Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

Mt 1:1-25

In his reflection on the Great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, Saint Leo the Great, pope, wrote, ". . .  today our Savior is born; let us rejoice.  Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life.  The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness . . . Our Lord, victor over sin and death . . . came to free us. . ."

This evening we gather to recall and celebrate the birth of Jesus, Son of God, Son of Mary the Theotokos.  We gather to celebrate the birth of the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One who redeemed us from sin and freed us from death.  We cannot help but be joyful.

Matthew's description of Jesus' birth does not focus on the events surrounding that birth. Matthew describes the events leading up to His birth. There is no mention of Caesar Augustus, inns, shepherds or oxen.  Matthew does not include the words Gloria in Excelsis Deo as will be proclaimed in Luke's Gospel at Mass later tonight.  Rather, the Gospel just proclaimed informs us of Jesus' lineage and the circumstances leading to the events that are more fully detailed in Luke's Gospel.  The genealogy that begins the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel traces Jesus' descent from Abraham through David to Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Everything we hear was foretold by the prophets.  Jesus is the fulfillment of those prophecies. 

The second half of the Gospel reading tells us something about the social customs surrounding marriage in the Ancient Near East.  Some of these customs seem odd compared to life in the West in these 2000 plus years following Jesus' birth.  Marriage involved the families not the couple.  Love had nothing to do with it.  A legal contract went into effect at the time of the betrothal.  Betrothal could last up to a few years before the woman moved into her husband's house.  It is at the point that Mary was preparing to move into Joseph's house that the Gospel just proclaimed begins.

Not one word is attributed to Joseph in scripture.  We know he was righteous only by his actions.  We know that he was righteous only by his willingness to obey God's command as revealed by the angel.  Joseph was righteous because like Mary his obedience was immediate and without question.  No quid pro quo.  No argument.  Joseph did what had to be done.

The events we commemorate in this vigil of the Great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord are human and homely.  We can identify with them.  Mary and Joseph struggled in the same way we do.  They were as stressed as we are.  They were cold, hungry, hot, wet, and sweaty just like us.  As we will hear in the coming days and weeks at Mass they experienced the same emotions we do ranging from fear and anxiety to sorrow and joy.  Mary and Joseph both responded to God with the obedience of faith.  Because of their obedience, because of Mary's fiat and Joseph's silent assent, we celebrate that Jesus, fully Divine and fully human; we celebrate that Jesus, truly God and truly man, was born in a stable in Bethlehem where he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in the manger. 

We are not celebrating a holiday.  We are celebrating a Holy Day. We are not celebrating a secular, booze-soaked and materialistically driven holiday season, the approved government, ACLU and politically-correct designation.  We are celebrating a Holy Season. 

Christmas is not an end in itself.  It cannot stand on its own.  Christmas can be understood ONLY in the context of the Christ Event.  Without His preaching, healing, passion, death, resurrection and ascension to the Father, Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, of the house of David, would have been just another kid born in the Ancient Near East around 2000 years ago.  But this child was different because he was--and is--both True God and True Man.

Jesus’ life on this earth began in Bethlehem and ended on Calvary in Jerusalem.  A life that began surrounded by the wood of the manger ended hanging on the wood of the cross.  The Christ Event, from birth through death and resurrection, is the only reason we celebrate today. 

In March the joy of Christmas will give way to the penitence of Lent, the remembrance of the first Eucharist, the horror of Good Friday, and finally the glory of Easter.  For now the purple vestments of Advent have been replaced by white.  We sing Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels, and Joy to the World, and the invitation to come and adore Him of Oh Come All Ye Faithful. It is a time of great joy. 

Some of the greatest theological statements in history, were written not by academic theologians but by men and women who didn’t just talk the talk from their ivory towers.  They walked the walk.  They did the heavy lifting.  One of them was the late Dag Hammarskjold, third Secretary General of the U.N. who died in a mysterious plane crash while negotiating peace in the Congo.  

Hammarskjold was a deeply religious man.  He captured the history of our salvation—the reason why we are celebrating today—in a haiku, a poetic form of only 17 syllables:

On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
Was foretold them
In a trumpet fanfare
Because, and only because, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo we sing today will lead to the Alleluia, He is Risen of Easter, today we can exult as we sing:

Venite adoremus.  Dominum.
The beginnings of the creche have been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.  Creches are fascinating.  They range from tiny to larger than life.  Looking through my photo library I don't have too many examples.  There hasn't been time to do any photography in the chapel here at Campion this week.  Perhaps tomorrow when things are very quiet.  The creche just went up yesterday afternoon.  We had the funeral for Fr. Joe Fennell, SJ, who died at the age of 102, this morning and I had Mass at St. Julia in town at 5:30 PM.  There was no possibility of taking any kind of photo.  A nap yes but no photos.  

The first is from the Chapel of the Holy Spirit here at Campion from last year. 

The opposite extreme is seen in this mantlepiece arrangement that was in one of the common areas of the house in which three of us stayed during the long retreat in Sevenhill, South Australia.  I like the lines and the extreme simplicity.  No magi, shepherds, donkeys or anything else.  The lack of facial detail recalls Amish dolls that have no facial features at all.

The next three are from Taiwan.  The first is Sacred Heart Church in Taipei where Ignatius was pastor until last year when his term was up.  I like the arrangement very much.  The extraneous players, magi, donkeys, shepherds and angels were about 3 meters away on the right side when facing the altar.  Nothing to distract from the Holy Family. 

The creche below was at the retreat house and former novitiate in Changhwa.  We stopped there to borrow a car on the way to Sun Moon Lake, one of my favorite places on earth.  I would move to Taiwan in a heartbeat.  Despite the heat.  And humidity. 
And finally the best creche photo I will ever take.   I posted a version two or so years ago.  I was walking to the bus stop with another Jesuit who had invited me to dinner with the SJ community at Fu-jen Catholic University.  I had the camera with me.  No, I don't use a cell phone.  This was an Olympus E-510.  I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the dog sound asleep among the rather large figures of the creche.  It never moved despite the multiple photos, several taken with flash.  I think Pope Francis would approve.  It is one of my favorite photos. 
May the joy of Christ's Birth reign in your hearts this day. 

+Fr. Jack

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

O Wisdom . . . .

"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation in your strong yet tender care.  Come and show your people the way to salvation." (Liturgy of the Hours)

Today at vespers marked the recitation, or chanting, of the first subtle but deeply satisfying sign that The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord is near.  The Magnificat antiphon was the first of the "O Antiphons."
The seven "O Antiphons" introduce the Magnificat from 17 December to 23 December.  An ancient custom in the Roman Church whose history is lost in time, they were in use by the 8th Century though they may have existed somewhat earlier.  The Catholic Encyclopedia describes them as "a mosaic of biblical verses from prophetic and wisdom books."  Each antiphon begins with "O", hence the name.  In Latin they are titled, "O Sapientia" (Wisdom), "O AdonaiI" (Lord), "O Radix Jesse" (Root of Jesse), "O Clavis David" (Key of David), "O Oriens" (Radiant Dawn), "O Rex Gentium" (King of All Nations, and "O Emmanuel" (Literally God-with-us) [Catholic Encyclopedia].  I included the Latin because if one writes the antiphons one per line and then takes the first letter of each one and reads up from Emmanuel to Saptientia one reads a Latin acrostic ERO CRAS that translates as "Tomorrow, I will come." 
The Gospel for today's Mass is the very beginning of Matthew, chapter 1 verses 1 to 17, "The Genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David."  Sometimes called, "the begats" it is one of the most notoriously tongue-twisting of all the Gospel readings (it is a real treat for Jesuits for whom English is a second, third, or later language).  A priest in his first year should not approach this reading cold.  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  Many people do eyeball roll when they hear this Gospel reading begin: Great!  A list of names.  So what?  No parable.  No sayings.  No nothing except for a long list of names."  Consider also that David is familiar but Amminadab is not.
The answer to the reason for this Gospel is made apparent in the letter by St. Leo the Great, pope in the second reading in the Office of Readings for 17 December.  It is worth quoting at some length.  "Matthew's genealogy begins by setting out the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, and then traces his human descent by bringing his ancestral line down to his mother's husband, Joseph.  On the other hand, Luke traces his parentage backward step by step to the actual father of mankind to show that both the first and the last Adam share the same nature."  A bit later in the same letter one reads, ". . . unless the new man, by being made in the likeness of sinful humanity, had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance, and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan."
The two genealogies have only a handful of names in common.  Not exactly the sort of thing Mormon genealogists would approve of, but they say the same thing in different voice:  Jesus is fully God and fully Man.  That he took on the cloak of human nature is the greatest love story that has ever been or ever will be told. 
"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God . . . Come and show your people the way to salvation." 
Only one photo.  It is worth some meditation time.  It is a detail of the large Salve window at St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, MA.  I took it in the final days of the splendid vow retreat I made there at the end of September.  The Salve Regina is the final prayer of the Church's day.  At Spencer the men face the window at the end of compline.  All of the lights are turned off.  The window is lit from behind.  They chant the Salve and then approach the abbot for his blessing before going to their cells.  The great silence begins with the Salve.   Here at Campion we have the custom at funerals of bringing the man's coffin into the center of the rotunda.  When all have gathered around we chant the Salve Regina in Latin.  It is always deeply moving, as it will be on Thursday morning at the conclusion of the funeral of Fr. Al Agresti, SJ.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, November 23, 2013

George B. Murray, SJ, MD Funeral Homily and a Photo

The homily is below.  The photo was taken at final vows after simple vows in the sacristy.  George was one of eight Jesuits to witness them.  The grin is perfect.  He is speaking with Father General.  The man in black clerics is Jon Dela Luna, SJ, MD a fourth-year psychiatry resident at Georgetown.  He came up for the vows.  I am happy he finally had the chance to meet George.

Habakkuk 3:2-4, 13a, 15-19
Rom 12:3-9a
Jn 21:15-19

We are gathered in this holy place to grieve the death of a good man.  A man who was a physician par excellence and one of the great teachers of consultation psychiatry in the U.S.--if not the world-- particularly for those who had the privilege of being trained by him over the past almost forty years.  We grieve a brother Jesuit who was an exemplary one . . . in his own way.  We grieve the end of a remarkable life.  But we rejoice in the beginning of an even more remarkable new life in, and with, Christ.

Death always comes as a surprise no matter when it occurs, be it suddenly as the result of trauma or acute illness or, as was true for George, at the end of a long life and an increasingly difficult medical course.  None of us, even the physicians here, ever gets used to the death of another.  We never become inured to the sense of finality and loss.  We never escape the deep-seated fear and awe of death that defines the human condition.  But, we are also blessed in the promise of eternal life fulfilled in the birth, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. 

The two readings and the Gospel explain different facets of George Bradshaw Murray, SJ, MD.   They illuminate our faith.

The first reading from the Book of Habakkuk describes the lives of those who gradually watch everything they have and hold diminish and disappear.  The last part of the reading, sometimes called the Psalm of Habakkuk, is a psalm for the elderly.  It describes the stripping away of vigor, vitality, self-sufficiency and independence until only the inner strength given by God remains. 

George's losses piled up over the past two years.  There were no fig trees or herds in the stall to be sure, even in Cleveland.  But there were analogous losses, one of the most painful of which was his vision and all that being legally blind entailed.  The return drive from the optometrist in Waltham was made in dead silence.  George knew before the optometrist told him that his driving days were over as of that moment.  For a man who sometimes made his annual retreat by driving without plan for five days it was a painful blow.  He never mentioned it again.  He never asked to drive again.  But the pain of that loss went deep.  It went very deep. 

As other losses followed, and they came with breathtaking speed over the past several months, George allowed the boundaries of his world to gradually constrict.  It was painful to watch but like the sign that hung in his office at Mass General whining was strictly forbidden.

It would be easy to give a very long, multi-part homily about George using the second reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans.

"I bid you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think."

George was a truly humble man.  Few know of all of his accomplishments, except for those on the football field or behind the drums--and these were most likely heavily embroidered. Bragging was not part of who he was.  That was most apparent the night of his retirement party at MGH. 

He didn't want to go.  He REALLY didn't want to go.  HIs anxiety in the car during the drive to MGH in peak Boston rush hour traffic was palpable.  The silence was not comfortable.  The trip back at around 11 PM was remarkable.  He repeated, "I'm overwhelmed" at least a dozen times in a voice that confirmed that he was, in fact, overwhelmed.  The bluster, the swagger, the essential "Murrayness" was gone.  It was the voice of a man who finally knew what his life, who knew what his Jesuit vocation, his learning and his teaching meant to others.  Many others.  At last, one could say to him, "George, finally, you get it, and you git it."

"So we, though many, are one body in Christ . . . having gifts that differ, according to the graces given to us let us use them."

We all have the vocation to use the skills and gifts given to us by God to the fullest.  George did that in ways most men can only fantasize.  He ministered.  He taught.  He exhorted--he really exhorted, at times at very high volume--and he contributed.  He also loved more sincerely than most.

His skills as diagnostician, teacher, and psychotherapist were legendary.  Those skills were hard won.  He did the heavy lifting because he knew that the gifts he was given were not to be wasted.  And he wouldn't allow his trainees to waste their gifts either.  He took extraordinary care of them.

One of the tenets of Ignatian prayer is to imaginatively insert oneself into a particular Gospel passage and participate in it in as much detail as possible, paying attention to those nearby, how things feel, what one hears and so on.  So now, imagine the Gospel reading just proclaimed.  Stand among the disciples and listen to the dialogue.  But, take out Peter and put George in his place.

Jesus:                        George, do you love me more than these?
George:         Yes, Lord, you know I love you.
Jesus:                        Feed my lambs

And again.

Jesus:                        George, do you love me?
George:         Yes Lord, you know I love you.
Jesus:                        Tend my sheep.

And a third time.

Jesus:                        George, do you love me?
I'm not sure George's response to being asked the same question for the third time would have been quite as patient as Peter's.  It probably would have been more of a rant than a reassurance.  Not wanting to put words into George's mouth I will leave that part to your imaginations. 

But . . . George Bradshaw Murray, of the Society of Jesus, M.D. lived Jesus' command "Feed my lambs"  "Tend my sheep" with every fiber of his being.  This is how he loved.  He wasn't ostentatiously pious about it, but whether one was among the 102 fellows whose names are inscribed on the plaque that stood near his coffin, whether you were one of his patients, one of the residents or students, whether you were a colleague or one of his fellow Jesuits who quietly asked, "Murray, can I talk to you for a few minutes?" he took this mandate seriously. 

A few weeks before he picked me up at Logan and dropped me off at the Jesuit novitiate in Jamaica Plain, we were sitting in his tiny office at MGH crammed with books and other faja sipping on some single malt.  He got serious and asked, "What's my favorite prayer?"  Always the former fellow I assumed the fellows' position without being told to and admitted I did not know.  He spun around, pulled out a battered file and rummaged through it for a moment. 

He handed me an old photocopy of a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.  It was a prayer that I would encounter within days of entering.  It is a prayer that many Jesuits pray daily.  It is a prayer that defined George's life as a Jesuit, a physician, and a man.  It is on the back of his memorial card.  It summarizes his life.  It summarizes a vocation accepted and lived in his way.  It summarizes how George understood the reading from Habakkuk, how he lived Paul's description of vocation, and how he did precisely what Jesus ordered Peter to do:

O Lord, teach me to be generous
To serve you as you deserve
To give and not to count the cost
To fight and not to heed the wounds
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labor and not to ask for reward
Save that of knowing
I do your holy will.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, November 21, 2013

George Bradshaw Murray, SJ, MD

George B. Murray, SJ, MD died in the early morning on Monday 18 November 2013.  His death was sudden, not unexpected but shocking nonetheless.  He was 82 years old.  He had a number of chronic medical conditions.  Over the past twelve or so months an almost dizzying array of acute and subacute medical problems began to complicate his life.  He bore the illnesses with his usual humor and grace.  He detested anything that might be construed as whining or self-pity in his fellows. He didn't whine either though he had every reason to do so. 

We never know the hour or the day.  Thus, even when death comes in old age after a gradually deteriorating medical course, it is always a shock to those who were close to and loved the one who died.  Murray's death came as a shock to a great many people, particularly his former consultation psychiatry fellows, the residents and students who trained under him, his colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital, former patients and the world of consultation psychiatry in general.  The phone calls and e-mails have come fast and furious from former fellows and other Jesuits who were aware of the depth of our friendship, though it was a relationship that can hardly be described by that rather pallid word. 

I met George on 1 May 1991 when I picked him up at the Philadelphia International Airport.  He had agreed to give grand rounds to the psychiatry department at Temple.  I was just entering my final year of psychiatry training and had just begun as chief resident.  While I was planning to apply for a fellowship in consultation psychiatry, Mass General was not on the radar screen.  Until 1 May 1991.  By the time we passed the Art Museum and zipped up Kelly Drive toward Temple University Hospital I knew one thing.  I had to train with this man. 

Because there was no drug company lunch that day (I did however talk of the reps to funding the grand rounds which is why I didn't ask for lunch) George met with the residents for an hour and I then took him to lunch at the restaurant on the same block as my apartment.  It was a jazz-themed restaurant with good food.  It was also quiet and, of course, I had parking in apartment garage.  I did not know at the time that George was "an old jazz drummer."  Over lunch we figured out that we knew a number of people in common, most of whom were in religious vows (I was only beginning to think perhaps maybe in my wildest dreams of applying to the Society of Jesus).   By coffee and desert I told him I wanted to apply to his program.  He looked stricken when he noted that he was already full for July.  I explained that I still had a year to go.  "Write to me after 1 July."  I did so just after 4 July. 

About a week later I returned to my apartment at 17th and Callowhill on a Friday afternoon to find a letter from MGH.  It was from George.  I read it, put it down, and changed into running clothes.  Read the letter again.  Went for a six-miler.  Came back and read the letter again.  And then I called my twin brother and told him I was going to read a letter and asked him to give me his read.  He said,  "Sounds like he already decided to take you."  I replied, "That is what I thought.  Just wanted some confirmation." 

I flew to Boston on 12 September for an interview on Friday 13 September.  Best Friday the Thirteenth in history.  Midway through our interview, which followed a memorable one with Ned Cassem, SJ, MD, chief of psychiatry at the time, George looked at me as if he were lining up a shot at the shooting range and asked, "Do you want to come here?"  I replied, "Yes."  He said, "I'm tough."  I said, "No shit."  He ended with "Get a Massachusetts license by July." 

George's fellowship was unique.  He founded it in 1978 and directed it full-time until a few years ago.  By the time he retired he had trained 102 fellows mostly on his own.  His didactic methods would be frowned upon by politically-correct, mealy-mouthed, liberals of academe.  His fellows thrived.  George turned us, in the words of Former Fellow Beatriz Currier, MD, "into the kind of psychiatrist I wanted to be but didn't know how to become."  We worked hard.  Many consults per day.  Vast amounts of reading for which he expected us to be prepared.  But he worked even harder for us. 

His mark on the world of consultation psychiatry (or consultation-liaison if you must, though he loathed the word liaison) is indelible.  He published ninety papers, many with his fellows.  In his younger years he lectured widely and was sought after because of both his medical acumen as well as his ability to use humor in memorable ways.  His mark on his fellows is even more indelible. 

I will post the funeral homily and readings over the weekend.  At the moment exhaustion from the arrangements, writing a difficult homily, and meeting with many former fellows at the wake this afternoon is taking a toll.  By the time tomorrow ends there will be little energy left. 

He will be missed, he is already missed, but his legacy will continue for generations.