and said ‘Most Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leapt for joy.”  

Who was this herald?  In art work, movies, and a bizarre genre of novels, the kind in which Jesus and Mary Magdalene lived in sin, had six kids and a golden retriever, and moved to a condo in the Florida Keys, John the Baptist is depicted as something between a drugged out hippie and a wild-eyed lunatic, dressed in animal skins and consuming a diet that, by American standards, may be considered inedible except on a few of the weird shows on the Food Channel, Discovery and their ilk. 

Fortunately, we have credible testimony about John from a variety of sources.  In addition to being attested in all four Gospels, John appeared in the Antiquities of Josephus.  Josephus was an historian who lived from about A.D. 37 to 100.  He was neither Jewish nor Christian.   He wrote the following about John: “He was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety toward God, and in so doing to join in baptism.  In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism were to be acceptable to God.  They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behavior.”  

John’s mode of dressing was no different from that of any other desert dweller.  The fur was necessary during cold desert nights.  His diet had nothing to do with radical vegetarianism, or the new vogue of veganism, but the need to maintain ritual dietary purity.  His dress and diet are, however, irrelevant. His message, however, is as relevant to us as it was to the ancient Judeans who sought him out. 

As Josephus noted, he “exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety toward God.”  Justice toward their fellows and piety toward God.  Obviously neither  the message of faith and justice nor the behavior that is contrary to both is new.  

We hear in in the Letter of James, a letter which is not proclaimed nearly enough, “Be doers of the word not hearers only; deluding yourselves.” And a bit later, “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?”  Just proclaiming I HAVE FAITH or I BELIEEEEEEEEEEEVE IN JESUS is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Proclaiming that one has faith in Jesus without acting on, without living out, that faith, is not a free pass. 

Given the uncompromising nature of his message it is no wonder that John is depicted as deranged or wild-eyed.  It is easier to bash the messenger for dressing funny or being politically incorrect than it is to take the demands of the message to heart and live them out.  

The choices of Advent are not what to buy mom for Christmas, should I send a card to the Johnsons, or where can I find the least expensive 72 inch flat screen television? The choices are how to live out our faith in an attitude of repentance and conversion of heart so that we can say with the psalmist: 

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD—for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.Carmel Terrace 9:30 AM)
I am posting this on Saturday night, 6 December.  Tomorrow is an important anniversary.  Two years ago from this moment I was lying in a bed at the Washington Hospital Center in D.C. having had a cardiac catheterization that revealed problematic obstructions of a few coronary arteries.  Neither stents (already had two) or medication were acceptable options at that point and I opted for surgery.  I slept fairly well that night though I did have some Ambien. 

The following morning, 7 December, after a long shower during which I scrubbed my chest with iodinated soap (looked as if I had a great though limited tan) I was wheeled to the OR.  At no time was I anxious or frightened.  I'd been anointed the night before being admitted for the cath.  The patient's view of the ceilings of multiple hallways of the hospital center was interesting.  The only unpleasant part (we are speaking relatively here) of the experience was being extubated in the recovery room.  I had the surgery on 7 December and returned home on 11 December.  Many graces were apparent during the experience.  

I will admit that when I woke I felt as if I was reenacting Pearl Harbor.  Everything hurt but ti didn't last too long.  Never took a pain pill beyond the scattered acetaminophen from the time of discharge.  

The photos are a flashback for older dudes and dudesses.  I took them in Australia.  Black and white is the only acceptable way to present them.  I learned to type on a version of one of these two-ton monsters.  Except the keys where I learned during a summer course had no letters on them.  Even if we did look down, an action that was frowned upon, it was of little help.  I learned to type at 12.  It was the most valuable skill I learned prior to college.  At Penn State I would type papers for other guys charging one can of beer per page.  It worked well.  I'm still a very fast and accurate typist, especially when typing script rather than making it up as I go along.

A two-color ribbon!

After hearing the ding, and to start a new line, reach to the left and push.

The small numerals indicate the number of copies one could make.  Of course carbon paper was involved. 

The keyboard.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, November 29, 2014

First Sunday of Advent

Is 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7
Ps 80
1 Cor 1:3-9
Mk 13:33-37

Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!

"O come o come Emmanuel! 
And ransom captive Israel!"

Today is the first day of Advent, the first day of the new Church year.   In the lectionary it is the first day of year B readings, the year during which the majority of Sunday Gospel readings will be from Mark.  Unlike Lent, a season that begins with the visible imposition of ashes and special liturgies, Advent simply begins. It begins on the first of the four Sundays preceding the Great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.  Advent ends with the commemoration of Jesus’ birth, the commemoration of Jesus’ flesh and blood arrival in this world.  Advent ends with the commemoration that Jesus, fully Divine and fully human was born into, and lived on, this planet where we now live and breathe, study and work, celebrate and mourn. 

The Latin roots of the word advent: ad and venire mean “to come to.”  But that translation does not convey the full meaning of Advent.  Pope Benedict writes that advent is the translation of the Greek word parousia which means presence, but even more specifically means arrival. 

Arrival is the beginning of another’s presence.
It is not the fullness of that presence.

Think about it. 

Arrival is the beginning of another’s presence, 
it is not the fullness of that presence. 

The birth of a baby is only the beginning of a presence that will change and mold a family continuously over the life of the family unit and beyond it.  Perhaps presence is never full but is always becoming, perhaps presence is never complete but always changing and evolving, whether the other is physically present or not. 

We have all been, and are even now being, influenced by the presence of others who are physically distant or even dead.  Parents.  Teachers.  Mentors.  Friends.  Though not sharing space with us, perhaps never again able to share physical space with us, their presence in our lives is tangible.  Their presence influences how we live our lives.  Their presence may determine our decisions and our actions.  Their presence in our lives may soothe and comfort us during times of stress or may be a permanent source of anxiety and pain.  It all depends.  It is impossible not to respond to another’s presence.  Even “ignoring” another’s presence is a response to it. 

Jesus’ presence is an advent presence.  A presence of “coming to.”  During advent we become particularly aware that Jesus is becoming present to this world, that Jesus is becoming present in this place.  But, it is only the beginning not the fullness of His presence. That fullness will only be known when each of us passes from life into eternal life. That fullness will be known only after the universe has ceased to exist.

Jesus’ presence in our lives is threefold.  We need only look around, we need only listen to experience that triple presence.  Jesus is present in the community of believers when the Church prays as one.  Jesus is present in the Word as it is proclaimed at Mass.  And, most tangibly, Jesus is present, truly and substantially present, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist that will be consecrated, broken, and shared soon.  

The first reading and the Gospel are united by a common thread.  They mark the first time in this new liturgical year, that we will be reminded to be ready when the Lord comes.  From Isaiah we heard, "Would that you might meet us doing right.  That we were mindful of you in our ways."  The Gospel is more explicit. "Be watchful, be alert.  You do not know when the time will come."  We must be vigilant.  We truly do not know the day or the hour in which we will be asked to give a full account of our lives.  We can only remain prepared at all times. 

As advent progresses toward the great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord we will hear readings that remind us of those final things that are to come.  We will hear of the end times as we do today.  On the second and third Sundays the Gospel will focus on John the Baptist, the herald.  And on the fourth Sunday the Gospel will speak of the Annunciation to Mary when we will again hear the words of Mary's fiat, words that changed the nature of the universe once and forever.

As you leave this church today and during the coming weeks, recall and consider that despite the pressure from advertisers, regardless of the pressure we place on ourselves, outside the carousing and drunkenness of the annual “Holiday” party, and ignoring the increasing restrictions on using the word Christmas in the public forum, advent is not the time of preparation for a holiday.  It is the time of preparation for a Holy Day.  We are preparing to commemorate the birth of the Messiah, the anointed one, Son of God, Son of David, Son of Man, who was born of woman, like us in all things but sin, who became man to ransom us from sin and death. 

Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
 Am posting a bit early.  The only way to describe the coming week is overcommitted.  Masses every day (a few tomorrow) and a retreat for the Carmelites of the Aged and Infirm from Wednesday to Friday.  Breakfast with friends passing through on Thursday AM and a few other commitments.  C'est la vie.   Monday is the Feast (for Jesuits) of Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell, and Companions.  Will post another homily then. 

The snow arrived the night before Thanksgiving into the early morning hours.  Ignatius wanted pictures of the snow.  So, I took some.  Drove to Marblehead for dinner as per usual, stopping at Revere (pronounced Ruh veahh) Beach and Swampscott Beach on the way up. Great dinner.  Got back at 8 PM and watched football.  

Going over to breakfast just after the sun climbed above the level of the building. 

 A self-portrait in the door to the basement of the big house.

Revere Beach.  The first is high-rise apartments along the beach.  The other two are studies of benches under a pavilion that overlooks the ocean.  Benches unoccupied for a good reason.  It was cold.  Not as cold as today but plenty cold. 

Boston skyline from the beach at Swampscott, 12 miles to the north. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

34th Tuesday of Ordinary Time

Rev 14:14-19
Ps 96:10-13
Lk 21:5-11

The readings at Mass become more apocalyptic at the end of the Church year.  They become more anxiety provoking and less comforting.  Images of harvesting the earth, the winepress of God’s fury and the trials that Jesus describes in the Gospel are not the sort of thing on which one wants to meditate immediately before bed.  The Gospel is fascinating because it offers a window into human nature, it tells us about ourselves. I think that as Jesus was speaking to the people there was an edge of frustration or irritation in his voice. 

Even this late into his ministry, despite the parables emphasizing that we will not know the hour or the day; despite being warned that the master will come when we least expect his return, those questioning Jesus don’t, and didn't, get it.   They want specifics:  When will the Kingdom of God arrive?  Where will it be?  How will we be able to tell when it is coming?  Because Jesus’ questioners lack faith they are willing to follow any charlatan who tells them what they want to hear.  It is no different today.

What would Jesus have said about the people's behavior at the turn of the millennium when 2000 arrived?  Many of the quote religious prognostications unquote were beyond bizarre, as were the individuals making them.  People hung onto the words of self-appointed evangelists and interpreters who were nothing more than soothsayers spreading alarm. 

Thirty-six years and one week ago, on November 18, 1978, over 900 men, women and children died in Guyana—Jonestown, Guyana—after years of following the rantings of a mad man. Jim Jones disguised his combination of egocentric and delusional thinking with the veil of religion.  He was nothing but a lethal psychopath.

Jesus cautions his hearers, He warns us, not to be taken in by false messengers.  My sense is that the degree of skepticism toward claims about the coming of the Kingdom of God, and details of what will happen, should be proportional to the degree of certainty and detail with which those claims are put forth.  What Jesus described in the Gospel is not only what is to come. It is a description of the time in which we are living and the times in which people have lived since he spoke these words.  Natural disaster, war, discord within the community, and dissension within the family are facts of human life. These facts have existed and persisted since the beginning.  Those who follow Jesus have been persecuted since the crucifixion.  They will continue to be persecuted until the second coming.  Little has changed.  Our only option is to wait and pray in faith.  "Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done." 
I celebrate Mass every Tuesday at 7:45 at the convent of the Carmelites for the Aged and Infirm in Framingham.  Thus I have a lot of Tuesday homilies to prepare.  Next week I will give the sisters three days of recollection with Mass, benediction and conference each day.  They do very fine work.  

The photos below are from the advantage of being able to get into churches and chapels on "off hours" or backstage as it were.  These are some shots of "church hardware," the various vessels etc. that are necessary for appropriate liturgy.  

The first two are from the Abbey of Regina Laudis showing two thuribles, the swinging pots (inelegant term but accurate) for incense, and the bells, one of which is run during the Consecration, an action that has fallen out of favor in many churches (pity).  

The next three are from Campion Center.  The first shows part of setting up for a funeral Mass.  When I was minister part of my job was to prepare the chapel for funeral Masses. That involved counting out the hosts (after an estimate of how many might be needed) and getting the various vessels prepared.  I tried to do some of this the night before as the morning of was generally a degree of controlled chaos. 

The second two are candelabra in one of the sacristies.  The freshly polished ones were polished by Ignatius Hung, SJ while he was here on sabbatical.  Unlike me he is meticulous in doing things such as that to the point that he dipped everything with wax on it into hot water to get it off.  

The last two are from St. Mary's Church in Plymouth, PA, my home church, taken on Holy Saturday. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

33rd Tuesday in Ordinary Time

Lk 19:1-10

The story of Zacchaeus is fascinating.  On the literary level the story is rich in detail:  The unruly crowd, the short man running ahead to climb a sycamore tree, the grumbling  when Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house, the dinner conversation and finally Jesus’ promise that  “Salvation has come to this house.”  It is easy to imagine filming this scene for a movie, the atmosphere and dialogue are already given.   The only thing needed is two stars and a crowd.  The story of Zacchaeus is fascinating because, to paraphrase one of the most famous lines ever to appear in a comic strip,  We have met Zacchaeus and he is us.   Zacchaeus is us because he is a man of contradiction and confusion, a man who doesn’t always do the right thing but who, when he becomes aware of his sinful nature, tries to atone for his sin.  Zacchaues had obviously heard about this Jesus.  Otherwise, why would he have been so strenuous—and even risked looking ridiculous—by climbing a tree just to catch a glimpse of him?  

This story appears late in Jesus’ public ministry.  His reputation had spread.  The question one must ask about Zacchaeus—and thus about ourselves—is:  What did Zacchaeus expect to see?  Who did Zacchaeus expect to see?   A  miracle worker who healed the sick and the lame?  A political leader?  A firebrand who took on the legal and religious establishments? Who was Jesus for this man?  Who is Jesus for each of us?

There is an interesting bit of wordplay in this gospel.  We read that:  “Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was.”    A bit later we hear the words from Jesus’ lips:  “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”  THAT is us.  Those of us who seek to find, to know, to see Jesus are being sought by him more avidly than we can imagine.  We need only come down from our tree to be welcome at the table of the altar.  We need only descend from the perch where we are trying to catch a glimpse of the Son of Man to partake of the supper where we are assured, just as Zacchaeus was assured, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Unlike Zacchaeus climbing trees is not one of my strengths.  There were a few over in "The Field" where we hung out from about 10 to driver's license age.  Several of us built a tree house about twelve feet up in an elm tree.  It could have been a lot higher as it was a huge tree but this kept it accessible, particularly from a bully type (the old meaning not the contemporary one) who, while he was happy to throw rocks at the tree house was afraid to climb up.  It was something of a sanctuary from his annoying behavior.  

Prayer and contemplation are universal needs.  They are part of being human.  I suspect the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes comes from acknowledging this basic fact.  Many are happy to stuff the need for prayer, for meditation, for communion in the non-Mass sense, most of the time or deny that they feel it.  But, after 40 years in medicine and 17 in religious life, I stand by the statement.  

An elderly Jesuit at prayer during his evening meditation.  This was about thirty minutes before Mass at Pymble in Australia.  I was getting ready to go in to say the office when I saw Father sitting there.  My room was at the top of the staircase.  I took the steps two at a time, grabbed the camera and shot about four.  Father had very little vision and multiple other medical problems.  But he was there daily. 

A Buddhist nun at Nan Tien Buddhist temple in Berkley, NSW, Australia.  We stopped there on the way to Gerroa at the very beginning of tertianship.  It was an amazing place to visit.  The bell gonged with a low a very resonant sound.

Longshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan.  This temple is in the oldest part of Taipei where, if one looks closely enough, one sees other evidence of age.  This was New Year's Eve 2010, ten days before going to Australia.  Ignatius and I went there in lieu of going to the fireworks at Taipei 101, then the tallest building in the world.  Turned out to be a good move.  The estimate was that there were close to 2 million people at the fireworks.  We had an easy time getting home.  As we both had Masses the following morning it turned out to be a prudent decision. 

A young Jesuit Brother making his evening meditation at Sevenhill, SA, Australia. 

A woman placing a candle in one of the chapels at ND de Fourviere.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD