Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve in Taiwan

The travel from D.C. to Taipei was surprisingly easy.  Seems that D.C. and Baltimore were in a donut hole surrounded by snow.  Dulles was practically empty when I arrived.  Had to check-in a second time after the plane was changed.  The exit row window seat made it worthwhile.  We were an hour late taking off but that was due to the late arrival of the plane from LA that would turn around and head to San Francisco.  It got better.  When the doors on China Air (GREAT airline) closed no one was sitting in the middle seat.  Yesssssss!!! (multiple fist pumps).  Arrived on time to find Ignatius waiting for me. 

This was the first time I arrived in Asia in the early morning rather than 7 PM or so.  What a difference.  Weather was nice.  I was able to stay awake much of the day and then take a short nap.  As a result sleep was no problem.  Some mid-day fatigue continues but an early morning walk with the camera followed by a short post-lunch walk with Ignatius is helping bring the fatigue under control

It is great to be back in Taipei.  I wouldn’t mind staying here long term.  Love the city, the food, the people and the photographic potential.  I spent some of this morning wandering the small alleys and lanes in the neighborhood taking pix.  Will try to post some tomorrow. 

New Year’s Eve is going to be quiet.  I have neither the desire nor the energy to stay up for midnight (it will be 11 AM in D.C.).  And I have the 11 AM English Mass at the parish here (Sacred Heart) where Ignatius is pastor.   We’re going to go out for a bit this evening to have a beer and chat.  We’re both tired so there is no question of staying up until midnight or dealing with the traffic coming back from fireworks at Taipei 101.

The bad news.  I won’t get to see any football.  However, it is my duty to write . . .

GO PENN STATE.  Will check ESPN the moment I wake up (the game begins at 2 AM Taipei time) 

Below is the homily I’ll give at Mass tomorrow. 

+Fr. Jack

Solemnity of Mary Mother of God and Giving of the Name of Jesus (Sacred Heart Parish, Taipei)

Today is a day of celebration.  Not just one celebration but several celebrations.  One of those celebrations is secular.  It is the new year the first day of 2011; a day that was welcomed, at least by some, with fireworks at Taipei 101, parties in homes and other forms of celebration.

Was it really 11 years ago that paranoia consumed the world at the prospect of the new millennium, the year 2000?  Was it that long ago when dire predictions of a world-wide computer crash and other cataclysmic events were the top stories in the news?  We can summarize the unimpressive impact of the new millennium by paraphrasing Genesis: “And there was evening and there was morning.  The new millennium.”

New Year’s Day pushes us toward introspection and self-evaluation;
looking into ourselves and considering the year that has passed; the good and the bad, the joyful and the sorrowful, the gains and the losses.  We also look ahead to the future.  Is this the year I will quit smoking?  Will my life change for the better or the worse?  How can I take advantage of this new beginning?

But, there is a more important celebration today; a celebration that is two sides of the same coin.  A deeply religious celebration that recalls the universe-shaking event of two millennia in the past.

Today is: The Solemnity of Mary Mother of God and The Giving of the Name of Jesus.   

“When the fullness of time had come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman . . . “

History reached a climax it will never surpass with the birth and death
of Jesus.  This climax began with the words of Mary—“may it be done unto me according to your word” and proceeded through Jesus’ final words on the cross, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” 

This event changed the history of the world and the universe. It is a change that echoes through the universe at this moment; a change that will continue to echo through the universe until it ends and will reverberate beyond the end of the universe, beyond the end of all time. We are blessed to be living in that fullness of time. 

 “In the fullness of time, God sent his Son born of a woman. . . . “
Jesus:  Truly God
Jesus:  Truly man
Jesus:  Fully Divine
Jesus:  Fully human.

It is because Jesus is truly Man, because Jesus is truly human,
that Mary has the title  Mother of God.  Mary carried Jesus in her womb until, at the end of her pregnancy, she bore a son.

Then, as we hear in today’s gospel,  “When the eighth day came
and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus,
the name the angel had given him before his conception.”

We can identify with Mary and Joseph.  Young parents.  Who had to figure it out as they went along.  We can identify with Mary and Joseph who endured the same kind of stresses and strains that we endure; who felt the same emotions that we feel; who were cold, tired, hungry, joyful, contented, and consoled; just as we are. 

Mary and Joseph were righteous.  They observed the laws of the Torah and the laws of the land; they gave to God that which was God’s and to Caesar that which was Caesar’s.  Thus, they journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill the law to be enrolled.  Eight days after the child was born they went to the Temple, as prescribed by Jewish law, to have him circumcised and to give him the name:  Jesus. 

Today we celebrate that name, the name above all other names, the name by which we were saved, the name that set us free.  We celebrate the giving of the name of Jesus to the child Mary bore
because it fulfilled the promise of the angel.  “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”
Today we celebrate more than a new year.  We celebrate a new life; the new life to which we have been called as Christians; the new life to which we have been called as believers in the name of Jesus;

Believers in the power of that name,
Believers in the wonder of that name,
Believers in the glory of that name. 

Today we begin a new year.  We face both the known and the unknown.  But we face them with a confidence given to us by Jesus; who stands by us in the joyful and sorrowful moments of life.  We enter into the new year with joy knowing that Jesus supports and guides us.  We begin the new year here, at this moment, giving thanks in the Eucharist for that name of Jesus and, as we will recall shortly, all that he did for us. 

The words of Moses from the first reading are appropriate here as we move into the first day of the first month of the year.

“May the LORD bless us and keep us!
 May the LORD let his face shine upon
us, and be gracious to us!
 May the LORD look upon us kindly and
give us peace!”

To this we can only say,
So be it.  Amen. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

On the way

No snow in D.C. on 26 December.  Just checked United.  The flight to San Francisco is coming from Switzerland and will land on time in three hours.  We should head off on time at 5:30 PM EST.  Will leave from SF at approximately 3 AM EST and get to Taipei at 5:30 PM tomorrow EST (it will be 6:30 AM Wednesday).  Lots of wind.  It is not going to be a pretty takeoff.  

Next post will be from Taipei. 

+Fr. Jack

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve 2010

Christmas Eve (Visitation)
24 December 2010

Padnijmy na kolana, to Chrystus Pan.
让我们齐来朝拜他, 主基督!
Ó vinde, adoremos ,Cristo é o Senhor.
Venite adoremus,  Dominum
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord

As we hear the words of the familiar readings for Christmas, as we consider the final line of the most evocative of Christmas hymns, our thoughts may gradually drift back to the past; to a particular Christmas, be it THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER or the one during which the pain that enveloped us was crushing . . .
or something in between. 

We may recall the first Christmas in the novitiate when nothing was like it was. 
Or the first Christmas as newlyweds, the first Christmas in the new house, the first Christmas without a loved one.  Sit with those memories.  They arise for a reason. 

The message of how the Commercial Christmas should be is oftentimes at odds
with our lived experience.  But, the message of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord is a reflection of our lived reality, it is never at odds with our experience
be it the experience of the past, the Christmas we are living today, or a Christmas yet to come; THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER or the one we wanted to end before it began. 

The Feast of the Nativity of the Lord is both human and humane.  Joyful
and fraught with sorrow.  Peaceful and tinged with fear. 

Padnijmy na kolana to Chrystus Pan.

Norman Rockwell.  Hallmark.  And the dreadful 24/7 Christmas music stations playing in Wal-Mart have it all wrong.  As a society we get the kind of Christmas
we want and deserve.  Americans today want little out of Christmas and get what they deserve; an expensive sweater that doesn’t fit and a lot of stress.  But it needn’t be that way. As believers we can have the Christmas we want and deserve; a deeper understanding of the magnitude of what Jesus did for us, knowledge of Jesus’ redemptive actions, and thus unimaginable joy. 

On the first day of the second week of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola one considers Jesus’ birth in detail.  The mediations which Ignatius prescribes bring the humane and human reality of the Nativity to the forefront. 
The meditations help to remove the stains of dried eggnog from a sleeve, they get that last annoying piece of static-glued tinsel off the fingers, the Exercises diminish the fury of road rage, and bring us back to the mandate:

让我们齐来朝拜他, 主基督!

The contemplation on the Nativity begins with the first prelude in which we are to envision:  “Our Lady, about nine months with child, seated on a donkey, set out from Nazareth.  She was accompanied by Joseph who was leading an ox.  They are going to Bethlehem to pay the tribute that Caesar imposed on those lands.”

Mary and Joseph were both righteous. They observed the Law of Torah
and the law of the land; rendering unto God that which was God’s and unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s.  The second prelude instructs us to consider the challenge of the journey itself.

“See in your imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Consider its length, its breadth; whether it was level or through valleys and over hills. 
Observe the place where Christ was born, whether big or little; whether high or low; and how it was arranged.” 

We have to deal with cars and the deservedly infamous Beltway in our journey.  Rather than a manger we may have to cope with a too small guest room, or a living room with an inflatable mattress.  And way too many relatives. Like Mary and Joseph we journey.  And it is not easy. 

Ó vinde, adoremos Cristo é o Senhor.

After the two preludes that set the reality of the scene we come to the three points for contemplation.

First:  See the persons; Our Lady, Joseph and the Child Jesus after His birth. 
And say to yourself, “I will make myself a poor slave, and, as though present,
look at them; contemplate them and serve them in their needs with reverence.” 

Second:  Consider what they are saying. 

Third:  Consider what they are doing. 

Here Ignatius adds the key element of the meditation, an element we can forget only if we want a Holly Jolly, Hallmark Lifetime Channel, Winter Wonderland  Rockin Around the Christmas tree bacchanal.  Stuffed.  Hungover.  And possessing many too many Starbucks gift cards.

“They are making the journey and laboring that our Lord might be born in extreme poverty, and that after many labors, after hunger, thirst, heat, and cold,
after insults and outrages, He might die on the cross.  And all this for me.”

These three contemplations compel us to place ourselves at the manger,
to enter into the scene as if we were stepping into the action of a play. 
Where are we:  Close to Jesus or cowering in a corner?  Serving our Lord
or looking for a place to stay warm, dry and fed?

Are we entering into conversation?  With Mary?  With Joseph?  With the shepherds?  Or are we mentally finishing our Christmas shopping or grousing about the fruitcake that Aunt Ethel gave us.  Again? Do we understand
that this scene of grit and determination is a scene that has been sanitized
and sentimentalized beyond all comprehension?

Can we recall that this event changed the history of universe?

Can we afford to forget that it is not the end of a story but only the beginning? 
That Jesus would go on to live just as we do, to suffer just as we do.  To experience the same emotions, stresses, and losses that we do.

Venite adoremus  Dominum

Some of the greatest theological statements in history have been uttered
not by academics;  those learned and professional theologians writing jargon
and agonizing over Greek consonants or Jesus as metaphor.  The greatest theological statements have been written by men and women who didn’t just talk the talk.  They walked the walk. They did the heavy lifting. 

One of them was the late Dag Hammarskjold, third Secretary General of the U.N. who died in a mysterious plane crash while negotiating peace in the Congo.   Hammarskjold captured the entire history of our salvation—the reason why we are celebrating this day—in a haiku; a short poem of 12 simple words. just 17 syllables:

On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
Was foretold them
In a trumpet fanfare
The Gloria in Excelsis Deo we sing today would be meaningless if it did not lead to the Alleluia, He is Risen at Easter 

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent

The photo above is the church as it looks today (taken in the spring rather than today).  St. Mary's Church in Plymouth, PA is the site of All Saint's Parish which represents an amalgamation of St. Vincent's (Irish), St. Stephen's (Slovak) and St. Mary's (Polish).  The Agnes flood in '72 necessitated significant remodeling which was later replaced by a rather unattractive remodeling years later.  The church today is a combination of the 130 year-old altar and baptismal font from St. Vincent's, statues and Stations from St. Stephen's and a refurbishing of St. Mary's building.  The work took place between the first Sunday of Advent 2006 and Holy Saturday 2007.  Going into the church for the first time to prepare for the  Easter Vigil (I was a deacon then) was a truly jaw-dropping moment.  The ceiling had been cleaned of over 75 years of candle soot and incense.  The altar restored the church closer to what it looked like before the flood.  

I was an altar boy in this church.  The coolest part of being an altar boy was being able to walk in the passageway behind the altar.  It takes little to impress a nine year-old.  Below is the homily from the 8:30 Mass.  Back to D.C. tomorrow to finish cleaning, packing and preparing homilies for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; both of which will be given at the Visitation Monastery next to Georgetown.  

4th Sunday of Advent
19 December 2010
Is 7:10-14
Ps 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Rom 1:1-7
Mt 1:18-24

All four candles are lit on the Advent wreath. On Friday evening we begin the great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord. How did we get here? Where are we going? A quick review is in order. 

The Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent emphasized being awake, being alert and being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. This is not the only time we will be advised to be ready for Christ’s coming, to be ready for His coming into our world and into our lives. The admonition to be awake, to be alert, to be prepared will be repeated several times throughout the year. 

Will we recognize Jesus? Will we recognize Him in the little child; the child who is born and the child in the womb who is yet to be born? Will we recognize Him in the face of the poor; those who are financially poor and those who, despite having plenty of money, are spiritually bankrupt? 

Most particularly, will we recognize Him in the breaking of the bread at the Eucharistic Feast? Will we choose to follow Him? In the end it always comes down to choosing.

The Gospels for the second and third Sundays of Advent spoke of John the Baptist, the herald of the Son of Man, the voice crying out in the wilderness.  John’s appearance was the beginning of the end and the beginning of the beginning. He was the bridge from the old to the new, from the old Law to the new Covenant.  He was an important bridge.

A bridge permits continuity. It does not destroy or invalidate the past. It brings the past into the present and propels it into the future. We can never fully understand the New Testament if we don’t understand and appreciate the Old Testament.  Indeed, the New Testament makes no sense if it is read out of context from the Old. 

Today’s Gospel is a shift from the previous three Sundays.  Matthew’s account of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth is much shorter than Luke’s.  It does not recount the Annunciation or the Visitation. Matthew does not include the exquisite prayers found in Luke: the first part of the Hail Mary, the Canticle of Zechariah, and the Magnificat. Luke’s account is mystical. Matthew’s is full of human reality and pathos. We hear of Mary’s fear and of Joseph’s consternation. Behind Mary’s fear and Joseph’s plan to divorce her was a rigid legal system that outlined the marriage process in great detail. The marriage process in the Ancient Near East was complex. It involved the families more than the couple. Engagements had a specific legal status and involved the exchange of a contract. They were usually long, from one to several years. Only after a period of engagement, did a woman leave her father’s house and go to her husband’s. This is where today’s Gospel began.

Joseph is the focus of this Gospel. Joseph, Mary’s husband. Joseph,whose anxiety and concern were put to rest by an angel who appeared to him in a dream. His role was crucial. “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 

That salvation is the future.
It is the fulfillment.
It is our redemption. 

Mary will bear a son of the House of David, the house to which Joseph belonged. A son foretold by the prophets. 

Not one word in scripture is attributed to Joseph. We know that he was righteous only by his actions, only by his willingness to do what God commanded. “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Mary’s yes at the Annunciation changed the history of the world. Her yes continues to reverberate today. Joseph’s yes was silent but no less important. Today’s Gospel suggests  that things would have gone differently had Joseph not said yes to God. 

Joseph  was righteous because, like Mary, his obedience to God was immediate and unquestioning. There was no quid pro quo. He did not argue with God the way Ahaz did in the first reading. He did not weary God. He did what had to be done. The period of engagement was at an end. He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary into his house as his wife. Later, an angel would again come to him in a dream. In his obedience Joseph would take his young family to Egypt for an extended period of exile until Herod’s death. 

The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was not easy. The trip to Egypt was worse. The Feast of the Nativity of the Lord is human and humane. Mary and Joseph struggled as we do, they were as stressed as we are, they experienced the same emotions: fear, anxiety, great joy and tremendous sorrow. Just as we do. Mary and Joseph both acted with the obedience of faith. Because of that faith Jesus Christ, the mighty King, the prince of peace, came as flesh and blood into this world.

And so it is with great joy that Friday night we will sing: 
Venite adoremus. 

Oh Come Let Us Adore Him. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

17 December 2010

On Keys:  Though hotels and other institutions have replaced keys with magnetic cards the key ring is still a symbol of the busy-ness in one’s life.  As a kid I really wanted a key ring like dad's.  There was something grown up about having a ring of keys to jingle.  Over the past few days I’ve been returning keys.  The keys for the sacristy at the hospital chapel, my office, and the physical exam lab are all off the ring making it much less annoying in my pocket.  Over the next week I’ll return the keys to my home parish, my sister’s house and, finally, the community and my room.  I think the only keys on the key ring will be to the storage cage in the basement and the locked filing cabinet in my room (duplicates will be elsewhere).  Oh, and the USB drive, one of the world’s great inventions. 

As keys disappear  the roles I’ve been filling over the past years are either disappearing or going on hiatus.  Some I will resume upon returning from tertianship but others are questionable.  The lack of keys for life in the States will, I hope, be reflected in an attitude of indifference toward that life that will allow me to immerse myself in the tertianship, and particularly, in the long retreat.  The keys and the roles they indicated were sometimes distractions. 

It is getting to be late in the evening.  A few things are in the dryer.  The room looks a little better though I still would not allow anyone who did not know me to enter.  After I pack the car for an early departure tomorrow morning it will be time to say the evening office.  Tonight the Magnificat will be introduced and closed with the first of the seven great “O Antiphons.”  There is something both exciting and consoling when the Church recites or chants these antiphons.  Tonight we begin:  “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.  Come and show your people the way to salvation.” 

+Fr. Jack 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

14 December 2010

Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Third Tuesday in Advent

For the past three and one-half years, since shortly after ordination, I have been celebrating the 7:30 AM Mass every Tuesday in the chapel at Georgetown University Hospital and then again at noon in the medical school chapel.  Today was the last time.  Thus begins a string of (at least temporary) goodbyes.  This coming weekend I will visit my home parish, All Saints Parish (St. Mary’s Church) in Plymouth, PA where I’ve gone more or less monthly to help out on weekends. 

Saying goodbye is sobering when it is for a long period of time.  Much will change in the coming months.  A new class of students will enter the medical school in August.  Some of the parishioners will move away, become ill or die.  Perhaps there will be some new regulars at the hospital Mass (one can judge the severity of the traffic on the beltway by late arrivals at Mass).   

I remain grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Mass and preach regularly in these three venues: hospital, medical school and home parish.  Each presents unique opportunities in congregations that bring vastly different prayers and needs to Mass.    Below is the final “regularly scheduled Tuesday homily.”

3rd Tuesday in Advent
14 December 2010
Zep 3:1-2, 9-13
Ps 34
Mt 21:28-32

We are moving rapidly toward the great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord.  Two days ago, we lit the dusty rose candle in the Advent wreath.  Only one candle to go. 

At Friday vespers Mary’s Magnificat will be introduced and closed with the first of the seven ancient “O” antiphons, which, when one pays attention to the words, are the seven verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel in reverse order.   Another sign of the waning of Advent is the references to John the Baptist ‘s message in the Gospel readings.

This particular Gospel passage comes just after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  In the time between that entry paved with palm branches and his arduous journey carrying the cross, Jesus engaged in debates and discussions with the chief priests and elders.  Using parables, he pointed out contradictions in what they preached and in how they lived, he demonstrated how they heard John’s call to repentance but failed to heed it.

The second son represents those who proclaimed the law but failed to follow through on its principles and demands.   The first son represents the social and religious outcasts, public sinners, who, despite not following the law,  heeded John's call to repentance. 

How often have we acted like the brothers described in the parable? 
Promising to do something and then reneging on the promise; or refusing a request only to confront the discomfort of a guilty conscience and then quietly doing what we were originally asked to do?  The most likely answer is often.

We can all accuse ourselves of mouthing principles that we fail to practice, the “do as I say not as I do” syndrome.  

However, we can all take comfort in the fact that sometimes, after an initial misstep or series of missteps, we get it right, we follow God’s will for us. 

Over the next few days the readings will remind us of our common humanity with those who said yes to God’s will: Zechariah, the father of John the  Baptist who did not get it right on the first try.  Joseph who initially doubted and prepared to divorce Mary but heeded the angel’s admonition “do not be afraid.”

And finally, Mary, whose fiat, whose radical yes, “may it be done unto me according to your word” changed the history and destiny of the world.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

About this blog

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

As a first post it seems logical to explain why this blog and what it will be about. 

I am a Jesuit priest, entered in 1997 and ordained in 2007, who is preparing to begin tertianship, the final stage of Jesuit formation prior to solemn vows, next month.  While currently living in Washington, D.C. tertianship will take me to the other side of the world.  Literally. Following a short visit in Taipei, Taiwan I will arrive In Sydney, Australia .  After enduring a major snowstorm last December and the back-to-back blizzards in January 2010 here in D.C. the thought of stepping off a plane on 11 January into the Australian summer is consoling in the extreme.  I decided  to create this blog as a way of keeping in touch with friends, family and students via posts, occasional homilies and photos (lots of those), and sharing a unique experience.  The blog  will have a finite life.  Tertianship begins on 20 January and ends on 19 August after which I will travel a bit through East Asia, including a return to Taipei, and stop off to visit my niece in San Francisco before returning to the East Coast.  

Tertianship is a serious undertaking for a Jesuit.  He has been in the Society at least 12 years and is now preparing for full incorporation into its fabric.  It can best be described as novitiate in compressed form. Whereas novitiate demanded two full years tertianship will be seven months. We (there will be 13 tertians from all over the world in Sydney) will do the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola (aka "the long retreat") again, will read or reread foundational documents of the Society (the Constitutions, the General Congregations), the history of the Society, and the autobiography of Ignatius among other readings.  Conferences, prayer, and contemplation will fill much of each day. 

For a few weeks we will give short retreats.  One of the highlights of the tertianship is the experiment, a time of pastoral work in an underserved area of Australia.  The exact nature of that work is discerned by the tertian in concert with the tertian master.  

Am I excited?  Extremely.  At the moment I am going through my room in the SJ residence to turn it into a guest room.   The next week will include moving books (way too many) and other objects to a storage bin in the basement, cleaning the desk, packing, and completing a number of other tasks that I've been delaying for a while (seeing the dentist).  The thought of spending twenty of twenty-four hours in a plane traveling between D.C. and Taipei is daunting.  I've been there twice in the past eight years but, in this case, prior experience does not make the anticipation of the travel any easier.  

As preparation for spending half of a year in Australia two Australian Jesuits  in the community as well as a friend suggested reading In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson.  Great advice.  The book, as is typical for Bryson, is both informative and hilarious.  It was probably a mistake to begin reading it while returning on a plane from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to D.C.  There is something about a man with his head down and shoulders shaking that is disconcerting to the other passengers.  

It is getting late.  I cannot see the top of the desk.  Time to pray as this feast of the Blessed Mother comes to a close.  Tomorrow?  More cleaning, packing and hauling.  

In Christ, 
+Fr. Jack