Thursday, August 30, 2012

Two Week Hiatus

A very busy two weeks have kept me from posting anything or pulling out the camera.  Am going to spend a day or two of the holiday weekend at a small community at Boston College in hopes of finding some undistracted time (no sock drawer to organize excuses) to write lectures and read.  In January I will begin teaching a course at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (formerly Weston Jesuit School of Theology) titled Care of the Elderly, the Demented, and Their Caretakers.  Several weeks ago I passed some happy hours on the computer downloading catalogs from a variety of seminaries and theologates, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish.  Thus far I've found no courses on the care of the elderly.  On the other hand there are entire majors in youth ministry.  It makes no sense.  Youth are more alike than dissimilar.  The same cannot be said for the elderly.  The course will begin with the physiology and neuropsychiatry of normal aging, move over to the more common forms of dementia (lavishly illustrated with slides of the brain) and then look at scriptural images of aging, theology of aging and death, ethics, the psychology of the elderly as per Erik Erikson, grief and loss, and a few other topics that will evolve as the course is put together. 

The vow ceremony in Syracuse was moving as always.  The weather was cooperative.  The uncle of one of the men was a classmate in med school.  It was good to catch up between reunions.  I wish the trip on I-90 from Boston to Syracuse were a bit more interesting.  Utter tedium after crossing into NY State. 

I had a birthday earlier this week.  After spending my birthday last year in the Mekong Delta and being serenaded by "Happy Birthday" sung in English by 65 Vietnamese nuns (at 6 AM) this year's calendar flip was anticlimactic.  Went out for a burger and a beer with another SJ and called it a good day.  While I'll probably forget what I did on my 63rd birthday the 62nd one in Viet Nam is etched in my memory for good.  The etching is helped by the thousand or so photos I took during the ten days there.  

I preached several homilies since the last post.  Will include this morning's below before some shots from Viet Nam.  A year ago today flew from Saigon to Taipei. 

21st Thursday in Ordinary Time
30 August 2012

The genius of this particular section of the gospel is that it brings together two divergent topics:  eschatology and ethics.

Eschatology is the doctrine of the last things or, the ultimate destiny of both the individual soul and the whole created order.  The event itself is sometimes referred to as the “eschaton.”

Ethics is a set of principles of right conduct or the rules and standards that govern the conduct of a person or member of a profession.  Entire mountainsides in Oregon and Vermont have been deforested to make the paper for the debates—oftentimes very acrimonious ones—about eschatology and ethics. 

When it comes to eschatology, scripture, and daily life  there is an important rule:  The more exact the prediction of the end of time, of the apocalypse or “the rapture” the more deserving it is of contempt and derision.  Think back to the hysteria surrounding the year 2000.  It was some of the best humor of the millennium before it even got underway.  In this 24th chapter of Matthew Jesus is very specific:  we don’t and won’t know the when. 

At the time Matthew’s gospel was written Christ’s Second Coming was expected imminently.  Thus the advisory to remain awake, alert, prepared with lamps ready to light and so on.  Of course that particular event is still on the horizon, as is our individual death.  What are we to do?  Follow the same advice.  Be prepared.

What about the ethics? 

Once again Jesus is very specific; we are to live as if the end, be it the end of  our individual lives or the end of the world as we know it, could occur at any moment.  Translated into action it means:  do not go to bed angry with or not speaking to those whom you love.  Live in a way that will not shame you should the hour or the day come without warning.  

One of the painful learning experiences a young physician can have is premature declaration that death is imminent.  I have made that mistake in the past.  However, there was an incident in the office very early in my first year in medical practice that blew me away. 

I was sitting at the desk during a lull in the action.  A man came into the office.  He had no appointment and I never got his name.  He stood in front of the desk and said, "Your father told me I had only six months to live.  That was fifteen years ago.  He's dead.  I'm not."  with that he left the office.  At that point dad had been dead for over four years.  I was more than a little rattled after that.  The experience has stayed with me all my life.

Even when the hour or the day appears to be "now" we truly do not know.
The photos below were taken from 21 to 29 August 2012 in Viet Nam.  In no particular order we have: 
A pier at the ocean.  The colors were pastel turquoise, salmon and yellow.  The shapes are more interesting in black and white. 
A street near the Jesuit community.  Note the Buddhist monk in the background. 
A nearby Buddhist temple.
This little girl came out of the house when she heard our motorcycle approaching the novitiate.

The Ninth Station in a rural Vietnamese Church.  Note the Asian facial features of the men. 
The view from a motorcycle rearview mirror parked in the courtyard at the community.
Window decorations at a church in the Mekong Delta.
+Fr. Jack

Monday, August 13, 2012

Vow Anniversary

I have the 6:30 AM Mass in the community tomorrow.  Besides being the memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe (see homily for details) it is the 13th anniversary of vows back in 1999.  It doesn't seem like 13 years.  Some days it seems like yesterday and others, the majority, it seems several lifetimes ago.

I can still remember the sound of my shoes (still have them) clicking on the polished granite (marble?) floor as I approached the altar to kneel and begin the vow formula.  The vow cross is hanging over the desk just to my right.  I could have never written the script for the things that have happened since vow day.  Ignatius Hung, SJ of the Chinese province is one of my closest friends.  He had just arrived in Boston from Taipei a day earlier and was brought along to the vow Mass.  Only a few years after we became friends did he confess that he was confused by the "old man with white hair" pronouncing vows.  

If I live to celebrate 25 years in the Society (11 years to go) I'm going to have a party because it is unlikely I will live to 25 years as a priest.  No desire to live to 83.

Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe
14 August 2012
Matt 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

It is always a happy coincidence when the gospel for the day fits the memorial of a particular saint.  Today, the 19th Tuesday in Ordinary Time, is also the memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Conventual Franciscan priest who was born on Jan 8, 1894.  He died in Auschwitz in 1941 as the result of the heroic act of a shepherd that emerged from a mystical experience he had as a child.

The story holds that, after being scolded for some childhood mischief, Mary appeared to him while he said his bedtime prayers.  She was holding two crowns, one red and one white.  She asked if he were willing to accept either of them, the white indicating he should persevere in purity and the red indicating martyrdom.  He replied he would accept them both. 

Despite chronically poor health due to tuberculosis he founded a number of friaries, published a monthly review and, in 1930, became a missionary to Japan.  Ahead of his time, he entered into dialogue with—and befriended--Buddhist and Shinto priests.  He was called back to Poland just as WW II was rumbling in the background.  He was arrested, along with other Franciscans, in 1941.  After some time in Pawiak prison he was sent to Auschwitz.  The details of his treatment in prison are ugly. 

In July 1941, just over a year before the death of Edith Stein, whose memorial we celebrated last week,  three prisoners escaped.  Using standard Nazi sociopath logic, ten prisoners were chosen at random from a line-up.  They were to be put into “The Bunker,” an airless underground space where they would die from starvation and dehydration.  When he was chosen as one of the ten Franciszek Gajowniczek cried out, “Oh my wife, my children.  I shall never see them again.”  Kolbe stepped from the line and negotiated to take Gajowniczek’s place. 

The ten men languished in the bunker for two weeks without food or water.  They prayed aloud with the voices gradually fading out as, one by one, they died until only Kolbe, the tubercular, remained.   Because the executioners needed the bunker he was taken to the sick bay where he was injected with camphor—an early form of physician assisted suicide ala Jack Kevorkian.  He died quickly.

Was his childhood experience of Mary a dream?  An hallucination?  A delusion?  All or none of the above?   One cannot say.  Ultimately it doesn't matter.  Unlike the apostles in today's gospel, indeed, unlike the vast majority of us, Maximilian Kolbe was not concerned about his relative position in heaven or on earth.  He accepted the crowns of purity and martyrdom with the kind of yes that is only possible from a child.  In time that child became the shepherd who died in place of one of the sheep.

There is a follow-up.  Kolbe was beatified in 1971 and canonized by fellow Pole John Paul II on 10 October 1982.  Franciszek Gajowniczek attended both ceremonies.  A survivor of five years in the camps, he died in 1995 at age 94, 54 years after Kolbe took his place in the bunker. 

As per Gajowniczek’s translator when he visited the U.S., “He told me as long as he had breath in his lungs he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love of St. Maximilian Kolbe.”  Today we recall that child who became a shepherd and a martyr.
Barry Slaven, a friend from med school, sent an e-mail where he noted he was going to get a software program for creating black and white photos.  He is a fantastic photographer who got me interested in it when we were sophomores.  He enjoys taking pictures inside churches.  He noted that oftentimes those photos work better in black and white.  He envied my access to "HOWs" which, it turns out, means houses of worship.  Sometimes I can get to places a layman can't or at times when a church is inaccessible to others.  

The first two are from Campion Center.  The first is a small chandelier taken from the second loft with a zoom lens. 
The second is the stained glass and columns.  The glass is interesting in that much of it is merely opaque with stained motifs rather than the heavily leaded and highly colored stained glass found in many churches. 
The next two come from the Cathedral of St. Matthew on Rhode Island Ave in D.C.  The Cathedral was the site of JFK's funeral.  The first is some of the lamps.
I'm not certain what to call the second light but it caught my eye. 
Below is a staircase in St. Anselm's Monastery in NE D.C. not too far from Catholic U and the National Shrine.  Some monastic cowls were hanging off to the side. I did an 8-day retreat there.  It is small and very lovely.  A very welcoming community.  
The next is choir stalls in the late November afternoon sun. 
The final one is the Crypt in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  The day after I returned from Australia I celebrated Mass at the altar.  The altar is very far from the tabernacle.  At this particular Mass I ran out of hosts.  After walking all the way back to the tabernacle I realized the key was on the credence table next to the altar.  Back to altar, grab key, back to tabernacle, genuflect, get ciborium and return to give communion to the last dozen or so people.  I blamed jet lag. 
Off to Syracuse on Firday to attend vows on Saturday.  Long trip but worth every mile along I-90 once the first man kneels and begins the formula. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Seems hard to believe that it is already August.  I arrived here before Lent.  Tomorrow is the Transfiguration, a feast that is fixed on 6 August.   I am celebrating the 6:30 AM Mass in the community.  Because I have a particularly strong attachment to this feast I chose to preach on the feast rather than the particular readings for today.   The reason will become obvious by the end.

The transfiguration appears in all three synoptic Gospels.  There are some relatively minor differences across the three accounts but the main personae and content are consistent.  Jesus’ transfiguration points us towards, and draws us into, a mystery that is beyond the reach of historical reconstruction, scientific explanation or geographic specificity. 

Make a composition of place and application of senses.   Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, are there with Jesus. 

Where are you standing? 
What do you see? 
What do you feel? 

As he became increasingly anxious Peter began to speak.

What do you fear?
What do you desire?

Despite the popular fashion for apostle bashing in theology and other circles, none of us would have responded any better.  Most likely, we would have acted worse.  Perhaps we would have pulled out the Ancient Near East equivalent of a cell phone and snapped pictures to tweet to the rest of the apostles.  Or perhaps we would have merely babbled incoherently.  As the tension of the scene increased the voice of God the Father confirmed  that Jesus is who Peter had confessed him to be earlier in the Gospel:

The Messiah.
The Anointed One.
The Christ.

Then the apostles, and by extension each of us, were given a mission, "Listen to him."  How does that play out in the context of today, a day on which we recall more than the Transfiguration?  

Today we recall another event marked by blinding light.  An event that was also overshadowed by a cloud.  Like the Transfiguration, it is a scene that, if you are willing to place yourself into it, would cast you to the ground in fear or awe. 

Today we commemorate that Jesus revealed his Divinity on a mountain.  We also commemorate that on this date in 1945 the human race revealed its depravity at Hiroshima.  The world would never be the same.  Hiroshima captured the sum total of the depravity of the human race.  Not the depravity of a particular nation, or ethnic group, or epoch of history but the sum total of human sinfulness.  It took the horrors of the wars of the past millennia and those of the millennia to come, and condensed them into one singular event.  This time God did not speak.  There was a terrible silence. Or was there?
The voice of God was obscured by the explosion.  It was not silenced.  Today, almost 2000 years since Jesus death and seventy years since the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima, the mandate, “listen to him” is as compelling and urgent for us as it was for the shaken apostles.  Perhaps it is more compelling because Hiroshima demonstrated humankind's capacity for instantaneous large-scale destruction.  A capacity that is unique to the present.

LISTEN to him.
Listen to HIM.

As we listen to Jesus, if we allow Him to transform us through prayer, through reading and meditating on scripture, and, most particularly, through regular participation in the Eucharist, we move that much closer to the eschatological glory foreshadowed in the transfigured Jesus.  And that much farther from the apocalyptic destruction of Hiroshima.

Today's photos, except for one, are a little odd.  

The non-odd one is some flowers in the sun.  I liked the backlight

This is the Leaning Dome of Weston.  This effect came from taking the photo of Campion Center as reflected in a car window.  

 The next three are of the same subject.  The dragonfly was hovering on the light support near the flowers.  These were taken with a telephoto lens.  I did not have the tripod and thus had to crank up the ISO to 800 and 1600 to compensate for the shake that is magnified when the telephoto is so strong.   Goofy little creature to be sure.  It is cartoon-like.  Perhaps he can get his own show on Saturday morning. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

St. Ignatius Feast

It is quite a contrast to consider that last year I celebrated St. Ignatius Feast taking photos of Sydney Harbor from the roof of St. Aloysius College.   In one of those odd unconscious moves I spent part of the feast yesterday taking photos from the roof of Campion Center.  Not quite as much to see from the roof here in Weston.  The Campion Center celebration went well.  I had purchased some wine from Sevenhill Winery where our tertian class did the long retreat (it is only exported to Massachusetts at present).  The men enjoyed it.  Now it is back to the daily routine.   The homily is from the 10 AM Mass in the community.

Ignatius Feast 
Lk 9:18-25

Language is fascinating.  How and where one stresses  a particular syllable, a particular word or a phrase may subtly, or not so subtly, affect the meaning and interpretation of what is being said.  Tone of voice heavily influences the emotional impact on the listeners.   Psychiatrists pay particular attention to the characteristics of a patient's speech, volume, rate, rhythm, prosody, grammar and so on, at each visit.  Those factors may be enough to make a diagnosis very early on.  Today's Gospel demands that we consider not only what is said but how it was said, something we obviously can't know with any certainty. 

Jesus posed two questions in this Gospel reading.  The first was informational;  “Who do the crowds say I am?”   Given the range of answers the question is a bit rhetorical.  However, Jesus’ second question was—and is—anything but rhetorical.  It was specific.  It was personal.  It demanded a concrete answer from the apostles.  It demands a specific answer from each of us.   And that is where the dilemma of intonation, inflection and vocal stress becomes apparent. 

On this Feast of St. Ignatius make a composition of place.  Where are you standing?  How are you feeling?  Is it cold?  Is it hot?  Are you annoyed with the other guys?  Are you at peace?

How did Jesus ask the question? 
But who do you say that I am?  

How did the apostles hear it?
But who do you say that I am? 

How do we hear it today? 
But who do you say I am?  

How will each of us answer it?

No matter what the emphasis, inflection or intonation might have been this is the most difficult question Jesus asked his apostles.  It is the most difficult question He asks us.  “Who do you say I am?”  Everything depends on our answer. 

Peter’s answer was brief and accurate.  In the context of the time no further explanation was necessary.  “You are the Messiah of God.”  Peter’s answer contained,  You are the Messiah.  You are the Promised One.  Our waiting has ended.  And much more. 

Peter’s statement was radical and courageous.  Had he proclaimed the same knowledge publicly, charges of blasphemy would have quickly followed.  The Church proclaims her own answer to Jesus’ question at the beginning of the Vigil Mass of Easter. 

As he incises the paschal candle the priest proclaims:

"Christ yesterday and today
the beginning and the end
Alpha and Omega
all time belongs to him
and all the ages.
To him be glory and power
through every age for ever."

The beginning and the end.  The Alpha and the Omega.  That says it all.  The Church can boldly proclaim this because those of us born since Peter’s radical confession of faith have not had to wonder.  We have not had to wait.  From our very conception we have lived in a world in which the promise had already been fulfilled.  From the first instant of life in our mother's womb we were in the presence of the One for whom the world had waited.  As men of the Society of Jesus, we rejoice in that fact today, and every day. 

The following are four photos from the roof, two from St. Aloysius' College in Sydney and two from Campion Center (one of the Campion Center shots is more accurately of reflections on the roof).  

The first two are obviously Sydney Harbor.  31 July 2011 was one of the great photographic experiences ever. 

The next is the statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola from the roof down five stories.  Five tall stories with high ceilings. 
The last is the reflection of the decorative balustrade in a puddle on the roof from the previous night's rain. 
And now it is back to work. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD