Tuesday, May 12, 2015

6th Monday of Easter

Acts 16:11-15
Ps 149
Jn 15:26-16:4a

The first reading and the gospel illustrate the ideal of the Church and the challenges for us as believers.  The newly converted Lydia said “’If you really think me a true believer in the Lord, come and stay with us,’ and she would take no refusal.”  That statement contrasts with Jesus' warning in the Gospel, a warning that remains relevant today. 

Jesus describes two risks to believers: loss of faith and persecution.  The two are frequently related.  The words so that your faith may not be shaken” can also be translated as “to keep you from falling away.” “to keep you from stumbling.” or to keep you from scandal.”

Falling away is a risk to all believers.  No one is immune.  Faith that goes untended, faith that is not nourished by prayer, contemplation on scripture and,  particularly the Eucharistic banquet, is at serious risk in times of persecution. 

Unlike the current situation in the Middle East our lives are not at risk, because of our faith in Jesus.  However, we are subject to a different form of persecution.  A persecution that some may find as painful as imprisonment.  It is the persecution of ostracism, of being considered hopelessly behind the times.  It is the persecution of being mocked.  It is the persecution seen in an event last year when Harvard University chose to permit a "Black Mass," a sacrilege against the Blessed Sacrament.  The permission was withdrawn when Cardinal O'Malley made his fury known.  It is the persecution of those who argue that it should have been allowed to go on because of free speech, an idea that no longer exists in this country for certain groups. 

We face the persecution of being asked, “how can someone as smart as you believe all that stuff?”  Some, in their desire to be seen as hip, modern, cool, or progressive willingly abandon their faith. 

It is difficult to stand up for the sacredness of marriage between a man and woman in a society saturated by sex and enamored of perversion.  One may be roundly criticized for speaking against the culture of death.  One may be demonized for insisting that abortion is not a form of women’s health care, particularly for the large number of girl babies aborted in China and India.   Somehow those who oppose killing grandma because she has Alzheimer’s are the ones criticized for being callous and cruel. 

The reasons are easy to understand.  “They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.”  Our choice is to fall away or to say to Jesus the same words that Lydia said to Paul, “Come and stay with us.”

Granted today is the 6th Tuesday of Easter.  However, good intentions got waylaid by exhaustion.  It was too far to walk from the recliner to the desk.  The bed was closer.

One of my favorite photo settings is through windows.  The first photo was taken in October at Regina Laudis.  The red shed is not too far from the men's guest house.  Am going to try to recapture the shot next week.  Nice project would be to take the same shot in each of the four seasons.   The second is through a window in a previously unused and junky shed at the Gloucester retreat house.  I took it in November.  About a year ago I went back to retake the photo.  Big mistake.  The shed had been converted into a small chapel.  It is a lovely small chapel  but the ghastly wire (chicken wire) put on the windows to keep out critters, made any significant photography impossible.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Off the Highway. Finally

6th Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Ps 98
1 Jn 4:7-10
Jn 15:9-17

The Acts of the Apostles and John's Gospel are prominent during the Easter Season.  Acts tells of the Church's early history.  It describes the growth and success of the apostles' mission, as well as the conflicts and squabbles during that mission. The Gospel from the farewell discourse in John, recalls Jesus' teaching on love.

One of the things that has mystified and amused me over the years is apostle bashing.  Apostle bashing is a very popular indoor sport in theology schools and among scripture scholars.  It reaches its peak during Lent when we are reminded of the apostles misstatements and miscues and, of course, Peter's triple denial.  Alas, the bashers never admit, in fact they are blissfully unaware, that their underlying assumptions are: I never would have acted that way.  I never would have misunderstood, rejected, or tried to manipulate Jesus were I there. Like I would have TOTALLY understood everything.  

The reality is that none of us would have responded any better than the apostles.  Most likely, we would have reacted to Jesus' teaching more like the Pharisees and lawyers.  The bashers have little to say about the apostles' behaviors and motivations, especially Peter's, after Jesus' glorification.  You don't have to be too psychiatrically sophisticated to figure out why. 

Over the past weeks we have seen a different Peter.  He is now confident, eloquent and humble. This is quite a contrast to the brash, shoot-from-the-hip-and-the-lip target of the bashers.  The man who swung a sword in Gethsemane is now abashed by Cornelius' homage.  "Get up.  I myself am also a human being."  The man who denied Jesus three times, now fearlessly preaches Jesus' death and resurrection in hostile territory.  Quite a change.

This particular reading from Acts is not continuous.  We miss much of what the newly eloquent Peter said to Cornelius and his guests.  We miss the background that makes Peter's statements radical.  Peter is preaching against an exclusivist tendency in the Judaism of the time.  He is preaching against our own desire for exclusivism.  That God is impartial, was not, and is not, a new or uniquely Christian teaching. The statement that whoever fears him and acts "uprightly is acceptable to him" is not radically novel in Christianity.  

The late Jesuit Biblical scholar Xavier Leon-Dufour traces the idea of God's impartiality back to the Old Testament, beginning with the psalms and moving to Jonah.  He writes, ". . .gradually we see the emergence of the idea that apart from the Jew Yahweh's love even embraces the pagans as well. . ."   Thus it is no surprise that Peter ordered that the Gentiles be given baptism. 

The second reading from the First Letter of John and the reading from John's Gospel are perfectly intertwined.  "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins."  This verse recalls Paul's Letter to the Romans, "(God) shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."  

John and Paul both defined the human condition: we are sinners.  And they described God's response to that condition: His love.  We are sinners loved by God.  That is why we rejoice during this Easter Season. We are sinners loved by God and redeemed by God.

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  . . . Love one another." These words are among the most poignant and comforting in John's Gospel. 

One important dimension of friendship is that we are never really separated from true friends.  It doesn't matter if there are thousands of miles between friends, or if dementia wrecks in the mind and memory of one, or if one or the other has died. The relationship between friends never ends.  It never ends because true friends are united by love.  Love never dies.  Love never succumbs to dementia.  Love never moves away. 

As our friendship with Jesus grows, as his dwelling in us permeates deeper into our beings, it becomes more natural for us to share that love with others.  That sharing is less through our words than our actions responding to the needs of the other. 

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman defined our friendship with Jesus, and the ideal relationship between two people,  when he chose his motto:  Cor ad Cor Loquitur.  Heart speaks unto Heart.

He wrote the following prayer about friendship:

"Shine through me Jesus
and be so in me
that every soul I come in contact with
may feel your presence in my soul.
Let them look up
and see no longer me,
but only You."


Living out of a suitcase for two weeks got a bit old.  As there were a few one-night stops I packed a small bag for easy in and out (not counting the camera case and briefcase) and only dragged in the big suitcase for longer stays.  Started with a quick trip to Plymouth (overnight) and thence to D.C. to give a lecture at 3 PM after which I drove up to Wilmington, DE in rush hour traffic.  Not pretty.  The following day it was off to Philly, 40 minutes away.  Pulled into Old St. Joseph Church at 4th and Walnut.  The reason for Philly was my 40th  reunion from Temple Medical.  Had a very good time.  Picked two classmates up at the airport at 9.  As they couldn't check into hotel until 3 we spent a few hours wandering the chilly streets.  Will detail that in the photos.  Later Friday night five of us went to Sue's house in at the western edge of Philly.  The proof that it was a good time was that at midnight we were still sitting at her dining room table talking and laughing.  Forty years.  Wow!  We met in 1971 and that was long ago.  

The reunion was very good.  Saw some guys I haven't seen in forty years and others I saw five years ago.  Will certainly go to the 45th.  

From Philly I headed to visit some cousins and thence to State College to give a talk.  After the talk on dying (at a retirement facility) I went to visit another college roommate in Woodstock, MD and thence back to D.C. to baptize the newborn daughter of a former colleague in the psychiatry department.  

I expected to crash when I got back on Monday at noon (very early departure from Plymouth) but was a bit miffed that Tuesday was a total loss.  Could hardly move.  Fortunately no big travel between now and August.  Quick trip to NYC for province assembly and a few days at Regina Laudis later this month.  

While on the road I took a lot of photos.  Today will focus on Philly, a city I dearly love.  While Pam, Mary Ann, and I were wandering I was taking mostly snapshots.  Saturday AM I was alone and had more time to wander the Society Hill and South Street areas and think a little more.  

A favorite photographic exercise is to take photos with the intention of changing them into black and white.  The first role of film I ever shot in 1977 was black and white.  With the right subject it is much more interesting than color as it causes one to focus on shape, color, texture and content rather than being distracted by brilliant color.  

While on the way to the Reading Terminal Market for a soft pretzel I took this shot looking west on 10th and Market.  Never noticed how the tower of the new building mirrors City Hall.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church is not far from Old St. Joseph.  The graveyard extends to colonial times.  

The Second Bank was built during colonial times.  The columns are fantastic. 

There is a large heavy wrought iron balustrade in front.  This is the detail of one of the components. 

Stumbled across the bridal shop on Walnut St.  Note how the bodice of the gown echoes the arches of the windows.  

Philly is also very colorful.  The blossoms on St. Peter's Way, a small alley connecting Willings Alley with Locust St. were just coming into bloom. 

Two views of Independence Hall.  Shooting from the sidewalk that is about five feet below grade allowed me to get the tulips.  

The (relatively) new Constitution Center is a tad expensive to visit, even for the elderly.  The second photo is a view looking back toward Independence Hall to the south. 

Then there is eating in Philly.  One of the places I still miss is the Reading Terminal Market.  Lived about a mile away.  Every Saturday I wasn't on call I went there to food shop.  I restrained myself and had only a soft pretzel.  However, I couldn't resist taking a shot of my favorite neon sign there.  Good advice too. 

Then we have the antithesis of John Yi's advice.  Jim's Cheesesteak at 4th and South.  I hadn't had one of those in 15 years.  I corrected that slight on Friday.  Of course it was with: onion and whiz (Cheeze Whiz).  Am still paying for that indulgence but I'll recover in a few weeks.   Great art-deco look.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hitting the Highway

Not certain how much I'll be posting over the next two weeks.  Will leave Campion early tomorrow morning for a two week "road trip" that will include two lectures, one baptism, and our 40th Med School reunion on Saturday 25 April in Philadelphia.  Very much looking forward to the reunion and the chance to spend a free day in Philly with the camera.  Some of us will get together on Friday night for beer and pizza at one classmate's house.  She suggested a yearbook review as well.  That should be good for a number of laughs.  

Will be giving a talk on how we die in State College, PA.  Very much looking forward to that trip as I will have a free day to wander town and campus with the camera.  Once I return I hope to stay put during the month of May.  Staying put is, of course, a relative term.  I will be in CT for a few days toward the end of the month but compared with the upcoming trip that is staying local in a relative sense of the term.  No flying anticipated until August.  Then it is time to cash in some frequent flyer miles and go to LA for vows.  

A few disparate photos that I will be using as background etc. for the new talk.  

The Jesuit dining room/kitchen in Saigon.  As soon as I post this I head to breakfast.  I don't like grapefruit.  I don't know if those green things are grapefruit or a sort of hybrid unique to the tropics.  However, after eating one of those it became a daily practice.  Sweet.  Juicy.  

This is a manipulated photo taken during a late afternoon at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan.  Sun Moon Lake remains one of my favorite spots on earth.   I like being able to play with the color and tint of something like this.

The Church of St. George in Lyon.  I went to Mass there often as it was at 5 PM.  I could walk there from the community in a matter of minutes.  All Masses were in the extraordinary form.  The stained glass behind the altar was shades of yellow, gold and ochre.  

I've forgotten the name of the church here.  I believe it was the site of the tomb of the foundress of the Religious of Jesus and Mary.  This was not too far from St. Georges.  Lyon is a city of many churches.

Votive candles in the Cathedral of St. Jean in Lyon.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, April 18, 2015

3rd Sunday of Easter

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8,9
Lk 24:35-48

During the Easter Season many of the first readings on both Sundays and weekdays are taken from Acts of the Apostles.  This will continue until the end of the Easter Season.  Acts was written by St. Luke who also wrote today's Gospel.  Academics often refer to Luke-Acts so as to emphasize the common authorship of the two books.

Whereas the Gospel of Luke recounts the story of Jesus in much the same way as the other three Gospels, Acts is the story of the first years of the community that came to be known as The Church.  Acts is an important story because it is our story. It is the story of us as Church. Pay attention to the readings from Acts over the next weeks. You will hear of the growth of the Church and the challenges the community faced. You will hear of the arguments, the infighting, and the jealousies. You will also hear about the care extended to the poor and less fortunate. You will hear of the coming together into community of those who believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. It is a fascinating story.  The Church wasn't easy then just as it isn't easy today.

In the reading from Acts Peter gives a very short summary of the prophecies about Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one.  He also assures his hearers that they and their leaders acted out of ignorance when they crucified Jesus.  But remember, this was some time after the fact.  How long did it take Peter and the others who witnessed Jesus’ passion and death, to truly understand the resurrection?  How long did it take before they were able to internalize the fact that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead?  How long does it take us to realize who Jesus is?  In the days immediately following Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, his followers' predominant emotions were confusion and consternation.  They were living these events in real time.  Jesus had foretold his passion and death but none of those who heard him really understood.  It is likely that they didn't truly understand until Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon them.

There is an odd but important detail in today's Gospel.  After greeting His astonished disciples Jesus ate a piece of fish in front of them. He did so for a specific reason.  Jesus ate to prove that he had indeed risen bodily from the dead.  He ate a bit of solid food to demonstrate to their uncertain hearts and confused minds that he was not a ghost, that he was not a spirit, that he was not an hallucination. 

He said, “Touch me and see,because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”  He requested something to eat as if to prove His resurrection before they could doubt.  Only corporal beings need to eat.  Only physical beings are able to eat.  By eating a piece of fish in front of them Jesus gave proof to the prophecy, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.. .”  It was not a ghost standing before them. It was Jesus, risen from the dead. 

We have something in common with those disciples. Whenever we gather at the altar Jesus is as much present to us as He was to His disciples in that room. Thus we too can sing out with the psalmist:

“O Lord, our Lord,
how glorious is your name
over all the earth!”
Going through photos as I prepare to give some lectures.  Four years ago at this time we were getting ready to drive from Sevenhill, South Australia back to Sydney, a trek of 17 hours.  We did not even try to make it in one day.  Spent one night in Hay, NSW a very tiny town that give in the middle of nowhere a new depth of meaning.  Two of us would have been happy to spend three days on the return trip but the other two wanted to get back as soon as possible.  There was no way we could split up despite driving in two cars.  Half of the men had driven out to Sevenhill and flew back.  We flew out and drove back.  I'll never drive 17 hours in two days again.  It was a great trip but it almost killed me.  I limited my driving to the highways and turned over the keys as we approached Sydney. 

We left from the Jesuit community in Adelaide that was attached to a prep school.  The skies were threatening as we left but the rain never materialized. 

Good thing we had reservations at a motel that the tertian master used every year.  The Saltbush Motor Inn had no vacancies. 

Hay is so isolated that it was the site of concentration camps for Japanese POW's during WW II.  Even if a prisoner escaped he would die in the Outback.  I imagine there was even less there then than there is now.   The four of us stayed in a motel.  There were only three rooms available so Vincent and I bunked together.  I took this in the early morning as we were preparing to leave.

Before we left Hay we stopped at a bakery for breakfast and coffee. 

We bought some hot cross buns for nibbling on the final 8 hours of the drive.

 The Outback Cafe in West Wyalong, a short stop to stretch legs, was open.  

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD