Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Tough Anniversary

Three years ago today, May 30, 2008, was one of the most difficult of days of my priesthood.  I suspect it will always be remembered as such.  It was my first funeral. It was for Chris Alex, my roommate sophomore year at Penn State and lifelong friend. We met an hour after arriving on campus for freshman orientation on September 15, 1968.  We had been assigned to Nittany Hall 31, a green pentagonal barracks, built as temporary housing during WW II, that was ugly and cramped. And, of course, we had a great time.  I lived across the hall from Chris and his roommate Paul Vespa.  Al Stewart lived next to Paul and Chris.  For the next two years the four of us were generally hanging out together in some combination, particularly at football games.  During sophomore year Chris and I lived together in Geary Hall while Al and Paul were in a nearby dorm.  A year later Chris and Paul moved into fraternity houses and Al and I took an apartment downtown. 

It is impossible to understand what brings two strangers together as friends within a matter of days and allows them to remain friends for 40 years.  Proximity is a large part of it.  It took years to figure out why Chris and I became friends almost instantly and, with the usual periods of separation after college, remained friends until his death.  But then it hit me.  Despite having just returned from a year as an exchange student in Brazil and traveling through South America, I realized that Chris Alex was the most exotic man I’d ever met in my life. 

I was (and still am) a kid from Plymouth, PA in the middle of the hard coal mining regions of Northeastern PA.  Beer, bowling and poker were the limits of my experience growing up.  Chris was an alien species.  He sailed yachts competitively.  He was on a lacrosse scholarship, an unknown sport in Northeastern PA at the time. He played bridge.  He was from LAWWWWNG Island (Yes, he had a rather marked accent when he said Long).  And, he knew how to make a martini.  I could not tell the story of the great sophomore year martini party in our room during the homily at his funeral because we were in sacred space.  Suffice it to say that gin has not crossed my lips since fall term 1969.  There are no plans to indulge in it any time soon.

We went to every football game (and won every one until the third game junior year), took long walks and drives, had some wicked arguments, ate 2 AM breakfasts downtown and everything else associated with being in college at the time.  Chris had a particular propensity to playing practical jokes and, on one occasion, paying dearly for it.

Life changed dramatically about on hour before I left Washington to drive to Plymouth for Christmas 2007.   At the last moment I checked e-mail before turning off the computer. There was a message from Chris asking me to call him if I was in the country (Chris hated using a phone. Initiate a phone call?  Not on your life).  I called.  He had just been told there was a mass in his chest. 

I won’t go into the details of that Christmas except to say that it taxed everything I knew about internal medicine and tapped every medical connection I had in the Boston area.  He was very ill.  Because of the on-call schedule I couldn’t get to Boston until the week after New Year’s.  That was the first of five trips to Boston in four months, the fifth trip being for the funeral. 

The following appeared in an interview I gave to the Temple Medical School Alumni Magazine a few months after Chris died.  The question was about being both priest and physician.  “My first funeral Mass at the end of May was for my roommate at Penn State.  More than anything else Chris’ illness and death brought my two vocations together.  When he was diagnosed with cancer in December every physician synapse was called into action.  Dr. Siberski received the pathology report, made phone calls to physicians and later sat with his wife as she heard grim news about rapid disease progression.  Father Jack sat at his bedside talking with him when he was awake and praying quietly as he slept. 

I last saw Chris in the Mass General ICU twelve days before he died.  An hour after he died his wife called and asked me to celebrate the funeral Mass.  After hanging up I sat down and cried; a physician who had lost another encounter with death.  Preaching the funeral homily was anguish.  Yet, a few minutes later during the consecration, I had a mystical experience that was almost frightening; a sense of pure being in which time was suspended with emotions beyond sorrow, joy, or any other affect I can describe.  The physician had lost the encounter with death; the priest hadn’t.”

I will never forget that feeling during the consecration.  It was when I felt Chris’ presence most intensely and realized that those forty years of friendship, particularly the times at Penn State, would never be lost; nor would Chris as long as I had a memory.  It was and is the friendship with Chris, Al, and Paul that made my memories of being at University Park so great.  I can still recall a long walk with Chris on homecoming eve freshman year.  He had just received a call from home that one of his closest friends from high school had been killed in an airplane crash.  His dad, a dentist, had to identify her from dental records.  He was totally shaken.  We both were.  Two teenagers were confronting mortality for the first time.  We walked miles and talked a lot. The confrontation with mortality was no easier some forty years later but it was also tinged with the firm belief in the promise of everlasting life. 

Christine chose the responsorial psalm for the Mass wisely.  

Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep

They rejoiced that the sea grew calm.

For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven,
they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;

They rejoiced that the sea grew calm.

They reeled and staggered like drunken men,
and were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress

They rejoiced that the sea grew calm.

He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

They rejoiced that the sea grew calm.

It has been a long three years.  However, I rejoice in the forty years that preceded them.  The picture below was taken about 2 hours after the ordination Mass at St. Ignatius Church in Boston.  Except for gray hair and facial hair (also gray) we look just as we did at Penn State. 
In fact, we both weighed about the same or less than we did in college.  That ain't bad after 40 years.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Food glorious food . . . .

The drive to The Great Ocean Road was scrapped due to weather and the fact that we would be heading about 100 miles away from Sydney.  Will leave tomorrow early AM for the drive to Sydney.  With an unplanned morning I took the camera and went back to the Victoria Market to do some 'virtual eating.'  Had an individual pizza and some coffee at lunch but visually consumed thousands of calories (note I've lost about 20 pounds since leaving the U.S.).  I would prefer to take photos of food and objects, close up detailed photos, compared with landscapes of a beach.  These are a few of the 200 shots from the market. 

One of the things I miss most since moving into a large community is the opportunity to bake bread.  These loaves caught my eye. 
When I lived on the mountain in Vermont there were winter weekends during which going out was impossible.  I always had cheese in the house and would bake several loaves of bread.  What goes better with bread than cheese?  Even peanut butter and jelly has to be in second place. 
Unfortunately I didn't think to buy one of these chili salamis.  This particular stall did not make sandwiches etc which was a pity.  I certainly would have had some.  In the words of the Everly Brothers hit I can "Dream, dream, dream , dream, dream, dreaaaaaam. . . . . "
I invited the proprietors of the next stand to attend the next Kielbasa Festival in Plymouth.  I don't think they can make it. 
Did God ever intend for us to eat macaroons this color?  Reminds me of the Russell Stover summer candies that appeared in dad's office on a regular basis.
The Market has non-food items as well.  These boomerangs decorated with indigenous art patterns were available in several locations. 
And then there were the didgeridoos.  Interesting sound. 
At some point I walked to Our Lady Star of the Sea for the noon Mass.  On the way I saw this unique and very eye-catching (assaulting actually) advertisement. 

And finally the "Voodoo Knife Holder" in a kitchenware shop near the market.  

After a month on the road it will be good to get back home for a few weeks before going off again.  
+Fr. Jack

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ready to relocate

Sun.  The sun came out yesterday.  I left the community at about 10:30 and returned at about 3:00.  The rain returned later in the evening but yesterday was on par with the most glorious October day in the Northeast U.S. one could imagine.  The leaves are turning, it was cool and windy, just perfect for a sweatshirt and jacket.  Have fallen in love with Melbourne.  It is walkable and interesting.  I stumbled on the Queen Victoria Market. Were one to take the (indoor) Reading Terminal Market and (outdoor) Italian Market in Philadelphia, the outdoor market near Quincy Market in Boston and add a touch of Target (cheap clothes and $10 watches) in an area the size of Penn State University Park (or so it seemed) you would have the the Queen Victoria Market.  What a find.  Most of the photos below are from there.  Will be returning later with Michael to grab lunch (it is going to rain again!).  We will head out tomorrow to visit the Great Ocean Road and then begin to wend our way back to Sydney.  The tertian's daily conferences resume on Tuesday for 2 1/2 weeks before we leave for the next experiment.  

Caution:  do not look at some of these photos if you are hungry.  

This is the Jesuit community at the theological college in sunlight. 

The next two are from the chapel at Trinity College of the University of Melbourne just up the street.  It is an Anglican Church.  Wish I'd had the tripod (which was back at the community).  

This is the main entrance to the sprawling market. 
There were several aisles of vegetable and fruit stalls like this one.  
All of the produce was beautifully displayed. 
The market is divided into sections for meat, chicken, fish, vegetables etc.  This photo could have been taken at the Reading Terminal market.   Except there were no Pennsylvania Dutch and, while I had a great boreg for lunch, no Fischer's Soft Pretzels (I would kill for one of those at the moment).
The fish and seafood section smelled as if I was walking along a pristine coast line.  No smell of fish just salt water.  These were as fresh as fish can be with moving. 
I'm not sure what it is with Australians and elaborate jeweled masks.  This is the second time I've run into the these.  While the first time, at the Sydney Opera House Gift Shop, made some sense I can't figure these out.  Nonetheless, they are interesting subjects for photography and digital manipulation. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Vacation in Melbourne

We have the week off.  Staying in Melbourne at the Jesuit Community in Parkville (not Parkside as previously noted, chalk it up to jet lag).  The community houses the scholastics studying philosophy and theology.  I spent several hours yesterday wandering around the University of Melbourne (founded in 1853, two years before Penn State) with my camera.  Rain (what else?) was intermittent.  Some of the results below. 

The first is the Royal Parade which reminds me of the Back Bay portion of Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.  
This is the community.   It consists of ten townhouses that form five clusters of two houses.  Michael and I are staying in the end on the left.  
Next is St. Carthage's Catholic Church just up the street from the community.  Small but lovely place.  
This is the main entrance to the uni (as it is called here) from just inside.  
Next is a detail of the ceiling in the Old Quad.  Can't imagine seeing this kind of construction detail ever again. 
Finally, it was raining.  Uni students are smart and they come in out of the rain. 
Off to visit a friend and then a day wandering around Melbourne.  The community location is such that I can walk downtown or hop a tram to get to other points of interest.  Later in the week we may drive down to the Great Ocean Road for a bit before heading back to Sydney with a planned arrival there on Friday.  
+Fr. Jack

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Warrnambool in the rearview mirrow

Will be heading off to Melbourne in a few hours.  After two or three days in the Jesuit community in Parkside, which is in the center of the city near the university, Michael and I will drive back to Sydney.  Twelve hours.  In the car.  Ugh.  Not ugh being in a car with Michael but driving/riding for 12 hours.  Driving is not relaxing when you have to think every moment, particularly during turns, about what you are doing.  It is also a long long drive.  

Nonetheless, the time in Warrnambool was deeply consoling.  We closed the retreat yesterday and then had time to chat over "a cuppa" and some sweets.  I celebrated Mass last evening.  Homily attached here with some photos.  Alas, the weather, the fact that it gets dark at 5 PM (it is winter down here) and persistent rain conspired against a lot of photos.  However, I did get down to the beach for about two hours on Wednesday and have included a few of the photos as well as one that I played with on a day off when the rain prevented leaving the house.  

5th Sunday of Easter
21 May 2011
Acts 6:1-7
Psalm 33
1 Ptr 2:4-9
Jn 14:1-12

The readings from Acts of the Apostles, readings that are particularly prominent in the Easter season, narrate the earliest history of our Church.   At the end of the first reading on Tuesday we heard, “And it was at Antioch that they were first called Christians.” 

Today we hear more of that early history, warts and all.  Being a member of the Christian community has never been easy.  That we are sinners has been made obvious again and again throughout history; the history of the Church, the history of the world and our own personal histories. 

Just as parents hear something like, “Mommmmm, it isn’t fair.  You gave her a bigger piece.”  The Greeks complained that the Hebrews weren’t  fair in the distribution of food.  It is more than likely that the Hebrews had their own complaints about fairness against the Greeks.  Human behaviors haven’t changed in thousands of years.   We are no worse.  But we are no better either.

In response to the complaints within the community this reading from Acts describes the beginning of the order of deacon, men chosen and specially ordained through the laying on of hands, to serve the community in a specific way.  

A close reading of scripture reminds us that what we have in the Church today, the Eucharist, the hierarchy and even the human squabbles and disagreements, have been with us from the very beginning.

The second reading from the First Letter of Peter is taken from a section subtitled, “The Dignity of the Christian Vocation,” the dignity in the inherent call to being Christian.  “Like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house . . .”

The Church is always under construction, it is always being rebuilt and remodeled.  Over the next few months we will experience some very obvious rebuilding with the new prayers for the Mass will highlight that constant work of the Church in her greatest prayer and worship. 

The ultimate integrity of that spiritual edifice built of living stone, depends solely on Jesus remaining the cornerstone, the stone without which everything would collapse. 

Both Thomas and Phillip have interchanges with Jesus in the Gospel.  They are revealing. 

Jesus responds to Thomas’ question, “how can we know the way?”  with a triple I AM statement, a statement that is a perfect summary of Him as the Revealer of God the Father: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  

Just as was true in the Gospel last Sunday, we hear another exclusive statement:  I am the only way to salvation.  Only Jesus is the way in a world with many blind alleys.  Only Jesus is the truth in a world of lies.  Only Jesus is the life in a society Blessed John Paul II characterized as a “culture of death.”  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life.  Only He is the cornerstone.

Philip’s request reflects the inability of the disciples truly recognize Jesus before the experience of Pentecost. “Show us the Father, that will be enough for us.”  One can sense Jesus’ irritation at the request.  “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  The only access to “seeing” God is through the Son, the Son who took on human flesh, who took on human concerns, who lived life the same way we do. 

The only way to “see” God is to see the Son who was tempted but who, unlike us, did not sin.  There is no direct vision of God only the indirect vision of faith.  All that Jesus is for us, He is by reason of His obedience to do the Father’s will.  Therefore, the works He does, the signs He performs, the words He speaks and the revelation He brings are all the work of the Father, are all windows to see the Father.

Later on in John’s Gospel we will hear a beatitude to add to those from the Sermon on the Mount:  “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.”

Only as we allow ourselves to become the living stones of the Church, only as we allow ourselves to be held in place by Jesus the cornerstone, can we truly sing, as we will in a few minutes: Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the Highest.

The beach was about twenty minutes and one big hill by foot from the house.  
Three men were cleaning their catch of fish.  The sea gulls were going wild. 
The first picture showed the bay.  This one is opposite the first on the other side of the breakwater.  The tip is called Thunder Point.  It was getting cold and too dark to continue walking to the point as it was going to take an hour to walk home. 
Snakes?  Who in his right mind is going to go into the water at Shipwreck Beach? 
This last is the result of hours at the desk playing with photos.  The moth got stuck in a spider web.  And then it got stuck in Aperture 3. 
Off to empty the dryer and finish packing. 
+Fr. Jack

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A homily first and then some widlife

The photos are from the Adelaide Zoo a few weeks ago.  The weather here in Warrnambool has not been cooperative.  I don’t mind consistent 45 to 50 degree days.  However, the rain is another matter.  This is not the kind of “walking in the rain” shower that rock groups sang about in the 60’s.  This is hurricane Agnes with heavy wind downpours coming on unexpectedly.  The showers only last a few minutes to ½ hour but that is plenty to ruin a camera.  Things appear to be improving now so I am hoping I can get down to the beach on Wednesday or even tomorrow (Sunday).   See below the homily for the pix.

4th Sunday of Easter
15 May 2011
Acts 2:14, 36-41
Ps 23
1 Pet 2:20-25
Jn 10:1-10

The Our Father is the one prayer that is shared by all Christians.  Today’s responsorial psalm, the 23rd psalm, is the one psalm, most likely the only one of the 150 in the psalter, that is universally familiar to believer and non-believer alike.  It is shared by Jew and Christian. 

“The Lord is my shepherd
There is nothing I shall want.”

It is a psalm of comfort and refuge. The images console those who mourn.  The words promise safety to those who fear. The verses enfold us in a warm embrace.  Today this beloved psalm leads us into the second reading and the Gospel and thus it acquires a deeper meaning and gives us direction. 

The Lord is my shepherd. Jesus is the Lamb of God.  Jesus is the door, the gate, the way and the life. Jesus, fully divine and fully human, was like us, exactly like us, in all things but sin.  He knew cold and warmth, hunger and satiety, joy and sorrow.  He was tempted and taunted.  He ate food and drank wine.  He knows our human condition.

The lamb led to the slaughter he is also the shepherd who leads us to eternal life.  The reading from Peter’s letter eloquently reminds us of Jesus’ passion, which we celebrated only four weeks ago.  And, in the last line, he reminds us that we had gone astray but came back.  We know that we will stray again.  We must always remember that we can, indeed we must, come back.  Come back to the care of the shepherd.  In the very next verse of John’s Gospel after the one with which this gospel passage ended, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” What more could we want? 

Whenever Jesus begins a statement as He does here, with  “Amen, amen I say to you” which is also translated as: “verily, verily I say unto thee,” He is telling his listeners, He is telling us, that He is about to say something of critical importance.  When this is followed by a statement beginning with “I am,” as it is in the second part of this gospel, there is even more reason to take notice.   In this Gospel Jesus is making a statement of exclusivity.   We will come back to that.

“He guides me along the right path;
he is true to his name”

Sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice.  Because they recognize the shepherd as one who will protect them and guide them safely. 
Thus, the shepherd walks in front of the sheep not behind them.   And so it is for us, we will be guided along the path if we allow Jesus to walk in front of us, not if we forge ahead on our own, pushing and shoving through a crowd. 

Because his listeners did not understand what he was saying Jesus begins again with  “I tell you most solemnly.”  This is where the exclusivity comes in.  “I am the gate . . . “  “All others who have come are thieves . . . “ Jesus is not one savior among many; Jesus is not one option of a whole range of choices.  There is only one way to salvation.  And that way is through Jesus.

“I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.”  This does not mean that we will not suffer or die. As we will hear later in John’s Gospel, “Who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  Life to the full means eternal life.  As my former professor, Jesuit Father Stanley Marrow puts it, this gift of eternal life, “must remain as incomprehensible to those who do not believe in Jesus as it is mysterious to those who do believe in Him.” 

Whether it is a new life being welcomed into the Church in the sacrament of Baptism or a life that is much closer to its end, we are called to follow this shepherd who will lead us to eternal life. 

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

The Lord is our shepherd; there is nothing more we could possibly want. 

Truly, our cup is overflowing.

These birds are striking.   The color combination suggests Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Parrots have very goofy faces.  No wonder they are so popular in cartoons.

Speaking of goofy.  John Waters lives!

These little dudes are as cute in person as on TV.

Now this is red. 

You do not want to run into this one in a dark alley.  Was talking with a zoo keeper who noted that if this one got loose lives could be lost.  It is over six feet tall.  This was the only decent in focus photo out of more than thirty tries.  This one was pacing like Joe Paterno during a close game. 

 +Fr. Jack

Friday, May 6, 2011

Black and White

The first few rolls of film I shot with my first camera,  a Canon AE-1 that weighed as much as a VW, were black and white.  Digital cameras can be set for black and white.  However, one can also use software (Aperture 3 in my case) to change color to b&w or sepia.  I use the latter option.  Some photos are OK in color but much more interesting in b&w.  Texture, shadow, light and ambience are all different and oftentimes more apparent in b&w than color.

Is digital manipulation of photographs “legitimate?”  About a year ago a friend and I went to the National Gallery.  We stumbled across Ansel Adams’ famous print of Bridal Falls in (I think) Yellowstone.  Magnificent photo of a thin waterfall on a steep fall.  Everything is stark black and white, almost incandescent.  What a surprise to see a print from the original negative.  It looked as if Fred and Ethel took it with an old Brownie Starflash while traveling with Lucy and Ricky.  It was shades of gray and as forgettable as every other bad tourist stop and snap photo ever taken.  However, Adams used a specific paper as well as burning and dodging and other techniques to create a masterpiece.  There was an epiphany in that experience.  “Photoshop” has always existed.  The only difference is that now it is computerized. 

The first is the rising full moon on the Feast of St. Joseph at Sevenhill.  The setting sun was still hitting the trunks of the trees giving them that white glow.

The pinecones had me humming Christmas carols all evening.  This one, taken one evening, is dodged, burned, contrasted and everything else.

 I took this sunrise very early in the retreat while walking along a road between the church and the vineyards. 

At the other end of the day is sunset in the pasture and small forested area up behind the church.  This was prime looking for kangaroo area though all of my luck was way on the other side of the vineyard.

This was taken along the Riesling Trail early one morning. I wasn’t lying prone to get this shot.  The road is at least 14 feet below the surface.

A bit of software manipulation and these tires now say something.

The beach at Warrnambool.  A bit of dodging, a bit of burning and a touch of increased contrast and voila!

This last is not a tinted black and white but a silhouette in color at dusk.  I was walking back to the house after dinner one night and saw these birds sitting in the tree.  They remind me either of a pair of synchronized swimmers getting ready to dive in or Bing and Danny singing “Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters.”  
+Fr. Jack, SJ

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia

Wednesday was a day off and I had the chance to walk down to the beach (don't fret it was in the low-fifties) to take some photos.  Without further ado, here are a few shots of where I will be for the next two weeks.  

The first two are of St. Joseph Church.  The stained glass is splendid.  The sun has not cooperated so I couldn't quite capture the brilliance.  The second is the holy oils that were blessed at the Chrism Mass. 

The next is the view of the ocean from the highest point in town, about a mile from the church. The river ends in a small lake.  The piece of land you see ends just to the left of the edge of the photo.
It has been gray, cool, and rainy.  Great time to be at the beach. 
When I turned around and saw this I began humming the theme to The Summer of '42.
And finally, some boats put away for the autumn. 
More later. 
+Fr. Jack