Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

My dad was a physician, a major in the U.S. Army, during World War II (explains why my twin brother and I were born in 1949).  He talked about it somewhat but not a lot, even when I was old enough to understand.   It was difficult for a relatively young doc who had zero travel experience outside the U.S. (and little desire to travel) to find himself in England as a physician.  He certainly wasn't inexperienced as a physician as he'd graduated from Temple Medical School in 1931 and had been in practice for almost a decade.  But, he was horrified by the camps and much of what he saw. I think he was at D-Day not terribly long after the landing.  I suspect these experiences are what kept him from talking about the war very much.

I went to Belgium a few times in the early 1980's.  On one of those trips I was going to the Trappist Abbey at Orval, in the Ardennes forest, for a short retreat.  Having arrived in the area way too early I found the nearby memorial to the Battle of the Bulge to pass some time.  It is impressive.  It was also emotionally painful to be there.  The unexpected emotions triggered by the visit to the memorial played a big part in my contemplations during the retreat. 

Flash forward to the early 1990's when I was working in the psychiatry department at the White River Junction VA Hospital.  I was able to establish a degree of rapport with some of the WW II vets by mentioning my dad's service.  One remarkable episode occurred around the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1995.  I was in the drop-in psychiatry clinic on Wednesday mornings.  Suddenly a number of WW II vets were coming in with anxiety and tearfulness.  More than a few of them broke down during appointments but couldn't figure out why.  Then it hit me that the publicity about the bomb was all over.  There were photo covers and long stories in Time and Newsweek (when they mattered) and so on.   So I asked one of the men if it was safe to say that he tried to avoid the memories of the war but couldn't block them, that when the old black and white movies or documentaries about WW II were on TV late at night he didn't want to watch but found himself doing so, even until the wee hours of the morning.  I made a few other observations.  The man's jaw dropped.  I suspect many of these men were having a recurrence of a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Viet Nam was, of course, different.  Scratch the ticker-tape parades in Times Square at the end of the war.  Rather than a sailor planting a passionate kiss on a nurse in her white uniform the enduring image is of a little girl burned with napalm.  I still can't figure out what happened after the war.  The treatment of the veterans of the Viet Nam war at the hands of the pot smoking baby boomers who hid behind their student deferments was hideous.  (Yes, I had one at Penn State as a freshman.  The first draft lottery was held--live on TV--December of sophomore year.  My number was 350).  A lot of pain over Viet Nam played out in the office two decades later.   

I pray daily for the men and women in the military.  Humans are never not going to go to war.  We ain't wired for peace.  Thus, I have little patience with the religious who go out and get themselves arrested while protesting war.  Go to prison but please don't whine about it or try to assume the mantle of pseudo-martyrdom.  No sympathy.  Swords into plowshares?  Nice idea but unworkable given man's basic sinful nature coupled with his territoriality.  Pray for those men and women who have the courage to protect us.  And pray for the repose of the souls of those who died in the wars extending from Afghanistan and Iraq back to the Civil and Revolutionary Wars. 

Oddly enough, during nine years in D.C. I never made it over to Arlington Cemetery.  Got to the Viet Nam and WW II memorials several times, including when Ignatius and I were there two weeks ago, but not Arlington.  I think I was (and am) trying to avoid the overwhelming emotions that nailed me in the Ardennes Forest thirty years ago. 

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls rest in peace.  Amen.
The attached photos come from Saturday 18 May when Ignatius and I visited the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge (I think).  Back during theology we went there frequently to walk around and talk.  It was a good way to decompress when we went at each other's throats while I was editing his thesis.  Mt. Auburn Cemetery is beautiful.  That is an understatement.  Running.  Skating.  Biking.  All are forbidden.  It is a quiet tranquil place suited to long rambling walks and, of course, carrying a camera.  Our visit last week was the first time I returned to Mt. Auburn since 2002.  I will return alone.  It is a lot easier to play with the camera without someone who is getting further and further ahead.  

This is one of the vistas of the cemetery.  The sun was playing hide-and-seek that day but it was there for this.
There are azaleas all over the place, including these framing some old tombstones. 
These are some of the tombstones.  In general, gravestone photos work better in black and white than color, particularly when the sun is bouncing off the light stone and blowing out detail or messing up the color. 

This one reflects the high rate of infant mortality.  The child was only 14 months. 
The Scots Charitable Trust has its own section.  The fence detail reflects the kind of workmanship that will never occur again.  

One of the places Ignatius and I had to go was the top of the tower.  It was always included back in the old days.  Great views of Boston and Cambridge.  The first is of the tower.  It was a bit of a challenge to climb to the top.  
Two views of Boston, one in color and the other, taken between the balustrade.  The Harvard Stadium is in the foreground. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Thoughts on the Past Months

It finally happened.  The cold, as in the upper respiratory kind, hit on Thursday night and persists.  Fortunately, this past weekend was the only one that I more or less had time for a cold.  I got through giving a day of recollection and Mass to a group from St. Julia’s on Friday, but by the end of two talks and Mass my throat felt as if I’d slid into second on it.  After running one necessary errand on Saturday morning the rest of the weekend was spent mostly in bed.  Things are lightening up now.  Should be fine by the coming weekend.

Ignatius’ time here on sabbatical was a great blessing but it is coming to an end in a few days.  He helped with some of the physical work that required the kind of heavy lifting I can no longer do easily.  We spent a lot of time talking about our vocations, pastoral care, and everything else that friends of long duration discuss.  We fit my favorite definitions of friendship:  A friend is someone with whom you can sit in silence for four hours and no one feels the need to speak.  And we laughed a lot, sometimes at extremely juvenile humor that is best left shared between us.  He leaves on Sunday to amble back toward Taipei.  We will go out to dinner on Thursday evening (the cold must be gone by then). I will miss him very much.  But, am very grateful for the time we were able to spend here.  I’m tempted to ask his provincial to assign him back here.  There is enough to do.  And the Chinese Catholic Community would be thrilled beyond description.  He is a role model for being pastoral with others. 

The bombing
Can’t ignore it.  It was a bizarre experience.  Ignatius and I were in the Art Institute of Chicago when it happened.  I was giving a talk the following day at the University of Illinois at Chicago and, to save money and have some fun, we flew out on Friday and drove to Marquette in Milwaukee to visit a Chinese SJ who is completing a degree there, and then went to Chicago on Sunday.  Shortly after the bombing my cell phone began going nuts with texts and e-mails asking if we were OK.  I sent a sarcastic text to my sister (sorry) who then asked if we heard about Boston.  Wow.  We got back Wednesday afternoon. 

Friday morning my cell beeped the text message signal at 6:30 AM.  BC was on lockdown and all classes were cancelled.  Weston borders Waltham, one of the towns that was locked down (Waltham borders Watertown where the boat was).  The surviving bomber was in a boat about a mile from our Provincial offices.  Obviously everyone worked from home that day.  It was surreal in that there was no traffic, none, on Concord Road, a two-lane country road in front of the house that resembles Le Mans in the morning rush hour.  It isn’t even that quiet on Sundays because of the bicyclers.  Very eerie.

The reactions to the post-bombing are ranging from occasionally maudlin to manifestations of the kind of grief characteristic of a national tragedy to frightening.  I’m perplexed by the burial stuff.  My respect for the woman who arranged the burial would have been greater if she remained anonymous rather than using it as a way of trumpeting her Christianity.  There is something more Pharisee than Publican in it.  Several times over the years I’ve quoted St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words only when absolutely necessary.” 

Lost Friends and the Internet
I was an exchange student in Belo Horizonte, Brasil from July 1967 to July 1968.  It was the most life-changing and path-determining experience of my life.  I made a number of friends shortly after arriving.  One in particular, Aldo Fernandes, Jr., was very helpful in learning Portuguese, learning to give serenades AND he introduced me to the caipirinha andBrahma Chopp (I was 18, the legal age in Brasil).  I taught him and some of the other guys “There’s Kind of Hush” by Herman’s Hermits and “Yesterday” by no-need-to-name-‘em in English and they taught me many songs in Portuguese, particularly those of Chico Buarque de Holanda.  A few years after I went to Penn State we lost touch.  I’d tried some internet searches over the past few years but didn’t get anywhere, in part because I was having trouble with the last name that I'd conflated with another friend's.

The day we returned from the wedding in D.C. the administrative assistant in the retreat center asked me three times in about two hours if I’d checked my e-mail.  No I hadn’t.  Finally in frustration she ordered me into her office (one does not say not to Ann) and opened the e-mail she had forwarded.  How it landed in her e-mail mystifies me.  But, it was from Aldo, now a journalist living in far western MG, who is never without a guitar (he was a terrific musician then and I’m delighted he hasn’t stopped).  He had found my pic on the internet and I guess an idea of where I was.  He noted he would have recognized me easily except for the white hair and the beard.  To prove the e-mail wasn’t a scam he enclosed a scan of the dollar bill I’d autographed for him in 1968!  I recognized my 18 year-old penmanship immediately.  It has changed.  Drastically.  But, it was mine to be sure.

Once my breathing returned to normal and the grin subsided I wrote a long e-mail back in English.  Later in the day he responded in Portuguese, which I can still read and speak but would not try writing.  We are going to set up a Skype call soon. 

I’ve told one particular story about Aldo many times over the years.  It illustrates the hazards of international living.  About ten days after I arrived the family was sitting at Saturday night supper (jantar) when he came over and asked, in tortured English, if I wanted to go to a movie.  I said OK and made the “three ring sign” (thumb and index circled with the other three fingers splayed out).  He tore out of the apartment.  I could hear his strangled laughter.  Silence descended on the table.  The kind of silence that says, “uh oh.”  But I didn’t speak enough Portuguese—I spoke almost none at that point—for anyone to explain.  When I went to the hall outside the apartment to go to the movies he explained in English and graphically.  “Joao, in Brasil thees—he made the three ring sign—is thees—he either flipped the bird, gave me the finger, or . . . you all KNOW what I mean.  At that point he lost it again.  I had just flipped off the entire family. I don’t think I made the three-ring sign again for about seven years.  He really worked hard with me on my accent and grammar.  Though I’ve lost some vocabulary my accent is still dead on.  It is great that we can now reconnect. 

I’ve never been back to Brasil, in part because the memories of a perfect year would be jolted, and in part because of time.  There may be a reason to return now. 

Probably enough rambling for now.
The trip to D.C. was a goldmine of photos.  A friend opined how some of the pix of the National Shrine would look as black and white conversions.  I've been doing a bit of that.  If all the stars line up properly over the Memorial Day weekend I will spend much of it playing with pix.

The two secular photos first.
Reflections are a tremendous source of interesting angels on a photo.  The one below shows the U.S. Capitol reflected in a window in the Library of Congress.  The blue sky was critical in making this come out so well.  This should not be converted to b&w.
The Library of Congress is an interesting building.  It is very ornate.  Some of the rooms are a bit too busy with color.  I prefer this in b&w.  It allows focus on the shapes.
The altar railing at the National Shrine fascinates.  The words, "Introibo ad altare Dei" were the first ones that demanded a response from the altar boy prior to Vatican II.  No man who was a pre-Vatican II altar boy can forget the response,
Ad Dei qui laetificat juventutam meum."
The chapel in which confessions are heard is behind a large stained glass wall.  The first time I went in there I couldn't find the door.  It is not obvious.
One of the aisles to the left of the main altar. This is difficult to photograph because of the light which shows up weirdly warm on my camera.  Much better in b&w.
There are thousands of candles aflame there.  The first is the reflection of candles near one of the columns on the lower level outside the crypt church.  The walls down there are covered with the names of individuals and groups who donated to the construction of the Shrine.

The second is a bank of candles at one of the chapels on the lower level.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Back in December we were taking our leave of others with the words, Merry Christmas, or Blessed Christmas, or the much too secular but sooooo politically correct, Have a Happy Holiday.  Forty days ago the wish to others was for a Happy and Blessed Easter.  What about the Solemnity of the Ascension?  I’ve yet to see a card for the Ascension or hear any kind of greeting.  

There is something odd about the disconnection of the episodes of what is called “the glorification event.”  The glorification event is comprised of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.  None of these moments in Jesus’ life happened in a vacuum unrelated to the others.  None can stand alone.

Jesus’ birth is, of course, the most problematic when it comes to standing alone.  Too many isolate Jesus’ birth from all that followed.  But, were it not for the events of Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and the Ascension, what we call “the Christmas Story” would make no sense whatsoever.  It would be nothing more than a pretty story without any meaning or relevance.  As Dag Hammarskjold wrote in a haiku that frequently serves as my meditation,

"On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
was foretold them
in a trumpet fanfare"

Similarly Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are of a piece.  Jesuit Father Stanley Marrow put it well. "We must beware of isolating discrete moments in what is one continuous event in the revelation of God.  He who is born of Mary is he who dies on the cross, is he who rises from the dead, returns to the Father who sent him, and sends his Holy Spirit on all who confess him as Lord and Son of God.” In ten days we will come to the end of the Easter Season.  Ordinary time will continue throughout the spring, summer, and most of autumn until 1 December 2013 when we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent and prepare to recall the glorification event—Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and ascension—yet again. 

May you all have a Happy Ascension Thursday and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost with overwhelming joy.
Busy time.  Last weekend Ignatius and I were in D.C. to concelebrate a bilingual Mandarin Chinese-English wedding for two medical students.  Ignatius forced me into the decision to fly rather than drive both ways (about 8 or 9 hours each way).  Good move on his part.  We arrived early Thursday AM and had time to spend the afternoon at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of Catholic University.  A few of the over 200 photos I took will appear below.  Friday was the Library of Congress and wandering around D.C.  

The wedding was terrific.  It is not the Taiwanese custom to keep the bride (who was Taiwanese-American) in "cloister" prior to entering the church.  When we arrived at Dahlgren Quad at Georgetown the entire wedding party and all the families were milling around enjoying the glorious weather.  It was refreshing.  It was no less moving to see the bride approach the altar on her father's arm.  It was nice to avoid the drama.

After the wedding banquet in Falls Church Ignatius and I went to wander around the monuments at night.  I did not have the camera with me.  The Lincoln Memorial is attractive during the day but it is spectacular at night.  We also visited the Viet Nam and WW II memorials.   On Sunday we split up, Ignatius to visit with Taiwanese friends in the D.C. area and me to celebrate Mass at the Visitation Monastery, lunch with a friend and dinner with my cousin Sue in Silver Spring.  Early flight home on Monday.  

This week I teach my last class at BC.  It was great.  Hope to do it again.  But I will admit to looking forward to the summer break.

A bunch of photos from the Shrine and three from our wanderings in D.C. on Friday. 

I didn't have the tripod and choose to shoot handheld with a high ISO (800 to 1600) in the Shrine.  I've not done much of that but will do more now that the results are good. 

The main altar as seen from the back of the Shrine.  I love the Shrine.  After my follow-up with the cardiac surgeon at the nearby Washington Hospital Center I went over there to pray in thanksgiving.  
 Organ pipes perched high above the main altar to the left. 
This mosaic is one of the newest.  It was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.  I remember when it was unveiled some time just before I went to tertianship.  It is toward the back of the main church.  
There are banks of candles at every chapel.  It is nice that they are real and not the absurd electric ones parishes seem to be adopting.
The sacristy of the main church is huge.  I've never been in there.  The day after returning from tertianship I celebrated Mass in the Crypt Church on the lower level, where the sacristy is only slightly smaller.  Will save photos of the crypt for a later entry. 
Every one of the chapels in the Shrine is dedicated to Our Lady.  The following three are the Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel, Our Lady of Lebanon, and Our Lady of La Vang, constructed in memory of the Vietnamese Martyrs.  

And three photos from the secular part of the trip. 
The first is George Gershwin's piano at the Library of Congress.  That is close to a first-class relic.  
Then a hallway in the Library. Not exactly understated.
This last is the back of the U.S. Capitol Building in a reflecting pond.  It was tinted, adjusted, cropped and put through its paces to get this abstract effect.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD