Sunday, September 25, 2016

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time . . . . in Ljubljana

Am 6:1a, 4-7
Ps 146
1 Tm 6:11-16
Lk 16:19-31

The warning in the first reading from Amos is harsh.  The description of the people is contemporary.

“Woe to the complacent of Zion . . .
Lying upon beds of ivory
they eat lamb taken from the flock
they anoint themselves with the best oils . . .

Perhaps today Amos would write,

“Woe to the self-obsessed
slouched in front of their computers.
They eat fast food taken from a bag,
wear too much perfume and inject Botox.” 

The Book of Amos repeatedly stresses social and political ills in general terms.  Thus, it can be read in the context of our own time. There are social and political ills in every country. These are caused by, and contribute to, a variety of personal ills.  There are social and political sins that contribute to our human propensity to sin.  It seems that individual sin drives social sin, and social sin allows individuals more creative opportunities for individual sin. How much of our current economic situation grew out of, and is maintained by, the sin of greed, both corporate and individual greed?

“Therefore now they shall go into exile
and their wanton revelry
shall be done away with.”

Amos’ warning is a stark contrast to Paul’s letter.  Given the context of Amos’ message and the Gospel it is a pity that the second reading didn’t begin with verse ten rather than verse eleven.  Verse ten is the well-known. “For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through their craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.”   THEN we hear Paul’s charge to Timothy in the proper context,  “BUT as for you . . . .pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.”

It is fascinating that the line  "For the love of money is the root of all evils," is generally misquoted as "money is the root of all evil."  They do not mean the same thing.  Money itself is not necessarily the root of all evil.  Money is a necessity. Emotional attachment to money, to obtaining ever more and more, loving, adoring, or worshipping it is the root of all evil.

This evil may be on a corporate level.  Currently in the U.S. the immaculately coifed and fabulously dressed Heather Bresch, the daughter of a U.S. senator, whose compensation last year was over $8,700,000, is defending herself for increasing the price of the Epi Pen for anaphylactic shock from $100 to $600 for two. The cost of the epinephrine, the active drug, is mere pennies per dose. The rest is delivery system, advertising, costs, and of course, her obscene salary.  On the individual level, one reads far too many stories about the church secretary or the treasurer of the fire company, who diverts many thousands of dollars to his or her personal use. The love of and desire for more money, drives all of them into sin.

The parable sometimes referred to as Dives and Lazarus is unique to Luke's Gospel.  The names are important though only one of them appears in the Gospel narrative.  Lazarus, is derived from the Hebrew El azar which means “God has helped.”  Obviously the name is no accident.  We heard, “When the poor man died he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.”  God had indeed helped him.  Tradition gave the rich man his name.  Dives is a Latin adjective for rich.  Thus Dives and Lazarus, The Rich Man and the One God has helped.  The first part of the parable describes a reversal of fortune. Upon his death Lazarus, the beggar, was carried to Abraham’s bosom. Upon his death, Dives, the man who had it all, was tormented in the netherworld.  The second half of the parable is a conversation between the rich man and Abraham.  It is instructive. 

Dives is not portrayed as a particularly bad man. He is not wicked or malevolent. True, he dressed well. He ate a rich diet and lived in comfortable surroundings. He was a man who enjoyed the rewards of his hard work. The rich man was not necessarily evil.  He was blind. He was oblivious.  He was oblivious to the suffering around him.  He didn’t notice it.  Lazarus, like the poor in our streets today, was merely a part of the landscape. He was passed by, stepped over, or avoided by crossing the street. Dives, the wealthy man, bore him no ill-will. He was not hostile. He didn't notice.  Lazarus was there but invisible.

Dives is not without merit.  He accepted that Lazarus could not cross the chasm to ease his thirst. He didn't protest.  He didn't whine.  He didn't argue.  He didn't plead.  But he wanted to prevent his equally oblivious and blind brothers from suffering the same fate. It couldn't be done. If his brothers wouldn't listen to Moses and the prophets, they would not be persuaded even if someone rose from the dead. Just like Dives and his brothers we have Moses and the Prophets. Unlike this rich man and his brothers we also have Jesus. Jesus who suffered, died and rose from the dead to save us from sin.

Why do we not listen to him either? 

Arrived in Ljubljana two days ago after an overnight flight from Boston to Munich.  Smooth and pleasant flight.  The big surprise was being able to watch the Patriots-Oilers game live. Nice win!  For Patriots fans.  After three hours in Munich spent drinking coffee I hopped Adria Airways for the 35 minute flight to Ljubljana.  Thirty minutes later I was in my room, same one as in the winter.  

The jet lag is slowly receding.  On Friday I thought I'd been hit by an 18-wheeler.  Today it feels like a smaller truck.  The weather is glorious.  It feels just like September in Boston though the nights are a bit colder.  The city is bustling during the day with tourists everywhere.  Sidewalk cafes that I thought were small and quaint are quite large.  Only a fraction of the tables were outdoors during the winter.  

I will be here until July or so.  The homily above was given at the English language Mass this AM.  I will take it over next week or so while one of the men is on an extended time in England.  

Ljubljana Castle from the Triple Bridge.  Looks different with green rather than snow or bare trees surrounding it.

The river about a block from the community.  Followed it along assuming it would take me to the center of the city.  Alas, I was heading in the wrong direction.  However, it was a nice walk anyway.

The Church of St. Peter.  I can see this from my room.  It appears to be farther away than it actually is.   

LJ is a fantastic city for night shots.  The arches are behind the Cathedral of St. Nicholas looking toward the market place.

The main plaza in front of the Franciscan Church (pink building to the left).  Many people milling about and passing through. 

An art gallery near the funiculaire to the castle.

Can't not do black and white.  Of course this not technically black and white but the effect is close.  The lamp is not 'blown out.'  Rather it appears to be a molded piece of plastic that is fully illuminated.  Pity that whoever was drinking the beer didn't finish it. 

Bicyclist was listening to a jazz group performing in front of the Franciscan Church.  The group was very good.  The woman holding the microphone had a lovely voice.  Hope they are there next Friday when I should be in much better shape to stand and listen. 

A man and his sons riding bikes along the river this afternoon.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, September 10, 2016

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
Ps 51
1 Tim 1:12-17
Lk: 1-32

“Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see”

The first stanza of one of the English speaking world’s greatest and most well-known hymns says it all.  The words were written by John Newton in 1772 when he had the same realization Paul described to Timothy.  He had the same realization as the psalmist. He had the same realization as the prodigal son of the gospel. I am a sinner.  Weirdly enough, there are other versions of the hymn that replace the word wretch with the non-judgmental and vaguely self-affirming term "soul", or the thoroughly pallid, “that saved and set me free”

These revisionist song writers are trying to deny the reality that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and redemption.  The sanitized versions of the hymn apparently understand the human condition in the same way as Garrison Keilor described Lake Woebegone,

“. . .where all the men are strong,
the women good-looking,
and the children above average.” 

Today’s readings testify to the fact that we are wretches in need of saving.  They affirm that the we are sinners.  But, we are sinners who are actively and passionately pursued by God who loved us first.  By God who continues to love us.  How can anyone explain the behavior of the Israelites in the desert?  When Moses did not return from Mt. Sinai quickly enough they manufactured and worshipped the infamous golden calf.  How quickly they forgot what God had done for them.  We differ from the ancient Israelites only in our choices of false gods.  More often than not the false god is a version of our own image of ourselves.  Being a wretch, being a sinner, being in need of repentance and forgiveness  is not usually part of that image. 

The letter to Timothy gets it right, just as the original version of Amazing Grace gets it right,

“I was once a blasphemer
and a persecutor
and arrogant. 
But I have been mercifully treated.” 

After this confession of his own sin, Paul goes on to state a fundamental tenet of our faith:  “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance, 
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Like God the Father with the Israelites in the desert—Jesus is patient and forgiving.  We need only admit that we are sinners, confess our sins, and ask for forgiveness. 

The responsorial psalm, Psalm 51, is the great Miserere, a psalm that has been set to music by many composers.

It begins by pleading for mercy,
Miserere mei, Deus:
secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

“Have mercy on me, God,
in your kindness.
In your compassion
Blot out my offense. . .
and cleanse me from my sin . . .

“ . . . My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.

The Church prays the Miserere every Friday morning.  Read it slowly.  Read it out loud.  Listen to the sound and cadence of the words.  What does it say to you? 

The Gospel parables continue the theme: “I once was lost but now I’m found.”  All three parables describe what God will do to find us and the enormity of His mercy and love once we allow ourselves to be found. We can all identify with the woman who swept the entire house searching for her lost coin.   All of us have lost something valuable and turned the house upside down looking for it.  We can identify with her joy when she recovered that which she had lost.

Though Jesus' question suggests otherwise, it makes no sense to abandon 99% of the flock so as to search for the one that strayed.  What rational shepherd would leave his entire investment unguarded in the hostile desert to search for one stray?  It makes no sense to take that much of a risk for one sheep.  None whatsoever.  Yet that is exactly what God does for us.

The parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin come together in the famous third parable.  The prodigal son is a challenging parable.  It can be read and analyzed on many levels.  It is rich with characters, motives, actions and reactions.  Psychiatrists have a field day evaluating the personalities of the various actors in the drama. In the end, however, the parable of the prodigal son reveals the depth God’s love and mercy for us once we have admitted to Him and to ourselves that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and love. The father loved his son enough to let him go out on his own, well financed and provisioned.  The rest was up to the boy.  The son rejoiced in his new freedom. Liberty.  No curfew.  Carouse.  Party.  Make noise. He spent his money and fell into  despair.   Only when he was at rock-bottom did he yearn for his father’s steadfast love.  Only when broken and wretched did he want to return to the safety of home.   Having squandered all he had been given, he swallowed his pride, admitted his wretched state to himself and journeyed back.  What he didn’t know was his father's desperation for his return.  He had no idea how the father would rejoice.  The son had been lost and now was found. 

As is usual in Jesus’ parable the story does not have a pat ending.  We don’t know how the lost son acted once he was home.  We don’t know if his angry older brother reconciled with him.  All we know is that the father forgave him.  And welcomed him back.  Just as God forgives us and welcomes us back again and again, once we admit our need for His love and mercy. 

This will be the last post before I head to Slovenia in 12 days.  Will be there for nine months, returning to the U.S. sometime in July.  Except for the packing part I'm ready to go.  Will fly to Munich, have a fairly short layover and then to Ljubljana.  

My sister came to visit for a few days this week.  She succeeded in making me do something I've been avoiding since first moving to Boston in 1993: The Duck Tour.  I'm not certain I would have enjoyed it as much without the camera.  As things turned out it was informative (discount everything you know about Paul Revere) and allowed for some photos of Boston from a different perspective.  

We had about 30 minutes to wait for the boat.  No problem.  Got this shot of pedestrians crossing one of the skywalks at the Copley Place mall and hotel complex.  
While driving through the streets of Boston got this reflection.   Reflections are a particular favorite technique as is shooting through store windows. 
While on the Charles had a chance to photograph Warren Building (the red brick with white window frames) at Mass General.  One of the windows on the sixth floor is the office I used while a fellow with George.

A view of the Zakim Bridge from the water.  Had never seen it from this perspective.  The Zakim bridge almost makes the Big Dig worth it.  It became a landmark almost as soon as the towers went up.  It is illuminated at night.  It leads underground.  
Going back onto land in the duck boat.  Traffic mirrors even on the river. 

After the tour we stopped in Copley Place for a light lunch.  Got this photo of the Prudential Building using the supports of one of the arcades to add emphasis. 
The next day we went to Gloucester.  I'm still amazed that there was a full-bore cruise ship in Gloucester Harbor.  Was the captain lost of was he taking a page out of the idiot Italian ship captain who ran aground?
The light house near the breakwater at Gloucester Harbor.  One of my favorite places up there.  During the novice long retreat I'd run down there and then scamper along the breakwater, a scamper that required close attention as the granite blocks were quite irregular. 
Two mailboxes at the lighthouse.  The sort of simple photo that says a great deal.  Looks as if Mr. Postman hasn't stopped in a bit. 

Next entry probably from Ljubljana.  Leave here on 22 September with anticipated arrival early Friday afternoon 23 September.  

+Fr. Jack SJ, MD

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sam Sara, SJ

Sam Sara, of the Society of Jesus, of the Georgetown University Jesuit Community for over forty years, and for the past three years of the Campion Community, was a model Jesuit in a quiet unassuming way. 

A native Iraqi who attended Baghdad College, he entered the Society at Shadowbrook in 1950 at age 20.   He was ordained in 1963.  Should you go to the hallway leading to the lounge you will see the photo of his ordination class.  It is the only one in color.  On the day of his ordination Sam looked the same as he did on the day of his death.  The same fringe of hair, the same intense gaze, and the same wiry frame. It is unlikely his weight ever varied by more than a pound or two.  I think he was able to wear the slacks he wore at ordination until he was about seventy. And he probably did.  More on matters sartorial later.  

After the usual formation Sam received his PhD in linguistics from Georgetown.  I thought of reading off the list of things from the Georgetown website in which he was considered an expert.  However, I couldn't pronounce half of them, so we'll leave things at Arabic linguistics and phonology.  He taught at Georgetown his entire career.  He was a loved member of the Georgetown Jesuit Community.  One could say he was one of "the old guard."   He did his work, teaching, grading, and committees without whining or complaining.  It took a little while to get to know him when I first went to Georgetown. He never went to pre-prans, he ate dinner early, generally returned to his room for the news in Arabic, and then went back to his books and work.  An exemplary man for others he was quietly involved in other forms or service. 

Sam celebrated Mass every Sunday for almost forty years at Epiphany Catholic Church down on Dumbarton St., less than a mile from the university.  It was an easy walk from campus.  He only stopped when it became too difficult to get there.  It pained him to give up this ministry.  During good weather one would see Sam crossing campus in wrinkled but immaculate tennis whites, a white bucket hat protecting his bare pate and a tennis racquet gripped in his hand. He was a fierce competitor.  He continued to play even after bypass surgery, until Parkinson's made it impossible for him to continue. 

Sam's two major summer joys were:  tomatoes and figs. Every midweek during tomato growing season he traveled to the Georgetown villa house in Centreville, Maryland to tend his tomato plants.  When they were ripe he brought overflowing trays to the community dining room.  We all awaited that moment.  He grew the standard reds, of course, but also a number of heirloom varieties.  Sam's tomatoes, black bread, a bit of mayo and a lot of pepper was my lunch and supper when the harvest was flowing into the house. 

Figs are delicate and not easy to grow.  When the community moved to the new house in 2003 Sam had the two fig trees from behind the old house transplanted to the front of the new one.  He picked the ripe figs with the touch of a neurosurgeon, gently placing them in a metal bowl that was nestled in ice.  He even tolerated a degree of fig-loss to the birds with reasonable, though not total, equanimity. The end of summer was approaching when Sam asked, "Have you ever had a fresh fig?" as he proffered some of his take.

Sam came to Campion Center in September 2013 when the combination of Parkinson's disease, the side effects of the medication necessary for treatment of the motor disorder, and the discontinuation of assisted-living at the Georgetown community made the move necessary.  But even before his move he was no stranger to Campion.  About twice a year he traveled here for a few days to visit the men who had been in Baghdad.  He maintained a tremendous affection for them and seemed a bit diminished each time one of them died.  One of his great personal losses was the death of his longtime friend, colleague, and Jesuit brother, Fr. John Witek, of the Chicago province, whose tenure teaching Asian history matched Sam's endurance teaching linguistics.  Some of the spark went out of Sam when John, his companion in weekly conversation, died.

Sam had a difficult transition during his first few weeks here at Campion.  It was painful to watch.  He missed his friends in D.C.--he had many--and he missed the support system at Georgetown where he spent almost half his life. There were periods of anxiety and confusion when he first arrived, but he eventually settled into the routine thanks to two men here: Father George Galarelli and Brother Ed Niziolek.  Within a few weeks of his arrival they became a kind of three musketeers, at table, walking outdoors in good weather, visiting in each others' rooms, and hanging out in general.  It was great to watch.  Jesuits taking care of each other.  There is much to learn from their example.

As promised earlier we come back to the sartorial question.  Sam was not what one would call a snazzy dresser.  He was either in clerics, with a shirt that was more faded steel gray than black, in khakis and a bland shirt showing obvious evidence of wear, or the aforementioned tennis whites.  Among the benefits of the three musketeers was that our own fashion icon, George Gallarelli, who was about the same size, immensely improved Sam's sartorial style, particularly with sweaters and shirts. Things matched. They were color coordinated. This was the new improved GQ Sam Sara. 

The last months were difficult.  Parkinson's is a devastating disease. The man who played tennis several times a week, who walked about a mile each way to celebrate Mass every Sunday, to say nothing of to and from his classes on Georgetown's surprisingly hilly campus, now struggled to get out of his chair, to walk down a hallway, or to cut his food.  He accepted assistance with grace and without complaint.  On Ignatius Feast two weeks ago I was catching Sam up with the doings at Georgetown.  At dinner he allowed me to dissect his lobster without fuss, resistance, or protesting "I can do it myself." 

I am grateful to Sam for his assistance and example when I was new in the Georgetown community.  The night before being admitted for bypass surgery, something Sam had already endured, I went to his room for the sacrament of the sick.  He was kind, compassionate, and calming when kindness, compassion, and a calm voice were more than necessary.

Sam's quiet competence, his dedication to his work, and  his graceful acceptance of aging and disability should be a model for all of us, Jesuit and non-Jesuit. 

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

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

It seem reasonable to post a few shots from Georgetown University, Sam's home for four decades.

The first is a lantern at the main entrance to Copley Hall, an impressive dorm. 

Bell tower of Dahlgren Chapel

The main floor of Healey Hall

Tower of Healey Hall

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pilgrim.  Statue in front of White-Gravenor

 Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Feast of St. Ignatius

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam
To the Greater Glory of God.

Jesuits frequently use AMDG at the end of a letter.  My vow ring is engraved with it.  It is the Jesuit motto. 

Ignatius of Loyola was a complex man.  He was born in 1491.  Most of his youth was spent learning to be a soldier and a member of the royal court.  Though poorly educated, he could read and had very fine penmanship.  At twenty-two years of age the hot-headed Basque soldier was injured while leading his overmatched men in the Battle of Pamplona.  It was one of the most blessed injuries in the history of war.  While convalescing in the castle of Loyola he was gradually drawn to the desire to follow in the footsteps of Christ, to do great things for the Greater Glory of God.  It is a fascinating story. 

Ignatius was charismatic.  A group of men gathered around him at university to do the Spiritual Exercises that he composed while in Manresa.  Some of those men, including Francis Xavier and Peter Faber, who were both canonized, were among the original nine companions when the Society of Jesus was established in 1540. 

Two days ago we heard the well known Gospel narrative of Martha and Mary.  Mary at prayer as she sat at Jesus' feet and Martha grumbling and whining as she did the work of preparing the meal.  In St. Ignatius we see a combination of Mary's contemplation of Jesus' word  and Martha's busy-ness in response to demands of work without the complaining. 

The totality of Ignatius’ presence to Jesus word was like Mary’s.  Like Martha he had many distractions. He wrote an enormous number of letters.  He was writing the Jesuit Constitutions, missioning men throughout the world, and answering hundreds of questions as the Society grew. At times he had to put his foot down.  All novices read his famous letter on obedience, a 4000 word missive that he wrote to young Jesuits in Portugal who were in a rebellious mood. But it was the fruit of his prayer that influenced and changed world history in ways that can never be overestimated.  

Despite the enormous demands of the rapidly growing Society, establishing schools, dealing with hostility from other orders and the occasional pope, missioning men throughout the world, and writing the constitutions for the Society, he was disposed to hear and contemplate the word of God in the midst of, and despite, many distractions.  His health was not good. Yet, he continued to pray and work without grumbling, always to the Greater Glory of God.

Ignatius died in 1556, age 65.  He had been named the first general of the Society in 1541 and was still holding that office at the time of his death.

Jesuits pray a number of prayers written by Holy Father Ignatius. One of these is the prayer for Generosity.  It outlines how to live AMDG.

"O Lord, teach me to be generous
To serve you as you deserve
To give and not to count the cost
To fight and not to heed the wounds
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labor and not to ask for reward
Save that of knowing I do your holy will."

Ignatius Feast is always a fine celebration no matter where in the world it is celebrated.  I've done so in several countries.  We will celebrate later tonight at dinner with community vespers beforehand.  

An interesting fact from Ignatius' autobiography is that after his conversion and well before the Society was founded he wondered about entering the Carthusians, an eremetic monastic order founded by St. Bruno in 1082.  Had he done so world history would have been different.  He would have disappeared anonymously into a hermitage somewhere in Europe.  Period.  Even today, if a Carthusian publishes anything he remains anonymous, publishing under the name, "A Carthusian."  The Exercises never would have happened however and nothing would have been published.

Last weekend I made my second visit to the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Arlington, VT, the only Carthusian Monastery in the U.S.  I'd been invited to give some talks on loss, grieving and mourning with a focus on religious life.   

The Charterhouse sits on 7000 acres of land donated to them in the 1950's.  The monastery that is completely closed to visitors, retreatants, and tourists, sits about halfway up Mt. Equinox.  Mt. Equinox is accessible only via a toll road open from 9 to 5 daily.  Though not like driving up Mt. Washington in NH, be sure brakes are working well before heading up to the top, a drive that features some impressive hairpin turns.  Below the summit is the monastery outlook that affords one a view of the entire sprawling monastery way below.  

I was staying on the mountain in a house built by the donors before they gave the land.  It is a classic 1950's house overlooking the valley.  Because I was already on the mountain I had the chance to go to the outlook and summit at times when the access road was closed to visitors.  It is a joy to be absolutely alone at the top of a mountain hearing only wind (there was lots of it and it was cold) and the sounds of birds.  No traffic noise reaches the summit or the monastery that sits in a mountainside valley.  Of  course there is next to no traffic in Arlington, VT to make sounds anyway.  The superior of the monastery pointed out that the charterhouse is the most geographically isolated of all houses of the order.  

Below are some of the photos from multiple trips up the mountain.  

Two views of the monastery from the outlook, one with a wide-angle lens and the other telephoto, the equivalent of 400 mm.  The wind was so fierce that I had to use a weighted tripod.  The entrance is to the right of the photo.  The monastery is entirely concrete and granite.  The poured concrete cross at the entrance is a bit larger than life size.  

The dam seen on the right of the wide angle view with the base of Mt. Equinox. It is about a mile from the monastery and at a higher elevation.  The road to the summit of Mt. Equinox are good.  The roads on the monastery grounds are a challenge.

The monastery in the center of the photo at sunset.

 Various sunset views taken from the ourtook and the top of the mountain. 

 A shot taken on Sunday AM at dawn.  Cold and windy.  Wearing thick sweatshirt.  I departed around noon when the sky was clear, brilliantly sunny, and the temp was 64.  A bit more than an hour later I drove through Brattleboro, VT.  The temp was 89.

The Carthusian seal and motto. The clouds are reflections in the glass of the visitors center. The center includes information on the order, an example of the distinctive Carthusian habit, and splendid views.

Happy Feast
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD