Saturday, August 12, 2017

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a
Ps 85
Rom 9:1-5
Mt 14:22-33

"Lord let us see your kindness
and grant us your salvation."

Psalm 85 brings the two readings and the Gospel together.  Each is a reading about faith fraying along the edges or faith that seemed to be lost.  Each of the speakers:  Elijah, Paul, and Peter could have easily uttered the psalm response from his position of desperation, discouragement, or fear.  We can identify with those feelings and add a few of our own. 

Things can't get worse for Elijah.  He is hiding in a cave to escape the wrath of the evil Jezebel who wanted him dead.  While in hiding an angel instructed him to eat and prepare for a journey.  All Elijah wanted was to die.  He had given up hope.  His faith was shaky.  He was despondent.  He ate only after the angel demanded that he do so.  Then, he began a journey of forty days. 

The Jewish Study Bible notes that a man could walk between 15 and 25 miles per day.  Multiplied by 40 days, Elijah walked from 600 and 1000 miles.  To put the distances into perspective, it is about 500 miles south from Boston to Washington, DC and 1000 miles west to Chicago.  What went through his mind during that arduous trek? What goes through our minds during the 40-day journeys we are forced to take during life, the journeys of chemotherapy, chronic pain, or the seemingly endless journey of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's?

Elijah's encounter with God in a whisper rather than an earth-shaking event is one of the remarkable images in the Old Testament.  Elijah had to be open and willing to hearing that whisper.  He had to be attuned to and ready for it.  Similarly, we have to be prepared and willing to hear the voice of God in a whisper, in the brief moment of quiet that interrupts the background noise that complicates our lives.  We can only say: 

"Lord let me see your kindness
and grant me your salvation."

One can feel Paul’s discouragement that his people rejected Jesus.  His distress was such that he would have been willing to have himself cut off from Christ if they would accept the great gift of salvation. We all know Paul’s frustration.  We know the pain when no one will listen to us.  We know the frustration of being met with opposition by everyone in our lives: family, friends, co-workers and so on.  We know that feeling of radical loneliness.  And thus can only say, or perhaps scream . . . .

"Lord let me see you kindness
and grant me your salvation." 

Today’s Gospel take place immediately after Jesus had fed the multitude with a few loaves and fishes.  The crowd had dispersed.  He dismissed his disciples and went up the mountain alone to pray.  While Jesus was praying the apostles were in a boat crossing the 4 1/2 mile wide Sea of Galilee.  They were a few miles off-shore and not in a position to swim if the boat capsized.  The fourth watch of the night was between 3:00 and 6:00 AM.  Thus they had been struggling to cross--and Jesus had been praying-- for a long time.  We can identify with their terror when they saw Jesus coming toward them on the water.  And then  Peter acted. “(he) got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened.”  For Peter, as for many of us, fear results in loss of faith.  We must thus ask, what is faith? 

Australian Trappist Fr. Michael Casey makes an important point:  “Faith has to grapple constantly with the doubts we may experience when we hear the words of the poet Robert Browning  ‘God is in his heaven—all’s right with the world.'  So often it doesn’t seem that way.”  Many times in our lives it doesn’t seem that God is in his heaven or that anything is right with the world.  Casey goes on to give a good definition of faith:  “Faith means letting go of our ambition to control, understand, or even cope with what happens. Faith means releasing our anxieties into God’s hands and seeing all that happens as coming from the hand of God. The fact that I cannot comprehend the logic of events means simply that my intellect is limited.  Our relationship with God is often undermined by fears about impending disaster” It is terrifying to be wheeled into an operating room.  It is panic-inducing to hear an unfavorable diagnosis after surgery. The emotions upon realizing our child will die cannot be described.  Our faith wavers and, like Peter, we begin to sink.  Our faith may waver when we realize the seriousness of our situation.  We may suddenly doubt as the river rises above flood stage in our lives. 

Faith does not mean that life will go smoothly.  Faith is not a shield against trauma or protection from pain. Faith is not a Berlin wall against the anguish of grieving the death of a spouse, a parent, or a child. Faith does not prevent illness and death.  Faith is an umbrella over us during these crises.  Peter’s faith was strong when he jumped out of the boat because he wasn't thinking about it too much.  When he began to intellectualize and pay attention to the storm he tried to take control.  For the moment his faith vanished.  And then he prayed; “Lord.  Save me!” 

We also try walk on the waters of a stormy lake at night. In those moments we can only plead with the psalmist:

"Lord let us see you kindness

and grant us your salvation."


After talking it over with the provincial and superior it was apparent that I had to purchase a new camera body.  Unlike the old days of single-lens reflex cameras (SLRs) that lasted forever unless dropped into water etc. digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras do not have that kind of life expectancy nor do they have interchangeable technology.  I've used Olympus for the past ten years.  Unfortunately Olympus abandoned the DSLR market completely, camera bodies and lenses,  a few years ago.  They have become one of the premier makers of mirrorless cameras that are lighter and smaller than the clunky and heavy DSLRs.  While I like the DSLR I had no option.  To switch to Canon, Nikon, or Sony and acquire the same quality lenses as the Olympus ones, would cost about 10 grand.  Purchasing a new Olympus mirrorless (aka m4/3) body was very much less.  With the addition of an inexpensive adapter I can use the same terrific lenses as I used on the DSLR.  The camera body itself only does so much.  The quality of the lenses or "glass" as hip photographers refer to them, make much more of a difference.  It is better to have great lenses on an OK camera than poor lenses on a top-of-the-line body.  I will keep the E-5 as backup and for those situations, particularly action shots, that mirrorless is less effective at shooting.  Am still getting used to what the camera does and how to do it.  So far I've learned to ignore the electronic viewfinder (much prefer the old fashioned optical) when shooting.  As long as it is framed properly I'm content.  Results of some shots taken here at Campion are below.  Given a few weeks I will probably come to love the camera.  

Entrance to the Campion infirmary.   It is obvious that the building was constructed almost 100 years ago.

Two different views of the chapel.  The first from the second floor balcony.  There is a third floor balcony as well.  The second on the ground.  The light over the altar makes from complicated shooting

Two different approaches to the chandeliers.  I like these.  They are of a simple design.  Each set can be controlled individually.  

The small chapel on the third floor.  Besides the Chapel of the Holy Spirit there is a daily Mass chapel that has easier wheelchair accessibility, small chapels on the third and fourth floors of assisted living, a few "pocket" chapels that come off some stair landings and one or two in the retreat house.  The daily Mass chapel is currently undergoing badly needed renovation (it was truly ugly) while we use a temporary chapel on the second floor.  The temporary chapel is an improvement over the daily one as it was.

Some flowers to end.   Am much more content with the rendition of reds with this camera.  It was difficult to get things the way they looked with the E-5 without a lot of post-processing.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Homily on the Memorial of St. Edith Stein (Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, OCD)

The train pulled into the station on August 6, 1942.  Among the thousand or so passengers who disembarked after a long uncomfortable trip from Holland was a woman clad in the habit of a Discalced Carmelite nun. 

The station was Auschwitz. 

The Carmelite’s name was Sr. Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, born Edith Stein on Oct 12, 1891 in Breslau, Poland.  She was the youngest of 11 children welcomed into a devoutly observant Jewish household.  Her academic brilliance was obvious at an early age.  She wrote that at 14 she,  “consciously and deliberately stopped praying” so as to rely exclusively on herself and to make all decisions about her life in freedom.   She received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Freiborg summa cum laude.  Her dissertation was titled, “On the Problem of Empathy.”  She later worked with her mentor Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology.  She embraced Catholicism during her studies.

Two episodes stand out in her move from the perceived freedom of atheistic self-dependence to the radical freedom of those who live under the cross of Christ.  The first was when she visited with the young widow of a colleague and friend killed in World War I.  Though bereaved the widow’s faith was such that she consoled those who came to console her.  Recalling the incident later, Stein wrote, “It was my first encounter with the cross and the divine power that it bestows on those who carry it.  For the first time I was seeing with my own eyes the Church born from its redeemer’s sufferings triumphant over the sting of death.  That was the moment my unbelief collapsed and Christ shone forth—in the mystery of his cross.”  The second episode was her encounter with the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila.  Upon closing the book, which she read in one sitting she said, “This is the truth.” 

Her remaining years were marked by carrying and living under the shadow of the cross.  She had difficulty gaining admission to Carmel but was finally able to enter in Cologne in 1933.  The pain she caused her family by her conversion and entry into religious life is indescribable. 

Because of the increasing persecution of Jews in Germany she was secretly sent to the Carmel in Echt, Holland in 1938.  At Echt she wrote her last work, fittingly titled, The Science of the Cross.   She was taken from the Carmel on 2 August 1942 along with her sister Rosa who had become a Catholic though not a nun.  A few days earlier, when questions about possible rescue were raised Stein dismissed them. “Do not do it.  Why should I be spared?  Is it not right that I should gain no advantage from my Baptism?  If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters; my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed.” 

Stein carried her cross to Calvary 75 years ago today.  She left behind 17 volumes of writings including difficult philosophical works, papers on educational theory, and a huge trove of letters to a diverse group of correspondents.  The letters are her most accessible writing. 

Released from the shackles of the illusory atheistic freedom she found radical freedom in the science and shadow of the cross. In the homily at her canonization Mass, St. Pope John Paul quoted Stein:

"Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love.
And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth!"
One without the other becomes a destructive lie.

Sometimes one stands in front of a history such as this and realizes that there is nothing more to say. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Dn 7:9-10, 13-14
Ps 97:1-2, 5-6,99
2 Pt 1:16-19
Mt 17:1-9
The Transfiguration is always celebrated on August 6 even when it falls on a Sunday as it does this year. This feast draws us into a mystery that is beyond the reach of historical reconstruction, the grasp of scientific explanation, and the possibility of geographic verification. All of these questions are irrelevant. The Transfiguration represents the fulfillment of scripture, fulfillment of the promise, the beginning of mankind's salvation, a promise made in the first reading of from Deuteronomy. 
"The Son of Man received dominion, glory, and kingship;
all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.
His dominion is everlasting;
his kingship shall not be destroyed."
"His dominion is everlasting;
his kingship shall not be destroyed."
On this Feast we recall Jesus appearing in brilliant glory to three of his disciples while in the company of Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. Imagine the scene: Dazzling light. Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus. Place yourself with the apostles, stand with them on the mountain. Your anxiety level increases as the tension becomes almost unbearable. And then you hear God's voice. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.”
The Father confirms that Jesus is who Peter had earlier confessed him to be: the Christ, the Son of God. The Father gives you a mission: "Listen to him." Like the apostles, you are stunned into silence; overcome with awe. On this day Jesus–the Nazarean, the ethical teacher, the wonder worker, the healer–was revealed in his Divinity. 
We recall another event on this date. That event was also marked by blinding light. It too was overshadowed by a cloud. It too was an event that, if you place yourself as a witness to it, will cause stunned silence and prostration. August 6 is the date on which the Church celebrates that Jesus revealed his Divinity on a mountain. August 6, 1945 is the date the human race revealed its depravity at Hiroshima. The world would never be the same. Hiroshima captured in one event the sum total of human sin since the fall of Adam and Eve. It took the cumulative horrors of all wars of the preceding centuries, the wars from the twentieth century, the bloodiest in history, and condensed them into a singular event. This time God did not seem to give mankind a mission out of the cloud. There was a terrible silence, there was a void. Or was there?
The voice of God was obscured by that explosion. It was not silenced. Today, almost 2000 years since Jesus death and seventy-two years since Hiroshima--and the follow-up explosion in Nagasaki three days later-- the mandate: “listen to him” is as compelling and urgent for us as it was for the shaken apostles. Indeed, it is more compelling because Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrated a capability for destruction on a large scale that is unique to the present time, a capability that will only increase. 
"This is my Son; listen to him.”
"Listen to him." 
As we listen to Jesus, as we take his teaching to heart and allow that teaching to transform us, we move that much closer to the eschatological glory of the transfigured Jesus. And we move that much farther from the apocalyptic destruction of the nuclear bomb, the destruction of the Armenian genocide, the agonies in the Baltic States, the Cultural Revolution of China, and the concerted and systematic attack on morality and life in the U.S. today. 
"The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory."
"The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth."

The Feast of the Transfiguration is of such great importance that it trumps the 18th Sunday.  In general the Mass of a feast or memorial is never celebrated on Sunday with certain exceptions.  The Transfiguration is one of those exceptions.  
The photos are of the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Arlington, Vermont.  It is the only Charterhouse in the U.S.  This year the Feast will celebrated with particular joy as one of the men is pronouncing his solemn profession.  

The Charterhouse of the Transfiguration sits on 7000 acres of Mt. Equinox in Vermont.  It is the most isolated Charterhouse in the world, an interesting fact in that all Charterhouses are isolated though the one in Slovenia less so than some others.   The monks live as hermits, spending up to sixteen hours a day in their cells praying, working, eating (all meals are taken alone except on Sundays and special feasts).  It is a place of exquisite silence.  A visit to Le Grande Chartreuse, the first Carthusian Charterhouse in the French Alps overlooking Grenoble, Switzerland, was the inspiration behind Robert Cardinal Sarah's fine book titled The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.  I am currently reading it.  Excellent book. 

The Carthusian seal and motto.  The motto is in Latin on the seal.  All of the prayer in a Carthusian house is in Latin and Gregorian chant.  

A view from the top of Mt. Equinox, over a mile higher than the viewing location for the monastery.  The land is spectacular.  It was donated by a wealthy industrialist.  Oddly enough I know a cloistered nun who skied on Mt. Equinox as a young woman.  The Charterhouse is only about 55 years old.  Mother is considerably older than that. 

The monastery was built of granite and unfinished concrete in the brutalist style of the sixties.  It is the only brutalist building I've seen that "works" i.e. I am not repelled by it as I am by the Boston City Hall or Georgetown's main library.  The less said about the annex to the HUB at Penn State the better.  It too is brutalist. It should be replaced.  This shot was taken with the equivalent of a 600 mm lens.

A better idea of the distance from Monastery Outlook to the monastery.  The monastery is not open for tours or tourists.  Indeed the closest one can get is about 2 miles.  Monks have two days of family visit per year.  

Sunset in August.  I was freezing while it was in the  80s in Boston.  

The reservoir.  The monastery itself is about a mile away over dirt roads. 

Another small body of water.  The monastery is off to the right a piece, perhaps 3/4 mile. There are no markings or signs for how to get there.  And there is an electronic gate back about a mile to the left.  No one is going to drive in by mistake. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ  MD

Monday, July 31, 2017

Feast of St. Ignatius

July 31 is the major holiday for the men of the Society of Jesus.  In Ljubljana two of the men, Fathers Marjan Kokalj, SJ and Ivan Platovnjak, SJ will pronounce their final vows at Mass at sv. Jože.  I wish I were still there for that but the vow Mass was set well after I arrived with return plans already in place.  I will celebrate two Masses at two different nursing homes.  Rev. Mr. Evarist Shigi, SJ, of Tanzania, a deacon, will go with me to proclaim the gospel and preach.  The community at Campion will celebrate with vespers in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit followed by a festive dinner.  

Officially founded in 1540 though the roots stretch back about twenty years previously the Society founded by Ignatius and his first companions changed, and has continued to influence, the history of the world.  Having lived a life of many graces I can say the greatest of those was entering the Society twenty years ago next month.  

The photo is a painting of Ignatius on the wall of the domestic chapel at sv. Jože in LJ.  

St. Ignatius, Founder of the Society of Jesus, pray for us. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, July 23, 2017

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Ps 86:5-6,9-10,15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Mt 13:24-43

As was the problem last week, the readings and the Gospel contain an overabundance of riches on which to preach or meditate.  This weekend we hear the second of three readings from the long 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, a gospel reading that picks up where it left off last week. The overall sense of the today's readings and psalm taken together is: what God has done for us, the last judgment, and the movements of faith.

The first reading is from a section of the Book of Wisdom subtitled: God’s Fidelity to His People in the Exodus.  Over the next three or four weeks the first reading at daily Mass will focus on the story of the Exodus up to and including Moses’ death just before entering the land.   We will hear again of the people’s infidelity to the covenant, an infidelity that was recurrent despite God’s unwavering fidelity. 

The Book of Wisdom was written centuries after the Exodus.  This reading is a reminder of God’s love for us, and his tolerance of our tendency to be unfaithful to our side of the deal.  There is great consolation when we hear: “You judge with clemency and with much lenience you judge us.”  With those words in mind consider the parable of the wheat into which bad seed was sown. 

Scholars suggest that the seed sown with the wheat was difficult to tell from the wheat during the early growth stage.  Any attempt to remove the weeds would be based on judgment and appearance.  The judgment could be wrong.  Wrong judgment would result in loss of good wheat.  Better to give all the plants the benefit of the doubt, better to let them to grow to maturity, before putting the good into the barn and the bad into the flame. 

Just as God never wavered in His commitment to the Israelites in the desert, He does not waver in His commitment to us.  God does not judge or condemn us without allowing multiple chances to reform our lives as individuals and as a people. The final judgment, the final sorting, does not happen on this earth.  It can take place only after death.  And so we can say with the psalmist as often as necessary,

“But you, God of mercy and compassion,
slow to anger, O Lord,
abounding in love and truth,
turn and take pity on me.”

We have daily opportunities to allow for the action of grace in our lives. That action is illustrated in the two short examples of the mustard seed and the yeast.  I’m going to ignore the mustard seed. I’ve been a bread baker for decades.  Having gone through hundreds of pounds of flour the example of the yeast is a resonant one.  Despite having watched many loaves of bread rise I’m never less than amazed by the action of the yeast. 

When a tablespoon of yeast is mixed with three cups of water, one-half teaspoon of sugar (most American bread recipes contain way too much sugar, I only use enough to get the yeast kicking unless making cinnamon-raisin), a tablespoon of salt, and six cups of flour it disappears from view; its effect, however, is astounding.  After mixing, stirring, kneading, and a few hours of rising, what began as a beige, gloppy, sticky mess becomes a smooth dome ready to be transformed by heat into warm, fragrant, and golden loaves of bread.  

As yeast transforms the nature of the ingredients to which it has been added the invisible action of grace transforms us. The result is a whole that is much more than the sum of its parts. The transformation does not occur without work on our part. Yeast cannot exert its transforming effect without some attention.  We must maintain the proper conditions for the yeast to act.  Water that is too hot kills the yeast.  Bread won’t bake in an oven that is too cool.  The dough collapses if the pan is dropped on the way into the oven.  In this last case, however, the dough will rise again if given time and the proper conditions. Baking bread is not foolproof but it is not difficult either.  And so it is for us. Cooperating with grace is not mindless. It does not occur automatically. But it is not impossible either. 

Like baking bread, cooperating with grace requires some effort and attention to detail and conditions.  Grace, like the grains of yeast mixed with other ingredients, is invisible. It may be forgotten in the midst of our daily concerns.  If we do not maintain the conditions needed for the action of grace, we, like improperly handled bread dough, remain beige, gloppy and sticky messes.  If we are careless about our faith, we collapse with the first jarring blow.  We can maintain the conditions necessary for the action of grace only through prayer, regular participation in the sacraments (particularly confession), and meditation on the Word of God.  In that way we make ourselves ready for the final action of the Kingdom of God.

The question is: will we rise to the occasion?

Jet lag is mostly gone.  It took a little longer than usual compared with previous travel to and from Europe.  However, I'd never lived there as long.  Now back into the previous swing of things at the nursing homes.  

Of all the photo opportunities in LJ, and they were almost innumerable, shooting at night was the most revealing.  I have a very fast 50 mm equivalent lens (f 1.4) that opened up the possibilities for shooting at night without a tripod.  LJ supplied much raw material for playing with night shots.  I enjoyed being able to go out after dark with the camera to shoot for an hour or two.  One of the challenges in the summer is how light it stayed.   Dark was well after 9 PM.  Winter was great as the dark descended by 5 PM.  

A below-the-sidewalk bar along the river.  Note the ashtrays.  I think there is proportionately more smoking in Slovenia than the U.S.  Smoking not allowed indoors at restaurants and cafes but it is allowed in the outdoor seating areas, an accommodation that strikes me as eminently sensible.  Forbidding smoking anywhere on the grounds of a hospital or other area strikes me as mostly virtue-signaling.  Funny how a 16 year-old in the U.S. can begin sex-change treatment or get an abortion but not purchase cigarettes.  

Plečnik's Colonnade reflection in the Ljubljanica River.   

The fascination with empty glassware continues.  Note the Snickers Bar wrapper.  I don'tknow if it was part of the drink or a side treat.  

It is a bit odd to see gelato and pastry sold alongside alcohol.  The next three shots are from an outdoor bar/gelato stand on Prešernov Trg across from the Franciscan Church.  It is open seasonally.  It will close around Advent and reopen when it gets warmer, according to Slovenian standards of warm as opposed to U.S. standards, which translates into March rather than mid-June.

May I have some Campari poured over my gelato?

I like this bar still life very much.  Shots such as these make night shooting rewarding and fun. 

The fascination with the interaction of light and glass continues.

Another gelato place, this one indoors.  When walking along the promenade on either side of the river there are multiple options to purchase gelato without going indoors.  

One of the outdoor options.  I bought gelato from this stand twice.  Very good.

Candlelight and glass.  An unbeatable combination. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD