Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Break Time

The jet lag is finally abating after 1 1/2 weeks back on the East Coast.   Though I'm not in the position to give details, I will be returning to the New England Province in January.  While I'll miss the community and med school at Georgetown I will not miss D.C. traffic, especially the Beltway.  Granted, Boston has some rather fierce traffic but D.C. was just ranked #1 worst by Texas A&M.  

Am going to post some photos and then take a break of several weeks while I decide whether or not to continue the blog or to stop.  October is going to be a very busy month with a baptism in Chicago, lectures in several different locations, some continuing medical education so as to reactivate licenses and other little details that need to be covered.  

And now some photos. 

Longshan Temple in Taipei on New Year's Eve.   This was tripod-free.  Alas, I did not have the chance to get back there with the tripod after tertianship was over. 
Spires at rear of St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, Australia.  Beautiful cathedral that does not allow photography inside.  
Storage area on fishing boat Port Lincoln, South Australia. 
Dragon Fruit in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam.  This is a spectacular red on the outside.  When cut the flesh is a silvery gray with tiny, symmetrical and edible black seeds.  It is very tasty and juicy. 
Boat in the Mekong Delta. 
A "101 Items" store in Viet Nam.  Fr. John The's, one of my tertian classmates, cousin owns the store.  We stopped on the way back to Ho Chi Minh from the Delta.  I can't imagine taking inventory here. 
Back in Taiwan at the end of tertianship.  These were inexpensive stones for sale at the Jade Market.  They were $NT90 each which is about 30 cents.  Nice color.  This type of frame-filling colorful photo is fun to take.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jet Lag

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time 
18  September 2011
Is 55:6-9
Ps 145
Phil 1:20c-24, 27a
Mt 20:1-16a

No Fair! The ref missed a foul! 
Mommmmmm! She got a bigger piece of cake than me.  Unfair!
It’s not fair!  Why does it always rain on MY weekend off!

Sound familiar?  It should.  We become sensitized to fair and unfair—we actually become overly sensitized to fair vs. unfair—early in life; certainly before third grade. For some special interest groups whining “no fair” or looking for evidence of unfairness falls somewhere between a hobby and an art form if not a billy club to manipulate others.  But fair is a relative concept.  Even more than that, fair is a human concept.  Fair is an idea defined by human vocabulary.  It does not apply to God.

The gospel parable is one with which we can all identify.  It could easily be made into a short movie or skit.  Four groups of workers are recruited for manual labor at various times of the day, from early in the workday to an hour before its end. 

It is easy to understand the excitement on the part of the first group hired.  The last group was paid first.  And they were paid a full day’s wages.  We can almost hear the first group thinking or speaking among themselves, “Wow!  Time and a half!  Maybe double time.  Bonus city!  Bingo!!!!”  And, we can identify with their annoyance, annoyance bordering on fury, that they were paid no more than those who worked an abbreviated day.  Of course they were paid no less either.  But, that didn’t stop them from whining “No fair.” 

FAIR.  And that should be cause for great rejoicing. The first reading helps explain. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways my ways.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”  God is beyond the concepts of fair and unfair.  In our understanding, fair means that each gets what he or she deserves.  No more and no less.  However, human ideas and concepts such as the difference between fair and unfair cannot be projected onto God.  God transcends our descriptions.  God cannot be contained by our pitiful human vocabulary when it attempts to describe what is indescribable.  We can never know God’s mind. 

God proved that He is not fair.  You need only go upstairs in this Basilica, to the Chapel of Our Mother of Sorrows, the chapel endowed by the First Slovak Catholic Union, to see the evidence of God’s unfairness in the pieta that stands there. God showed that He is not fair by sending His only Son to redeem us from our sins. God showed how unfair He is by sending Jesus to free us from the snare of death. Only through God’s unfairness could we hope to have eternal life. God showed how unfair He is in the life of Mary the Blessed Mother, Our Mother of Sorrows. Mary, who said, “May it be done unto me according to Your word,” endured the same sorrows, the same unfairness that we do in our daily lives.  

Because Jesus came into this world to suffer and die for our sake we know that God is not fair.  Because Jesus came into this world to suffer and die for our sake we know that God is magnanimous.  We know that God is overwhelmingly generous.  God is so far beyond fair that the term no longer has any meaning in reference to Him.  God is not fair because He offers redemption to all of us,  small time sinners and chronic mortal sinners. That redemption is available regardless of: Income.  Size of house.  Brand of car.  Zip code 

True, we have to ask.  Yes, we must repent our sins.  But those options are open to everyone.  God is there to forgive.  God is there to give us the same wage, redemption from sin, the same wage, the defeat of death, the same wage, life eternal, no matter how many hours we worked in the vineyard.

“Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy to our God, who is generous in forgiving”

We should be as unfair as God is when it comes to forgiveness.  Grudges.  Vendettas.  Gossip.  Slander.  We are very good at all of these.  We can be slighted or hurt by someone and remember every detail about that slight.  Forever.  We are skilled at non-forgiveness.  Revenge is a popular sport.  But that is not God’s way. 

Jesus summarizes much of human behavior when He asks,  “Are you envious because I am generous?”  The answer is yes, unless we are the recipients of more generosity than everyone else.  Then we feel we deserve it.  But do we truly deserve what God has done for us?  Are we truly worthy recipients of what Paul wrote in the Letter to the Romans?  ”While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” 

If God were truly fair, if God truly gave us what we deserved, no more and no less, Jesus would never have died for our sins.  “The Lord is near to all who call upon him.”  The Lord is near to all, not only to the wealthy, not only to the powerful. The Lord is near to all.  He redeems all.  And He loves all.  Without exception.

It is not fair. 
Thank God.


Am back on the East Coast.    At least my body is back on the East Coast.  Physiologically I am just crossing the international dateline.  The naps are not voluntary.  They are more like narcolepsy.  When it is time to sleep it is time to sleep.

I had the happy opportunity to  celebrate Mass in the crypt chapel at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception this morning.  The Mass was for the First Catholic Slovak Union, a benevolent organization that funded the chapel of Our Mother of Sorrows in the Shrine in the 1960's.  It was a great way to reenter life here in D.C.  The homily is below.

No photos today.  I don't have the energy to look for the external drive that contains all of my photos.  I head to Philadelphia, then my hometown, and then Boston tomorrow (overnight or longer stops in each location).  Back to D.C. on 2 October.

Upon return I will reenter the routine of Masses in a variety of locations and figure out what is coming next.

+Fr. Jack

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tertianship ended?

The question mark is intentional.  Despite the formal ending of tertianship on 18 August it became apparent very quickly that something is different, something has changed.  While walking yesterday my mind drifted back to the time with the Vietnamese novices.  Eighteen of them were to begin the long retreat the next day.  One novice, I don’t know if he was a primi or secundi, asked a question about the difference between the long retreat as a tertian compared with as a novice, noting that he had read that the tertian long retreat was a school of the heart.  This was definitely a think on the feet interchange. 

Ultimately his question went beyond the long retreat to the difference between novitiate and tertianship.  In the first post in this blog I describe tertianship as novitiate in compressed form, seven months rather than twenty-four, during which we did the same things as in novitiate.  The only non-compressed experience was the long retreat. 

There are some very obvious differences between novitiate and tertianship.  Unlike trying to understand The Constitutions as a primi, we had been living them for years and had a working knowledge of what they meant.  The same can be said of the General Congregations.  When the novice asked about the school of the heart I realized that while the novitiate is a school of the heart as well, there is much more “school of the head”, a cognitive-learning component, that has been internalized by the time of tertianship.  Because it is internalized there is more room for the school of the heart side.  We were fluent in the vocabulary and syntax of the school of the head. 

It is difficult to explain these subtleties to someone not living in religious life.  Having never been married it would be foolish of me to draw analogies between tertianship and the changes that occur in a couple’s relationship after years of marriage, though from the perspective of thirty-six years as a physician, I’ve certainly observed changes and growth in successful marriages, or had to deal with the lack of same in marriages that were falling, or had fallen, apart.   Religious vows are different.  Formation in the Society of Jesus is unique even among other religious orders and congregations.  Tertianship is not a universal experience in religious life.  
When we were novices there was an oft-invoked statement that was true but also used as a form of put-down similar to the W.C. Fields line, “go away kid, you’re bothering me.”  That line was “You’ll understand after (fill in the blank).”  "After" was defined as the long retreat, the pilgrimage, the long experiment etc. whatever necessary to suit the older novice’s need.  One of the men a year behind me used to chafe at that expression every time.   And so, a day after being ordained a deacon, I wrote an e-mail that was eloquent in its brevity, “You’ll understand after being ordained a deacon.”  His reply cast doubt onto the validity of my parents’ marital status at the time of my birth. 
There is, however, a great deal of truth in that statement.  No one can truly understand until after he has experienced the long retreat, or the pilgrimage, or, as is becoming apparent, tertianship, what a particular step in formation means. 
It was a good tertianship.  I am glad to be heading home and getting ready for a probable new assignment.  During the long retreat we attended a final vow Mass in the Jesuit parish at Sevenhill.  It was a different experience this time knowing that within a finite period of time I too will kneel in front of the Body and Blood of Christ, and begin, “I John Robert . . . . “
Photos from Taiwan.  The cacti were in the Saturday flower market in Taipei.  The tea display was in a small outdoor market in nearby Daan Park.  Taiwanese tea is among the best in the world because of good growing conditions in the mountains. 

The Yong Fu Bridge is a short walk from the Tien Educational Center Community.  Ignatius and I frequently walk there.  However, a rule for photographers is "Go Alone."  There may be something more boring than watching another man take photos but I am hard pressed to define it at the moment.  One of the contrasts between Taipei and Washington, D.C. is that I feel safe alone on the streets and even down by the river at 10 or 11 at night in Taipei.  The same is not true in D.C.  These photos were taken between 10 and 11:30 at night.
The guys were playing b-ball late at night with the bridge in the background. 
When Ignatius and I went south for a few days we stayed at what had been a working farm but is now a resort high in the mountains.   We were sitting at a table just inside the entrance relaxing over coffee.  I liked the umbrellas.
Ignatius said that about 1/3 or so of the land mass of Taiwan, which is about the size of Maryland, is uninhabitable because of the mountains.  If it snowed in Taiwan it would be a world class skiing resort.  These mountains get snow on rare occasion.   The drive to this place was completely uphill for many winding miles.
This tree was clinging to the side of a cliff. 
We walked to this waterfall, ending up just a bit above where it his the river.  The walk to get there was 4.5 km (over 2 miles) going up the entire way.  It took a few hours to make the round  trip but it was worth it.  Slept very well after this walk. 
Great trip to Taiwan.  It would take little persuasion for me to go there for the long term.  Summers are brutal it is true and the winters are damp and chilly but it is a comfortable place to be.  And, unlike most U.S. cities, I feel safe alone on the streets at night despite not speaking much in the way of Chinese (I can get a phone card, point out a friend, tell people I am a Jesuit priest.  Not sure I could negotiate with a mugger).  
Back to D.C. soon. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ

Friday, September 9, 2011

In Memoriam

A year ago today, 9 September 2010, Jesuit Father Ignatius Ikunza from Kenya turned 39.  Four days later he died of a rapidly progressive illness at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA.   He e-mailed me in June of that year enclosing lab work and scans prompted by some rather vague symptoms that he had mentioned a few weeks earlier.  The labs and scans ranged from bad and worse.  Four months later over 100 priests concelebrated his funeral Mass in the overflowing Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Campion Center in Weston, MA.  He was interred in the cemetery there.

We met eight years earlier when I moved to the Georgetown University Jesuit Community where he was living while completing an LLM in immigration law.  Though we lived on very different schedules and rarely saw each other during the week, a  chance conversation resulted in my inviting him to Plymouth for a weekend.  My entire family adopted him immediately, such was his charm.  He spent Christmas with us several times (see photo below).  It was more than a little amusing that he had keys to mom’s house and would visit even when I was stuck in D.C.  He much preferred the small town milieu to D.C. or Boston. 

In 2003 he moved to Cambridge, MA to complete his theological studies for ordination.  Two years later I returned to Cambridge to finish the final year of theology.  It was a blessing to be assigned to the LaFarge House Community where we lived in adjacent rooms. 

Ikunza, as he was generally known, entered the Society in June of 1990.  It galled me that this kid, 22 years my junior, was not only my senior in religious life but, when his ordination was changed from July 2007 to May 2007, he became my senior in the priesthood.  He called a few days after he was ordained to note that now that HE was a priest he would be happy to hear my confession if I wished make it before my own ordination a month later.   He had a wicked sense of humor.

He was an intellectually challenging man.  He was very smart, articulate, quick, fluent in multiple languages, and blessed with a combination of unlimited energy and boundless imagination.  His was a short life but one in which he accomplished a great deal working with immigrants and the large Kenyan Catholic Community near Boston, and in the social ministries in Kenya, to name just a few. 

Nothing of what he accomplished happened without periodic conflict and frustration, but he never gave up in his understanding of his vocations to the Society of Jesus, the priesthood, and the law.  It is difficult not to wonder what might have been had he lived the “seventy years or eighty for those who are strong” of the psalms.  

We read in the psalm in today’s Mass:

“You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in our presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.”

Ikunza knows those joys in a way that we will know only
after our own deaths.  “Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord . . . . “

Ikunza at Christmas 2003 in Plymouth and the Jesuit Cemetery at Campion Center in Weston, MA..

 +Fr. Jack, SJ

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


The time in Taiwan has flown by.  Ignatius and I just returned from two days in the mountains about 200 km south of Taipei.  It was a lot cooler.  Last weekend I had a chance to return to the weekend flower market, jade market and artists market held every Saturday near Da An Park. This time with a camera.   On the way back to the community through Da An Park I stumbled across a bunch of kids getting rollerblading lessons.  

Some of the orchids at the flower market. 
Stacked baskets also at the flower market. 
Some of the jewelry available at the jade market.  This place could destroy a credit rating. 

Teacups and vases at the flower market. 
Paper lanterns hanging in the cooperative.  I would have liked to have purchased one but transporting them undamaged in a suitcase is difficult.  Happily, I have one similar to these in my room.   Ignatius left it behind when he returned to Taiwan back in 2002.  

Rollerblading lessons.   There were about six teenage boys and girls teaching these kids, some around 7 or 8 and others seeming to be as young as 4.  Oh to be young again so I could bounce and not break after falling.
This little girl was having her first lesson.  As I watched the young woman kneeling was helping her move forward while holding her legs and saying, "Yi, er, yi, er" (One, two, one, two) as the little roller derby princess tried to slide her skate-shod feet forward with much trepidation. 
The playground in the park was packed with kids and parents.  A wonderful sight. 
This man playing a pipa for the woman under the umbrella in Da An Park  caught my eye.  A pipa is the Chinese version of a lute.
Almost time to return to the U.S. after nine months away.  Much to reflect on in the coming days.  Tertianship happened at the right time and in the right place.  It has been obvious these past three weeks that it did not end on 18 August.  Indeed, it seems as if it will continue for a very long time.  I'll write more about that in a few days.  

+Fr. Jack, S.J.

Friday, September 2, 2011

More Photos

I’m not scheduled to celebrate Mass or preach until after returning to the U.S.   It is wretchedly hot in Taipei at the moment with periodic downpours.  Good time to sit in front of the fan and play with photos. 

As soon as I saw these guys the ear-worm hit.  For the next thirty minutes or so I hummed, sang and (internally) swayed to Patti Page’s hit “Cross Over the Bridge.”  Those were the days of true music.   Nonetheless, navigating these bridges requires some degree of caution.  I’d hate to try it after three beers. 
The three amigos were riding their motorbikes back from school on Friday afternoon.
This kitten was on the doorsill of a family that invited us in for a quick cold drink down in the Mekong Delta.  They were Catholic and knew sister well.  
Sister took John and me to a beach that he had never seen.  During the war it was one of the departure points for the boat people.  The earlier photos of the brightly colored boats were from that trip.  These three boys had just been released from school.  The joy of Friday afternoon is universal.  They really started hamming it up when they saw my camera.  Afterwards they put on their flip-flops, hopped on their full-size bikes (no helmets here) and made off to the next adventure.  It was a nostalgic moment.  I still love Friday afternoons when I'm done working (unless I'm on call).  

The children here are as exuberant as everywhere else.  Shoes optional.   The government prohibits religious orders from running schools except for kindergartens.  The Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres have several kindergartens.  The one at the motherhouse has 1300 children.  Kindergarten is longer than one year (I think from 3 to 5 years of age) and the kiddos are segregated according to age.  Kindergarten includes breakfast and lunch.  The kids arrive by 7 AM.  I guess that explains the kiddo in the orange stripes letting loose with a big yawn.
I was standing on a balcony when I took this one.  The kids noticed me after a while and began to wave and smile.  But, before that they exhibited a full range of facial expressions as they ate their mid-morning snack.

The last was as we were leaving on yet another excursion on 26 August.  The young sister in the back took John and me to visit her family where we had the fresh coconut water pictured in an earlier post.  Whip out a camera and a crowd congregates.

Religious life is alive and well in Viet Nam.  The SPC’s have 25 novices (two year novitiate) and even more candidates.  There are over 1000 of them in Viet Nam divided into three provinces.  See earlier photo of the Jesuit novices.

The next three photos show children who were entertaining at Mother Provincial’s feast day celebration.  They are dancers who are deaf.   The little kids were cute.  The boys doing the break dancing were amazing.  I had to race to my room to get the spare battery just before they began and only caught half the performance.  Drat.  

Back in Saigon I wandered into a street market.  No room for a shopping cart here.  Just bring your motorcycle.
I took this photo in January in Taiwan.  Ignatius and I were visiting some of his family and decided to stop in the town of Puli where there is a paper factory. He was a tad bored but I was going berserk with the camera.  Everything in this photo is made of paper. 
That is all for now. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ