Sunday, January 29, 2012

Joe Paterno

Verdi’s Nabucco is playing in the background.  My fountain pen—used for first drafts of homilies and lectures—is full.  Thoughts about JoePa have been passing through my mind since I learned of his death  last Sunday morning at the end of  holy hour and benediction during which I found myself praying for him and his family.  

Joe went to Penn State as an assistant to head coach Rip Engel in 1950, the year after I was born, and became head coach in 1966, just before I was accepted at the University Park Campus, though I delayed matriculating until 1968.  Thus, when he died I could understand more fully the common plaint of twenty-somethings in 2005 who, upon Pope John Paul II’s death, said, “But he was the only pope I ever knew!”  Coach Paterno's death of metastatic lung cancer at age 85 was no surprise.  After seeing a few of the photos taken between the time of his diagnosis and death it was obvious that he was quite ill. 

This past Thursday afternoon I watched the two and one-half hour memorial service.  The a cappella rendition of the Alma Mater by the Men’s Glee Club and the lone trumpeter slowly playing Hail to the Lions that began and ended the service respectively, were very emotional moments.  In between the unadorned musical offerings was a series of speakers, mostly former football players representing each of the six decades, or partial decades, during which JoePa was head coach, but also including the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, a student who was one of the initial Paterno Fellows in the Honors College, and, most memorably, Phil Knight, the founder and president of Nike and the only speaker not directly affiliated with the University.  Each of the speakers revealed yet another facet of a most remarkable man.  Everyone, it seems, has a JoePa story.  Thus, I want to share mine.  It proved to a much younger me that a man I had admired since I watched him and his wife Sue bring the kids to Mass every Sunday on campus was as genuine under great pressure as he was in his very public life. 

During my residency in internal medicine one of the five Paterno children suffered a severe injury after falling off of a trampoline, was airlifted to Geisinger, and placed on ventilator support in the ICU.  None of this was confidential as it was covered by the PA papers.  I was on ICU service that month.  During the hospitalization Coach and Mrs. Paterno never tried to overstay the visiting time of the first 15 minutes of each hour nor did they try to sneak the other kids in, all of whom were below the permitted visiting age.  This behavior stood in marked contrast to the family of a locally well-connected man in a cubicle across the unit who were immovable obstacles at the bedside.  Intrusive and insensitive football fans were being rather obnoxious in asking JoePa if he planned on coaching the game at Syracuse that coming Saturday (no).  The staff took the initiative to give the family a private waiting room in one of the exam rooms at the other end of the hall so that they wouldn’t have to endure this kind of behavior.  They did not ask for it.

One night while I was on call for the unit the child developed some difficulty that was going to require an urgent procedure.  It was about 3 AM but it couldn’t wait until later in the morning.  After I called the attending docs, but before they arrived, I called the Paternos at their room in the inn near the hospital.  They arrived in about five minutes.  (Yes, I had to dial the number more than once because I was shaking.)  When they arrived Mrs. Paterno went into the room and I began to explain to Coach Paterno what needed to be done, why and that we would need signed permission.  Though I offered to let him wait until the staff docs came in he said there was no need.  In his Brooklyn accent he said something to the effect of Doctor, you’re doing a fine job.  We trust you know what has to be done.  And he signed the papers. 

There was no, “Are you an intern?” or “I wanna talk to the doctor in charge.”  Just a thank you.  And he addressed me as Doctor.  That meant a lot, particularly as at the time I had dark hair that brushed the base of my neck and, if not pulled to the side would have obscured most of my vision, was wearing a rumpled scrub after 20 hours with no sleep, and smelt of stale cigarette smoke (I had not yet quit).  The staff docs arrived, procedure was done and all turned out well in the end. 

For several years before that people would carp that Joe Paterno’s public face was just an image.  No. It wasn’t.  At 3 AM with a sick child in ICU there was no need to maintain an image.  He could have, and many would have, thrown a complete animal act that a young second-year internal medicine resident was seeking permission for a procedure before the “real docs” had arrived (I was not going to be doing the procedure as it was surgical).  There was no image.  Just a good man who trusted those who knew what had to be done.  It was an unforgettable moment.

I could go on.  But the many articulate speakers at the memorial service said it better than I can.  Among the “best,” and this is a matter of splitting hairs, was Phil Knight.  Like almost all of the speakers he had moments when he struggled to maintain his composure.  As soon as he finished I e-mailed my alumna niece, who had worked at Nike for quite a few years and knew him, that he had just done the combined equivalent of a bottom of the ninth grand slam, a buzzer beater in the NCAA finals and the most exquisite Hail Mary one could imagine (or better yet, he had recreated Jack Giftopolous’ end-zone interception of the Vinnie Testaverde pass that gave Penn State its second national championship) when he named the elephant in the room, took square aim and shot.  He ended the segment of his memorial talk, visibly angry with, “We will see who the real trustee is.”  The audience roared its approval and rose to its feet.  So did I.  In my room.  In response to an image on a computer screen.

I remain mystified by, and angry about, the actions of the BOT.  No matter what you don’t “fire” a man of his caliber and reputation, a man whose contribution to Penn State cannot be measured, via a phone call.  Were a physician to call one of the trustees to say, “Hey, can you take a message.  Your wife’s breast biopsy reveals an aggressive cancer.  Call the office to set up an appointment some time next week.  Bye.”  the fallout would be dramatic and swift.  Acting in the best cover your ass mode, apparently a trend in what we call academia today, the trustees proved to be ball-less and feckless. 

Even further beneath contempt, or infra dig as the Jesuit educated (Brooklyn Prep) coach would have understood, were, and are, the some of the sportswriters on ESPN and a variety of newspapers.  Judgmental.  Hypermoralistic.  Poorly informed.  And trying to win a Pulitzer.  They attacked like sharks.  Why?  The psychiatrist is me suspects a combination of envy for a man whose accomplishments will be remembered long after they’ve missed their last deadline (a library named after a football coach?), difficulty confronting their own errors in judgment, secret and suspected, and probably most significantly, their problems in dealing with authority, particularly that of their own fathers, and thus railing, like spoiled teenagers, against a man who did not hesitate to tell us how it was to be done on the football field, off the playing field (that 1986 game against Miami that included aforementioned interception proved that) and in the classroom. 

I had season tickets for 28 years.  I gave them up more than five years ago.  I hadn’t been to a game in a long time before that as my siblings used them.  Life is now changed.  There is a new coach.  It will be tough to adjust to a man who will probably not roll his pants cuffs up.  But adjust we will.  The memories, on the other hand, will endure.  Watching JoePa run out onto the field during some of the signature wins, the day (I was a student) when a player showboated in the end-zone by spiking the ball and doing a bit of a hip swivel.  Paterno was screaming at the guy even before he reached the end-zone.  It wasn’t pretty.  But the more private memories are even more valuable.  Seeing him rein in one or two of the kids who wanted to dance in the aisle at Mass, the occasional sightings on the campus, and, most particularly, the night he made a young resident realize that he was, in fact, a Doctor.  
While looking at photos the other day I realized that I took quite a few shots of empty boats.  Some were sitting on the water waiting to be used.  Others in Australia, were in storage for the winter.  The image of an empty boat is evocative.  Jesus calming the storm at sea.  Jesus, in Luke's Gospel, speaking to the crowds while standing in a boat a bit of a distance from the shore.  And a University without the man who brought it into tremendous prominence.

The first two were downloaded from the Centre Daily Times.  

The first half-boat is part of a sculpture installation at a peace garden in Puli, Taiwan.  It fascinated me then and continues to fascinate.
The next is a group of boats docked for the winter in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia.
The red canoe is sitting on a dock in the marina in Port Lincoln, South Australia.
The next few are photos of boats in a "dry dock" in Coffin Bay, South Australia. 

Finally some boats in the Mekong Delta that are waiting to be called into action. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, January 21, 2012

March for Life Weekend

This is the weekend before the March for Life commemorating the murderous passage of Roe v. Wade.  The weather is going to be a real challenge but the marchers, many from our colleges and universities are undeterred.  Had dinner with a great group from St. Peter's College in Jersey City.

Recovery continues.  So does the fatigue.  Nap has become a favorite word.
Below is a homily for this Sunday followed by some more random photos.

Jon 3:1-5, 10
Ps 25
1 Cor 7:29-31
Mk 1:14-20

“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.” 

Today’s Gospel recounts the calling of the disciples.  The narrative is historical.  It is also symbolic because we are all called to follow Jesus.  We are all called to be disciples.  We are called to be followers of Christ; followers who preach the gospel, through word and action.  We are called to preach that:

God loved us first. 
God loves us last. 
God loves us eternally. 
God loves us from conception to the moment of death.
God loves us beyond death.

God loved us before we were born.  God loved us before we could speak.  Years before we were able to comprehend what the sounds that make up the word God meant, He loved us.  And God loves us deep into dementia when we can no longer articulate the word God.

The vigil Mass in Dahlgren Chapel this evening was The Mass for Life.  Bishop William Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, was the principal celebrant with several of us from the community concelebrating.  Sunday morning I will lead Holy Hour, Benediction and the Rosary prior to the beginning of the 13th Annual Cardinal O'Connor Conference for Life.

There are many areas I could address.  Abortion in general is one.  Another is the recent increased suppression of religious freedom by a president who insists that church organizations must provide free birth control despite moral objections, a government that wants to require pharmacists to participate in pharmacologic abortions through dispensing "morning after pills" despite their moral convictions.  How long before Catholic hospitals and health care facilities are required to perform abortions? 

One of the first acts the current president signed was the freedom of choice act legalizing partial-birth abortion, the most horrifying form of abortion.  Partial-birth abortion indicates that the child in the womb has reached 24 weeks, the age of viability, the age at which the child could potentially survive outside the womb.  While a child born at 24 weeks does not have good odds of survival, even in a neonatal ICU, partial birth abortion can be performed on a child at any age in the womb from the barely viable 24 week-old to the full-term infant of 39 or 40 weeks gestation.  To put fetal survival into context for those of you of a certain age, the Dionne quintuplets were born in 1934 at 30 weeks gestation, decades before the advent of neonatal intensive care units.  They were kept warm in a box near a wood-fired stove.  All survived into adulthood.  Two are still alive at 77 years of age. 

I entered Temple Medical School in 1971.  With the exception of 1997 to 1999 when I was a Jesuit novice I have been an active physician since graduating 1975.  After ten years practicing adult internal medicine in my dad’s offices I returned to residency training in psychiatry and now specialize in geriatric psychiatry.  Obviously, I haven’t entered a delivery room, or even thought about obstetrics, in decades.  To get a handle on this I called my med school lab partner, a now-retired OB-Gyn specialist who opposes abortion, to ask about partial birth abortion. 

She explained that first the baby is delivered part of the way, hence the term partial birth.  Then a variety of procedures are done to reduce the size of the baby’s head; the abortion part.  One way of doing so is to insert a large bore needle through the foramen magnum at the base of the skull and apply suction to extract the brain.  The alternative is to crush the skull with forceps. 

A few years ago I was finishing up some continuing medical education on pain control across the age spectrum from infancy to extreme old age.  An unsettling fact grabbed my attention.  A fetus’ pain sensing mechanism is fully developed and functional at 29 weeks of pregnancy.  At a point slightly more than two months before full-term the child’s pain sensing mechanisms are active.  At a time only five weeks beyond the lower limit  for what is considered partial birth abortion the child feels pain the same way we do. 

I am always amused—just before becoming infuriated—by animal rights activists who argue against fur or leather coats screaming, “How would you like to have your skin ripped from you?” Question?  How does it feel to have a needle puncture the base of the skull and suck out the brain without anesthesia?  How does it feel to have one’s head crushed?   

Today’s Gospel calls us to be disciples.  The Gospel calls us to be disciples whose belief leads to action, even when that action is unpopular.  Today we are called to be like the prophet Jonah, who is described in The Jewish Study Bible as “the most successful prophet in the Bible.”  We are called to make our voices heard in these callous and murderous times.

Pope John Paul II of happy memory coined the term the Culture of Death to describe modern life.   We cannot afford to participate in that culture that is echoing more and loudly eugenics movements, various analogs of "ethnic cleansing" and, perhaps, moving toward the kind of life described in terrifying fashion by Kazuo Ishiguro in his novel Never Let Me Go. 

The psalmist gives us our prayer today.

"Your ways, O Lord, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
guide me in your truth and teach me
for you are God my savior."

Our challenge is to preach that truth.
Our challenge is to teach the value of human life.  
Ever wonder about palm trees?  There was a crew cutting off the dead palms from the trees lining a boulevard at Taiwan National University (Tai Da) not far from our community in Taipei.  No way I would go up in one of those buckets.  Of course I said the same thing about riding a motorcycle in Viet Nam.
Speaking of Viet Nam.  Never trust a friend with a camera.  On the way back from our excursion on the boat John Ngoc The, SJ fell asleep.  Big mistake my friend.  Great photo though.
One year ago tomorrow the tertians in Australia arrived at Gerroa Beach in New South Wales for the first ten days of tertianship, an intensive time of prayer and getting to know each other.  I've been on beaches in Belgium, Brazil (including Ipanema), Guyana, and the U.S. but nothing will ever beat Gerroa.  The first photo is sunset and the second of shells on the beach.  Yes, photo number two went through Aperture 3. 

A white rose in the rain during the long retreat at Sevenhill.  This was taken at night with flash under the cover of a veranda. 
Sometimes the most mundane objects make interesting photos.  These are four buckets of melting candle wax.  Great colors. 
The last is a slice of life.  Poor little guy was in the Taipei Saturday Artists Market with his mom.  He was bored. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy New Year

I’ve been a bit lazy over the past few weeks alternating sleeping with increasing amounts of walking.  Feeling fairly well though there is still some persistent fatigue and a degree of insomnia.  I am going to celebrate a public Mass tomorrow (vigil Mass) for the first time since surgery.  The homily is below followed by some photos.  It doesn’t seem possible that one year ago I had come to Australia from Taiwan and was awaiting the formal beginning of tertianship.

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
15 January 2012
1 Sam 3:3-10, 19
Ps 40 2,4, 7-8, 8-9,10
1 Cor 6:13-15, 17-20
John 1:35-42

Voco, vocare, vocatus.
Those of you who sat in Miss Curran’s Latin class back in the old Plymouth High School have either already translated this or you are sitting there breaking out in a cold sweat at the sound of her name.  Even students who didn’t take Latin knew her as a formidable presence in the second floor hallways at the top of the stairs.  Terrific teacher.  Lovely woman.  But . . .  no one in his or her right mind would mouth off to her.  They don’t make ‘em like Agnes any more.  A pity.  She knew how to teach Latin.

Voco, vocare, vocatus.  To call.  To name.  To summons.  To call upon.  To invite.  To challenge.  There is overlap among the various translations  but each one has a distinct flavor.  Each English meaning has a subtle variation that is unique. Voco is the root of the word vocation.  The first reading, the psalm and the gospel are tied together by the idea of vocation.  Samuel’s vocation.  The apostles’ vocations.  And, by extension, our vocations. 

A standard dictionary defines vocation as:  1.  A regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited.  2.  An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a particular career.  A vocation may be a call to a particular way of living that is independent of one’s job, or it may define how one makes a living.  Thus we can speak of the vocation to marriage.  The vocation to parenthood.  The vocation to caring for others.  The vocation to the creative life.  The vocation to teaching, a vocation Miss Curran lived to the fullest.  And, of course, the vocation to religious life in one of the orders for men or women as well as the vocation to the priesthood. 

We all have a vocation.  We all receive a call from God.  The challenges are first, hearing God’s voice to know what that vocation is and, second, choosing to accept and live out that vocation. 

One of the amusing parts of the first reading is that it took more than one call for Samuel and Eli to realize that God was summoning Samuel.   Poor Eli.  There he was sound asleep when the kid suddenly wakes him up to say “You called.  I’m here.”    He eventually understood what was happening and instructed young Samuel to reply “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” the next time he was called.   Samuel was obviously rattled when God called him again.  He replied, “Speak, your servant is listening”, completely forgetting to address God as Lord. 

Samuel’s vocation was to be a prophet.  Samuel was called to proclaim the Word of the Lord fearlessly, even when he knew that those who heard him were not going to like what he said.  That is in part the vocation to which we are all called as Christians.  We are called to proclaim the Word of God even if it makes us unpopular such as when we proclaim moral opposition to abortion, opposition to killing the elderly who are inconveniently ill, or opposition to a government that forces physicians, nurses, hospitals and pharmacists to act against their moral convictions by participating in these and other activities. 

John’s Gospel describes the call of the first apostles.  At the end of this particular reading we hear Jesus giving Simon a new name, Cephas—or Peter.  Peter’s life changed at that moment, just as our lives change when we hear and accept God’s call. 

Hearing the call to one’s vocation and acting on it is a funny thing.  There you are going about your daily life, working, playing, relaxing, and so on.  And then something changes.  You realize that this is the one I am called to marry.  This is the work I am called to do.  It can be a disturbing experience.   Like Samuel we may need to be called more than once.  But, God’s voice is insistent.  The call to a true vocation does not and will not go away no matter how much we wish we could simply continue with things as usual.

As Christians we share the vocation to follow Christ.  John said “Behold the Lamb of God” and his disciples turned, followed Jesus and stayed with him for the rest of the day.  Wouldn’t it be great to know the details of the conversation that afternoon?  Andrew was apparently so blown away that he went to find his own brother and brought him to Jesus. 

The last verse of the first reading is disconnected from the first ten verses. 
But it is critical to understanding vocation. “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him . . . . “  When we receive our vocations be they to marriage, parenthood, the single life, a life teaching or life in a religious order, the Lord will be with us and give us the strength necessary to live that vocation. 

I made a rare special request for today’s offertory hymn.  "Here I  Am Lord."  It is one of the most popular and well-known of the post-Vatican II hymns.  "Here I Am Lord" is based on today’s first reading.  Listen carefully to the dialogue between God and each one of us.  Will I choose to reply with the psalmist?  Will I choose to say with Samuel?

Here I am, Lord.
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord,
if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
Photos.  All of these come from various parts of tertianship or associated travel.   There is no rhyme, reason or theme to my choices except for liking them. 

Invoking Miss Curran in the homily made me think back to high school in the mid-sixties.  The small museum at Sevenhill had this typewriter very similar to the one on which I learned to type.  These had a lot more character than a computer keyboard.   The IBM Selectric, however, had the BEST keyboard feel ever. 

Pull out a camera and children will mug for it.  These are some of the kindergarten students in My Thu, Viet Nam. 
As John, Sister Cecile, and I pulled up to the motherhouse in My Thu a large procession emerged from the cathedral next door.  
The time in Warrnambool, South Australia was frustrating because the weather was miserable.  However, in a town that had been in drought for eleven years it was not a good idea to complain.  I only managed to get to the beach two or three times in three weeks.  This photo invokes Winslow Homer's seascapes.  
The ducklings hatched while we were making the long retreat at Sevenhill.  I went up to take photos of the rapidly growing cuties almost daily.  Love the one whose head is popping up above the others. 
Everyone knows I love Taiwan.  The crowded streets do not annoy as much as similarly congested streets in D.C.  
Finally, some of the pottery at the Taipei Saturday Flower Market.  
Next Saturday I will join the concelebrants for the Mass initiating the Right to Life weekend at Georgetown.  On Sunday I'll officiate at Benediction, Holy Hour and the Rosary prior to the beginning of the annual Cardinal O'Connor Conference.  Pray for the students who have worked so hard to organize this and who are not afraid to be prophets despite the unpopularity of their stance in some quarters. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD