Monday, January 31, 2011

Back in Sydney

We returned from Gerroa Beach this afternoon.  It was not all vacation though the photos may suggest otherwise.  Over the time we spent mornings in prayer, Mass and conferences during which we began to get to know each other by sharing our "outer" stories, the basic facts of our lives and then began sharing our "inner" stories, more difficult discussions of light and shadow, consolation and desolation.    We are coming together as a group of tertians.  It is obvious that we trust each other.  The stories were at times painful to share and difficult but it was safe.  

Over the next days I am going to post daily with multiple photos.  John and I went berserk with our cameras.  Below are photos from the first few days.  

The first is from Sublime Point, an overlook about one hour north of our destination of Gerroa.  

The one below is from Nan Tien (Southern Sky) Buddhist Temple, a temple founded by monks from Taiwan.  It is beautiful in a superb setting.  Took many photos there. 

I hate to do this to those of you in the Northeastern U.S.  This is the view of Seven Mile Beach National Park from the house at sunset as the tide was going out.  One of the other men, Michael and I would walk the beach for an hour every night after dark.  No flashlight necessary.  Amazing sky.

I have no idea why this one moved.  This is the view of Seven Mile Beach from the side door to the house.  Note the "Crooked River" entering the ocean off to the right.  We had to walk a bit on the road to access a bridge across the river.  Tough life. 

Below is Seven Mile Beach and the river on a Sunday morning.  The sun in Oz is intense.  Most people get off the beach by noon.  The TV commercials warning about the risk of melanoma with prolonged sun exposure are dramatic here.   I don't know why but the colors are terrifically vibrant down here. 

Now I know how to move photos.  This is "Jesuit Beach" directly in front of the house.  There are almost no private beaches in Australia.  All we had to do to access this part was walk down a set of steps.  Note, I did not retouch the color in this photo or any of the others, except the b&w one.  This is how the colors came out in the camera.

"The sun has gone to bed and so must I."  Today was a long one.  Up early to walk on the beach at 5:30 AM to take photos (coming later), clean the house, pack the cars and ride back.  This was sunset our first night at Gerroa.  We all wanted to have the long retreat here but that isn't going to happen.  The only problem was no tripod.  Three of us may return for a weekend some time later in the year on a photographic journey.  

More photos tomorrow.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

The King’s Speech. . . . and some photos

Q.        How many Jesuits does it take to  find the local movie theater?

A.         More than four. 

Two cars left Canisius after Mass yesterday to travel four or five miles (can’t get the hang of kilometers) to see the King’s Speech.  The direction ‘pass the mall and turn left’ sounded good in practice but on the highway it proved too vague.  Suddenly, our car was on the entrance to a toll road with no options but to get on, get off at the next exit, and try to find the theater. 

We eventually got to the mall and found the theater but it was way late.  The next show was not until 9:10.  OK.  We had missed dinner and decided to get something to eat.  As this particular mall is arranged with all the logic of Boston's street grid we couldn’t find the particular spot we wanted. Michael Ku, a Korean tertian, had a great idea.  We were about 2 miles from the restaurant recently opened by his high school classmate from Korea.  He called Sam and, after a few more phone calls to ascertain the route, we arrived. 

It turns out that missing the movie was the best thing we could have done.  Sam, his wife Susan, and their daughter Stella greeted us warmly. The meal, Korean barbecue was terrific.  Lots of fresh vegetables, many of them in various forms of kimchi, and some grilled marinated, very very thinly sliced beef.  Terrific night. 

We missed a turn and thus the movie.  Instead we had an unplanned and absolutely terrific Korean meal, made some new friends in Australia, and had what can only be described as a bonding experience.  What began with frustration ended in laughter and companionship.  That is what community life is about.

This evening after dinner Vincent and John, both Vietnamese tertians, and I made 150 spring rolls which will go to the coast with us tomorrow.  I was definitely sous chef as these are trickier to roll than glombki or pierogi.  Chopping.  Grating.  Squeezing.  That I can do.  We will eat well. 

Earlier today, while wandering around, I saw the opportunity to get the photos below.  Given the wind, light and a few other conditions it took 50 shots to get a few good ones.  Australia is home to a lot of unique insects.  This was not too exotic; a moth caught in a spider’s web.  There was a happy outcome.  While getting the last few shots the wind blew the web right into the camera’s lens, the web broke and the moth flew away. 

Will be off line for the next ten days as we go to Geroa for intense conversation and a chance to get to know each other without the distractions of the city and large community life.  Then the real work begins.

Well, I really can't pass up the opportunity to post this other photo.  As noted the other day, picture taking is not allowed in the gift shop at the Sydney Opera House.  I didn't know that until the shots  were downloaded to the computer.  After seeing Sydney Opera House Barbie it is easy to understand why photos are not allowed.   All I can think of is Sally Rand (those of you under 60 ask your mom).  Tacky souvenirs are apparently not limited to the USA.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Photos of Sydney

Great trip downtown.  It was cloudy.  One brief shower.  But, it was cool though humid.  We spent several hours walking.  The botanical garden is exquisite.  Once we return from the coast I expect to spend a lot of time there.    The pix in order from top to bottom are: 
1.  Bats hanging upside down on trees in the botanical garden.  There were hundreds of them.  Huge.  Saw a few flying by the community the other day.  Impressive wingspans. 
2.  A flower with a few raindrops in the botanical garden
3.  The Catholic Cathedral.  Major disappointment is that no photography is allowed inside (and the guards have no sense of humor about it).  
4.  Masks at the Sydney Opera House gift shop.  Honest, I didn't see the no photographs sign until looking at them here (cropped it out).
5.  Millennium Bridge in b&w.  Black and white adds something that color doesn't have.
6.  Sydney Opera House shot through a decorative fence.
7.  Sydney Opera House unobstructed. 

It is already Thursday here.  On Saturday we will leave in the early afternoon for the coast.  We've been asked not to take computers.  Certainly not to get into e-mail and all that.  So there will be some silence.  I will however take the camera.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

To Downtown Sydney                    

The tertianship is in the suburb of Pymble.  Nice suburb but definitely a suburb.  In an hour (it is 8:30 AM Wednesday) five or six of us will hop the train for the 37 minute ride into downtown Sydney.  It will be a short day as we are to be back by 6 PM for the formal beginning of the tertianship. 

I celebrated community Mass on Saturday at 5:30 PM.  Though prepared to preach on the Mass of the day (Saturday), because the Mass was at 5:30 we decided at the last minute to celebrate the vigil for Sunday.  Several of the men were in the throes of jet lag and sleeping in on Sunday was an attractive option.  It was one of the rare moments that I preached without notes or preparation.  As I’d not yet read Sunday’s readings I heard them for the first time during Mass.

Saved by the psalm.  The response to the psalm was, ‘Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.’  The reading from Samuel which contains this phrase was one of the readings at our vow Mass in 1999.  It is a nice bridge between these two parts of Jesuit life and has stayed with me for the past several days.  It was the topic of the short homily which cannot be recreated below, but the thoughts are the same.

Beginning tertianship is like beginning novitiate without the fear and anxiety.  The two who have been Jesuits for the shortest period of time entered 13 years ago.  The uncertainty is absent.  We know what we are doing, why we are doing it, and, at least in some vague sense, how we wish to do it for the rest of our lives.

The psalm response, ‘Here I am Lord, I come to do your will’ encapsulates our desires as tertians just as it stated our desires at the end of novitiate.  No, we are not seeking God’s will as to whether or not we have a vocation to the Society.  Rather, we are seeking how we will respond, live, and work as men in final vows, fully incorporated into the fabric of the Society of Jesus.  We could not have prayed this way in the novitiate because we did not know the questions to say nothing of the answers.  Now, however, it is different.  We begin this period, an experience that resembles the structure of the novitiate.   But, the experience will be compressed into seven months compared with the 24 we spent as novices.  There will be anxieties but they will have a different content.  

A few friends responded to questions about making the long retreat a second time as tertians with the unanimous opinion that it is different, gentler, and a deeper experience of the Exercises than it was as a first-year novice.  But, as those of us in New England heard time and again from the men a year ahead of us in the novitiate, “You’ll understand after the long retreat” or, “You’ll understand after vows” we will understand only after we have finished tertianship. 

As I shared these thoughts with the half dozen classmates who were already here (two more to arrive) I saw the preacher’s/teacher’s favorite sign:  head nodding, especially when I noted the absence of the anxiety we felt on entry day.

Time to hit the shower, pack the camera, and head to the city.  Photos in a day or two.    

Friday, January 14, 2011

A reflection and pix of Canisius College

Today’s gospel (Mark 2:1-12) includes the dramatic and complex story of the paralytic whose friends, when they were unable to get him close to Jesus because of the crowd in a house, climbed the roof, removed tiles and lowered him into the room.  Jesus said to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” His words upset the scribes who began thinking blasphemy whereupon Jesus confronted them and things continue for a few more verses.

One can preach or write on any number of threads that  make up the fabric of this narrative.   The thread that is routinely ignored in homilies—most likely because the scribes’ reaction, the forgiveness of sins, and the nature of the confrontation are so rich for preaching—is the crucial role of the man’s four friends.  Where would he have been without them?  These men exerted themselves to carry him to Jesus and then, with considerable ingenuity, to get him up to the roof, remove tiles, and slowly lower him to the floor.  These four men make one of the most underrated cameo appearances in all of scripture.  Despite their anonymity they can, perhaps because of their anonymity they should, be role models for us.

They represent the community each of us needs around him or her self; the community in which each of us must be an active participant:  the community of pray-ers.  The community of those who help us through their prayer and, when needed, their actions, be it bearing us on a stretcher—metaphorical or actual—driving us to chemotherapy sessions, or being a silent presence when solitude is too difficult to bear.   

Oftentimes at community Mass—in almost any religious community in which I’ve attended or celebrated Mass—one hears a petition to the effect:  “For those for whom we’ve promised to pray; let us pray to the Lord.” Many  pray daily for specific people and intentions.  What greater gift is there? What about those who pray for us?  Do we return the gift?

While waiting at Dulles for the plane to San Francisco in December a pilot for United Airlines stopped me.  He noticed two things: my collar and the “Penn State” emblazoned on my jacket.  A graduate of Annapolis he grew up in Western Pennsylvania and wondered if I was a Penn State alumnus.  After a short chat, and before we continued in opposite directions, he asked my name so that he could add me to his prayer list.  I was deeply touched.  

Despite routinely hearing petitions for those for whom we’ve promised to pray I don’t think I’ve ever heard, “For those who have promised to pray for us; let us pray to the Lord.”  Yet, that would be the perfect way to express our gratitude for those men and women whose prayers have lowered us through the roof into Jesus’ presence; for those who prayed for us when we were unable to pray ourselves. 

We, like the paralytic, are all sinners.  Yet, like the paralytic, our sins can be forgiven.  May we be blessed with the kind of friends that he was, the kind of friends whose prayer makes that forgiveness possible by bringing us somehow into Jesus' presence when we can't get ourselves there. 

The photos below include the entrance to the tertians’s wing at the house, the front yard, main chapel and main entrance at Canisius College and finally, my room.   Apologies in advance to those of you in Boston digging out from the snow.  I hope to get into downtown Sydney with the camera soon.  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In Sydney

I arrived here on Tuesday 11 January after what can only be described as a wretched 9-hour overnight flight.  Until today I felt worse than I did after the 20-hour overnight flight from D.C. to Taipei.  Go figure. 

Initial impressions are very positive.  The house is large and rambling (also a little confusing for a man with no sense of direction).  It contains three distinct communities.  There had been four but the novitiate community moved to Melbourne, where the tertian community will move after this year.  Part of the reason for the move is that Pymble is a very posh suburb.  Something like the Australian equivalent of Bryn Mawr.  The house will be put to very good use as a retreat and conference center as well as continuing to be used for the retired men. 

The community is welcoming.  Indeed, it seems as if most of the Australians I’ve met (which has not been a lot yet) are welcoming.  Food in the house is good and well balanced.  Lots of fresh fruit (it is summer here) makes me very happy.   A fresh mango for desert beats ice-cream any day.

Earlier this evening before Mass I found myself meditating on the words ‘in the fullness of’ time.’  I am the oldest man in the group by 6 years.  However, I am the second youngest Jesuit by a few weeks and the second most recently ordained priest by two months or so. 

During novitiate I recall running in frigid temperatures one morning during the long retreat perplexed as to what brought a then 48 year-old man, successful physician and teacher, into a group where there was no guarantee, at the time, that I would ever practice medicine or psychiatry again.  It was a rough stretch of the retreat as this thought had been haunting me for a day or two.  And then i heard the words, ‘in the fullness of time’.  The perplexity lifted and has never returned.  I was where I belonged, in the province to which I was called, with the novice master I needed.  End of argument.  The fullness of time had come.  For that reason I don’t particularly care to be referred to as a “late vocation.”  There was nothing late about it.  It was precisely on time. 

That is how things feel now.  This is the right time to break from everything I’ve been doing as Jesuit for the past 13 plus years for this graced time of tertianship.  The question of what I will do after finishing tertianship is an open one.  It will remain open for as long as possible. 

Five of the 12 are in the house and the rest will be arriving in the next few days.  The tertianship begins on Thursday 20 January at dinner.  

Spent this afternoon taking photos around the house and grounds.  Will download them to the computer later and post them tomorrow. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

There were five adult baptisms at the 5 PM Mass at the parish here in Taiwan.  Watching a baptism or administering the sacrament is always touching and standing the choir loft was no exception.  The expected emotional storm hit.  Four women and one man were baptized and received into the Church.  They smiled.  They wept.  It was a powerful moment watching Ignatius pour the water over their heads.  The parish has a good approach to the white garment.  The women received white lace veils and the man a white cape over his shoulders.  

I was taking photos (of course).  They did not come out as well as hoped.  Seem to be having trouble with the autofocus.  However, I will attach one that is of acceptable quality.  

In forty-eight hours I'll be on the way to the airport to catch the flight to Sydney.  Am getting eager. 

The Baptism of the Lord (Sacred Heart Parish Taipei, Taiwan)
9 January 2011
Is 42:1-4,6-7
Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Acts 10:34-38
Mt 3:13-17

Back when I was a kid some fifty years ago, one of the most popular shows on television in the U.S. was the Art Linkletter Show.  It was a mix of variety and talk show.  The show’s most popular feature by far was a segment titled: “Kids Say the Darndest Things. ” Art would ask three or four children a simple question about what they liked or didn’t like, what their mommy was like and so on. Truer words have rarely been spoken. Kids DID say the darndest things with uninhibited honesty.   Some times it takes a child to point out what should be obvious to everyone else.   

About a year ago, my former chief resident Nick phoned early in the evening.  He was laughing.  Nick and his wife Susan had been looking at pictures of nine month-old Maya’s baptism with Sophie, Maya’s  older sister, their three year-old daughter.  While looking at the group photo taken near the baptismal font Sophie began pointing to various participants:  “Here’s mommy.  That’s daddy.  There is nana and grandpop.  That’s  ME”—she said that with a particular note of pride.  She then pointed to the priest in his long white vestments and asked, “Is that Jesus?”  Daddy and mommy dissolved into helpless laughter.

In fact she got it right.  Not by confusing the priest with Jesus.  She got it right by seeing Jesus present at Maya’s baptism. 

In the Church, today’s feast, the Baptism of the Lord, marks the end of the Christmas season.  Tomorrow we resume ordinary time with green vestments until the beginning of lent on Ash Wednesday.

In the New Testament Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry. 

There is no doubt that Jesus was baptized.  All four gospels tell of His baptism.  There is the usual variance in the description of the details.  John’s gospel is particularly cloudy.  The importance of Jesus’ baptism does not hinge on how it was performed, however, but on the significance of that baptism.  It does not matter if water was poured over His head or if He was totally immersed in the river.  The importance of Jesus’ baptism is what it means for us.  Today.  Here in Taipei and throughout the world. 

This is where Sophie’s question becomes relevant and theologically sophisticated. 

The readings, the Psalm, and the Gospel are all concerned with the significance of this event.

The majority of first readings during Advent and the Christmas season are from Isaiah, particularly what are called the servant songs.  The servant, as described in today’s reading, accomplishes his mission with quiet strength rather than brute force.  Why does Isaiah mention a bruised reed or a smoldering wick at all?  One commentator notes that the image indicates the servant’s gentle respect for others—and even his awareness of a hint of strength in their weakness.  What better description is there for Jesus in His public life?  Jesus who forgave the woman caught in adultery, Jesus who cleansed lepers, Jesus who prayed “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”?

Peter’s statements in the second reading elaborate Isaiah’s prophecy.  But, rather than speaking prophetically he is speaking historically.  Peter gives a brief synopsis of Jesus’ baptism by John and of Jesus’ ministry; a ministry which was possible only because “God was with him.” 

Peter’s statement that God shows no favoritism is central.  “In truth I see that God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” It does not matter if one is economically disadvantaged or wealthy.  It is irrelevant if one belongs to the inner circle or is far outside that circle. Our social status does not make us acceptable or unacceptable to God.  What makes us acceptable to God is how we respond to His goodness; how we respond to His presence in our lives.  Living in faith, and acting on that faith, is what ultimately matters. 

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters
The LORD over the vast waters.
The voice of the LORD is mighty
The voice of the LORD is majestic.”

The psalm foretells the Gospel.  Thus we hear God’s voice as Jesus emerges from the water: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  The role of John the Baptist as herald is officially over.  The one whose coming he announced has come.  He will fade into the background.

There are three ways to understand baptism in the New Testament.  The first is the most obvious:  washing, which is the literal meaning of the Greek root baptein or baptizein.  For us the washing includes forgiveness of sin.  But sin was the one human characteristic Jesus did not share with us.  Then why was He baptized?

The second New Testament understanding of baptism is that of dying and rising again. Baptism presaged the baptism of blood Jesus was to undergo at His crucifixion, His death, His burial, and His resurrection.  For us the waters of baptism suggest drowning in order to live anew, dying so as to live again. 

The third understanding of baptism in the New Testament is that of new birth; a birth in the Spirit, a very Pentecostal theme. 

There is one fact that unites all three understandings of baptism.  And this is where little Sophie proved herself to be a three-year old theologian. 
In all three meanings or understandings of baptism:  as washing, as dying and rising, or as new birth, Jesus Christ is the agent.  Jesus is there.  Perhaps He is smiling.  He may be looking on with concern and love; rather like Nick and Susan, and Sophie and the rest of the family looked on at Maya’s baptism.  Was Jesus’ hand underneath supporting little Maya as she was anointed with the oil of catechumens?  Was she cupped in Jesus’ hand as the waters of baptism were poured over her head? 

The name Sophia or Sophie means ‘wisdom.’  With the wisdom of a child, the wisdom that can see around corners and understand faint background shadows that are invisible to adult eyes, Sophie showed that she understood this celebration of her sister’s baptism.  But, she also understood today’s Feast of  the Baptism of the Lord.  Like us in all things but sin, Jesus, like us, received the waters of baptism . . . .He is present when we receive those same waters.  And He remains with us forever.

Friday, January 7, 2011

8 January 2011

8 January 2010

The time here in Taiwan has passed quickly.  After Masses on Sunday Ignatius and I went to Sun Moon Lake for two nights.  Sun Moon Lake has a special place in my heart.  We went down there the day after I arrived on my first trip in 2002 and again in 2008.  It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  Except for excursion boats there is no recreation on the lake.  No swimming, water skiing and, a fact for which one can only sing the Te Deum, no jet skis, the most appalling pseudoexercise noise-making machine ever invented.  The weather ranged from spring-like to rather cool.  After leaving Sun Moon Lake we went to the Jesuit retreat house (and former novitiate) in Chunghwa.  After spending a night there we visited two of Ignatius’ seven siblings who still live in their home town, his mother’s grave, the town of Puli and a few other sites.  The (long) day ended with dinner hosted by mutual friends. 

I’ve taken over 900 photographs.  One of the joys of digital photography is the ability to take many different exposures without the cost of processing.  Editing the output requires discipline to say the least.  I have to remind myself that I will be back in August and will thus has further opportunity to shoot.

The food, be it in the community, at the night market, in a restaurant, or, as was true yesterday at Ignatius’ brother’s house, has been fantastic.  Much lower in sugar; many steamed dishes, and terrific flavor describes every meal I’ve eaten here.  Absolutely no desire for a burger and fries.

Last night, Friday, I went to the theologate at Fu Jen Catholic University for dinner with Jesuit theologians from all over the world.  One of the most exciting aspects of being a Jesuit is the international nature of the Society.  It is not an exaggeration to say that I an go to any populated continent in the world and live with Jesuits with whom I have worked, studied, or lived.  Someone once joked that the Society of Jesus is the largest Bed and Breakfast organization in the world if you belong.  No reason to debate that statement.  

Just figured out how to post photos which I will now do regularly.  The four shown here are, from top to bottom, Longhshan Temple in the oldest part of Taipei.  We visited there on New Year's Eve.  The second is a black and white of the pavilion at the base of Ci-en Pagoda at Sun Moon Lake.  The pagoda was built by Chiang Kai-shek in memory of his mother.  The third is a view from the top of the pagoda while the bottom is a view of the pagoda (look closely at the top of the mountain) from our room at Sun Moon Lake.  The pagoda is 1 kilometer above the lake.  It was a quite a climb.  My cardiologist would have been proud.  

The photo below is from last night.  Walking back to the bus at Fu Jen Catholic University with  Fr. Stephen Law, SJ I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the pooch dozing in the straw in the creche in front of the university chapel.  

Will post the homily for tomorrow morning, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord later.