Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Beginning of the New Liturgical Year

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

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

“Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel”!

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The End of the Liturgical Year

Today will be a homily only without photos.  It has proven to be an exhausting week of much driving with more to come.  I concelebrated the funeral Mass for Gloria Banyar Dobrowalski yesterday.  We had been friends since the first day of seventh grade.  No energy left.  To Boston tomorrow and then back to D.C. over the weekend.  Too tired to go through pics.  Will post some other thoughts sometime next week as we approach the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal.

The Solemnity of Christ the King
Ezek 34:11-12, 15-17
Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6
1 Cor 15:20-26,28
Mt 25:31-46

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King—the final solemnity of the liturgical year.  Next Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new year and start the liturgical cycle again.  As the Church’s feasts go this is a very new one.  Pius XI promulgated The Solemnity of Christ the King in 1925.  Originally set on the last Sunday of October it was moved to the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the last Sunday of the year, in 1969. 

What kind of king do we celebrate today?  A king who was described as shepherd in the first reading and the psalm?  A king who, according to the second reading, is prepared to hand over his kingdom?  A king who will judge those who failed to recognize him in others? Who is this king? 

Christ the King.
The King we are called to follow.
THE King we are called to follow; if we choose to do so. 

The choice to follow Jesus the Eternal King is a conscious and deliberate one which each of us must make.  We either choose to follow Jesus or not.  There is no alternative.

Twice in his life in the Society of Jesus a Jesuit makes the full Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The first time is during first year novitiate.  The second is many years later as a tertian.  During tertianship in Australia the twelve of us from all over the world made the long retreat for most of Lent, ending the Friday before Palm Sunday.  The Exercises include two day-long meditations on Jesus as King.  Both occur early in the retreat.  Both are instructive for this feast.

The first meditation compares the earthly with the heavenly king.  The retreatant begins by considering the characteristics of a good earthly king.  There have been plenty of bad ones throughout history and there will be more to come.   But what makes a good earthly king?  The earthly king Ignatius asks one to consider isn’t a king who is sitting up on his throne surrounded by a court and hangers-on; something like a rock star’s posse.  This good king is one who is down in the mud and grit with the rest of the people, the rest of the soldiers, and with the citizens in their struggles.  This is a king who is eating the same food as the commoners.  A king who is dressing the same way and living in the same kind of accommodations as everyone else.  The good earthly king is the type of king who, after a flood, would be in filthy sneakers and a sweaty t-shirt shoveling mud and tossing soggy furniture on a pile with everyone else.  He would NOT be the politician helicoptering in for a visit and some photo ops wearing a pressed suit, crisp white shirt and clean hard-hat while campaigning for his reelection.  

After this first part of the exercise one is asked to contemplate Jesus the Eternal King.  The King who took human form.  The King who walked in the dust and the mud, in the rain and the wind.  The King who sweated and shivered.  A King who was loved by many and reviled and hated by others.  A King who lived just as we do.  Today.  And a King who died.  Just as we will. 

This King is Jesus who tells each one of us, “Whoever wishes to join me must be willing to labor with me.”  At times that labor is neither pleasant nor easy.  We hear that “His yoke is easy and His burden is light.”  But sometimes it doesn’t seem that way at all. 

A few days later Ignatius instructs the individual to meditate on the choice that confronts all who call themselves followers of Christ.   It is called the Meditation of the Two Standards.  Under which of two standards, banners or flags is one going to choose to live and die?  That of Jesus, the Good King, or that of Satan, the evil spirit?  

Just as we live under the flag of the United States—and just as many brave men and women choose to fight and sometimes die for that flag—we are given a choice to live and die under the flag of one King or the other.  The standard of Satan or that of Christ, the bad king vs. the good and Eternal King. 

The choice is stark.  It is black and white.  No one can have one foot in each camp.  One’s loyalties cannot be split between the two.  It is not a matter of following Jesus when it is convenient, or safe, or acceptable to one’s friends, and following Satan when it is more expedient, for business reasons, or to get ahead, or because it is cool.   The choice is one or the other. 

St. Ignatius did not create anything original with these two meditations in The Exercises.  Throughout the coming Church year, as we hear the Gospel of Mark proclaimed, Jesus will give us that same choice many times in different ways.  Do we follow Him, the Eternal King, or do we not? 

We make resolutions and plans for our lives on New Year’s Eve.  Today, on the Feast of Christ the King, the end of the church year, we have the opportunity to resolve whether or not to live and die under the banner of Christ the King. The King who is, who was, and always will be.   The King whose death freed us from death.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica.  The Lateran was built by Constantine in A.D. 324 or so.  It is considered the mother church of Rome and the world.  As it is a feast there are two readings and the Gloria.  My homily is below followed by a few photos.

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica  
Ez 47:1-2,8-9,12
Ps 46: 2-3,5-6,8-9
1 Cor 3:9c-11,16-17
Jn 2:13-22

Water.  The source of life. The slaker of thirst. Everything on earth depends on it.

Water  Intertwined in all of human history both violent and peaceful.

Water.  Flowing from the Temple in the eschatological promise of Ezekiel. 

Water. Making glad the city of God in the Psalm.

Today's feast is a sign of devotion to, and unity with, the Chair of Peter which, St Ignatius of Antioch noted, “presides over the whole assembly of charity.”  Today we do not celebrate a church building as the name of the feast would seem to indicate.  We celebrate the Church.

We celebrate the Church into which one enters exclusively through the waters of baptism The Church which can have no other foundation than the one that is already there: Jesus Christ. . . . the foundation from which and from whom living waters flow in all directions to all peoples;  if they choose to bathe in those waters.   If they are willing to drink of the living water that Jesus offers. 

Jesuit Father Stanley Marrow gives a trenchant comment on today's gospel. “One incidental and puzzling aspect of the narrative is how generation after generation can read or hear the account itself and yet persist in clinging to their cherished image of Jesus.  They cherish an image of Jesus so 'gentle and mild' as to be incapable of overthrowing anything, not even the reader’s smugness. . . . The Jesus in the pages of this or any other gospel is not exactly a standard-bearer for bleeding hearts . . . .the aim is not to provide us with the biography of an inspiring hero, proportioned to the size of our ambitions, conformed to our ideals, and meeting our currently prevailing notions of what constitutes greatness.”

The elemental nature of this feast, as reflected in the Gospel, reflects the elemental nature of water.  Without water human life cannot exist for long. Without zeal for God’s house, without zeal for preaching His word, the Church cannot exist. 
Nighttime photography is fun and frustrating.  A tripod is an absolute necessity.  If not a tripod then a sturdy wall.  The first photo of hotels at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan used the latter method.
I did buy a tripod in Australia.  The investment paid off the night of the St. Ignatius Feast at Milson's Point with the following photo of Sydney Harbor and the Opera House. 

The next two are peacocks near Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan.  They knew I was impressed.  Just check out those expressions. 

 Autumn is a lovely time in D.C.  The leaves change much later than in New England.  These are from sunrise this morning.  The first shows fog lifting from the Potomac with the Washington Monument (still closed) in the distance.  
And finally the trees in the small lawn in front of the Jesuit Residence.  Over twenty years ago I bought mom six of the red bushes called burning bushes.  The turn a spectacular crimson color as the weather turns cold.  These things can grow to tremendous size if not trimmed.  
Will be in Plymouth over the weekend.  Another homily in the offing and perhaps some photos.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ

Monday, November 7, 2011

Autumn in Georgetown

This past weekend was highlighted by spectacularly beautiful autumn weather.   After being on the road for the past several weekends including last week in Naples, FL, it was a luxury to be home the entire time.  Except for driving one of the fathers to the airport at 5 AM on Saturday there was no need to get into a car.   It was nice just hanging around, running the occasional errand and enjoying the cool dry air. 

In a bit of an exercise that recalled the long retreat I took the camera with me everywhere I went.  A few of the resulting photos are below.  During the long retreat I began carrying the camera with me at all times.  Some of the best shots happened because I had the camera slung over my shoulder while walking to and from the main retreat house for Mass in the evenings around sunset.  The Boy Scouts are correct: Be prepared.  (Those of you of a certain age will recall Tom Lehrer's song "Be Prepared" which began "Be prepared, that's the Boy Scout's marching song. . . ."  That ear worm is going to be playing for the rest of the day).  Nonetheless, having a camera over my shoulder (a slip-it-into-the-pocket camera without a viewfinder is never going to cut it) forces me to look at things differently and allows me to notice things that would otherwise escape my attention or, as some of the photos show, see things are so familiar that I ignore them. 

While in Florida I gave two lectures to the Collier County Alzheimer's Outreach Network.  One was on medication and the elderly and the other was titled, "I Did Not Forget Thee O Jerusalem: Aging, Memory and Spirituality."  One of the emphases was on the use of photographs to preserve memories and to jog them into consciousness.   The importance of photographs for my own memories has already become apparent.  While sorting through some from Australia, Viet Nam and Taiwan to illustrate the lectures I found myself reliving experiences and moments that would be difficult to intentionally recall without the photos: a cold, damp, and foggy morning at Sevenhill, the movement of the boat and smell of the engine in the Mekong Delta, and the sweat dripping down my back as Ignatius and I climbed a 2.2 mile mountain path in Taiwan.

St. Augustine got it right when he wrote: “Memory preserves in distinct particulars and general categories all the perceptions which have penetrated each by its own route of entry . . . Memory’s huge caverns, with its mysterious secrets, and indescribable nooks and crannies, receives all these perceptions, to be recalled when needed and reconsidered.” Confessions X, 8:13.  This is a better description of memory than anything I've found in a neuropsychiatric textbook to date. 

I made multiple trips through Healy Hall over the weekend.  This is the back of the Georgetown seal on the front door near the chaplain's offices.
Among the top three things I will miss when I move is celebrating Mass at the Visitation Monastery next door.  The sisters have been wonderful.  Celebrating Mass with other religious is always a pleasure because certain images and allusions in homilies would not work in a parish setting.   The first is one of the upstairs porches overlooking the cloister.  The symmetry of the lights and fence were what first attracted me. 
The next is a detail of the sisters' choir.
Here is an example of noticing what one usually ignores.  This is a shadow of the gate on a wall at the 16th and P Street entrance to the university.  The wall is shared with the Visitation.  I was on my way there when I took this. 
This is the detail of a house down on P Street.
Here is the St. Ignatius statue in front of White-Gravenor on the Georgetown Campus.  W-G is where the campus tours began.  I had to learn how to give lost families the directions there from every point on campus very soon after arriving.  The other two big sites are "The Exorcist Steps" and The Tombs. 

This is one of the lamps in front of Copley Residence Hall, a perfect example of noticing  something familiar for the first time.
Finally, Healy Hall.  A bit of overexposure gave the silhouette effect.  The small jet stream adds a nice note. 
Cameras: Not just for travel anymore. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Saints and All Souls

The two follow each other in sequence.  The day of the saints and the day of the dead. This is as it should be.  Attached is a short homily for All Saint's Day. The photos are in memory of the souls of all those who have died.  Cemeteries can be places that lead one into contemplation and prayer.   These are a few from around the world.

All Saints 
1 November 2011

Rv 7:2-4, 9-14
Ps 24: 1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
I Jn 3:1-3
Mt 5:1-12a

The practice of venerating and invoking saints is an ancient one in the Catholic Church.  The actual beginning of such veneration is uncertain but it spread rapidly from the 4th century on.  At times the veneration of saints degenerated into superstition, and indeed it is still superstitious in the minds of many on the left and right: think burying a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the lawn so as to sell the house.  That is a difficult one to understand.  The Church sets the first day of November as a holy day of obligation in honor of all the saints.  Indeed the etymology of Halloween is holy eve; rather like Christmas Eve but with cross-dressing overtones.  All Saints honors ALL saints, those who have been formally canonized and those known only to God.   The readings help to explain why, what sainthood is.

The reading from Revelation is fascinating.  Revelation is the most wildly misunderstood and misused book in the entire canon.  It is part of the extraordinary and difficult genre of Biblical literature known as apocalyptic.  One of the characteristics of apocalyptic literature, a literature that was meant to engender hope during times of persecution, is that the symbolism is dense.  The meaning of some of the symbols and allusions is, and will remain, unknown.  Numerology is part of that symbolism.  It cannot be taken literally. 

Sainthood, seeing the face of God, is not limited to the 144,000 described in Revelation though certain fundamentalists would argue that one to the death.  In Revelation the number 1000 signifies an immense number, the equivalent of a bazillion today. One hundred forty-four is the square of twelve (a number which carries its own symbolism within the tribes of Israel).  Thus, 144,000 signifies a multitude beyond counting or an infinite number.  Though few of us will be canonized we are all called to sainthood.  And, despite the claims of the rapturists, there is room for everyone. 

Who can hope to be numbered among the saints?  Who can hope to ascend the mountain of the Lord? :  One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. 

As John notes in his letter, God the Father has bestowed such love on us that we are the children of God; we are His beloved because of Jesus’ radical self-surrender that brought sinful humanity to redemption; an act that opened the path to those who wish to ascend the mountain of the Lord.  The stepping-stones of that path are outlined in the portion of Matthew’s Gospel that is far and away the most well-known part of the much longer Sermon on the Mount.  Read through these “Blesseds are” some time today.  They are an expansion on the psalmist’s answer to his own question.  The Beatitudes tell us how to be ones whose hands are sinless, whose hearts are clean and who desire not what is vain. 

We truly do not yet know what we shall be.  We do not know what it will be like to be in God’s presence, to be numbered among the saints.  But Matthew tells us:  it will be great.  There is no reason to quibble with that.     

The first two photos are from the cemetery in Sevenhill, South Australia.  The color photo shows the tombstone of a prominent Polish woman (there is a large Polish community not too far away) whose gravestone has half of the Polish falcon and half of the papal seal.  I got this directly from the man who carved many of the stones in the cemetery when we ran into each other as I was taking photos. 

The next is the cemetery attached to St. Mary of the Angels Church in Port Lincoln, South Australia.
Here is an overgrown cemetery in the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam. 

Below is the Jesuit Cemetery in Taiwan at the retreat house and former novitiate in Changhwa.  
The Jesuit cemetery at Georgetown University after the blizzards of '10
This last is the Jesuit cemeteries (the old one is seen in the background) at Campion Center in Weston, MA.  This is where I will most likely be buried.  
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord . . . . 

+Fr. Jack, SJ