Sunday, September 30, 2012

Penn State in the Homily.

While the reference to Penn State in the homily below is brief it is relevant.  As I noted, the wonderfully rainy Saturday afternoon in Boston was a haze of football games.  Once the Penn State-Illinois game was over there was a lot of channel switching among the various offerings.  It is a truly great time of the year. 

We alumni and others who love and are grateful to the university are struggling, and will continue to struggle for years, some of us for the remainders of our lives.  But after the 6:30 AM Mass where I preached this homily, it became obvious that there are signs of hope and strength.  I went to the Daily Collegian (University paper) web site to read about the game.  After reading the column I noticed a box in the lower right-hand part of the screen that said "Penn State and Navy sing PSU alma mater"  and clicked on it.  At the end of the game both teams stood on the field and, with the fans, sang all four verses of the alma mater.  Tears flowed fast and furious particularly during the fourth verse which the crowd sang louder than the other three. 

"May no act of ours bring shame
To one heart that loves thy name
May our lives but swell thy fame
Dear Old State, Dear Old State." 

This end of game ritual was repeated a week later after the Temple game.   Temple is my other alma mater but there are no divided loyalties unless the med school fields a football team.  May it continue.  For many years, particularly the eighties (the decade that spawned Gordon Gekko--see homily) students changed the words for all four verses singing . . . well, I won't bother.  If you know, you know. if you don't know ask someone.  There are reasons for singing an alma mater (or a hymn) with the words as written.  May they serve as a reminder of an alumnus who blew off the entire fourth verse and single-handedly brought grief to thousands. 

Photos come from a brief overnight at Penn State back in May.  Hope to get back in December after making an 8-day retreat at Latrobe.

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nm 11:25-29
Ps 19 8-14
Jas 5:1-6
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

None of today's readings comes across as warm, fuzzy, or comforting.  There is nothing here to soothe the troubled soul.  If anything, the gospel might cause some degree of discomfort in tonight's examen.

There is an echo of the first reading in the gospel.   Both consider the question of who should prophesy, who should evangelize.  Moses replied to the concerned young man, "Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!"  In a similar vein, Jesus quieted John by saying, "For whoever is not against us is for us."  We will come back to the question of preaching, prophesying and evangelizing later.

The second reading is rife with warnings.

One of the saddest bumper stickers on the highway is the one that reads, "He who has the most toys when he dies wins."  Wins what?  Wins how?  What good are "toys," those markers of having made it in contemporary U.S. society, as one approaches death?  During life they may do nothing more than divert our attention from the things that matter.  They are useless after death.

It is important to note that having money or being able to afford nice, or even expensive, things is not inherently evil or sinful.  Wealth does not necessarily equate with sin.  Single-mindedly pursuing wealth, no matter what the cost to oneself or to others, however, does fit the equation. 

One often hears Paul's First Letter to Timothy misquoted in the saying  "Money is the root of all evil."  That is wrong.  The letter correctly reads,  "The love of money is the root of all evil."  It is the disordered affection for money, the perverse need to have the most toys, the monomaniacal desire for the biggest and best of everything, that causes evil, not the money itself. 

The best example of what James is writing about is the 1987 movie "Wall Street."  In the movie the protagonist, Gordon Gekko, spoke the unfortunate line  "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good."  It too is misquoted generally as "Greed is good."  In this case the change of meaning with the misquote is insignificant.  Alas, it was a mantra for several years, an excuse for execrable behavior and feelings.  James is decrying the unfortunate greed that tramples on anyone and anything that might stand in its way.  It doesn't matter if it is the greed of the MIchael Millkens and Bernard Madoffs of this world or the greed of the local drug pushers and dealers.  As the greed driving one's actions damages and destroys others it is sin. 

In the Gospel Jesus is damning scandalous behavior in those who would call themselves his followers.  It is critical to point out that when he says, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off"  "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out," he is using hyperbole.  Unfortunately, too many psychiatrists have had to evaluate or treat delusional patients who took this mandate literally and mutilated some part of the body or other that he or she perceived led into sin. 

These sayings are referred to as the "scandal sayings." Jesus is telling us that scandal is to be avoided at all costs.  The price of causing scandal is high.  It is high to the one who caused the scandal.  But the cost may be even higher to the many affected by the scandal.

I wrote the last half of this homily last evening after spending much of Saturday afternoon watching college football, particularly the Penn State-Illinois game.  I am a Penn State alumnus.  It is difficult to meditate on this gospel without reflecting on how the sin of one man caused dragged others into sin and triggered a scandal that will affect many for years to come.   

We are all called to evangelize in the name of Jesus.  We are all called to spread the gospel of Christ.  Many would ask how we are called to evangelize, short of getting into a pulpit, addressing a class, or publishing in theology journals.   Probably the best advice as to how to evangelize came not from St. Ignatius but from St. Francis of Assisi who wrote, "Preach the gospel at all times.  Use words only when necessary."  If we can preach the gospel in the mode recommended by Francis then we can sing 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 day at Penn State last May was a perfect day, sunny but cool without humidity.  I was playing with the new 300 mm zoom lens.  
This is a pool and fountain in front of the Chambers Building.  I was only in there once to take a calculus final.  I hope never to enter the building again under similar circumstances.  Many years ago when I first started photography with a Canon AE-1 film camera I took multiple shots of this fountain.  
The marker that explains the Creamery.  In answer to your unasked question, YES, I did have a cone.  Best ice cream on the planet.  
The east side of Old Main Lawn.  As I said, it was a gorgeous day.  
The Old Main Bell Tower.  Amazing what one can do with a 300 mm zoom telephoto lens (Zuiko).  It is difficult to hold it steady at full zoom but, because the sun was so bright it was possible to get a good shot at a fast shutter speed at ASA 100.  
It is unlikely any other university has a library named after its football coach.  It is unlikely any other university ever received so much money for its library from its football coach.  
These shirts on sale caught my eye.  A photo of color and shape.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hints of Autumn at Last

Finally the hints of autumn are unmistakeable.  It was  overcast, chilly and damp when I went over for breakfast.  In other words it was a perfect early autumn day. It was time to put on (a Penn State) sweatshirt and sink into the joys of fall.  

I began the homily for the 10 AM Mass with a reference to the Boston Baroque recording of Messiah that was made in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, the main chapel, here at Campion.  After a summer of exile in the smaller but air-conditioned daily Mass chapel we have returned to the main chapel.  It is blessed with excellent acoustics that account for the numerous albums recorded.  Among the albums were a few by Anonymous Four, a fine quartet of women singing medieval polyphonic chant.  I am overjoyed at returning there for Sundays.  

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 35:4-7a
Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Jas 2:1-5
Mk 7:31-37

Some time in 1992 this chapel echoed with the sounds of the instrumentalists and voices of Boston Baroque, the fine early music ensemble that continues to perform and record. They were here at Campion Center to record Handel's Messiah.  The recording was later nominated for a Grammy.  It is a technically, musically, and theologically splendid recording.  It is the best rendering of Handel's masterpiece I've ever heard or purchased. Toward the end of the first of its three parts one hears a recitative for alto that comes from today's first reading. 

"Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened,
And the ears of the deaf unstopped,
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart,
And the tongue of the dumb shall sing."

The Jewish Study Bible titles Isaiah chapter 35, the source of today's first reading, "The Renewal of Israel and the Return of the Exiles."  The ten verses of the chapter, of which we heard only three, speaks of the return from exile and of the things God will do for His people.  It describes the transformation of the land from dry and parched to fertile. It promises a land that is safe rather than dangerous and threatening.  It reiterates what God has done for His people.  And what He will do for his people as they return from the exile.

In Isaiah we hear prophecy.  In Mark's Gospel we encounter the fulfillment of prophecy.  In Isaiah we hear promise.  In Mark we see the fruits of that promise.  The ears of the deaf man were unstopped.  And his tongue could talk and sing. What was it like?

Make a composition of place and application of senses.  Who are you?  The deaf man?  An apostle?  Are you one of the people who brought the man to Jesus?  A disinterested bystander?  A  cynical and jaded passerby? What do you feel as the scene unfolds?  What do you feel now as you hear this story?

It is easy to identify with the deaf man. It is easy because he is us.  He is us when, through disinterest, laziness, hostility, busy-ness, boredom, or cynicism our ears are deaf to hearing the words of scripture.  He is us when our tongues are incapable or unwilling to articulate prayers of thanksgiving. 

I am fascinated by the description of Jesus' struggle to free the deaf mute from the bonds of his inability to hear and his inability to give thanks.  ". . .then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, EphphathaI!

What caused that odd reaction on Jesus' part?  Other healings seem almost effortless by comparison: "Go, your sins are forgiven."  "Stand up and walk."  But here we are told that Jesus groaned.  While other translations use the word "sighed" there isn't a lot of emotional difference between the two.  There was no forgiveness of sin, or even mention of sin.  There was just a groan or a deep sigh following the administration of spittle to the man's tongue.

" Ephpha.  Be Opened."

Just as the first reading from Isaiah points to a future where the deaf will hear, the dumb will speak, and the crippled will walk, Jesus' healing miracles anticipate the state of perfection which human nature will recover in the kingdom of God.  In His incarnation Jesus took on the condition of suffering humanity. He became like us in all things but sin. Does his groan give us a glimpse of his human struggle?  Does that sigh demonstrate his identification with the sick, the powerless and those who are bereft?  We are that deaf mute.  Will we allow Jesus to open our ears and free our tongues? Only if we do can we sing with the psalmist,

"The Lord gives sight to the blind;
the Lord raises up those who were bowed down.
the Lord loves the just;
the Lord protects strangers." 

Praise the Lord my soul!
Over the past few days Ignatius and I have had a few conversations and e-mails between Taipei and Weston, thus the urge to edit photos from there.  Were I younger and healthier I would be happy to return to Taiwan indefinitely despite the climate.  The best I can do now is to eat at Mulan Taiwanese Restaurant in Waltham.  Superb food served in large portions at a reasonable price.  The photos below are a scattering of shots I took on different visits. 

This is a women's choir entering Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Concert Hall one hot steamy afternoon.  They were all dressed in black.  I assume they were heading into rehearsal.  
One day a friend's mother took Ignatius and me to tea at the Grand Hotel in Taipei.  This is the sort of place that would be featured on that somewhat obscene show on HGTV that highlights million dollar rooms.  Why would anyone spend that much on a room in a private home.  There is something morally wrong about that show and the host's fawning and drooling over wretched excess.  Apparently the hotel decor was done by Soong Mei-ling.  I'll leave the level of taste decisions to the observer. 

Were I to learn one of the figurative arts it would be pottery.  There is something fascinating and soothing about the shapes.  All of these were the displays of vendors at the Saturday Jade Market and Flower Market (separate markets) in Taipei.  When I return to Taiwan the trip will be scheduled so as to have two Saturdays in Taipei.  Great places for photography.
Grilled corn is also for sale there during the season.   We just finished a spectacular tomato season here in Weston.  One of the men had a plot of tomato plants that he brought to the dining room.  For two days lunch and supper consisted of thickly sliced tomato on black bread with mayo, the only time I ever use mayo on a sandwich.  Oh yeah, a bit of salt and enough pepper to blacken the mayo. 
This is a detail of a vendors stall where Ignatius and I stopped while driving up to Wu Ling Mountain for two days of escape from the heat of Taipei last September. One of the pleasures of carrying a camera is the ability to take photos of odd little details such as this. 
This is one I can't figure out.  What is a sleigh doing on top of Wu Ling Mountain?  While it may snow there occasionally it seems unlikely to be enough to hitch up Dobbin-liu for a ride over the river and through the woods.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD