Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Meditation 2011

The Angel Gabriel was silent.  The Universe held its breath in anxious expectation.  Stillness enveloped the room. The planets halted their orbits. 
And then Mary uttered the words, “May it be done unto me according to your word.”  A joyful sigh came forth from all living things.  The Universe resumed its rhythm and movement.  The fullness of time had come.  God entered the world.

In time and space. 
In flesh and blood. 
Like us in all things but sin. 
Son of God.
Son of Man.  
Son of Mary, the Theotokos, the God-bearer. 

Today we rejoice as we recall and commemorate that Jesus came into this world to redeem us from sin and death.   The story of the Incarnation has been sentimentalized beyond credulity.  Too many artists have depicted Jesus’ birth in treacly fashion, showing Mary dressed in silk and satin trimmed with seed pearls holding  a Jesus who appears to be about six months old at birth.  And there are cherubs hovering overhead resembling nothing so much as a flock of diapered and over-fed sparrows. 

The reality of the Incarnation and all that followed was much harsher than the ghastly sentimental artistic depictions to which we have become accustomed.  Jesus entered into time in a specific place within a specific social and cultural milieu. He was born subject to Jewish law and custom that, as we know from the Gospels, His parents observed and fulfilled. 

Christmas is meaningless and incomplete if we ignore the reality in which, and to which, Jesus was born.  It is both meaningless and incomplete if we ignore the cross.  What began in the wooden manger at Bethlehem came to fruition on the wood of the cross atop Calvary.  The “Christmas Story” does not end with the Gloria in Excelsis Deo of Christmas Eve but with the Alleluia! He is Risen! of the Easter Vigil.  Only then is the story complete.

The greatest theological summary of the mystery of the Incarnation was penned in a haiku composed by Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the U.N.  It was found in a small notebook, eventually titled Markings, which was discovered and published after his death in the Congo.  I froze the first time I read it some 30 years ago and continue to marvel at it, pray with it, preach on it and stand in awe of it. 

In a time when political correctness and governmental fiat forbid the public use of the word Christmas, when the secular authorities permit only what resembles a pagan bacchanal holiday focused on drinking and spending instead of Holy Day, Hammarskjold’s words must never be forgotten. 

On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
was foretold them
In a trumpet fanfare

May you have a Holy and Blessed Christmas rejoicing in what God has done for us despite our unworthiness. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ
Recovery is coming along.  Jake the Jebbybear has been retired to the bookshelf.  Energy is picking up along with my blood count (I assume the blood count is up.  I will have some blood work later this week).  Walked around campus for 42 minutes yesterday and will do the same or more in a bit.  

Attached are some photos from Taiwan at Christmas last year.  I arrived there on 29 December.  It is already Christmas morning (3:15 AM in Taipei) there.  Ignatius expects that upwards of 1200 will attend the Masses.  With Christmas on a Sunday it will be much easier for Catholics to attend Mass in a country in which Christmas is not a holiday.   Oh yes, many of these attend weekly throughout the year.  

The first is of the creche at the Jesuit Retreat House in Changhwa, Taiwan.  We stopped here for a night on the way to Sun Moon Lake shortly after New Year's Day.  I would like to make a retreat here some time.  But not in the summer. 

The next two are from Sacred Heart Church in Tien Center, Taipei where Ignatius is pastor.   I like the separation of the creche in front of the altar with the supporting cast off to the left.  

The next is Fr. Ignatius celebrating Mass.  This photo was taken through one of the windows at the back of the church.  Each pane depicts a particular symbol.   I wish I'd had a tripod then.  It would have been much easier.   I was crouched in a position generally associated with limber gymnasts, not old men.
Finally one of my favorite photos.  I posted a similar one last year.  I was walking to the bus stop to return to Tien Center from Fu-jen Catholic University where I'd gone for dinner a day or so before leaving to Sydney.  There are reasons to carry a camera at all times.  This is one of them.  The dog never budged or even opened its eyes as I shot photo after photo with flash.  

 +In Christ, 
   Fr. Jack, SJ

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Major Typo

I can't figure out how to edit the most recent post.  Even though the bypass was done off-pump my brain is a bit sluggish.  Despite multiple proof reads of the text I missed a glaring mistake.  It should read, "I cannot thank the staff of WHC ENOUGH . . . ."  And I can't.  Excellent care from the moment I entered to register for the catheterization to the day of discharge and all the excitement in-between.  WHC is a large institution that does a large number of caths and bypasses daily.  I never felt isolated, alone or "just a number."  

Can't wait until my brain wakes up fully. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ

Gaudete Sunday and a CABG (Cabbage)

The homily is a bit late to arrive for Sunday.  However, I spent Sunday awaiting discharge from the Washington Hospital Center where I’d undergone quadruple cardiac bypass surgery on Wednesday.  In medical shorthand coronary artery bypass graft is indicated by the acronym CABG with x4, for example, indicating the number of grafts.  It was a surprise only to those I didn’t tell about the symptoms I’d been experiencing for quite a while.  I’ve been practicing medicine much too long not to recognize angina pectoris.  It was, however, quite stable, and I’d treated patients with it for many years.  However, I realized I couldn’t wait any longer.

The experience was as positive as any I’ve ever had.  Pain has been minimal.  No other associated symptoms.  I was up and walking two days after surgery.  Had my blood pressure not remained very low I would have been out of ICU a day earlier than I actually got out.  I cannot thank the staff at WHC for excellent care. 

I will be remaining here in Georgetown for several months to recover before moving to Boston.  At the moment my energy levels are non-existent.  Eat breakfast.  Nap.  Say morning office.  Nap.  Walk halls for 15 minutes.  Nap.  You get the picture. 

Only one photo today.  It was taken by Yang Ke-jia of our community office staff.  It features Jake the Jebbybear, who helps keep my chest together every time I cough; an experience only a bit more pleasant than sneezing.  Perhaps in a few days I’ll have  more energy to sit at the desk and find a few.   

Homily below.   Obviously this one was not written this weekend.  But it says something important about a vastly underappreciated celebration of Advent, leading up to a Great Holy Day not a holiday.

3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)
11 December 2011
Is 61:1-2, 10-11
Lk 1:46
1Thes 5:16-24
Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

Gaudete in Domino semper,
iterum dice gaudete. 
Dominus enim prope est.

“Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I say rejoice! 
The Lord is near.” 

Gaudete.  The first word of the entrance antiphon means “Rejoice.”  It gives the 3rd Sunday of Advent its traditional name: Gaudete Sunday. 

Gaudete is one of the two Sundays on which priests have the option of wearing either the purple vestments of Advent or vestments of dusty rose—NOT absolutely NOTTTTT pink—to demonstrate the beginning of joy, to visually suggest a lessening of advent’s penitential somberness.  Advent is now more than half over.

We begin to rejoice because in the words of the antiphon: 
Dominus enim prope est:
“The Lord is near.”  Very near. 

Only one more Sunday stands between us and the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord;  the feast on which we celebrate that Jesus was born into this world.  The same world in which we now live and breathe.  The same world in which we study and work, rejoice and mourn. 

We celebrate because Jesus walked on this same planet; fully divine and fully human, like us in all things but sin.  We rejoice because through his incarnation, birth, life, passion, death and resurrection he brought us the forgiveness of sins, he opened the gate to life everlasting.  The readings highlight the sense of rejoicing.

From the first:
“I rejoice heartily in the Lord,
in my God is the joy of my soul
for he has clothed me with the robe of salvation”

From the responsorial which is not a psalm but from Luke’s Gospel

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked with favor on his lowly servant
The Lord has clothed me with the robe of salvation.
He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.”

We have been favored; we have been blessed by Christ coming into the world to redeem us from our sins. 

The only possible response to such blessing is to heed Paul’s advice in his Letter to the Thessalonians

“Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks.”

Our rejoicing will increase  gradually over the coming days
until the Gloria in Excelsis Deo  of Christmas explodes throughout the universe.

On Saturday evening the Church’s anticipatory joy will begin another phase as priests, religious, and legions of lay people who daily pray the Divine Office, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Breviary, chant or recite the first of the 7 ancient “O Antiphons” that introduce and end The Magnificat,  Mary’s exquisite prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
My spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant
From this day all generations will call me blessed.

The antiphons are called the “O” antiphons because each one begins with the word “O.”  Each of the antiphons highlights a title for the Messiah and refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. 

On Friday, 17 December, we will sing or recite

“O Wisdom,
O holy Work of God. 
You govern all creation with strong yet tender care. 
Come and show your people the way to salvation.”  

On Monday, 19 December, the antiphon is:

“O flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you. 
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid”

Finally, on December 23 we will chant or recite:

“O Emmanuel,
king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations,
Savior of all people,
come and set us free,
Lord our God.”

The Messiah was foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament.  He was also announced before he began his public ministry by John the Baptist, the bridge between the Old and New Testaments. 

John was Jesus’ kinsman who described himself as unworthy to untie the sandal of the One of whom he spoke.  He was the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord;”

He was the one who had to decrease as Jesus increased. 

The time of waiting is coming to an end.  Very soon, purple vestments will be replaced by white. Veni Veni Emmanuel will be replaced by Adeste Fideles.   Expectant waiting will be replaced by unfettered joy.

Gaudete in Domino semper,
 iterum dice gaudete. 
Dominus enim prope est.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

2nd Sunday of Advent

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent.  Time is moving rapidly as we approach the Great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.   A homily about John the Baptist is attached followed by some disparate photos.  I spent much of today cleaning off the desk, doing laundry and other tasks.  During a break I scrolled through many photos, gabbing ones I felt like grabbing.  No coherence to the choices.

Is 40:1-5,
Ps 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
2 Pt 3:8-14
Mk 1:1-8

One of my favorite memories from med school is of the Saturday night several of us went to dinner in Center City and then to the Forrest Theater to see a performance of "Godspell."  Godspell opened on Broadway in May 1971.  Subtitled, "A Musical Based Upon the Gospel According to St. Matthew," it was quite a romp.   After blowing the shofar the John the Baptist character intoned the words, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."  As more and more voices and musical instruments joined to repeat this invitation, the number became an increasingly loud, complicated and joyous rock dance number.  In Philly most of the cast came onto the stage from the back of the theater, singing and dancing their ways down the aisle.  (I will not attach the You Tube clip of my interpretation of this scene).  This particular song always comes to mind at this time of the year because, no matter which Sunday cycle is being read, the gospel on the second and third Sundays of Advent focuses on John the Baptist, the prophet who was Jesus' herald; the prophet who described himself as unworthy to untie Jesus' sandals.

The degree of John's kinship with Jesus is not clear.  Luke's magnificent first chapter describes the first encounter between John and Jesus.  " . . . and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit cried out in a loud voice and said 'Most Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leapt for joy." 

Who was this herald?  In paintings, movies, and the bizarre modern genre of novels in which Jesus and Mary Magdalene are portrayed as having a bunch of kids and moving to a condo in the Florida Keys, John the Baptist is depicted as something between a drugged-out hippie and a wild-eyed lunatic.  We know he dressed in animal skins and consumed a diet that, by modern standards, may be considered inedible except on a few weird extreme eating shows on the Food Channel, Discovery and their ilk.

Fortunately we have credible testimony about John from a variety of sources.  Luke's gospel, in particular, situates John's appearance in time at around A.D. 27.  In addition to being attested in all four Gospels, John is mentioned in the Antiquities of Josephus, an historian who lived from about A.D. 37 to 100.  He wrote the following about John: "He was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety toward God, and in so doing to join in baptism.  In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism was to be acceptable to God.  They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behavior." 

John's mode of dressing was no different from that of any other desert dweller.  The fur was necessary during cold desert nights.  His diet had nothing to do with radical vegetarianism but with the much more prosaic need to maintain ritual dietary purity according to Jewish law.  His dress and diet are ultimately irrelevant.  His message, however, is as relevant to us today as it was to the ancient Judeans who sought him out and those whom he criticized.  That is the message we must hear if we are to prepare ourselves for the great Feast of Christmas.

Josephus wrote that John "exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety toward God."  Justice toward others.  Piety toward God.  As we approach the great Feast of Christmas--a Holy Day NOT a holiday despite the U.S. government's insistence--we are all called to cry out the good news at the top of our voices.  We are all called to prepare the way of the Lord.

Once I get moved I want to hang some black and white photos.  This is a favorite of Ignatius Hung, SJ in silhouette atop of Ci-en Pagoda at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan.  
While we are in Taiwan, here is a photo of a poster for Christmas at Fu-Jen Catholic University.  
And these are some of the lights hung for Christmas at Fu-Jen. 
And now for Australia.  One rainy day I was playing with photos of a butterfly.  This should be on a late 1960's t-shirt or kid's lunchbox.  It was obviously processed rather heavily. 
In New England we have first, The Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Campion Center in Weston, MA.  Some time in February this will be home as I assume new duties up there.  As noted in an earlier entry I pronounced vows in front of this altar and celebrated my first Mass behind it.  Some day my coffin will lie in front of it.  This is the first photo since it was refurbished, painted and so on.  Looks magnificent.
While at Campion over Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to visit my novitiate classmate John Predmore, SJ. at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, MA.  We did our first long retreat at Gloucester (John also did tertianship in Australia).  The overturned Adirondack chair was a reminder that it is late autumn. 
The next is a photo through the window in an old shed.   There is something very Wyeth Country about this one. 
On the First Sunday of Advent All Saint's Parish in Plymouth, PA had the joy of celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving at which Rev. Mr. William Jenkins served as deacon for the first time following his ordination a day earlier. The photo was taken from the back through the glass doors with the reflections of the main doors on the right.   Bill is the deacon in the middle. 
Continue to have a Blessed Advent Season. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Beginning of the New Liturgical Year

I always feel a bit of a rush when, after saying the morning office, it is time to switch to volume I of the breviary, Advent and Christmas.  With the vigil Mass this evening we begin a new liturgical year.  After the homily some recent photos. 

1st Sunday in Advent
Is 63:16-17, 64:1,3-8
Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Cor 1:3-9
Mk 13:33-37

“Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!”

“O come, O come Emmanuel! 
And ransom captive Israel!”

Today we begin Advent.  We begin a new Church year.  It is the year during which the majority of Sunday Gospel readings will be from Mark.  It is also the day on which we use the new translation of the Roman Missal for the first time.

Unlike Lent, which begins with the visible sign of ashes on our foreheads, Advent simply begins, with little fanfare, on the first of the four Sundays preceding the Great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.  Advent ends with the commemoration of Jesus’ birth.   Advent ends  with the commemoration that Jesus, fully Divine and fully human, was born and lived in this world, the world where we now live and breathe, study and work, celebrate and mourn.

The Latin roots of advent, ad and venire, mean “to come to.”  But that translation does not convey the full meaning of advent.  Pope Benedict writes that advent is the translation of the Greek word parousia  that means presence, but even more specifically means arrival.  Arrival is the beginning of another’s presence but it is not the fullness of that presence. Think about that.

Arrival is the beginning of another’s presence.  It is not the fullness of that presence.

The birth of a baby is only the beginning of a presence that will change and mold the family forever.  Jesus’ birth changed the world.  His ongoing presence continues to affect the world in ways that will never be fully understood or articulated.

Presence is never complete. It is always becoming, it is always unfolding anew.  Presence is always changing and evolving, whether or not the other is physically present.  We have all been— and are even now being—influenced by the presence of others who are physically distant or even dead.  Parents.  Teachers.  Mentors.  Friends.  Though they may never be in the same place as us again, their presence in our lives is tangible.  It is so real as to be almost palpable.  Their presence influences how we live our lives.  Their presence determines in part our decisions and actions.  Their presence in our lives may soothe and comfort us during times of stress or may be a permanent source of anxiety and pain. 

It is impossible not to respond to another’s presence.  Even “ignoring” another’s presence is responding to it. 

Jesus’ presence is an advent presence.  It is an always active presence of “coming to” and of coming “into.”  Coming to our world.  Coming into our lives.  During advent we become particularly aware that Jesus came into this world at a specific time and place.  During advent we become particularly aware that Jesus is also becoming present in the world, in this place at this very moment.  But, it is only the beginning, not the fullness, of His presence.  A fullness that will be known only when each of us passes from life into eternal life. 

Jesus is present in the community of believers, especially when the Church prays as one as we are doing now.  Jesus is present in the Word as it is proclaimed in the assembly.  And, most tangibly, Jesus is present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, bread and wine that will be consecrated, broken, and shared in just a few minutes.  

The Gospel today advises us to watch, to remain awake and alert, for the time that the lord returns.  The Gospel illustrates how the Lord’s presence influences us—or should influence us—at all times. 

We do not know the day or the hour when we will see the Lord.  We do not know the hour or the day when we will be asked to give a full account of our lives.  We can only remain prepared at all times, awake, alert, and engaged in our task. 

As advent progresses toward the great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord we will be reminded of the events of the distant past.  We will also be reminded of events to occur in a distant future.  On the second and third Sundays the Gospel will focus on John the Baptist; the herald of the Lord, the bridge between the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New.  And on the fourth Sunday the Gospel will relate Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth.  We will hear of a presence, of a coming to, of a coming toward, and a coming into.  A presence that changed, and continues to change, the universe. 

As you leave this church today and during the coming weeks recall that, despite the pressure from advertisers, despite the pressure we place on ourselves, despite the carousing and drunkenness of the annual “holiday” parties and despite the governments’ attempts to remove all vestiges of Jesus from Christmas, advent is not a time of preparation for a holiday.  It is the time of preparation for a Holy Day.  A Holy Day on which we commemorate the birth of :

The Messiah.
The anointed one.
Son of God.
Son of David.
Son of Man.
Born of the Virgin Mary.
Like us in all things but sin.  

We are preparing to commemorate the birth of Jesus who came into the world to ransom us from sin and death. 

“Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel”!

Last weekend I was in Plymouth carrying the camera as I walked down Main Street.  This is a photo of the window from Broadmarkle's.  The store was owned and run by two sisters who are probably long dead given that when they were my patients over 30 years ago they were already elderly.  I don't think the store ever reopened after the flood of '72, or perhaps it did for a short period of time.  It has been shuttered for decades but nothing seems to have been done with it.   Where else can one find a display of American flags for sale; flags with only 48 stars?  
I spent Thanksgiving with friends in Marblehead, MA.  Stopped in Lynn, MA while driving up Route 1A along the water.  This is a view of the Boston skyline from a small park and recreation area on the water. 

Chris cooked a terrific Thanksgiving dinner.  There were about 12 of us around the table.  This is the view from the entry foyer. 
The winery at Sevenhill, where we made the long retreat during tertianship (many photos earlier in the blog), is now exporting to the U.S.  The first city to which it is sending its wine is Boston.  I was able to take a bottle of  merlot bottled under the Inigo label (Ignatius' baptismal name) to dinner.  All who drank it enjoyed it.   If you are in Boston look for it.  It is quite good. 
One of the great things about computers is the ability to capture and share old photos via a scanner and a bit of software processing.  This is my parents' wedding photo from 77 years ago.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ