Saturday, June 29, 2013

Some Very Good News

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam puts it well.  Last week at lunch a high school classmate asked if I had the e-mail for another classmate.  I opened the cell phone to look it up and noticed a new e-mail from Fr. Provincial.  Two things jumped off the screen:  Congratulations and Dear Jack, i.e. it wasn't a province-wide mail.  He wrote to inform me that he'd been notified that I've been approved for full profession of four vows.  I was and remain delighted.  Fr. Sheehan went on to explain that I have a year to set the date and place.  The vows will be here at Campion some time in October.  Details remain to be determined over the next week or two.

Summer is in full swing here.  It is hot but the searing and mind-destroying humidity of D.C. is not a problem.  Given that we are surrounded by grass rather than concrete it also cools off overnight much more than the concrete- jungle surrounding the G'town Jesuit Residence.  One can feel the heat radiating from the paths outside the residence even at 6:00 AM.


Gen 17:1, 9-10, 15-22

Sometimes when preparing a homily I find myself asking, "What were they thinking?"  Generally this thought occurs when dealing with a reading that, like today's first reading, is discontinuous.  The ongoing saga of Abram/Abraham we just heard comes from Genesis 17 verses 1, 9-10, 15-22.  Unfortunately the edits left out the most important part, the establishment of the covenant with Abraham. 

The Jewish Study Bible notes that source critics identify Chapter 17 as the Priestly version of the covenant with Abraham, the Yahwist version of which appeared in chapter 15.  In verses 2 thru 8 Abram's name is changed to Abraham and the promises regarding Abraham's role as the father of a multitude of nations  are established within the covenant.

The verses we do have are important within the context of that covenant, particularly the command that every male shall be circumcised.  The Jewish Study Bible notes that circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant and is thus a matter of highest importance in Judaism.  Fulfilling the mandate for circumcision was so important in the Ancient Near East that, when the Seleucid King Antiochus IV prohibited it, Jewish mothers chose martyrdom over neglect of the commandment.  A parenthetical remark in the same source notes that prohibition of circumcision is a favorite target of anti-Semites.  Unfortunately, the attempt to impose this prohibition continues to the present, a manifestation not only of anti-Semitism but also of the gradual attempt to strip away religious freedom by governments throughout the world. 

There was a serious attempt a year or two ago to place a ballot measure forbidding all circumcision within the limits of San Francisco, a city that proudly calls itself Babylon by the Bay, when in fact is more like Sodom on the Seashore.  Recently, the German government tried to ban all circumcision, except that deemed medically necessary.  Way to go Angela, seems that Germans haven't progressed as much since WW II as one might have expected. 

Here in the U.S., the so-called cradle of liberty, churches are regularly dealing with creeping religious persecution.  Christmas Carols, except those involving Frosty, Rudolph and popping chestnuts, are outlawed at many colleges and universities, including my old employer, Dartmouth. The mandate that religious institutions, mostly Catholic, must supply insurance coverage for abortion and birth control is a direct assault on freedom of conscience.  More local prohibitions against any form of prayer at public events such as graduations are frightening reminders of official hostility to all things religious.  When will priests be forbidden to wear clerical dress in public?  When will crosses be removed from the tops of churches?  When will the NY Times start referring to the God of Abraham using a lower case g?

Today we observe the memorial of St. Irenaeus.  It is not certain whether or not died a martyr's death.  It is certain that he was an eloquent defender of the faith both as preacher and writer. His most famous work is titled  Against Heresies.
When will a new Irenaeus arise to preach as effectively as he did against the heresies and abominations being forced upon all religiously observant people by the government of the United States? 
Not a lot of rhyme or reason in the choices of photos. 
The first is the chapel in the Jesuit community on Newbury St. in downtown Boston.  Stayed there for a few days while attending the neuropsychiatric meetings at the Park Plaza Hotel.  It seems the provincial didn't think that staying in the hotel at $250 a night was as good an idea as staying with brother Jesuits.  It was a great stay. 
The next is the steeple at the Jesuit house in Changhwa, Taiwan.  Formerly the novitiate for the Chinese province, it is now a retreat house.  Lovely grounds on a hilltop overlooking the town.  
Sticking with the Taiwan theme, these are doors at the Wen-wu Buddhist Temple at Sun Moon Lake.  Whenever Ignatius and I go to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei we take the train to Changhwa and then beg a car from the community at the retreat house.  It isn't too far of a drive
A detail from a stained glass window in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Campion Center.  Interesting side fact about final vows.  When I make the vows there I will have pronounced first vows, celebrated my first Mass and made final profession all in front of the same altar.  One of my life-threatening fantasies at Campion is to get on a very high ladder so I can take photos of the windows straight across rather than up.  Less distortion. 
The fountain in front of the health care center.  I call this one my Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil shot.  I will admit to having cloned out a few bothersome parking signs and other background distractions. 
Finally, a rose.  Photos of raindrops on roses are a cliche.  But they are fun.  These have no water on them.  However, Aperture is like a coloring book for adults.  I've spent much too much time playing with and manipulating color, tint and other aspects of photos such as these.  The first is the original photo.  The others are manipulations applied to that photo.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, June 24, 2013

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Had an opportunity to make a quick trip to PA over the weekend.  Another won't arise until some time in August.  Made a very short, too short, trip to Penn State to see Al and Karen.  Great time.  The kind of time one can only have with friends one has known for over forty years.  Some time in the next few days their youngest daughter will give birth to fraternal twins.  Any day now.  You know you are getting up there when your college roommate has seven grandchildren.  

After the homily some photos, a few of which were taken at Penn State. 
Lk 9:18-25

Imagine you are one of the disciples with Jesus at the beginning of this particular Gospel reading.  Recreate the scene in your mind.  Is it morning or evening?  Did it take place indoors or out?  Add as many or as few details as you wish. Now focus in more closely.  Is Jesus sitting or standing?  Are you close to him or a bit removed?  What about you?  What are you feeling as you listen to him?  Joy?  Fear?  Impatience?  Fatigue?  What does Jesus’ voice sound like?  What about the two questions he asks? 

Speech, the act of using words to communicate, is fascinating.  In most Western languages, how one stresses a particular syllable, where the accent is placed in a sentence or phrase, may subtly, or not so subtly, affect the meaning and interpretation of what is being said.  The tone of voice in which something is said influences the listener.  There is a big difference between, what did you say? and WHAT! did you say?!?

Most of us can tell in the first few moments of a phone conversation whether the speaker is in a good mood, a bad mood, angry, sad or happy.  Of course, others can read us just as easily. 

Today's Gospel demands that we consider not only what Jesus asked but how he asked it.  We have to consider what Jesus is asking us and how we are going to respond. 

Jesus asked two questions.  The first was general and informational, “Who do the crowds say I am?”   What are people saying about me?  In some ways the question was rhetorical, not demanding much of an answer.  Jesus’ second question was much more specific.  It was, and is, personal.  It demanded a concrete answer from each of the disciples.  Jesus’ second question demands a specific answer from each of us.   And that is where the dilemma of intonation, inflection and vocal stress becomes apparent. 

How did Jesus ask the question? 
But who do you say that I am? 

How did the apostles hear it?
But who do you say that I am? 

How do we hear it today? 
But who do you say I am? 

How does each of us hear the question?  How will each of us answer it?  No matter what the emphasis, inflection or intonation might have been, this is the most difficult question Jesus asked his apostles.  It is the most difficult question he asks us.  It is the most difficult question we can ask ourselves.  But who do you say I am?  Everything depends on our answer. 

Peter’s answer was brief and accurate.  In the context of the time no explanation was necessary.  “You are the Messiah of God.”  Peter’s answer contained within it, You are the One Who is to Come, You are the Promised On,  You are the Hope of Israel.  And much more. 

Peter’s statement was radical. It was courageous.  Had he publicly proclaimed  “You are the Messiah of God” he would have been charged with blasphemy.  Blasphemy was a capital crime in those days.  Of course today blasphemy of the worst sort against the name of Jesus is considered hip humor for fools like Bill Maher, the truly awful Margaret Cho, and other pathetic figures who call themselves comedians and comediennes, but that is another homily.

The Church proclaims her answer to Jesus’ question at the beginning of the Vigil Mass of Easter.  As he incises the paschal candle the priest proclaims:

"Christ yesterday and today
the beginning and the end
Alpha and Omega
all time belongs to him
and all the ages.
To him be glory and power
through every age for ever."

The beginning and the end.  The Alpha and the Omega.  That says it all.  He was present before the beginning.  He will be present after the end.  He is eternal.  All time belongs to Him and He transcends all time.

The Church can boldly proclaim this because those of us born since Peter’s radical profession of faith we have not had to wonder about Jesus’ identity.  We have not had to wait.  From the moment of conception we have lived in a world in which the promise has been fulfilled. In which the Kingdom of God is active. From the first instant of life in our mother's womb we were in the presence of the One for whom the world had waited. 

We heard in the second reading, “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ . . . if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant according to the promise.”  And so, we can sing joyfully with the psalmist, as we answer Jesus’ second question:

“You are my help,
in the shadow of your wings
I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.”

As you go through the rest of today, mull over Jesus’ question, “But who do you say I am?”  Listen to how He asks that question.  Listen to your answer.  It is important. 
A week ago today we had a medium-sized thunderstorm.  The rainbows were amazing.  I had to drive to Newtonville, about six or seven miles away. The rainbow followed me all the way, changing in intensity depending on the angle of view.  Many drivers stopped to take photos.  The first is how it looked behind Campion.  The other I took while waiting at a red light on Washington St.  I don't recommend this second method for getting photos.

Way back I used Photoshop.  This is a fantasy adjustment of Georgetown.  Not sure I have a lot of use for something like this on a daily basis. 
These next two are color manipulations of a small pond in D.C.  at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.   The ability to change the tint and experience of color with Aperture is fascinating. 

Finally, Penn State.  The Informational Technology Building is amazing.  It arches over the highway to the newly developing West Campus (and the golf courses).  The reflections are fascinating.  Would love to get there some night. 
Al and Karen have a lovely garden in the house where they've lived for about 30 years.  We spent over an hour sitting back there, having a beer and chatting.  They have a "flower" made of old spoons with a prismatic center.  Over the hour I kept getting up to take pix of the color in the center.  It got more intense as the sun went down creating the correct angle.  The first is the entire piece and the second is a tighter focus on the center. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

St. Anthony of Padua

Today is the memorial of St. Anthony of Padua.  Rather than preaching on the readings for either the memorial or the tenth Thursday of ordinary time, it is sometimes a pleasant diversion to preach on the saint.

The second reading in today's office is from a sermon by St. Anthony of Padua.  In it we hear a distinct echo of his contemporary and founder, St. Francis.  "Let your words teach and your actions speak."  These words recall Francis' famous dictum, "Preach the gospel at all times, use words only when necessary."  Anthony then shares an interesting insight into a perplexing Gospel parable, "We are full of words but empty of actions, and therefore are cursed by the Lord, since he himself cursed the fig tree when he found no fruit but only leaves." 

Anthony was born in 1195 and died in 1231.  He entered an Augustinian monastery in 1210 only a year after the official founding of the Order of Friars Minor.  He was 15.  When he was 25 Anthony transcribed to the Franciscans with the hope of becoming a missionary.  He spent only one year in Morocco before illness compelled him to return home. 

Initially assigned to be a cook in one of the friaries, his natural eloquence as a preacher was discovered by accident at which point he was sent to teach theology by Francis himself.   One writer describes Anthony as "the Billy Graham of the 13th century."  Anthony was a man of contradictions:  physically unimpressive he was personally dynamic.  He was both reticent and charismatic, high-minded and down to earth. 

We Jesuits are lucky.  St. Ignatius is not a particularly sentimentalized figure.  Unfortunately, the Franciscans cannot say the same.  St. Francis was not a simpleton who picked flowers and spoke with animals.  We don't suffer the indignity of statues of St. Ignatius with birds sitting on his shoulders. 

Then there is St. Anthony. Lose something and invoke his name as the saint who finds things.  He deserves better.  The following quote comes from a handy resource about various saints that seems to avoid the hagiographical excesses of too many lives of the saints.  Anthony wrote, or more likely preached, the following about preachers:

"The ideal preacher should be hard as flint.  From him must spring the spark that gives light to the soul and enkindles in it the fire of divine love.  Society that is wounded with the sores of evil is Lazarus.  We are the dogs who must draw near to cure with our tongues--our preaching--the evils that afflict human kind."
These are photos hot off Aperture.  I took all of them last night after the rain stopped.  Am still playing with and learning about using a flash.  Hope to get a bracket that will allow taking the flash off the top of the camera.  These have been processed, sometimes beyond the bounds of nature.  The color, texture, and raindrops stand out beautifully with the adjustments. 

Three rosebuds.  I washed out most of the green so as to enhance the pink.
Another pink rose.   By heightening the contrast in the background it appears to be set against the milky way. 
Another single rose. 
The next two are my favorites from this outing.  They are the same rose.  The red was enhanced in the first one.  The second is obviously a study in color and texture.  I like the combination.  It suggests the purple lighting in the hotel from the last entry.

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, June 3, 2013

Liturgical Anniversary

The Solemnity of the Most Holy and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi, is a particular favorite as it was the liturgical date of my first Mass following ordination.  I have now preached through the lectionary twice, building up a decent cache of homilies.  As Corpus Christi has different readings in the three cycles, this is only the second time I could use this homily again.  Alas, because I was traveling in Houston (hot and flat) I did not have the opportunity  this year.   I kept the original title and date.

First Mass
10 June 2007
Chapel of the Holy Spirit
Campion Center
Weston, MA 

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Gen  14:18-20
1 Cor 11:23-26
Ps 110
Luke 9:11b-17

Jesuits are described as contemplatives in action.  Unlike our Trappist brothers who live in monastic cloister and silence, contemplating the word of God, we move around.  A lot.  Just ask mom how many phone numbers and addresses I’ve had in my ten years as a Jesuit.  She used to carefully erase the old one before putting the new one in her address book.  Now she reuses an old sticky note.

Jerome Nadal, an early Jesuit, famously noted that the Jesuit’s cloister is the highway.  Our work, oftentimes very mobile work, drives our prayer life and our prayer life, oftentimes entered into while on the move, drives our work.  Overall, action seems to trump contemplation most of the time. 

It is a feast such as this, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, or the Feast of Corpus Christi, that reminds us of the contemplative side of our lives.  Not just Jesuit lives, but all of our lives.  The lives of all believers.  This feast pulls us into the contemplative.  For good reason.  It is an abstract feast in that it doesn’t recall a person or an event. 

Our liturgical calendar is crammed with feasts—Christmas, Easter, The Ascension, The Annunciation—that recall specific events in the history of salvation, specific moments in the history of the world.  Events with a narrative flow and a story that is told and retold.  We can, and indeed Ignatian prayer demands, that we place ourselves in the action and participate in the history.   We can close our eyes and, with only a little imagination, see the events unfold on an inner movie screen. 

On this Feast, however, we have to sit back.  In silence.  There is no script.  There is no “story line.”  We, Jesuit and non-Jesuit, are forced to be less active, at least for a bit, and more contemplative. 

What do we contemplate?  The gift of Christ present, truly and substantially, in the Eucharist.  It is almost overwhelming to consider that Jesus is present in the bread and wine that we receive in the Eucharist and adore on the altar.  For some the real presence is a stumbling block.  They can understand symbol.  They can understand sign.  They can understand metaphor.  They can even understand allusion.  They simply can’t understand real.   

The bread of life appears in all three readings.  It is a happy coincidence to be able to invoke the name of Melchizedek in the first reading and in Psalm 110 less than twenty-four hours after being ordained.  “You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.”  Melchizedek is a mysterious figure.  His appearance in the first reading is the only one in scripture.   There is no other information, no genealogy, nothing.  All other mentions of the name Melchizedek derive from this single reference in Genesis.  He is as mysterious as the priesthood.

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians should sound familiar.  It contains the words of consecration, the words that bring us here not just today but weekly and daily.   Elaborating on these words or trying to explain them  would be either gilding the lily or taking more risks than any priest should at his first Mass. 

The feeding of the multitude in some way illustrates the stumbling block nature of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  How did it happen?  What were the physics, the chemistry, and economics of such a miraculous event?  But these are not the relevant questions, these are not the relevant concepts.    What is important is that when we are hungry, when we are thirsty in this journey we call life, Christ is present to us in the Eucharist, to restore and refresh us. In the Gospel narrative we heard, “they all ate until they had enough.”  This  feeding of the multitude from very little, reminds us—it was a preview of what was to come—that from the  small piece of bread that he broke the night before he died Jesus has nourished, and will continue to nourish, untold billions, generously and completely.

The Body and Blood of Christ.  An unending source of nourishment, of sustenance, and of comfort.  The only thing we can do on this feast is to sit in awe and contemplate this great gift of the Eucharist, and then get up and continue the journey.
I was in Houston for Gillian Alex's graduation from the University of Texas at Houston School of Medicine with her M.D.  I hooded her.  Gillian's late dad was my roommate at Penn State during sophomore year but a close friend from about 30 minutes after we moved into the dorms as freshmen back in September of 1968.  

Houston is flat.  Very flat.  Houston is hot.  Very hot.  Houston in humid.  Very . . . you get the drift.  Upon exiting the plane  I was blasted by heat and humidity with a faint eau d' refinery.  The George H. Bush airport is about 35 miles away from the city.  Interesting drive into the city and a very long drive at 4:30 AM on Saturday without caffeine in my bloodstream.  Rather than staying at a hotel I stayed at Strake Jesuit Preparatory School about ten miles away from the med school and the hotel where everyone else stayed.  

The tragic fire that hit Houston on Friday was less than two miles from Strake.  It began around the time I was getting ready to leave for the hotel.  The drive was a nightmare early on with some realistic fantasies of missing the graduation.  The GPS app in my cell phone paid for itself.  Made it with twenty minutes to spare before we went to the convention center.  Pray for the repose of the four firefighters killed when a roof collapsed.  

While waiting for everyone to come to the lobby of the hotel, I was wandering around with the camera, at least until the manager asked me to stop.  So, the hotel will remain unnamed.  But, given the unusual lighting in the lobby, some of the photos will appear. 

One rarely sees a lobby decorated in shades of black and gray with lavender lighting as reflected in the chandelier.  The camera did a good job of capturing the color accurately. 

Vases calla lilies were reflected in the mirror along with the lavender hue of the lighting. 

The chandelier itself.

The lobby in reflection. 
And now, The Doctors.  We didn't get many shots of Gillian in robes after the graduation.  When the academic procession arrived in the robing area a security guard playing super stud would not permit the students beyond the "corral" in their robes.  Nor would he permit parents on the other side of the movie theater ropes.  The anger on the part of the students was mounting and getting real ugly. The security guard was being a real .......... (fill in your favorite pejorative term involving body parts or products of metabolism).  Finally a UT official began shouting at him and bounded up the steps.  The ropes were removed shortly thereafter.  Gillian went back to retrieve her gown and hood.  As we were leaving to go to the car I took off my cap but only unzipped the gown until we got to the car.  The stud was now down two floors at the exit and challenged me.  Apparently he thought I was walking off with the school's robes.  Trust me, my robes were a lot better quality than what most of the faculty was wearing.  It was amusing in the end though infuriating back in the corral.  So, here is Gillian Alex, M.D. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD