Sunday, May 13, 2012

Homily and a Visit to Walden Pond

6th Sunday of Easter
13 May 2012
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Ps 98
1 Jn 4:7-10
Jn 15:9-17

The Acts of the Apostles and John's Gospel come to the fore during the Easter Season.  Acts give us a refresher course in the reality of early Church history, including the conflicts and squabbles.  John's Gospel recalls for us Jesus' teaching on love, most particularly during the farewell discourse.  There is much here on which to meditate.

One of the things that formerly mystified me over the years (it now merely amuses me) is apostle bashing.  Apostle bashing is a popular indoor sport for theological and scripture types.  It reaches its apogee during Lent when we are reminded of the apostles misstatements and miscues and, of course, of Peter's triple denial.  Alas, the bashers never admit, they are perhaps blissfully unaware, that their underlying assumptions are: I never would have acted that way.  I never would have misunderstood, rejected, or tried to manipulate Jesus were I there.  The reality is that none of us would have responded any better than the apostles at best and, most likely, would have reacted to Jesus' teaching more like the Pharisees or Judas at worst.  The bashers have much less to say about the apostles' behavior and motivations, especially Peter's, after Jesus' glorification.  You don't have to be too psychiatrically sophisticated--though it helps--to figure out the dynamic underlying that. 

Over the past weeks we have seen a different Peter, a Peter who is confident, eloquent and humble as opposed to the brash, shoot-from-the-hip-and-the-lip target of the bashers.  The man who swung a sword in Gethsemane is now abashed by Cornelius' homage. "Get up.  I myself am also a human being."  

This particular reading from Acts was, for whatever reason, fragmented by those who put together the lectionary.  We miss much of what the newly eloquent Peter said to Cornelius and those assembled at his home.  We miss the background that makes Peter's assertion radical. 

That God is impartial, that whoever fears him and acts "uprightly is acceptable to him" was not, and is not, a new or uniquely Christian teaching.  Xavier Leon-Dufour traces the evolution of understanding God's impartiality to the Old Testament beginning in the psalms and moving to Jonah.  He writes, "And gradually we see the emergence of the idea that apart from the Jew Yahweh's love even embraces the pagans as well. . ."  Thus it is no surprise that Peter ordered the Gentiles be allowed to be baptized. 

The second reading from the First Letter of John and the reading from John's Gospel are perfectly intertwined. "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins" recalls Paul's Letter to the Romans, "(God) shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."   John and Paul both defined the human condition; that we are sinners.  And they limned God's response to that condition: His love.  We are sinners loved by God.  That is why we rejoice during this Easter Season.  We are sinners loved by God and redeemed by God. 

Jesus' valedictory words, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" are among the most well-known and poignant in John's Gospel.  What is friendship with Jesus? 

We have to work at all friendships.  It takes time.  It takes effort. I suspect all of us have had the experience of being so dazzled by a new acquaintance that within an unseemly short period of time we've decided that he or she is my new best friend forever.  Too often, though, we become disillusioned. Or we cause disillusion in the other.  We may suddenly reject or be rejected.  Infatuation is a dangerous and painful state. 

Friendship with Jesus is like those long-established ones that go back thirty or forty years or more.  It doesn't need big mystical experiences, tear-inducing consolation at prayer or apparitions.  It is the kind of friendship where both friends can sit together in a room in silence for hours on end without the need for constant stimulation, novelty, or activity.  True friendship tolerates silence.  Infatuation doesn't. 

Friendship with Jesus involves living with Him day by day, walking with Him, listening to Him and being nourished by His word, His body and His blood.  True friendship nourishes our lives and our souls.

One commentator on this Gospel notes that loving with utmost generosity and utter selflessness, even to laying down one's life, is not uniquely Christian.  What distinguishes, or must distinguish, Christians is:  when they love, they love as Christ loved them and BECAUSE he loved them.

Walden Pond
Finally made the 4.1 mile drive to Walden Pond yesterday.  Upon arrival there was a good new/bad news situation.  Bad news: parking is $5.  Good news:  Massachusetts residents over 62 park free with a Mass. ID.  Finally a goad to switch over my driver's license.  The weather was beyond splendid.  There were many people on the beach but the paths weren't too bad.  It is not the easiest of places for photography in part because the paths are not wide.  A tripod could be a real problem.   I had it with me but did not use it.  Perhaps on a Tuesday morning.   The photos below are pure color abstractions of the interaction among the water, sun and wind.  And a lot of manipulation via Aperture 3.  

+Fr Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Moving into Spring

5th Friday of Easter  (6:30 AM Community Mass)
Acts 15:22-31
Ps 57
Jn 15:12-17

On Tuesday of last week  the reading from Acts 11 ended with, “And it was at Antioch that they were first called Christians.”  This is a significant statement because now the group of men and women that was coming together had a name. 

Having a name is crucial.  It is crucial to us as individuals and as members of a family.  It is certainly crucial to us as men of a specific religious order.  And having a name is crucial to the Church.  It is not unreasonable to ask, "Does anything truly exist if it doesn't have a name?"  Once a group has a name it begins to forge an identity. That identity determines the behavior of the group and the behavior of its individual members.  Conversely, the behavior of the group and its individual members refines  and expands the identity of the group for better and for worse. 

We know from Acts that even during the earliest years of the Church sinful human nature asserted itself in wrangling, argument, dissension and outright hostility.  It wasn’t always peaceful. But the Church survived and thrived.

Today’s first reading describes some of that dissension and the ability to overcome it.  The question here was whether or not gentiles who came to the Church would have to endure what some of the apostles felt  were the excessive burdens of Mosaic law as well.  In the end, the burden was mitigated. Converts only had to abstain from “meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.” 

The history of the early church is fascinating because it shows how little human nature has changed over the centuries. The early history and sociology of the Church shows how consistent we can be . . . for better and for worse.  Church teaching has been consistent from the beginning. In addition to unlawful marriage, such as that between a young girl and an adult man (a common practice in the Ancient Near East), abortion, also a common and frequently lethal procedure during the same time period, has always been forbidden.  As we survey the past centuries it is reassuring that we have made so much progress in social services, health care, care for the poor and marginalized and education.  It is disconcerting how little progress humans have made in peace and a true sense of community. Sniping, resentments and grudges continue on all levels. 

Yesterday's and today's Gospel readings will be repeated as a continuous whole on Sunday.  The repetition is an obvious signal that Jesus' discourse on love as he was taking leave of his disciples is important.  We would do well to use these verses for our meditation over the next few days.  Perhaps each of us will make a little bit of progress in learning what it truly means to love.
Thought I'd post this just before calling it a night.  The 6:30 Mass comes early when one is the celebrant.  It has been a busy week with no real sign of slowing down.  The weekend forecast is a good one.  Ideally I will get up early on Saturday and head out to Walden Pond, less than five miles down the road with the camera.

On traveling in Boston.  My sense of direction is wretched.  I am (really) the younger of twins by four minutes because I couldn't figure the way out.  OK Jim, YOU try.  Now there is hope.  A friend in D.C.  demonstrated his iPhone GPS that gives spoken directions.  With one exception (I made a wrong turn) it has done a great job getting me to where I had to be.  Driving in downtown Boston presents significant challenges as anyone who has tried knows.  There are reasons why Bostonians say, "If you don't know how to get there you don't belong here."  The 'burbs present a different set of problems.  So far so good with the GPS both getting to New England Medical Center and navigating the two-lane country roads in the suburbs.  

One of the techniques I enjoy with the camera is shooting through doorways and windows.  They supply a type of natural framing.   Looking at these shots the ear worm of the Mamas and Papas song "Look Through My Window" would not go away.  Good tune though so I don't mind all that much. 

The first is through the window in the front door of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Taiwan.  Ignatius and I were returning from Sun Moon Lake in January of last year and stopped multiple times along the way.  After these photos we had coffee with the pastor who we ran into while looking at the church courtyard.  
A little bit later on the same trip we stopped in Ignatius' hometown of Chunghwa.  After visiting a few of his siblings we stopped at a classic Japanese house that was being restored.   This photo is a particular favorite.  Alas, we arrived at the end of the day and had only 40 minutes before it closed.  Lots of geometry and a splash of color in the lanterns.
The next is Gasson Hall at Boston College taken from the passageway in St. Mary's Hall, the Jesuit Residence there.   The main entrance to BC is spectacular in large part because of Gasson. 
The next was taken through the two windows of the dining room at the Jesuit Retreat House in Gloucester, MA.  This is where we made the long retreat 13 years ago.  It isn't hard to imagine that retreatants try to get to meals early so they can sit facing the ocean. 
Finally back to Campion.  The building is 90 years old.  The glass in the doors to the chapel is apparently original.  The view through the glass is quite wavy.  The distortion it produced in an image taken with a 300 mm lens was a revelation.  This was a 10 second exposure.  The blur of light over the tabernacle door came from the lights in the hallway directly behind the camera when the doors swung open for the last few seconds of the shot. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD