Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Death, A Homily, and Some Photos

The e-mail had more of an impact on my gradually awakening state than the third mug of coffee that was steaming between my hands.  Stanley Marrow, SJ, Professor Scripture at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, had died a few hours earlier at Mass General.  I met Stanley several years before I entered.  He was Iraqi who went to Boston College to study chemistry but then entered the New England Province and became a beloved and fantastic professor New Testament.  Not everyone's cup of tea, Stanley was  my pot of coffee.  He was a mesmerizing teacher; I took five courses with him during the years of theology.  He was the consummate Old World gentleman who wrote "thank you" at the end of every exam paper he graded.  I was excited at the prospect of lunching with him regularly once I moved to Campion Center in eight days.  As it is I will go to Campion a few days earlier than planned so as to concelebrate his funeral.

A few weeks before I entered the Society in August 1997 I took Stanley and George Murray, SJ, MD, who trained me as a consult psychiatrist at Mass General, to the Rialto Restaurant in the Charles Hotel for dinner.  Not being constrained by the vow of poverty I dropped a bundle on dinner, after making sure they understood that the meal was my treat.  Afterwards we repaired to Stanley's quarters to sip on some Benedictine and Brandy.  Stanley and George took great delight in sharing French limericks with me.  I don't speak French.  None of us noticed.  Thinking  back on that night I still feel like the little kid who, after a great day says, "This was the very best day in my whole life."

I celebrated the community Mass this afternoon and will do so again tomorrow for the last time.  Sunday I will head to Plymouth and then to Boston on Monday for the funeral on either Tuesday or Thursday, depending on when his nephews and nieces can come over from Europe.

6th Tuesday in Ordinary Time
16 February 2010
Jas 1:12-18
Ps 94
Mk 8:14-21

It is consoling to read in commentaries that this particular Gospel passage is “one of the most enigmatic in Mark’s Gospel.”  What does Jesus mean by his words and his harsh criticism of his disciples? 

One of the more unfortunate indoor sports in church circles is apostle-bashing; sneering at how they didn’t get it; condescending because they, and particularly Peter, frequently failed to grasp who Jesus was.  Apostle bashers positively wallow in pointing out how they seemed so talented at saying and doing the wrong thing.  The problem with apostle bashing, which generally goes into full swing during Lent, is that it is always done with the underlying assumption by the basher that I would have recognized who Jesus was; I never would have doubted, questioned, or betrayed him.  Yeah, right. 

Like us, the apostles were called by Jesus. 
Like us, they were sinners loved by God.
Like us, they didn’t fully understand the meaning of their call. 
Like us, the “leaven of the Pharisees and Herod” set off the process described in the first reading, “each person is tempted when lured and enticed by desire.  Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.”

The episode in today’s gospel is one of those moments when, if we are honest, we see our true reflection in the apostles’ stumbling and bumbling humanness.  They are us, and we are them, in our clumsy attempts to understand and respond to this Jesus who called us as surely as He called them. We can feel Jesus’ frustration when he asks, “Do you still not understand?”  How did his voice sound?  What did his face look like?  Did the apostles take a sudden interest in their cuticles with that question?

Do we understand who Jesus is? 
Do we understand what He demands of us?
Do we understand what He did for us?

At midnight, one week from today, Mardi Gras will come to a screeching halt in New Orleans.  And Rio de Janeiro will fall silent as carnaval ends.  One week tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the penitential season of Lent. 

If we listen carefully to the readings and gospels which the Church presents, if we contemplate the mysteries of our faith, spend some extra time with the scriptures, and, particularly as we hear the reading of the Passion during Holy Week, we will have the opportunity to better understand who Jesus is, what He does for us, and to be reminded again that, in the words of the confiteor, like Peter in his denials, like the apostles in their desertion, like Pilate and Caiphas in their sham trials, and like the jeering crowds, I, too,

"have greatly sinned,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault."

The first is a bunch of Coke bottles in the antique store we visited on the way to Coffin Bay.  I could have stayed there the entire day taking photos. 
The next is the beach at Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia.  This was only the second day in three weeks  that the sun deigned to appear for a few minutes. 
In  the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam I got this photo of my tertian classmate John The, SJ in the doorway of a church with the pastor.  The brass tub serves as a gong. 
The next is Ignatius Hung Wan-liu, SJ closing benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at Sacred Heart Church in Taipei.  I took the shot through the etched glass windows at the back of the church.  
The next is a detail of the pulpit in the Anglican chapel at the University of Melbourne. 
Finally, another color abstraction.  This is the reflection of a pier in the water at Port Lincoln, South Australia.  I took the original shot from a boat.  This is only a small portion of it that was run through Aperture 3 more than once.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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