Thursday, August 15, 2019

Feast of the Assumption

Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16
1 Cor 15:20-27
Lk 1:39-56
Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; one of three Marian feasts that are holy days obliging the faithful to attend Mass. The other two are: The Immaculate Conception on December 8 and The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on New Year’s Day. This particular feast raises questions, both relevant and irrelevant, for many of the faithful. The Feast of the Assumption raises even more questions in the less-than-faithful and the terminally sophisticated. 
The first question is why? Why do we celebrate the Feast of Mary's Assumption. 
Though decreed as dogma by Pius XII in 1950, this feast has been observed in both the Western and Eastern Churches since around the 6th Century. However, despite the early observance, there is no scriptural basis for it, solid or otherwise. A few passages of scripture are sometimes cited as indicating the Assumption. But the explanations of how they suggest the Assumption involve intricate mental and scriptural gymnastics. A second question is how? What were the biology and physics of Mary’s Assumption? As tantalizing as it might be the question is completely irrelevant. The relevant question is what does this feast mean for us today? What should Mary's assumption teach us? 
The Feast of the Assumption points the way for all followers of Jesus who imitate Mary’s fidelity to God’s will. The Assumption points the way, the destination, the arrival point, for all who can utter the same yes that Mary did at the Annunciation: 
"Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum" 
“May it be done unto me according to your word.” 
The Feast of the Assumption tells us that where Mary is—we are meant to be. 
The reading from the Book of Revelation is full of fantastical, strange, and bizarre images. The interpretation of the image of the woman is a subject of considerable debate and disagreement in scriptural and theological literature. Interpretations of this passage range from those who say that these images absolutely indicate Mary, the Mother of God, to readings suggesting that the image of the woman refers to Israel, or the Church, or Eve, or Mary; perhaps all of the above at the same time. 
Many artists have painted and sculpted these verses with very mixed results. One can clearly see the influence of this passage, for example, in paintings of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the only other feast on which we hear this reading. The best interpretative suggestion is that of scripture scholar Adele Collins who notes that it is more important to see the woman’s destiny than it is to identify her. 
Paul’s words comfort and instruct us. “Just as in Adam all die so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.” Mary’s obedience stands in sharp contrast to Eve’s disobedience. Eve’s infidelity to God’s will is trumped by Mary’s fidelity. Mary is the antithesis of Eve. We heard from Luke’s Gospel. 
Magnificat anima meo Dominum
Et exsultavit spiritus meus
in Deo salutaris meo.
"My soul proclaims
the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices
in God my savior." 
Every evening members of religious orders, priests, and those who say the breviary, recite Mary’s Magnificat toward the end of vespers. The prayer does not need elaboration. It does not need explanation from the pulpit. There are lilies that should never be gilded. The Magnificat is one of them. Mary’s prayer calls for quiet contemplation in the depths of our souls; it calls for silent meditation in the stillness of our rooms. As we magnify the Lord, as we rejoice in God our savior, we will recall that God has remembered—that He will remember—His promise of mercy. 
And, as we will remind ourselves in a few moments with the Creed, Mary is where we are meant to be. 


All of the photos are from the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere in Lyon.  The outside has the appearance of a wedding cake.  The lower level chapel and the Marian chapel (with the gold Immaculate Conception on top) are lovely.  The main church was a little too blue and too many lights.  It also had a strange layout in that it was much taller than it was wide and very long.  It overlooks the entire city and is visible from almost everywhere.  

Taken from one of the bridges on the way home from class. 

Serious telephoto action

Main altar.

Bank of candles

Lighting a candle in the chapel directly underneath the gold representation of the Immaculate Conception

The view of Lyon from the ground of the Basilique

Mary the Queen.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, August 9, 2019

Memorial St. Edith Stein (Sr. Teresia Benedicta à Cruce, OCD)

She disembarked from the train on August 6, 1942.  It had been a long, hot, dusty trip from Holland. Brushing the dust from the brown habit identifying her as a Carmelite nun she straightened her veil as best she could. Unlike some of the passengers, she knew it wasn't going to matter for long.  The woman was Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. Born Edith Stein in Breslau, Poland on October 12, 1891 she was now back in the country of her birth.  The station was Auschwitz. 

Stein was the youngest of eleven children born into an observant Jewish family.  Her academic brilliance was obvious at a young age. At 14 she became a teenage atheist.  Reflecting back on that period she wrote, "I consciously and deliberately stopped praying so as to rely exclusively on myself; so as to make all decisions about my life in freedom."  It would take almost seventeen years for her to discover the true meaning of freedom. 

She received a PhD in philosophy from the University of Frieburg, studying under Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology.  Two episodes during her studies moved her from the illusory freedom of atheistic self-dependence to the radical freedom possible only for those who live under the Cross of Christ. The first episode occurred when she visited the young widow of a colleague and friend killed in WW I. Though bereaved, the young widow's faith was such that she was consoling those who came to console her. This left a deep mark on Stein.  She 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 the Cross."

Shortly afterwards she was visiting friends who had a social obligation in which she could not be included.  While browsing through their library she stumbled upon the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. She read it that night in one sitting.  Upon closing it she said, "This is the truth." She was baptized at age 31 on New Year's Day 1922.

She had difficulty gaining admission to the Carmelites.  However, as the rumbling of the Nazi menace became louder, she was allowed to enter in Cologne in 1933, at age 42.  As the persecution of Jews continued to increase she was secretly moved to the Carmel in Echt, Holland in 1938 where she wrote her last work. Fittingly it was titled "The Science of the Cross. 

She dismissed plans to evacuate her to England explaining, "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."  She, and her sister Rosa, who had become a Catholic though not a Carmelite, were taken from Echt.  She ascended Calvary in the chambers of Auschwitz 77 years ago today.

She left behind an enormous amount of writing of which her letters are the most accessible. Released from the self-imposed shackles of atheistic pseudo-freedom she found radical freedom in the science and shadow of the cross. 

St. John Paul, II, pope, quoted her in his homily at her canonization: 

"Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. 
And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth!"

St. Edith Stein, pray for us. 

My devotion to Stein is too deep, and too personal to describe in detail here.  I'm not sure I can always understand it.  However, I have celebrated Mass every August 9 since I was ordained in 2007.  She is a saint for our time.  The healing miracle ascribed to her intervention formed the basis of my master's thesis.  

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Feast of the Transfiguration

Dn 7:9-10, 13-14
Ps 97:1-2, 5-6,99
2 Pt 1:16-19
Lk 9:28-36

The Transfiguration draws us into a mystery that is beyond the reach of historical reconstruction, the grasp of scientific explanation, and well-beyond the possibility of geographic verification. All of these are irrelevant to the meaning of this feast. The Transfiguration represents the fulfillment of scripture, the fulfillment of a promise, and the beginning of mankind's in the reading from Daniel: 

"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.  The tension becomes almost unbearable.  And then you hear God's voice: “This is my chosen Son, listen to him.”

"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 has given you a mission: "Listen to him." 

Like the apostles, you are stunned into silence and overcome with awe.  On this day Jesus--Jesus the Nazarean, Jesus the teacher, Jesus the wonder worker, Jesus the healer was revealed in his Divinity.  

We recall another event today. That event was also marked by blinding light.  It was also overshadowed by a cloud.  It was an event which, if you place yourself at the scene, will cause stunned silence and prostration.  

August 6 is the date the Church sets aside to recall that Jesus revealed his Divinity on a mountain.  On August 6, 1945 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 from all the wars of the past centuries, from the twentieth century, the bloodiest in history, and condensed them into a singular event.  This time God did not give mankind a mission from the cloud.  There was a terrible silence.  There was a void.  Or was there?  The voice of God was obscured by the explosion.  It was not silenced.  

Over two thousand years since Jesus' incarnation, birth, passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and seventy-four years since Hiroshima, 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 three days later, demonstrated a capability for destruction on a large scale that is unique to the present time, a capability that will only increase. A capability shared by too many countries.

"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.  If we adhere to the teaching of the Gospel, we can move from the apocalyptic destruction of the nuclear bomb, the mass-murders of the various genocides, and the concerted, systematic, and government approved attacks on morality and human life--the child and the womb and the ill elderly--that tell us that human life is ultimately without value.

The psalm reminds us as it proclaims.

"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."

Today was a major feast at the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Vermont.  Arrived there on Saturday for some of my usual work and stayed until after Mass this AM.  Thee was a hint of autumn at the 3500 ft elevation.  Football season is on the way!!!!  Penn State opens in less than a month.  

The weather was glorious.  All of the photos below are from this weekend.  I was quite busy but there was time to wander on Sunday.  Long drive back today as I left later than usual.  

The "blue hour" in the early AM.  The blue hour is a period of time--generally less than an hour--when the sun is below the horizon either before it rises or after it sets.  The physics of light result in a blue tint to everything.  This is about halfway up Equinox.  The view on this side is the valley.  shooting in the other direction is the Charterhouse.  

Lake Bardo (I think that is the name) near the guest house in which I stay when I am there.  The light fog was lifting from the lake.  Alas, there was no big fog to shoot in the early AM but it was lovely nonetheless.

That red dock is a challenge.  It is very unlevel and there is no handrail.  Always feel a little unsteady when on it. 

The irregularity of the dock is a little more apparent. 

There are wildflowers everywhere up there. 

The rowboat was on Lake Madeleine last year.  

A profusion of wildflowers

A hint of Christmas without the obese dude or anthropomorphized reindeer.

I rarely manage to capture a butterfly.  

The sun was hitting the berries just so.  Thus . . . . 

A spider web at the gift shot with mini-spectrums

Liturgical books in choir. 

Refectory set for the Sunday meal.

Sacristy being hit by the sun in just the right way. 

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

In 1518, 27 year-old Iñigo de Loyola was struck in the leg by a canon ball during the Battle of Pamplona. He had refused to surrender to the French despite impossible odds. The French, for their part were so impressed by the man's tenacity that rather than imprisoning him, they got him back to the family castle of Loyola where he underwent a long, difficult, and, in some ways, almost impossible recovery. 
While recuperating he had only two options for reading: a Life of Christ and a book on the Lives of the Saints. With openness to the movement of the Spirit, with contrition for his past sins, and freed from the shackles of the old self, Iñigo, who now adopted the name of Ignatius, went on to write a set of spiritual exercises that have influenced uncounted and uncountable millions of people over the past 450 plus years. 
In 1540 The Society of Jesus was formally recognized as a religious order. Today, in 2019, it is firmly established throughout the world, engaged in diverse ministries and works. 
He died in Rome on this day in 1556 as the first Father General of the Society. Celebrations have been held, and will continue to be held, throughout the known world on this his Feast. The Jesuits of Boston College and Faber Community will gather this evening for Mass and a celebratory dinner. 
I've celebrated this feast in several cities in the U.S., in Taipei, Ljubljana, and N'Djamena. Greetings to my Jesuit brothers throughout the world. Happy Feast.


A bronze depiction of Iñigo after sustaining the leg wound.

The closing Mass in the Sanctuary of Loyola following the conference last month on Psychology and the Spiritual Exercises. I presented two conferences there, one on Ignatius himself and the other on Depression and Desolation in the Spiritual Exercises.  

At the last minute I decided not to concelebrate the Mass (There were lots and lots of Jesuit priests) and instead wandered with the camera. The statue of Ignatius overlooks the entire assembly.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, July 20, 2019

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gn 18:1-10a
Ps 15 2-5
Col 10:24-28
Lk 10:38-42

The responsorial psalm was psalm 15. It is short and was quoted in its entirety.
It began with a question: "Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain?" that the psalmist then answered: The one who walks without fault, acts with justice, speaks the truth, and does not slander.  

Who does no wrong to his brother, who casts no slur on his neighbor, who holds the godless in disdain, but honors those who fear the Lord.

The one who keeps a pledge, who takes no interest on a loan, and accepts no bribes against the innocent. 

The psalmist concluded: This one will stand firm forever.  

In his commentary on the psalms Jesuit Father Dick Clifford noted that this psalm contains ten descriptors of the ideal worshipper, ten descriptors of ideal behavior for all people. Psalm 15 describes those whose actions reflect their faith. The challenges are daunting.  

We don't always do justice. Gossip and idle chatter can lead to slander without us noticing. We breathe easier at the proscription against lending money at interest because most of us don't do it.  But, we create quid pro quo situations with others that demand exorbitant interest--the "you owe me big time" idea--that is not necessarily financial.  

The Analects of Confucius also described virtuous behavior.  Confucius lived five hundred years before Christ.  Scholars think the Analects achieved their final written form sometime around 350 B.C. The following comes from Book XII Chapter II:  "Chung-kung asked about perfect virtue.  The Master said, "It is when you go abroad, to behave to every one as if you were receiving a great guest; to employ the people as if you were assisting at a great sacrifice; do not do to others as you would not wish done to yourself."  

Chung-kung replied, "Though I am deficient in intelligence and vigor I will make it my business to practice this lesson."  

I'd like sit down with Chung-kung over beer and pizza. I already like him because, after hearing what perfect virtue entailed, he admitted, in effect, I am a sinner, but I will try.  We are in the same situation. We are deficient in knowing how to act.  We are weak when confronted with less-than-virtuous but easier options.

When we compare the first reading with the Gospel it is apparent that Abraham was much closer to virtuous behavior than was Martha.  Abraham seems to have been a master of understatement.  "Let me bring you a little food that you may refresh yourselves."  A little food?  Rolls. Beef.  Curds and milk.  It seems as if there was quite a bit of exertion put into preparing this little bit of food.  And then he hovered over his guests, waiting on them, until the meal was over.  There was no complaint about how hard he was working, or how much he was spending, or anything else.  Martha, on the other hand, worked hard but without much virtue.  While there is much allegorical interpretation of this narrative describing the difference between the contemplative and active vocations, the narrative is also instructive today in a practical way. 

Unlike Abraham, who was almost obsequious to his guests, Martha committed an appalling breech of etiquette when she dragged a guest into a sibling quarrel. Imagine telling one of your guests "make my sister to get in here and help me instead of sitting around."  Imagine saying to a dinner guest, "Maybe if you tell him, that kid of mine will do something around here.  He certainly doesn't listen to me."  

Embarrassing doesn't begin to describe the guest's feelings upon being exposed to such rudeness.  Attending to the comfort of one's guest is an essential part of hospitality. It defines hospitality. That is what Abraham did. That is what Martha failed to do.  

Martha and Mary are not either/or; it is not the choice to serve or to attend to the words of Jesus.  We are to serve AND to hear the words of Jesus. We are called to prayer AND to work. In the reality of our daily lives we are called to do both simultaneously most of the time.  Our challenge is to be disposed so that we can hear the words of Jesus in the midst of our busy-ness.

The Benedictine motto:  "Ora et labora" (Work and prayer) is illustrative.  It is not work or prayer but work and prayer. Labor and attending to Jesus' word at the same time.  It is not easy, but it is-- like the admonitions in the psalm and the advice in The Analects--an ideal toward which we must strive if we wish to stand firm forever.   

Got back from Spain and Slovenia about ten days ago.  The trip was not uncomplicated.  Every leg involved a canceled, late, or changed flight to say nothing of missed ones.  Luggage did not arrive in LJ or in Boston (the latter much less of a problem).  I also got to spend an unplanned night at Heathrow as the result of a Lufthansa error.  The good news is that they supplied a hotel room and voucher for a meal (exclusive of the beer).  The beer was good.  The burger was, well, British.  

Will be getting back into the full swing of things over the next two weeks.  Originally I thought I'd be away a bit longer.  Most of the Masses I would normally celebrate have been covered so I have a bit of free time.  Not a bad thing.  

Photos from LJ
One of the gelato stands along the river.  After taking this I got some mango gelato.  

Graffiti is everywhere.  The outdoor headwaiter's table, wine, and graffiti make an interesting combination. 

These guys were good.  Just as I took this they began playing one of Brahms' Hungarian Dances that immediately brought Looney Toons and Warner-Brother cartoons to mind.  Not only did the baby boomers have the best rock music in history, we had the best cartoons.  The cartoons use of classical music is one of the reasons I love it today.  

An outdoor bar that is a favorite photo destination. 

The inside of Vodnikov Hram restaurant near our community, 

Am a sucker for this kind of romantic photo.

Reflections from the lower level of Plečnik's colonnade.  There is at least and perhaps two restaurants down there. 

I saw this and knew I had to shoot it.  For ten minutes.  Returning twice.  Each drink is color keyed to a real drink. 

Glasses hanging upside down.  Indeed, this is the same place as the photo above.

Three doors on one of the streets.  I converted it to black and white as well.  

And this is it.  Each says something different. 

Pop's Place (beer and burgers). "Pop" is a friend.  I stopped there with a Franciscan friar to catch up.  Can't not eat fries.  They go better with beer than pizza.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Photos from Ljubljana

Had a very challenging second half of a trip.  Through a combination of rushing (flight was boarding), lack of sleep, and stupidity on my part, I left the laptop on the belt at the TSA in Madrid.  Fortunately it was found.  While they wouldn't ship I was able to send a letter authorizing a friend to retrieve it along with a copy of my passport.  He now has it in Madrid.  Will return to Boston in ten days.  I was not entirely selfless in offering to pick him up at Logan in ten days.  Except for that little glitch and my luggage not arriving in LJ until the following day, the time there was great.  One very hot day and the rest not bad, particularly for the survivor of nine summers in D.C.  

The balconies on the Jesuit retreat house in LJ.  

The inside of Vodnikov Hram restaurant.  Not far from the community. 

Miniature houses in a gift shop.  Looks like pastel Monopoly pieces.

Restaurants filling up at dusk.  No cars allowed in this part of the city. 

The tower of Town Hall.

I enjoy shooting natural still life shots at outdoor cafes.  There are hundreds in LJ.

A little bit of romance. 

These guys were playing a Brahms Hungarian Dance oftentimes featured in Bugs Bunny cartoons.  Warner-Brothers and Looney Tunes are a major reason for  my lifetime love of classical music.  

Slippers for sale in front of a shop.

A gelato stand.  I had mango. 

A favorite outdoor bar for shooting. 

Wine bottles at an outdoor cafe contrast with the background of graffiti.

This display is advertising drinks.  Each color is coded to a flavor.  This was at Odprta Kuhna (Open Kitchen) which happens every Friday in good weather in the square adjacent to the Cathedral.  

Another stand at Odprta Kuhna.  

I enjoy the interaction of light and good glass.

An interesting centerpiece.  Simply an apple and a sprig of rosemary in a bottle.

Three doors.

Repeating patterns attract the camera lens. 

Pop's Place.  "Pop" is Greg Yurkovich, a friend, who was born in Slovenia, grew up in the U.S. and returned home with his own family to open two restaurants.   Both are doing very well.  Was having a beer and some fries with a young Franciscan. 

Late night on a side street. That I feel comfortable walking on dark side streets at 11 PM is a testimony to how safe LJ is. 
  Odprta Kuhna.  Potatoes are roasting beneath the spit. 

Horse steak sandwiches.  I did not have one.  I've eaten horse and don't mind it.  But, the word steak sandwich is only valid in Philadelphia.  Everyone else is a pretender.  

Paella at Odprta Kuhna.  There are perhaps thirty stalls selling all types of food, not necessarily Slovenian. 

Moments after shooting this I ordered a pulled pork sandwich.  It was great.  The camera was safely tucked away in the backpack as I feasted.  

Tourists on the castle's parapet at sundown.  

The wine cellar at Strelec restaurant.  A friend took me to dinner there a week earlier.  Superb meal.  The statue is St. Martin.  

The staircase from the wine cellar to the restaurant.  Fortunately there is a small elevator.  Opted for that.  

The wine storage shot through the supporting cables for the stairs. 

The view of LJ during what photographers call the blue hour.  

Looking west toward the mountains. 

A chandelier that hangs over this intersection throughout the year.  I've shot it often. 

A large crucifix in the sv. Jakob (Jesuit) church complex.  Hung around for a long time because the organist was practicing Bach.  

  Plečnik's colonnade, my favorite structure in LJ.  This was between 11 and 11:30 at night.  Wouldn't wander the streets of my tiny home town after 11 PM.  

Back to a homily next week.  Signed up for Mass at St. Mary's Hall.  Martha and Mary.  A particular favorite. 

+Fr. Jack