Saturday, March 17, 2012

Laetare Sunday

I am celebrating the 6:30 AM Mass for the community tomorrow in the main chapel.  Though I've celebrated Gaudete Sunday in Advent several times this will be the first time I vest in dusty rose during Lent.  The principle reason for this is that Laetare Sunday is the date for the annual Rose Mass, a Mass for health care workers.  Ever since ordination I concelebrated this Mass but never had the option to preach.  Last year we were on the long retreat during Lent.  Tertians did not have the option to preach during the retreat.  A pity.  Photos follow the homily. 

4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday)
18 March 2012
2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23
Ps 137 1-6
eph 2:4-10
Jn 3:14-21

Laetare Ierusalem, et conventum facite, omnes qui dilgitis eam; gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis . . .  

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.  Be joyful, all who where in mourning . . . .

Laetare, the first word of the entrance antiphon, gives the fourth Sunday of Lent is name:  Laetare Sunday.  The dusty rose vestments--please note they are dusty rose NOT hot pink--signify a certain lessening of the Lenten austerities.  Lent is now more than half over, a rather surprising fact given how recently we gathered in this chapel for the imposition of ashes.  Yes, we rejoice that Lent is half over--chocolate is on the horizon--but, today's readings give much deeper reason to rejoice.

In its commentary on the first reading The Jewish Study Bible notes that "one of the hallmarks of the Book of Chronicles is its strict notion of divine providence and retribution . . . virtuous deeds lead to reward, while bad deeds bring punishment and suffering."  The commentator notes further that "Chronicles' uniqueness lies in its view of divine compassion or grace as the operative principle."  It is God's compassion or grace that allows for repentance and forgiveness of sin and thus brings the message of eternal hope.  

No matter how often the Israelites violated the covenant God forged with them, forgiveness was available.  And so it is for us.  Particularly in the sacrament of confession, we receive forgiveness for our sins again and again.  

The responsorial psalms amplifies the calculus presented in Chronicles.

"If I forget you Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten,
May my tongue cleave to the roof of my palate
if I remember you not."

These are harsh words to direct at oneself.  Here the psalmist prays that if he commits evil--in this case forgetting Jerusalem--may he be severely punished.  The punishment which the psalmist is calling down upon himself for the sin of forgetting Jerusalem is that of a stroke on the left side of his brain, the type of stroke that results in paralysis and eventual atrophy of the right hand and garbled speech that does indeed, sound as if the tongue is stuck to the roof of the mouth.  In essence the psalmist is saying, If I forget you Jerusalem may I be struck dead.  

John Paul II took the words from the second reading for the title of his second encyclical that was promulgated in November 1980.  Dives in Misericordia or Rich in Mercy.  In this encyclical he explored the divine dimension of the great mystery of redemption.  As he notes in section 7:  " . . . mercy is an indispensable dimension of love; it is as it were love's second name, and, at the same time, the specific manner in which love is revealed and effected . . ."  We have indeed been saved by grace, a fact that John's gospel states without equivocation.

Had I been asked to celebrate this Mass only five minutes before it began I would not have tried to give a make-it-up-as-I-went-along homily on these rich readings.  Rather, I would have suggested that we spend five or so minutes quietly meditating on and, one hopes, being overwhelmed by, the implications of the words, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."  It is a statement that never loses its power to stun the believer into silence while leaving the non-believer perplexed in the extreme. 

It is critical when contemplating these words that one realize that they do not include an exemption from dying.  Rather they overthrow the power of death itself.  As Stanley Marrow explained in his commentary on this gospel, for John, not to believe in the revelation of Jesus is to die, period.  To cease to exist.  He goes on to note that eternal life is the preservation of relationships with those whom we love and those who love us, intact "but without the menacing hands of death."  He does not describe the biology, physics, logistics, or philosophy of what this means for each of us.  That is something that comes under the rubric of faith which Hebrews described perfectly: “Now faith is the conviction of things not seen.” 

Laetare Ierusalem, et conventum facite, omnes qui dilgitis eam; gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis.  

My favorite location for the annual eight-day retreat is St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA. St. Vincent is the first house of Benedictine monks in the U.S.  It was established through the efforts of Boniface Wimmer, OSB who brought Benedictinism to Pennsylvania more tha 150 years ago.  I've been there twice and hope to return some time in the coming autumn.  One side benefit of making a retreat at St. Vincent is that it is only a three hour drive east to Penn State where I spend the "ninth day" of the retreat walking on campus and visiting "ghosts."

The first is the chapel in the seminary.  Eucharistic adoration happens here every morning between 5 and 6 prior to the first offices in the Abbey Church. 
  The next is the pulpit in the Abbey Church with the paschal candle visible in the background.
The sacristy is enormous with cowls for each priest.  Most of the priests in the large abbey concelebrate the conventual Mass daily.  Concelebrants are also welcome.  It must take a while to get used to getting that hood on properly.  I always find it a struggle. 
One afternoon I caught this ray of sun streaming across vestments deep in the sacristy.

The surrounding grounds are magnificent.  There is also a college on the grounds.   This is the path around one of the lakes in November. 
The gristmill still grinds grain into flour.  The wheelbarrow was underneath the mill. 
The monastic cemetery includes hundreds of iron crosses marking the graves of deceased monks. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Settling In

A year ago the tertians in the Australian program were just beginning the long retreat at Sevenhill.  Echoes of that time have occupied much of my meditation over the past few days.  The thousands of photographs help recall memories that would be otherwise difficult to summon. 

The move was arduous.  Thus, no entries for four weeks.  Sam and I had a terrific drive to Boston with an overnight at the parish in Plymouth.  A few hours after Fr. Marrow's funeral on Tuesday my cell phone rang.  The moving van was in Boston and would arrive at 9 AM the next day to drop off.  This represented an arrival four to six days in advance of what had been planned.  It turned out to be a major blessing as the weather on Wednesday was good.  The weather on the days when the van should have arrived ranged from awful to hideous.  Unpacking is coming along well but it is taking time.  With some luck and effort I should have most of the stuff, except for the forty cartons of books, unpacked and put away in a week.  As my office over in the big house shapes up some of what is sitting in boxes in my room will move across the driveway.  A significant portion of the books will wind up there as well.

The learning curve as minister is going to be steep. I've met over 100 new people.  Keeping the names straight will be a major challenge. 

It is good being back in New England.  The contrast between driving to the Natick Mall along two-lane country roads for two-thirds of the  ten-mile trip and dealing with the traffic of Northern Virginia is enormous.  Boston's traffic can be dreadful on the interstates.  But I can generally avoid traveling them in the course of daily life.  Somehow the Beltway is an inescapable part of D.C. life. 

After the homily for tomorrow's community Mass at 6:30 AM (after moving the clock ahead one hour) follow some photos. 

3rd Sunday of Lent
11 March 2012

Ex 20:1-17
Ps 19
I Cor 1:22-25
Jn 2:13-25

The readings for today’s Mass present a groaning board of possibilities.  They are so rich that each could serve as the text for a long homily.  The readings from Exodus and the Gospel complement each other while Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians augments both.  Words that come to mind, in no particular order include zeal, relativism, accommodation, and risk.  These words compel us to consider our vocation as Jesuits.  Indeed, they compel all Christians, vowed and not, to consider their call to evangelization. 

The God of Exodus is not a God of relativism, or accommodation or negotiation.  The Ten Commandments are short and to the point.  They prohibit  adultery,  killing, and stealing.  They demand love for God and one’s neighbor.  Thus, thou shalt not kill does not exclude abortion because it is QUOTE delivery of women’s health care UNQUOTE.  “Honor your father and your mother that you may have long life in the land” does not permit having a physician put mom or dad to death because their lives have no "meaning" or the inheritance is running out.  While the prohibition against adultery should be self-evident it doesn't take very long wading in the moral swamp known as the newspaper to get an idea that it is an oft-ignored prohibition.  Paul was quite perceptive when he wrote, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 
The second chapter of John ‘s Gospel consists of 25 verses and one massive shift in scene and tone.  In the space between the end of verse 12 and the beginning of today's reading with verse 13, the reader is transported from the wedding at Cana to the Temple at Jerusalem, from miracle to sign, while being forced to confront his or her notions of who Jesus is and, perhaps with greater difficulty, how Jesus is.  For those for whom zeal for God’s house is relative, tepid or depends on current social fads, it is an uncomfortable confrontation. 

The Jesus of the gospels is not a Jesus of relativism, a Jesus of accommodation or a Jesus of negotiation.   The Jesus of the gospels is the Jesus who challenged political authorities and social mores, both conservative and liberal.  The Jesus of the gospels called a spade a spade.  The Jesus of the gospels did not cave into secularist society.  The Jesus of the gospels did not tolerate desecration of His Father’s house.   We would do very well to remember that.

Whenever I have to prepare a homily on John’s Gospel I read it, pray with it write down thoughts and reflections.  And then, after a suitable period to allow for fermentation, reach for the late Father Stanley Marrow’s commentary: The Gospel of John: A Reading.  Stanley never disappoints.  He writes about today’s gospel as follows: 

“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. . . 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.”

Without zeal for God’s house,  without zeal for preaching His word, the Church cannot exist.  Without zeal Jesuits have no relevance, except in the humorous definition that describes Jesuits as “the largest men’s religious order in the Catholic Church that tends to found universities with excellent basketball teams.”

The Society of Jesus did not become the Society of Jesus through a lack of zeal or fervor.  Tepidity is not a word that comes to mind, or should come to mind,  when one thinks of the Long Black Line.  Ignatius.  Xavier.  Mateo Ricci.  Miguel Pro. These men understood zeal for God’s house.  And they lived that zeal.  Ignatius, Xavier and Ricci died natural deaths after years of hard work.  Pro died a martyr’s death in front of a firing squad with the words, “viva Cristo Rey” on his lips.  These brothers of ours, brothers in Christ and in the Society, did not meet with the kind of approval that comes from politically correct opinions that would be met with approval at a cocktail party on Beacon Hill.  They did not keep their preaching at room temperature.  It was not easy for Ignatius and his sons.  It was not easy for Jesus.   

As we contemplate these readings today may we say with the psalmist:

“The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the Lord is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart,
the command of the lord is clear,
enlightening the eye."

The Lord does, indeed, have the words to everlasting life.
Given that it is one year since we began the long retreat it seemed appropriate to include photos from both long retreats.  The first set are from the surroundings at St. Alphonsus Retreat House on Eastern Point, Gloucester, MA.  We made our novice retreat there in January and February 1998.  The photos were taken in November 2011.  The second set are from Sevenhill Retreat House, Sevenhill, South Australia in March 2012.

Retreat House bells from the parking lot at Eastern Point.
Discarded slate at Eastern Point
The Atlantic from "the rocks" at Eastern Point
A pool on the rocks at Eastern Point
The path from the retreat house to the rocks at Eastern Point
Sign at the entrance to Sevenhill Winery
Fellow tertians John The and Vincent Pham during the tour before the day before we began the retreat
Sampling grapes during the winery tour.
The house in which John The, Simon Wong and I stayed during the long retreat.  We each spent vast amounts of time on the covered porch, each staking out his own favorite territory.  This was mine.
The Sevenhill Winery tasting room. 
The Yellow Rose of Sevenhill
Moonrise as the sun set in the west at Sevenhill.
Time to spring the clocks ahead and then hit the rack. 
+Fr. Jack SJ, MD