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.