Saturday, April 28, 2012

Vocation Sunday

This weekend presented an opportunity to preach on the concept of vocations to religious life.  It was the first time I've had this chance.  I wasn't handing out applications to the Society though it is a thought.  The photos are from Campion Center over the past week.  Lovin' the new tripod.  

4th Sunday of Easter
29 April 2010
49th World Day of Prayer for Vocations
Jn 10:11-18

What is a vocation?  Today, as she does annually on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church is observing the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. This is the 49th year we are praying for vocations to the vowed religious life and to the diocesan priesthood. 

Who is called to particular service within the Church?  How can we encourage vocations?  The who can be summarized as a cross section of humanity and a wide swath of experiences and professions.  The how is prayer and support from family and friends.  Some examples of who.

Three days after our 12-man class began tertianship in Australia we drove to Gerroa Beach, the most beautiful beach I’ve ever visited.  Every morning for ten days we met for prayer, Mass and vocation stories.  In the stories we described, in as much detail as possible, the influences that brought us to the Society of Jesus, how we became aware of and accepted the call to “Come, follow me,” and how we understood the vocations we had been living for at least 15 years.  The range of men was remarkable. There was a  PhD in physics who now teaches at Loyola University of Chicago, a social worker from Africa,  a Korean who converted to Catholicism in high school and who now works in China, a Vietnamese man who entered the society in Germany, and a Jesuit brother who had never been out of Viet Nam before his arrival in Australia.  

Each of our stories was simultaneously unique and similar.  The unique aspects are too many to describe.  The similarities were prayer, the Eucharist, and the desire to live the gospel in service to others as fully as possible.

What about some non-Jesuit vocations stories? 

In 1963, a car stopped at a gate in Bethlehem, CT.  A beautiful 24 year-old woman got out.  After making ten movies in five years she wanted a few days rest.  But the studio that arranged the driver was unaware that when Dolores Hart walked through the gate of Regina Laudis Benedictine Abbey, she would not walk out again for many years.  Today Rev. Mother Dolores is the prioress of the thriving monastery.  She recently walked the red carpet at the Oscars, in her habit, because a documentary about her life was nominated for an Oscar. 

There is a more recent vocation story too.  In February 2010 the ESPN web site featured a fascinating and encouraging story.  Twenty-three year old Grant Desme, one of the Oakland A’s top right fielder prospects, had announced his retirement.  Six months later he entered St. Michael’s Norbertine Monastery in California.  E-mailed comments on his vocation ranged from supportive to vicious to obscene.  Perhaps ESPN should monitor the language on its website a bit more closely.  Such is the response of others to our lives. 

Every vowed religious sister, nun, brother or priest, and every diocesan priest has a vocation story.  Vocation is the key word.  Vocation comes from the Latin root, voco, vocare, vocatus for “to call.”  Each religious was called by name.  Each responded with a radical yes.  The common factor in religious life is the call of Jesus the Good Shepherd.  It could be a call to strict cloister where Rev. Mother Dolores lives. The call might be to the sometimes frenetic activity of the men in the Society of Jesus; contemplatives in action, but underline the action part. Or the call may be at a point midway between contemplative cloister and active apostolate that Norbertine novice Grant Desme has entered.  Jesus the Good Shepherd unites all of our vocations.  

In his commentary on today’s gospel Jean Vanier notes, “To become a good shepherd is to come out of the shell of selfishness in order to be attentive to those for whom we are responsible so as to help them to grow and become fully alive.”  In order to help others become fully alive, those who have answered the call to a religious vocation must be willing to give their own selves in radical fashion. They must be willing to be at the disposal of those whom they serve and the needs of the order they entered.  To be available religious must let go of certain things:  family of origin or having a family of his or her own, free choice, security, and independence. 

In the words beginning St. Ignatius’ prayer the Suscipe

“Take Lord, and receive
all my liberty,
my memory,
my understanding,
my entire will. 
ALL I have and call my own.” 

We hear of that radical donation in today’s gospel, a donation that is expressed in the total fidelity of the Good Shepherd, a fidelity that calls for risking one’s life.

Risking one’s life as a vowed religious is not necessarily dramatic.  Terese of Liseaux, the Little Flower, never left her cloister yet was named the patron saint of missionaries.  On the other hand, a number of Jesuit friends served prison time in other countries because they were priests or religious.  The risk to one’s life is in living the radical yes in the way appropriate to one’s particular religious order or congregation.  The radical demands of the cloister differ from the demands on a man working in the underground Church on Mainland China.  But, there is always risk.

A critical component of vocations to religious life is the prayer and support of family and friends.  Many of us have stories of ruptured friendships or broken family ties because others didn’t understand or accept our decision to enter.  When arguments about throwing your life away, wasting your education, or the ever popular whine, “but you would be such a good father,” “you would be a wonderful mother” failed to dissuade the discussion was replaced by silence and alienation rather than grateful prayer and support.

As Pope Benedict notes in his message for today, “The task of fostering vocations is to provide helpful guidance and direction along the way. Central to this should be love of God's word, a growing familiarity with Sacred Scripture, and prayer that will make it possible to hear God's call amid all the voices of daily life. But above all, the Eucharist should be the heart of every vocational journey: it is here that the love of God touches us in Christ's sacrifice..."

Pray daily for vocations to the consecrated life and to the priesthood.  Encourage your children or grandchildren to consider a vocation to a religious order or congregation.  Pray that young men and women will say, with Mary our Mother, “May it be done unto me according to your word.” And, in a moment of shameless opportunism, if you know any young men thinking of becoming a Jesuit, have them call, write or e-mail me at any time.

A retreatant was at prayer in The Chapel of the Holy Spirit.  It remains my favorite place at Campion Center. 
The flowers remained on the alter after Fr. Handrahan's funeral last week.  There is an old fashioned Valentine's Day look to the flowers. 
The columns in front of the retreat wing.  The wire keeps the birds out.  I enhanced the contrast and the brightness to bring out the shapes.
The benches in front of the Pierce Pavilion present an interest study in horizontal and vertical lines with interesting textures on the wood.  
The cemetery is a destination for walking and prayer.  The statue seems to be in the community cemetery of almost every religious order I've visited. 
The new graves in the apartment as seen from the older part of the cemetery. 

+ Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring has returned

The searing heat that complicated Monday's Boston Marathon is gone.  Unfortunately a few runners are still in hospital. Temps are reasonable, the sun is shining and trees are blossoming all over the grounds.  Though it is an unrealistic wish, it would be great if the weather could stay like this for about two months (with the occasional rain as it is a bit dry up here).  Below is the homily from the 6:30 AM Mass today followed by some photos and thoughts on black and white photography.

2nd Thursday of Easter
9 April 2012
Acts 5:27-33
Jn 3:31-36

". . . but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life,
but the wrath of God remains upon him."

"the wrath of God."

I suspect a number of us here, when asked how we feel in the midst of a severe cold, or the throes of a nasty hangover or after traveling for 30 hours from Sydney to Washington, D.C. have responded "like the wrath of God."  We may have been in pain, sore, exhausted or downright ill.  Unfortunately we see, yet again, the multiple problems associated with translation combined with the evolution of language and use of language.  What is the wrath of God?  Perhaps it is better to begin with the question what isn't the wrath of God? 

It isn't that strength-sapping diffuse muscle soreness that accompanies the flu.  Nor is it the screaming pain in your chest upon awakening from bypass surgery (been there, done that).  Alas, because of the frequent colloquial use of the term, we must be certain that we don't understand the wrath of God as the spiteful anger of a vindictive God withholding His love while hurling thunderbolts of punishment.  

Jesuit Father Stanley Marrow noted that "the wrath of God is the judgment that is consequent upon the rejection of God's love."  It sounds here as if one could argue for a vindictive God but Stanley goes on to elaborate.  "A gift, even a divine gift, is not a gift unless it is freely accepted.  If this gift is eternal life, its rejection can only mean death.  The rejection of the free gift is a judgment."  It is this rejection that the Bible calls the wrath of God.  And then Stanley makes the startling observation that even the Creator stands helpless before such a rejection by a creature he created free.  Our rejection of God's gift of life puts the Creator of All Life into the position of helplessness. 

The wrath of God is not His angry punishment directed at us for misbehaving.  Rather it is the punishment we direct toward ourselves when we reject the gift of eternal life in favor of death. 

One of the joys of digital photography is the opportunity to turn any photo into black and white.    I picked up a digital photo magazine in the New Orleans airport to help pass some long layover time away.  There was an interesting article on black and white photography that suggested always shooting in color because of the ease of changing a print to b&w.  I certainly wouldn't argue with the writer.  These are photos from Australia that I've been playing with, not only converting them to b&w but increasing the contrast, darkening some shadow and highlighting some highlights.  

The first three are a man walking his dog on Gerroa Beach where we spent ten days shortly after beginning tertianship.  The third is unretouched color.  All shots were taken in the span of a minute or two.  It was sunrise and I was shooting into the sun, not a recommended technique.  The glare in the color is fierce but when converted to b&w with heightened contrast the glare, that gave the photo an  I-have-cataracts look, became an asset. 

The next three were taken at Minnamura State Park, a strange ecosystem with three different kinds of forest, about 20 miles from Gerroa.   The first is a bridge across a creek.  The light was filtered through the trees and it was terrific.   I manipulated this one very little.
The next is ferns and lichen on a log.  The original was underexposed.  A click here, a brush there, and an adjustment wherever produced a pleasing (to my eye) shot.  I think the Seven Dwarfs had just left for work.  Sorry I missed them.
Who can resist mushrooms.  Disney's Fantasia comes to mind. 
The wooden fence was weathered brown.  The fields behind it were green and brown.  The color was undistinguished but the b&w shifts the focus to texture and shape rather than a bland composition of neutrals. 
The final two are a color before and a b&w after.  Who is his right mind takes photos of a few weeds at sunset?  This was manipulated in the extreme to highlight the bright spots and darken everything else.  It looks like a physics book illustration of Brownian motion.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's summertime summertime sum sum summertime . . . .

That should plant an ear worm for those of a certain age.  The heat is on in New England.  Tomorrow's Boston Marathon will start with a predicted temperature of 75 and a high of about 88 around the time that the proletariat is arriving at the Pru.  It's gonna be ugly.

Yesterday I finally bought a good tripod to replace the very cheap one I purchased in Australia.  The new tripod has a ball assembly for the camera rather than a platform.  The old tripod couldn't hold the heavier lens and thus all the photos were blurry.  I took the new one out for a test drive today.  The results are below.   The extreme close-ups using a 300 mm lens extended all the way would have been impossible without the tripod, particularly the indoor ones.

The fountain in front of the Pierce Pavilion, the nursing home wing.

Apple blossoms at the outside wall of the chapel.  I was using a 300 mm lens to get an extreme close-up.
This is another extreme close-up of the forsythia along the ramp to the side entrance.
Two of the stained glass windows in the chapel sometime around 9 AM.
This is an architectural detail that covers the organ pipes in the choir loft in the first of the two balconies in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the statue of the Blessed Mother in a small grove in front of the house across from a small gazebo.
I think the tripod and I are going to have a long relationship.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Blessing Baskets

If you grew up in a Polish, Slovak, Lithuanian, or Ukrainian home you know exactly what the title means.  If you didn't it may be difficult to explain.  Over the Easter Triduum one of my happy tasks, for the second time since I was ordained, was to bless the baskets of food brought to the school basement, where my twin brother and I attended grade school, for the blessing of the foods that were to be eaten at the swienconka, or holy breakfast, on Easter morning.  The basket generally contains kielbasa, colored hard-boiled eggs, bread, salt and other foods such as ham, horseradish, oranges, chocolate and butter that was sometimes pressed into the shape of a lamb.  I am delighted that the parish has kept the custom going.  The first year I blessed the food I was stunned to see approximately 250 people in the basement of the school.  It was like an oven down there.  There was a similar number on Saturday.

This year I changed things a bit.  The generic prayers for blessing food for the Easter table from the Book of Blessings left me cold.  A few days before driving up I e-mailed Jesuit Fr. Pawel Adamczyk who studied at Georgetown for a few years.  Delighted that we were continuing the custom he sent me the prayers as used in Poland.  What an improvement. 

I ran the Polish text through Google translate.  That resulted in some good laughs at mangled translation and syntax.  Apostles, for example, was translated as 'students.'  However, I had the gist of the prayers and rewrote them in reasonable English.  Except for the opening prayer which I gave in Polish. 

In the past every ethnic church, except the Irish, had lines of people streaming toward it to have the baskets blessed.  Many families and parishes have abandoned the custom.  That is a tragedy for both the family and the parish.  As groups abandon traditions they lose their pasts.  Tevye had it correct in the song Tradition in Fiddler on the Roof.  I feel sorry for the children and grandchildren who are deprived of these customs and the learning that goes along with it. 

After the opening prayer the blessing that Pawel sent included four separate blessings, one for each of four foods, that explained the symbolism.

Christ, The Living Bread,
you came down from heaven and
gave the gift of the Eucharist to the world.
Bless our bread + that recalls both the manna
with which the Father fed the Israelites
as they wandered in the desert,
and the bread with which you miraculously fed
those who followed you in the wilderness.

Lamb of God,
you who conquered death
and redeemed us from our sins,
bless + the meats, sausages, and all the foods
that we eat in memory of the Paschal Lamb,
who shared the Passover meal
with His Apostles at the last Supper.

Bless the salt + and,
as salt keeps food from spoiling,
protect us from the corruption of sin.

Christ, our life and our hope, 
bless + the eggs,
a symbol of new life,
that we will share with
family, friends and guests
and thus, share with them
the joy of your presence among us.
Invite us to your eternal feast,
the heavenly banquet,
where You live and reign forever and ever.

I would love to have to do this twice next year to accommodate overflowing crowds.  It was close this year. 

After the prayers of blessing a server and I went up and down between the tables sprinkling holy water on the food.  We closed with the Our Father and a blessing.  It was terrific. 

I went to my Aunt Irene's house after the 11 AM Mass for the swienconka.  It was delicious.  After a quick visit to friends I returned to the rectory at about 4:30 PM almost unable to move.  The Boston Marathon may be easier than celebrating and concelebrating all those liturgies. 

The enclosed photos, except for one that is self-explanatory, are from St. Mary's, the church in which I grew up.  As a result of the Agnes flood in '72, a wretched 'remodeling' some years later and the conjoining of three parishes with a much better job of remodeling and melding, parts of it do not look as they did when I was a kid.  But, it is a lovely church.  The ceiling, except for being cleaned, hasn't changed.  
The door to my office at Campion.  The bumper sticker created quite a stir particularly as most of these New Englanders had no idea what Nittany Lion meant.  They know now. 
The ambo at St. Mary's was surrounded by flowers.  These photos were taken around 5:30 PM as the sun was setting prior to the 8:00 PM Mass. 
The choir lost was open affording this view.  Unfortunately I didn't have the lens with the wider angle with me. 
The organ stops fascinated me as child up there and continue to do so.  I played organ for several years but never this one.  Wouldn't even try today. 
The last two are the same photo, one in color and the other changed to black and white.  It is the view through Scott's mirror (the organ faces away from the altar).  The mirror is the same one that was there over 50 years ago.  I think I prefer the black and white but the other has its charms as well. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

The congregation will gather at noon in the Welsh Baptist Church on Shawnee Ave here in Plymouth for the annual three-hour service of the Seven Last Words.   I am the third preacher.  This is the third time I am participating in this service.  Australia interfered last year.  It is a moving service.  Each preacher has 17 minutes that begins with a hymn, a reading of the Gospel, preaching and, after the closing prayer, meditative music.  I will stay until about 2:15 and then drive the several blocks back to St. Mary's to officiate at the Good Friday liturgy.   There are three photos appropriate to the day at the end of the homily. 

Good Friday (Welsh Baptist Church)
Hymn:  In the Hour of Trial
Jn 19:25-27

A reading from the Gospel of John

“. . . But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son."  Then he said to the disciple, "Behold your mother."  And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home."

The Gospel of the Lord.

Stabat Mater dolorosa
Iuxta Crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat filius

At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother weeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

The 13th century  Stabat Mater Dolorosa is one of the greatest of all Latin hymns.  It has been set to music by composers from Palestrina in the 16th century through Rossini in the 19th to Poulenc and Szymanowski in the 20th.  The hymn meditates on the sorrows of Mary, Mother of Jesus.  It recalls the sorrows prophesied at Jesus' presentation in the Temple as hear recounted in Luke's Gospel:

"Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, 'Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.’"

Each verse recounts another aspect of the pathos as Mary stands at the foot of her Son's cross--that "sign that is spoken against"--the sign she heard of in Simeon's prophecy so long ago. 

Cuius animam gementem,
Contristatam et colentem,
Pertransivit gladius.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had passed.

Place yourself in the setting.  Go to Calvary in your minds' eye and enter the scene described by John.  Jesus, hanging on the cross as life ebbs from his body. Mary, His Holy Mother, watching.  The words of Simeon ringing in her ears.  The beloved disciple.  Helpless and hopeless at the loss of all he had found in Jesus. 

How does Jesus' voice sound?  Is it strong?  Or does he struggle to speak in a hoarse whisper?  Is Mary standing straight and stoic?  Or is she collapsing under the unique grief of a mother watching her child die?  What of John?  Does he remain standing in the same in place?  Or does he move closer to the woman who is now his mother?

Note that Jesus said, "Behold your mother."  He did not say "my mother" but "your mother."  In this charge and in his words to Mary, "Woman behold your son" Jesus confirmed Mary's role as the new Eve, mother to us all, a mother whose obedience reversed Eve's sin, a reversal that began when she replied to the angel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word."

Pro peccatis suae gentis
Vidit Iesum in tormentis,
Et flagellis subditum.

For His people's sins rejected,
Saw her Jesus unprotected,
All with bloody scourges rent.

Remain there contemplating the scene.  Gaze up at Jesus suspended between heaven and earth.  He is close to death.  Exhausted by the struggle.  Haggard.  Dehydrated.  Pale from blood loss.

During his two long retreats praying the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Jesuit is instructed by Ignatius to place himself at the foot of the cross and then, imagine Christ our Lord on the cross.  Ask yourself how, from Creator, Jesus is come to make Himself man, and so to die for my sins.  Likewise, looking at yourself ask:

What have I done for Christ?
What am I doing for Christ?
What ought I to do for Christ?

However, on this Good Friday, as we commemorate Christ's passion and death, there are three more questions to ask:

What has Christ done for me?
What is Christ doing for me?
What will Christ do for me? 

The answers to these questions will be unique to each of us.  Perhaps they will never be raised to the level of answers we can articulate.  They may have to remain answers that we can only experience in silent prayer. 

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum,
In amando Christum Deum,
Ut sibi complaceam.

Unto Christ with pure emotion,
Raise my contrite heart's devotion,
To read love in every wound.

We are sinners.  But, we are sinners loved by God.  We are sinners who are loved passionately and completely by God.  We are loved by God who sent His only Son, born of Mary, who now stands at the foot of the cross.  We are loved by God who sent His only Son to die for our sins and the sins of all humankind.

A little over three months ago we gathered in churches throughout the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Most of us heard Luke's narrative of that event, the Christmas Story as it is commonly called.  But, it is a story that, standing alone, is incomplete.  Were we not gathered here today the Christmas story would make no sense.  It would be nothing more than a pretty story without any meaning.  We can only understand the Christmas story in today's context.

Many of the greatest theological statements in history have been made not by academics; those learned and professional theologians who write jargon, agonize over Greek consonants, or debate the idea of Jesus as a “metaphor” or a “symbol.”  Many of the greatest theological statements have been made by men and women who didn’t just talk the talk.  They walked the walk. They did the heavy lifting.  One of them was the late Dag Hammarskjold, third Secretary General of the U.N.  Hammarskjold died in a mysterious plane crash while negotiating peace in the Congo.  He captured the entire history of our salvation—the reason why we are here today—in a haiku; a short poem of 12 simple words, a mere 17 syllables:

On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
Was foretold them
In a trumpet fanfare

The trumpet fanfare of Christmas is silent today. The hymn we sang a few minutes ago had nothing to do with O Come All Ye Faithful or O Little Town of Bethlehem or Silent Night.  The second verse said it all:

“With forbidden pleasures would this vain world charm
Or its sordid treasures spread to work me harm
Bring to my remembrance sad Gethsemane
Or, in darker semblance, cross-crowned Calvary”

We know what Christ has done for us.

Now we are called to figure out,

What have I done for Christ?
What am I doing for Christ?
What ought I to do for Christ?

This is the cross for the Good Friday liturgy at St. Aloysius Church in Sevenhill, South Australia where the tertians did the long retreat last year.  We had been told we could use the choir loft for prayer if we wanted to avoid the tourists who wandered into the church while touring the winery.  One day I took the key, unlocked the gate and went up the steps.  There was the crucifix, covered in a worn maroon cloth with the light coming through it in parts.  Over the next few days I took multiple photos.  It is an interesting photo in color but I prefer it in black and white. 
The seventh Station of the Cross, Jesus Falls the Second Time, in St. Joseph Church in Puli, Taiwan.  Note the Asian facial characteristics.
And the crucifix on the wall in St. Aloysius Church in Sevenhill.  It is distorted because it is not a direct photo of the crucifix but a reflection in the glass in one of the doors at the back of the church.  Each evening just before Mass the setting sun came pouring through the richly colored stained glass windows illuminating the cross and the altar. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD