Sunday, July 31, 2011

Happy Feast Day

We just returned from dinner at the Jesuit high school in Milson's Point.  Milson's point is the last train stop before it crosses the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  There is are patio areas on the second and third floor roofs.  The photographic results are below.  I would have been content to skip dinner.  Glad I didn't though because it was quite good.  Met a priest who is on sabbatical here.  From Altoona!  He has a number of Penn State grad siblings.  

No heavy thoughts.  Much gratitude to Ignatius and the First Companions.  

And now some photos.  A few photographer friends will hate me for this.  It would be difficult for someone who didn't live in the apartments or have a way into the school to get these shots.  

First photo is Br. Vincent Pham Duc-tuan, SJ from Saigon.  
The next two are wide-angle views of Sydney Harbor.  I was obviously using a tripod and exposure times up to 40 seconds.  

A close up of the Opera House.  Attractive during the day but magnificent at night.  Six weeks ago Vincent and I went to a symphony concert there to hear Lang Lang play Tchaikovsky and a tremendous performance of Sibelius' Symphony #2.  

Next are two photos from the pharmacy down the street.  This is why it pays to carry a camera.    Taking landscape photos pales after a while.  What about the other things you can only notice when carrying a camera.  This is a piece of costume jewelry. 
The next is a tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan.  One of the dolls had a price tag for 9.75 smack in the middle of her forehead.  The clone and repair tools allowed me to erase it.  I'm certainly not going to tell which one had the plastic surgery. 
And finally the picture that has delighted me the most this week.  It is the reflections of peoples' clothing and some banners in a reflecting pool near the New South Wales Art Gallery.  Pure abstraction.  This is what I enjoy the most. 
Happy Feast Day.  
+Fr. Jack

Saturday, July 30, 2011

St. Ignatius Feast Eve

Tomorrow is 31 July on which we observe the Solemnity of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus.  Despite tomorrow being Sunday it will be observed as a solemnity in Jesuit houses with the readings of the feast rather than the Sunday readings.  Tomorrow evening all the Sydney Jesuits will gather at the high school for dinner.  

I went into Sydney today to run some errands.  These included stopping at Ted's Camera for a few things such as a UV filter, additional card, lens cover and such.  I hadn't planned on staying long.  But, it was a glorious day.  I left Ted's and walked toward one of the parks.  Started taking photos.  Three hours later I'd shot around 300 and then came home much later than planned but quite content.  Rule:  Always carry camera.  

First, the homily for yesterday's Memorial of St. Martha.  

Memorial of St. Martha
29 July 2011

1 Jn 4:7-16
Ps 34
Lk 10:38-42

Pop quiz today.  Please take out your #2 pencils and circle the best answer:  When I place myself in this story I am:
A.             Mary
B.             Martha
C.            Both of the above
D.            Neither of the above
E.             Could you repeat the question?  I was too busy making up my shopping list.

The familiar story of Martha and Mary is dramatic but lacking in detail.  There are many things we don’t know.  Was Jesus expected or did he drop in?  What did Martha cook? Was the kitchen separate or was the house an “open concept floor plan?”  Any servants?  One thing we do know.  Martha exhibited cranky and rude behavior.  When Martha asked her guest  to intervene in a conflict between her and her sister she committed an appalling breach of etiquette.  It would be mortifying for any of us to have our host ask, “Will you PLEASE tell that husband of mine—or the wife, or that lazy kid—to get moving and help me?  Maybe he’ll listen to you.  Maybe you can get her to do something!”

It is unspeakably rude to drag a guest into a family squabble.  It is equally rude to ignore a guest while muttering to oneself, even silently, about how much work this is, and I don’t get any help, and I’d rather be sitting down having a cup of coffee and listening to Jesus and, and, and . . . . . “HEY!  Will you tell that . . . . “

The gospel gives us a negative behavioral role model.  But, it also tells us about the nature of prayer.  It tells us about the better part that was Mary’s but not exclusively hers.  It could have been Martha’s as well if only she had stopped whinging.

Prayer is an ongoing conversation with God.  It is a dialog of speaking to and listening to.  It does not require heroic effort, a particular place, a special posture, candles, books, rosary beads or anything else.  All of these have their places.  But, like Martha, we are busy trying to get everything done.  We have to: get to the market, pick up the kids, make dinner, balance the checkbook, mow the lawn and get the dry cleaning.  Today.  At these times it is critical to recall that busyness does not make prayer impossible.  Prayer requires only one thing: attentiveness to Jesus’ word.  It requires only that we be disposed to be at Jesus’ feet, listening as Mary did, even if we are bustling about as Martha was.  Of course we must imitate Mary at times.  We are called to listen attentively to the Word of God as proclaimed in the Gospel.  We are called to enter into the mystery of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist at Mass rather than calculating how soon we can exit the church after communion and escape the crush in the parking lot. 

The correct answer to the quiz is C:  Both of the above.   St. Ignatius is a perfect illustration of C.

On Sunday we will celebrate his solemnity.  The depth and focus of Ignatius’ prayer resembled Mary’s.  But, like Martha, he also dealt with many distractions:  He wrote a vast number of letters.  By hand.  He was writing our Constitutions, missioning men throughout the world, and answering hundreds of questions as the Society grew by leaps and bounds.  And his health was chronically poor.  Despite the busyness the fruits of his prayer influenced, and will continue to influence, world history in ways that can never be overestimated. 

Like Martha he was very busy.  Unlike Martha he was disposed to hear and contemplate the word of God in the midst of his distractions.

Like Martha, we are anxious and upset about many things.  In the end however, only one thing is required.  It is our choice whether or not we will give God that attention and inner disposition necessary to have the better part in the midst of that busyness.
Two black and whites.  One is a long shot toward a fountain in the park.  The other is a bottle under a tree.  An empty (cheap) wine bottle.  

There was a guy at the fountain making bubbles that ranged from the size of those that come in bubble jars with the little round plastic wand to some real monsters.  A few kids were going berserk chasing them.

Wandered over toward St. Mary's Cathedral (Catholic) to see a wedding arriving in two Rolls Royces.  
Then there was this bird engaging in a form of cannibalism with some leftover KFC.  He was really tearing into it.  
I never expected to see ice-skating in Sydney.  This was outdoors directly in front of the cathedral.  Note the safety-cone-orange skates.  Obviously immune to being stolen. 
Some kids were giving an exhibition.  This young girl is twelve and has been skating for about five years. 
And finally an Art Deco theater down by the Victoria Building and train station.  Can't build anything like that today.
+Fr. Jack

Friday, July 22, 2011

Last weekend in Port Lincoln

It is early Saturday morning.  Busy weekend.  Confessions at 10:30 AM.  A funeral at which about 500 people are expected at 2 PM, vigil Mass at 6 PM (homily yet to be written) and then Mass at 9 AM tomorrow.  

On Tuesday Gayle, Elizabeth and Miriam, along with Basil, took me to the local sailing museum.  It was a lovely day and supplied a few views of Port LIncoln that I'd not seen.  Yesterday morning I was going to unlock the church at about 7:30.  One look at the sky and the camera was in hand. 

The Norfolk Island Pines are a fixture along the coast in Australia.  One Port Lincolnian explained that they were planted to supply a quick replacement if a mast broke on a sailing ship.  Apparently the stranded sailors rowed ashore, cut a tree and made a new mast.  Sounds very green. 
A view of Port Lincoln I hadn't previously seen. 
Basil was a perfect gentleman at the sailing museum. 
This sight is what sent me racing back for the camera.  Except for having cropped a bit off the left I did not touch the color, exposure or other aspects.  This is what it looked like yesterday morning.  The outlines of the grain pier are visible in the distance.
These last three are views of and around the church.  The challenge of taking photos at sunrise or sunset is time.  All of this splendor lasted no more than 10 minutes.  

More later. 
+Fr. Jack

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Homily and Some Photos

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Ps 86:5-6,9-10,15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Mt 13:24-43

As was the problem last week the readings and the Gospel contain an overabundance of riches on which to preach at Mass or meditate at home.  This weekend we hear the second of three readings from the long 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, a reading that picks up where we left off last week.  The overall sense of the readings and the psalm taken together is: what God has done for us, the last judgment, and the movements of faith.

The first reading is from a section of the Book of Wisdom subtitled: God’s Fidelity to His People in the Exodus.  Over the next three or four weeks the first reading at daily Mass will focus on the story of the Exodus up to and including Moses’ death just before entering the land.   We will hear again and again of the people’s infidelity to the covenant despite God’s unwavering fidelity. 

The Book of Wisdom was written many centuries after the Exodus.  This particular reading reminds us of God’s love for us, and his tolerance of our tendency to be less than faithful to our side of the covenant.  There is great consolation when we hear: “You judge with clemency and with much lenience you judge us.”  With those words in mind consider the parable of the wheat into which was sown bad seed. 

Scholars suggest that the seed sown with the wheat was a type that, in the early growing stages, was difficult to differentiate from the wheat.  Any attempt to remove the weeds would be based on judgment and appearance, judgment that could be wrong.  Wrong judgment would result in loss of good wheat.  Better to give all the plants the benefit of the doubt, better to let them to grow to maturity before putting the good into the barn and the bad into the flame. 

Just as God never wavered in His commitment to the Israelites in the desert He does not waver in His commitment to us.  God does not judge or condemn us without allowing multiple chances to reform our lives as individuals and our life as a people.  The final judgment, the final sorting, does not happen on this earth but only after death.  And so we can say with the psalmist as often as necessary, “But you, God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, O Lord, abounding in love and truth, turn and take pity on me.”

We have daily opportunities to allow for the action of grace in our lives.  That action is illustrated in the two short examples of the mustard seed and the yeast.

I’m going to ignore the mustard seed because I’ve been a bread baker for decades.  I’ve gone through hundreds of pounds of all types of flour and so the example of the yeast is a resonant one.  Despite having watched hundreds of loaves of bread raise I’m never less than amazed by the action of a very small amount of yeast.  When mixed with three cups of water, a tablespoon of salt, a tiny amount of sugar, and six cups of flour a tablespoon of yeast disappears from view.  But its ultimate effect is very visible.  After mixing, stirring, kneading, and a few hours for rising, what began as a beige, gloppy, sticky mess becomes a smooth shiny dome that is ready to be transformed by heat into warm, fragrant golden loaves of bread.  

In the same way that the invisible action of grace transforms us yeast transforms the nature of the ingredients to which it has been added.  The result is a whole that is much much more than the sum of its parts.  But, this transformation does not occur without work.  Yeast cannot exert its effect without some attention to detail on our part.  We must maintain the proper conditions for the yeast to act.  Water that is too hot kills the yeast.  Bread won’t bake in an oven that is not hot enough.  The dough collapses if you drop the pan while putting it into the oven.  In this last case, however, it will rise again if given time and the proper conditions.

Baking bread is not foolproof but it is not difficult either.  And so it is for us.  Cooperating with grace is neither mindless and automatic nor impossible.  Like baking bread, cooperating with grace requires some effort and attention to detail.  Grace, like the grains of yeast mixed with other ingredients, is invisible and thus it may be forgotten in the midst of our many daily concerns.  If we do not maintain the conditions conducive to the action of grace, we, like improperly handled bread dough, remain beige, gloppy and sticky messes.  If we are careless about our faith we collapse with the first jarring blow.  We maintain the conditions necessary for the action of grace through prayer, regular participation in the sacraments, (particularly confession and communion) and meditation on the Word of God.  In that way we make ourselves ready for the final action of the Kingdom of God.

The question is: Will we rise to the occasion? 
Coffin Bay is lovely.  But the real highlight of Thursday was visiting the pig farm-antique store-restaurant.  My favorite kind of photography is the sort here with the exception of the landscapes which get boring though they are important to locate the action in time and place. 

This is a free-range piglet.  Basil, the dog, had to be chained for this one.  He was very excited seeing another animal his size. 
This photo gives "eating like a pig" a whole new depth of meaning.
These old seltzer bottles reminded me of every circa 1950's rec room I've ever been in. 
More marbles.  This time they are over 150 years old.  Originally made in Germany. 
This record rack was just inside the door.  A turntable here would allow for a John Denver sing-along; to say nothing of some very aerobic dancing. 
This one stopped me dead in my tracks in the shop. 
This is the view from the back of the restaurant part of the place.  Coffin Bay is in the distance.
This is a very hungry bird.  Talk about eating like a pig.  And he was quite nasty to the other birds that wanted him to share. 
A panorama of Coffin Bay. 
Busy week coming up.  Got called about a funeral on Saturday afternoon.  Gonna be a very long day. 
+Fr. Jack

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spruiking, whinging, brekky, footy, uni and chooks . . . and, don’t call it a napkin.

 It is generally but erroneously believed that Australians and Americans speak a common language.  Wrong.  It seems to be the same language but it isn’t.  The above words are all in common use here.

Australians, as per one of the (Australian) seminarians who spent two weeks here, are lazy speakers.  That accounts for shortening a word and adding a ‘y’ to it.  Thus brekky is the term for breakfast (side note:  do not eat Vegemite for brekky or any other meal of the day).  Footy is the word for Australian Rules Football, a wonderfully fast, reasonably violent and very high-scoring game played without the benefit of helmets or pads and, because the uniforms consist of shirts and shorts, not played on artificial turf.   Uni  (YOU knee) is the word for university as in, “I’m driving back to uni this weekend” or “when I was at uni.”  Not too far from here is a sign Uni SA.  Translate:  University of South Australia. 

Whinging, (WIN jing) is my favorite Aussie word.  It means whining. 

Spruiking (SPROO king) was a word I ran across in the papers.  That was definitely a look-up because I’d been feeling self-conscious about the number of times I’d asked about the meaning of a word.   It means: to promote a thing or idea to another person, in order that they buy the thing, or accept the idea.  Thus, Brett Favre spruiks jeans (forgot which brand, real effective advertising dontcha think?).

Chooks.  That was a puzzler.  There is a small bin in the kitchen labeled “Chook scraps.”  Okaayyyyyy.  Had no idea what to put in there.  It turns out that chooks are chickens as in, “we are having chook for dinner.”  There is a chook coop at the school that supplies eggs for the boarding house.  The scraps are for the chooks.  Coffee grounds do not go in the chook bin.  NB:  According to one source chook is also the term for old(er) woman. 

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, announce at a dinner that you soiled your napkin.  What we in the U.S. refer to as a napkin is a serviette here.  If you ask for a clean napkin, once the hysteria clears, someone will inform you, while wiping tears from his eyes, ears, nose and throat, that in Australia a napkin, called nappy for short, is a baby’s diaper. 

Further adventures with the cat.  Its getting hostile.  A visiting priest stayed over last night.  Because the seminarians were still here he stayed in the pastor’s room.  He left the door ajar when he departed at 7 AM.  At some point I closed it. After confessions I realized I hadn’t heard the cat’s bell for a long time.   There it was curled on the bed.  When I courteously suggested it go into the living room it jumped off the bed, hissed with a sound reminiscent of a car radiator overheating on Giant’s Despair and arched its back.  I’ve been getting the hairy eyeball ever since. 

The photo are from a recent expedition to Coffin Bay.  Included was a stop at a combination pig farm (free range pork), antique store and restaurant where we had lunch.  

The smallest Anglican Church I've seen yet. 
My backseat traveling companion: Basil who is 3 months old and NOT a cat. 
The antique store entrance.  Wonderful combination of shape, texture and color. 
A display of marbles.
Rolling pins with colorful handles.
Old spools of thread.
An old typewriter. 
Pearls and a Smurf. 
Small dock in Coffin Bay.  Changed to black and white. 
A view of Port Lincoln from "Camera Point."  
I have Mass this evening and in the AM.  Must finish homily.  More photos from this trip tomorrow. 
+Fr. Jack

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Jo Stafford, Ginger Rogers, and driving in Australia

Jo Stafford has nothing to do with driving in Australia.  However, she is my all-time favorite singer.  Though I don’t have a copy of everything she recorded I’m getting close.  Of course these include her iterations as Cinderella G. Stump singing “Tim-tay-shun” and as Darlene Edwards (Thanks Jane, I laugh hysterically every time I hear her sing  the hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo’s in “Staying Alive”) trying, and one must emphasize the word trying, to sing a range of songs to the Cheap Nightclub Pianist accompaniment of her husband Paul Weston.  GI Jo, as she was known by the troops for whom she recorded, was a singer of impeccable taste who noted in an interview that while she didn’t have perfect pitch she had good relative pitch.  She also had a clear tone and very little vibrato. She said “you don’t sing an A flat the same way you sing a G sharp.”  That statement explained everything about singing.

Jo Stafford’s recording of “Whispering Hope” with Gordon McCrae was the soundtrack of my childhood.  Grandma played it almost daily when I visited (she lived all of four blocks away).  I enjoy listening to a lot of the girl singers (Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting and their contemporaries) but Jo Stafford is tops.  If you’ve never heard her sing, download a few songs from iTunes. If you are only going to download one get “You Belong to Me.”   Evocative of everything about being young and abandoned by your true love for the summer. 

Ginger has more to do driving in Australia.  Several years ago I was on the road and saw a bumper sticker that read, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did . . . only backwards and in three-inch heels.”   That bumper sticker explains everything about driving in Australia.   The roundabouts are not to be believed.  Each state has its own approach to who has the right of way.   The best approach seems to be close your eyes and turn.   Very few stop signs and red lights here but the roundabouts are omnipresent, especially in the small towns.    

You can tell the American drivers on the roads.  Whenever we want to make a turn we flip on the windshield wipers, say damn it and then flick the turn signal.  Levers are reversed.  Fortunately the gas and brake pedals are in the usual places and configuration.  With the exception of the heels I can certainly sympathize with Ginger’s predicament.

Then there is being a pedestrian.  After six months in Australia I still look, and am,  confused and lost when crossing the street.  Look both ways.  Three times.  And then make a perfect act of contrition just in case. 

All goes well in Port Lincoln.  It has been busy with the pastor away for a few weeks.  I would certainly be willing to come back here, or somewhere in South Australia where it is cool during the heat of the U.S. summer, to fill in for a few parishes while the priest gets away for some R&R.  Great place. 
Among the photos are some animals.

The first is an emu.   Gives these rather large things exactly what Aretha Franklin demanded:

Next is the beach at Whyalla and the dog that lived in the parish where I stayed while there.  I wanted to bring the pooch home but there was a visa problem.

And here we have my housemate.  After the seminarians leave on Saturday it will be my only housemate.  Sinn.  The cat.  Who hisses and arches her back if I so much as try to touch her, or him or it.  Nice kitty, kitty.  Would you like to ride on that fun carousel in the microwave? 
Finally, a shot of the inside of the church at night with minimal illumination using ASA 100, f 22 and a 60 second exposure. 
+Fr Jack

Sunday, July 3, 2011

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The weekend was busy.  I spent much of Saturday in several one or two hour batches taking photos of the church, inside and out.  Brian said he doesn't have any good photos of the church. It is my mission to rectify that.  The coming week will also be busy.  Two Masses and one funeral.  Brian leaves for vacation on Saturday afternoon at which point I will be here alone.  Four weekday Masses per week, two weekend Masses and whatever funerals and baptism arise.  

The homily from this morning is below followed by a few photos of the church, the fruit of the weekend's labors. 

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 
3July 2011
Zech 9:9-10
Ps 145
Rom 8:9, 11-13
Mt: 11-25-30

One of the greatest musical compositions ever is also one of the most well-known and, at least in the English-speaking world, most frequently performed. Georg Freiderich Handel’s Messiah.  The libretto by Charles Jennens weaves together verses from the Old and New Testaments to present a concise history of our salvation.  Handel wrote the music in 24 days, an astonishingly short span of time.   At the end of the manuscript he wrote SDG or Soli Dei Gloria “Only for the glory of God.”  Several verses in today’s first reading and gospel  are clustered toward the end of the first section of the oratorio, a section subtitled: “The prophecy and realization of God’s plan to redeem mankind by the coming of the Messiah.” 

The reading from Zechariah is the basis for the soprano air “Rejoice greatly Oh daughter Zion, your king shall come to you.”  In Zechariah’s time this was prophecy.   In our time it is history.   Our King has come.  We rejoice and give thanks in this Eucharist and every Eucharist we celebrate.  A few moments after hearing “Rejoice Greatly” the last two verses of today’s gospel are introduced with a quote from chapter 40 of Isaiah.  And thus begins the exquisite gentle air:  “He shall feed his flock.”  Jennens  changed the pronouns in these verses from first person to third.  And so we hear the invitation:

“Come unto Him all ye that labor 
Come unto Him that are heavy laden 
And He will give you rest
Take his yoke upon you
And learn of Him  
For He is meek and lowly of heart 
And ye shall find rest unto your souls” 
Each line could be the basis for an entire homily or for a series of meditations on retreat. 

The final verse from today’s gospel was rendered as  “His yoke is easy and His burden is light.”  It is the final chorus in Part I of this magnificent work.

One need not be a biblical scholar to recognize the relationship between Zechariah’s image of Jerusalem’s king riding “on a colt, the foal of a donkey” and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem shortly before He was crucified.  As described in Zechariah the king’s entry into Jerusalem is both triumphant and peaceful.  Triumphant and peaceful. Those are two words that don’t appear often in the same sentence.  Think about it.  In war a donkey is useless.  Though I’m not a farm boy it seems that a donkey is useless just about anywhere but a farm.  Were the king to enter Jerusalem mounted on a horse, were Jesus to have entered Jerusalem on a horse, the image would be aggressive rather than peaceful. 

We know from all four Gospels that Jesus instructed his disciples to bring a colt, the foal of a donkey, rather than a horse, for his entry into Jerusalem.   Even then He was giving a message of peace rather than aggression.  With good reason. . . to fulfill the prophecies.

Zechariah portrays the king as peaceful and humble, just as Jesus describes himself in the Gospel reading from Matthew.  In commenting on the passage from Zechariah one scholar describes the king as follows,  “The future ruler. . . .  will be identified with and no different from those who consent to come under his rule.  Yet, he will have the resources and power to dominate the nations and establish worldwide peace and stability.”

“And no different from those who consent to come under his rule.”   This is a basic tenet of our faith:  Jesus: fully human and fully divine.  Jesus: like us in all things but sin. 

Why is Jesus thanking the Father for having hidden things from the wise and learned but sharing them with the little ones?   Exactly what was being hidden and shared at the same time?  Jesuit Father Dan Harrington suggests that God has hidden from the powerful but shared with the poor the significance of Jesus’ deeds and the presence of God’s kingdom in Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus is sharing with the powerless the unique relationship between the Father and the Son, a relationship that is open to those to whom the Son wishes to reveal the Father, a relationship into which Jesus invites us.

If you have a recording of Messiah listen to it.  If you don’t you can easily download it on a computer.  The 1992 recording by Boston Baroque is as close to perfection as any I’ve heard.  Listen to Messiah.  Pay attention to the verses from today’s readings.  When you hear “Come unto him, all ye who labor. . . .”  recall that Jesus offered an invitation to those outside His immediate circle of disciples; an invitation to come to him so as to find rest.  Listen to this glorious music and recall that Jesus offers us, gathered in this place, at this time, the same invitation. 

In the psalm we heard:  “The Lord is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love.  How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures.”

It is God’s mercy, kindness and compassion that make His yoke easy and His burden light. 

Handel’s Messiah is magnificent.  The words and the melodies come together in perfect unity.  Soli Dei Gloria to be sure.  From the opening, “Comfort ye, my people” to the overwhelming fugal “Amen” that ends the work, we are reminded exactly what Jesus did  for us.  Is there any reason not to accept the invitation to take his yoke upon our own shoulders?
The first is the outside of the church yesterday afternoon
This is a wide angle view from the back of the church. 
This was taken behind the baptismal font looking toward the main entrance. 
And this last was this morning.  The sun was coming up in the east and the clouds and rain were approaching from the west.  On the way to prepare for Mass I looked west and saw the rainbow.  Tore into the house for the camera and snapped away. 
The building to the left is the original church which is now a meeting hall.  
+Fr. Jack