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
Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
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