Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Brilliant Autumn and the Approach of EST

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sir 35:12-14; 16-18
Ps 34: 2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18
Lk 18:9-14

The New American Bible and the Revised Standard Version translate the lines from Sirach a bit differently.  As we just heard from the NAB, “though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed” while the RSV translates the same line “He will not show partiality in the case of the poor, and he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged.”   While the tax collector was not exactly poor or powerless he was certainly marginalized because of his perceived cooperation with the Romans and his ability to take a cut of the taxes for himself.  The Pharisee earned his money in more acceptable ways, at least in the eyes of some.

Both Sirach and the Gospel deal in stereotypes.  Stereotypes are statistics in narrative form.  When applied to large groups they have a kernel of truth, which, like the mathematical statistics that are taking over even the simplest decisions in the practice of medicine, may be invalid in any particular case.  For example, Asian men have black hair and are shorter than American men.  However, one need only look at the photo from my ordination, in which Ignatius, a 6'3" black-haired Taiwanese Jesuit towers over this 5'11" American, to see that only part of the stereotype applies. 

Being poor, being marginalized, or being oppressed do not automatically make one just, noble or good.  They do not automatically make one humble nor do they confer particular graces exclusive to those states.  None of them are adequate rationalizations or excuses for sinful behavior.  Think back to the song “Gee, Officer Krupke” in West Side Story which includes the line “We’re depraved on accounta we’re deprived.”  Perhaps the Jets were depraved on accounta' they were depraved. Justice.  Humility.  Grace.  All require cooperation of the individual  regardless of bank account or social standing. 

What would our understanding of the Pharisee and the tax-collector be if the roles were reversed?  Suppose the Pharisee acknowledged his sinfulness and the tax-collector boasted of his fundamental righteousness, or, to put it into more contemporary terms, suppose it was the tax-collector who was afflicted with high self-esteem instead of the Pharisee.  Who would be the good guy then?

In his commentary on this Gospel Luke Timothy Johnson includes an important caveat.  “The parable itself is one that invites internalization by every reader because it speaks to something deep within the heart of every human.  The love of God can easily turn into an idolatrous self-love; the gift can quickly be seized as a possession; what comes from another can be turned into self-accomplishment.  Prayer can be transformed into boasting.  Piety is not an unambiguous posture.”   The contemplative literature contains many references to the sin of taking pride in one’s humility.  It is a strong temptation. Only a very fine line separates humility and exaggerated self-esteem.

In reality we all pray in the manner of the Pharisee at times.  Even the humble tax-collector probably lapsed into the same kind of critical “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I” prayer as the Pharisee.   If nothing else the daily examen should keep us realistically humble. 

Paul’s words in the letter to Timothy are significant in that they illustrate that we are all, rich and poor, oppressed and powerful, and in any social stratum, capable of dishonorable behavior.  “At my first defense, no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me.”   Everyone.  Not those with the most to lose but everyone.  And then he goes on.

“But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.”

Our only hope is in the Lord.  Our only life raft is prayer. 
Last Sunday we heard Ps 121:

"I lift up my eyes toward the mountains;
whence shall help come to me?
My help is from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

My help is from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth."

Today, in Ps 34, we hear:

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
The Lord redeems the lives of his servants;
no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him."

St. Ignatius understood human nature well.  Had he lived a few centuries later he would have been a tremendous psychiatrist.  He was aware that all of us are capable of opting for the good and the holy.  Poverty and disadvantage are no more get out of jail free cards than riches and comfort are go directly to jail do not pass go orders.  All of us are sinners.  All of us are called to prayer.  All of us are called to holiness.  Rich or poor.  Pharisee or tax-collector.  Democrat or Republican.   No one is saved or damned because of his financial status, political affiliation or any other characteristic save that of being human.

"The Lord redeems the lives of his servants;
no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.

Stay with that thought for the rest of the day."
This autumn has been a tremendous one.  Most of the guys in the house agree that the leaves have been more vibrant than they've been in the past several years.  ONe of the great gifts of being back in the North where I belong as opposed to the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon Line, is the aromas of autumn here in New England.  There was some rain overnight.  The outdoor temp was around forty (it was twenty-eight yesterday morning).  The indescribable aroma of autumn made me want to stay outdoors all day.  But, because I have to finish a lecture I am giving in Florida in a week, that is not possible.  

Al, one of my roommates at Penn State, and his wife Karen, came to visit.  We've known each other for 45 years.  They wanted to visit nearby Walden Pond.  Great place to visit on a Wednesday afternoon.  I wouldn't even think about taking someone there on a lovely Saturday afternoon in the fall.  The leaves were about two days from absolute peak.  

Campion looks pretty good too.  The first photo has greeted me every morning for the past weeks.  The second was down by the pond when I was showing Al and Karen around.  

Had to make an unanticipated trip to the retreat house in Gloucester, MA two days ago.  Of course I took the camera.  This is the delivery road.  Niles Pond is just to the right of the brush with the Atlantic just behind where I was standing to take the photo.

A week later Jerry who I've known for 63 years and his wife Ruth came up.  Only because they were here did I go on the Boston Harbor Cruise to the Charlestown Navy Yard, a delightful 45 minute trip around the harbor.  The other cruise options were already closed for the season.  Plans for next spring will include one or two of the tours.  The first is the American Flag taken through the T sign.  The other is a portion of the Boston skyline. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Final Vows Received by Father General Nicolás

I did not mention in the post about final vows that the vows were received by Jesuit Father General Adolfo Nicolás.  Because Fr. Nicolás wanted to keep his two week visit to the U.S. a “family visit” during which he would have the opportunity to spend time with the scholastics in our philosophates and theologates, there was no publicity prior to or during his visit.  He explained that he did not want to be besieged by interview requests.  In addition there is a group of lunatic fringe who would have liked to disrupt the visit.  Perhaps the press wouldn't have cared in other eras but, as Pope Francis is a Jesuit and, according to Fr. Nicolás, is adamant about the fact, there is great interest in speaking with him.  

Father General was gracious, warm and very approachable.  He arrived at Campion about 8:00 AM on Tuesday 1 October after two days Blessed Peter Faber Community in Brighton.  After visiting with the men in the health center for two hours he spoke to the members of the province for about an hour with an additional 15 minutes for questions.  After a short break from 11:15 to 11:30 the vow Mass began. 

I pronounced final vows at Communion time as is Our custom.  Unlike other orders we do not pronounce vows ‘into the hands’ of a superior.  Father General held the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord in front of me.  After I pronounced the vows I received communion from him.  Following the recessional we went to the sacristy along with a few other men where I knelt again to pronounce the five ‘simple’ vows.  Father General and I then signed the triplicate hand-written copies of both the final vow formula and the simple vows. 

It was a deeply moving experience, though one that is generally not well-understood by our families and friends who wonder why, after witnessing our first (perpetual) vows, diaconate ordination and ordination to the priesthood, there is yet another ceremony.  As I think I noted in a previous entry, after the very plain final vows ceremony, many family and friends sound like Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is?”  However, on my side of the experience, things do feel different in the best of all possible ways.  Some of that sense may come from the retreat being done so soon before vows.  But part of it is the sense of being a fully professed father. 

My final vows represented a “hat trick” that will probably never happen again in the province.  I pronounced first vows, celebrated my first Mass, and pronounced final vows at the same altar.   Every time I go into the Chapel of the Holy Spirit I see myself kneeling there at one of those ceremonies. 

Yesterday, nine men, eight Jesuits and a Redemptorist, were ordained deacons at St. Ignatius Church near Boston College.  Sean Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, gave a splendid homily that struck me more deeply in the context of having just made final vows. (Cardinal O'Malley generally posts homilies on his blog.  They are definitely worth reading.) It was delightful to be able to chat with him—and thank him for ordaining me a priest six years ago—for a few minutes after the ordination. I will concelebrate Mass with the Cardinal on Friday at the annual Mass and dinner of the St. Luke Guild, a guild for Catholic physicians in Boston. 

The final vows photos were by John Gillooly 
of Professional Event Images, Inc. just outside of Boston. He is a nice guy who was very unobtrusive during the vow Mass.  Perhaps it was my state of mind but I don’t remember him taking the photos of simple vows in the cramped sacristy.  I know I showed him the sacristy and explained the nature of the ceremony there but I can’t say I remember seeing him taking the photos as I knelt to pronounce the vows.  Of course I can see the photos so I guess he was there.  That is a good event photographer. 

Will have more to say about vows later but it is time for some of John’s terrific photos.  Quite a few of them. 
The vow program.  John took several imaginative shots of the program that enhance it. 

The next two are the entrance procession.  The simple chasubles were on loan from St. Julia in Weston.  Fr. George Evans, the pastor, is a friend of the community.  The only matching white vestments we had were the funeral ones with purple and gold trim.  Not acceptable in this setting.  After he agreed to loan the vestments he asked if I would be able to celebrate one of the Masses on Christmas Eve.  He is good.  The answer was yes.

Singing the Gospel Alleluia.

Fr. General preaching.  He elaborated on the nature and meaning of final vows in his homily. 

Pronouncing the vow formula in front of the elevated Body and Blood of Christ.

 Receiving the Precious Body and Blood. 

Final blessing.


Pronouncing simple vows in the sacristy.

Trying to find pen to sign the vow documents.

Father General signing vow documents.

Signing vow documents.

With Father General.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, October 6, 2013

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Hab 1:2-3, 2:2-4
Ps 95: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9
2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14
Lk  17:5-10

“How long O Lord? 
I cry for help
but you do not listen!”

The question and accusation that open the Book of Habakkuk are startling.  Habakkuk is one of the minor prophets.  He is considered a minor prophet not because his message is insignificant but because the Book of Habakkuk is so short that it was combined with eleven other short prophetic books so as to be able to fill one scroll.  Habakkuk is unique among the prophets because he openly questions the wisdom of God. 

The major theme of Habakkuk is trying to grow from perplexity, confusion and doubt toward faith and absolute trust in God.  It is only at the end of chapter three, the book's final chapter, in what is sometimes called the Psalm of Habakkuk, that he expresses his ultimate faith in God, even if he, like us, does not yet fully understand God's ways. In the final verses, verses that are recited during morning prayer on Friday of week II in the breviary, we hear the prophet reflecting on the potential--and real--loss of everything and then ending on an optimistic note of faith. He writes: 

“For though the fig tree blossom not
nor fruit be on the vines,
though the yield of the olive fail
and the terraces produce no nourishment, . . .
Yet will I rejoice in the Lord
and exult in my saving God.

God, my Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet swift as those of hinds
and enables me to go upon the heights.”

At the end of a book that opened with a hostile challenge we learn of the faith that redeems and sustains through everything.  Faith is freely given.  Faith sustains us through the ups and down of life.  It augments the joys and diminishes the sorrows.  Faith brings us eternal life.  But we must tend it and nurture it.   Many of Jesus’ parables, and much of His preaching, turn on the question of faith, how it is nurtured how it is increased.  Thus, the Gospel begins with the famous statement relating faith to the mustard seed.

Remember the popular necklace from days of yore that featured a small clear globe with a tiny yellow mustard seed suspended in the middle?  In my high school the mustard seed pendant was something of a shibboleth.  About half the Protestant girls wore them whereas the Catholics wore either a Crucifix or a Miraculous Medal and sometimes both.

As the mustard seed is only one or two millimeters, about 1/25th of an inch in size, one had to look very closely to see it. That tiny seed grows into a large bush that, while technically not a tree, is large enough for the birds to perch in as though it were a tree.

Just as it takes a long time for the mustard seed to grow from 1/25th of an inch into a large bush, so it is with faith.  As we live it, cultivate it, and attend to it through prayer, reflection, meditation on scripture, regular confession and frequent participation in the Eucharist, faith matures.  It becomes stronger.  It becomes more resilient.  It becomes more able to sustain us in good times and through bad times. Faith permits us, indeed it sometimes compels us, to ask the question that opens the Book of Habakkuk:  “How long O Lord?”  Faith allows us to pray with one single screamed word,  “WHY?” in times of grief and loss.  And, it allows us to endure the startling silence that may be the reply.  And faith allows us to sing the great Psalms of praise.  It is possible for all of us that, despite the losses, traumas, and crises of life, faith will change the angry question that begins the Book of Habakkuk,

“How long O Lord?”

to the affirmation that closes the same book,

“God my Lord
is my strength,
He enables me
to go upon the heights.”
More photos from Spencer both indoors and out.   Will begin with the outdoors.  

A rusted ring cemented into the retaining wall in front of the cottage is part of the kind of autumnal composition that drives my photography at this time of the year.  Shape, color and texture.  What more could one want?  There is an essence here that recalls much of the past.

The hinges are the Abbey Church door are not to be tampered with. 

The meadow along the north road.  One can see a hint of the road at the extreme left of the photo.  The fence delimits the enclosure from the area in front of the guest house open to the public and retreatants. 

Venturing down the north road I came across a small cluster of milkweed pods that were just bursting.  Given that I was focusing on the pod I never noticed the red and black bug until downloading the photos.  The sun was hitting just right at around 1:00 PM.

A few steps away I encountered a grasshopper resting on a red leaf. 

Stumbled across this delightful "composition" made by the wind while wandering down the south road. 

While sitting in front of the cottage reading a red dragonfly happened by.  

The infirmary chapel and rooms as illuminated just before the sun broke over the horizon. 

This is a view down the long aisle from the visitor's chapel at the Abbey.  There are two small gallery chapels to the left and right of the altar that separate the community and those attending Mass or stopping in for prayer.  

The perspective is from the visitors' chapel looking into what was the laybrothers' choir.  Retreatants are permitted in the laybrothers' choir for lauds/Mass and vespers.  I participated in all of the hours from here.  Nothing matches sitting in the semi-darkness of this choir while the monks are saying vigils.  

The Abbey Church proper from the back of the laybrothers' choir.  The blue cast is from the stained glass along the sides.  Will include photos in a later post.  Am playing with this photo in black and white as well.  

The rose window in the western wall.  The colors bathing the buff-colored brick just before vespers at 5:40 is glorious.  I did not try to capture it with the camera.  Am not certain it is possible to capture it adequately given that the experience is more than just the color and glow of the setting sun filtered through the window. 

At the end of compline the few lights in the church that are used for this office are extinguished and the window of the Blessed Mother holding Jesus, called the Salve window, is lit from outside.  This window and the altar are ad Oriens, facing east.  Once lighted the community chants the Salve Regina while facing the window after which the Angelus is rung.  This is the middle window from the photo of the Abbey Church.  

The stairs lead to the dormitory.  After the Salve each man approaches the abbott, bows and is blessed with holy water.  Many of them ascend these steps in silence.   

This still life was illuminated from the light coming through the round panels of   stained glass shown in the last post. 

I hope to have some photos of final vows in about a week or two.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, October 4, 2013

St. Francis of Assisi, Retreat at St. Joseph Abbey, Spencer

I pronounced final vows in the Society on Tuesday 1 October.  More info when the photos are ready, about two weeks from now.   A professional photographer (and nice guy) did the work.  I await the results. After the homily are photos taken while I was on retreat at St. Joseph Abbey, a Trappist monastery about 65 or so miles from here, just west of Worcester.

Today is the memorial of one of the most familiar of all saints:  Francis of Assisi.   Francis lived from around 1181 to 1226  Like Ignatius he had what one could call an “interesting” youth.  He was described as “gallant, high-spirited, and generous.”  He lived the usual life for one of his station. It was a very high station.

I like the way the author describes Francis in a book titled Voices of the Saints.  “The popular image of St. Francis of Assisi is warped with romantic notions.  Many see him as a sweet simpleton who picked  flowers and talked to animals.”  The writer goes on to note that while he was gentle he fought in a few wars, endured illnesses and was imprisoned before he lost his taste for his previous life.  He was hardly the simpering idiot plaster of Paris saint with birds sitting on his shoulder while Bambi and Thumper gaze up at him adoringly that he is generally depicted to be.  Yuck and double yuck.  (Jesuits are fortunate that Ignatius has not been romanticized  in such a nauseatingly saccharine manner).  As he lost his taste for the high life, Francis embraced asceticism.  Eventually followers gathered around him and he wrote his rule.  The rest is history. 

Francis was something of a role model for Ignatius.  One of the ideas that recurred to Ignatius as he was recuperating at the castle of Loyola was to do great things for God in the manner of Francis and Dominic.  Would the Society have the same fundamental character without the example of Francis? Would the Society have even come into being without that example?   I’ve no answers but find the questions intriguing.

Francis of Assisi, like all of us who dare to call ourselves Christian, was called to share in the destiny of Christ by carrying the cross and drinking from the same cup.  He did not die the spectacular death of a martyr.  He suffered through the daily martyrdom that came with his embrace of poverty and his role as founder of a religious community.
There are many maxims and sayings attributed to Francis.  One of the most famous, which I quote often is:

“Preach the Gospel at all times. 
Use words only when necessary.” 

Only when the Gospel is made manifest in our lives on a daily basis are we truly evangelizing, be it the new evangelization or the old evangelization. 

It is up to each of us as individuals.
The Society's Constitutions madates an eight-day retreat prior to final vows.  I was able to arrange to make the retreat at St. Joseph Abbey.  However, rather than staying in the guest/retreat house I stayed in "The Cottage," a small stone house generally reserved for men testing their vocations to the monastery.  As it is within the enclosure I had access to almost all of the 2000 acres of meadows, woods, and ponds.  The rolling hills were reminiscent of Sevenhill during the long retreat minus the grape arbors.  

The monks at Spencer begin the day with vigils at 3:30 AM.  Vigils lasts between 40 and 55 minutes.  Praying at that hour of the morning is one of the most consoling of experiences.  Afterwards the monks engage in lectio divina.  I generally stayed in the church a while and then went to make coffee in the guest house where I took my meals with the rest of the retreatants, and then returned to the cottage to read.  Lauds and Mass follow at 6:00 AM.  As I had a considerable amount of reading and writing to do I generally did not attend the shorter mid-day hours but returned to the church for Vespers at 5:40 PM and Compline, the last hour of the monastic day (and the Church's prayer) at 7:40 PM.  

During the retreat I remained with The Spiritual Exercises, The Constitutions and prepared to write the vow formula, simple vows three times on special acid-free paper with specific margins and then writing the renunciations twice on the same paper.  

The days were full and passed very quickly.  There was no time to nap.  The weather was spectacular.  Autumn was arriving by the minute.  I spent part of each day meditating with camera in hand.  Some of the photos are below.  

The cottage, like the rest of the monastery, is stone.  My room was the one jutting out in front.  It was self-contained and allowed me to be alone without bothering the men who were there to test their vocations. 

The view from the window above the bed was beautiful. 

The door had thick beveled glass.  Could not resist trying to capture the effect of the glass on the outdoor scene.  It is more kaleidoscopic when viewed with both eyes but the monocular effects were not bad. 

This was the view looking into the room. 

The autumn leaves were already predicting a spectacular autumn.  This is the edge of the forest along the North Road just inside the enclosure.

I encountered this tree with vines growing up the trunk much further down the North Road.  

This is the back of the Monastic Church but it where the entrances to the guest chapels are.  This was just as the sun broke over the horizon.  Note the moon above the bell tower. 

This is a set of stairs leading from some of the dormitories and work areas to the cloister garth.  These were the stairs I took from the cottage to get to the church.

This is one of the cloister walks.  They all look pretty much alike at 4:15 AM after Vigils.  

This is one of the scriptoria where the monks read.  
This is another. 

These stained glass circles make up the window near the room where the public can view a film about the monastery.  The public has no access anywhere beyond the room where the film is shown. I almost jumped up and down when I saw these as this is the sort of thing I most enjoy taking. 

This is the tabernacle and celebrants' chairs in the Abbey Church.  I took this from one of the guest galleries that flank the altar.  This was a 30 second exposure.  

And finally, the reason for being there.  Writing the vow documents took hours.  I am a left-handed physician.  Use your imagination about my penmanship.  As I had to read the vows from this paper it was critical that I be able to do so.  The paper just to the left of the pen is one of the final documents.  There are practice runs all over the place along with a copy of the Constitutions.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD