Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Second Thursday of Lent

I am posting a bit early for Thursday.  Will celebrate Mass for the Carmelites of the Aged and Infirm Thursday morning at 7:45 AM and again on Friday.  On Friday I will then head to PA for 52 hours of continuing medical education.  Am preparing to reactivate licenses in MA and PA.  Need 100 hours before I can send in the application.  Fifty-two hours in "class" from Sunday at 4 PM to Friday at noon.  As I don't need all of the hours to go over the 100 mark there are one or two things I will skip, perhaps four or five hours worth.  While I don't need all the credits I will most likely need a beer.

The parable in the Gospel is that of Dives and Lazarus.  The British composer Ralph Vaughn Williams wrote a very pretty tone poem on this reading.  I've listened to it multiple times but am not sure it is sufficiently programmatic that I can recognize the parable in the music.  Nonetheless, it is pleasant.

Jer 17:5-10
Ps 1:1-2, 2,3,4 and 6
Lk 16:19-31

This particular parable, The Rich Man and Lazarus, is unique to Luke’s Gospel.  It is sometimes referred to as the parable of Dives and Lazarus.  The names are important though only one of them appears in Luke’s Gospel.

Lazarus, the poor man’s name, is derived from the Hebrew El azar which means, “God has helped.”  Obviously the name is no accident.  “When the poor man died he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.”  God indeed had helped him. Tradition, rather than Luke, gave the rich man the name Dives.  Dives is a Latin adjective for rich.  Thus Dives and Lazarus:  The Rich Man and the “One God has helped.” 

The first part of the parable describes a reversal of fortune.  Lazarus, the poor man, was carried to Abraham’s bosom while after his death, Dives, the man who had it all, was tormented in the netherworld.  The second half of the parable is a conversation between the rich man and Abraham.  It is an instructive conversation.  

Dives is not portrayed here as a particularly wicked man.  He is not malevolent.  He dressed well.  He ate a rich diet.  He was comfortable, a man enjoying the rewards of his hard work.  The rich man was not evil.  He was oblivious.  He was oblivious to the suffering around him.  He didn’t notice it.  Lazarus—like the poor in our streets today—was part of the landscape, passed by, stepped over or avoided by crossing the street.  The rich man bore him no real hostility   Lazarus was simply there.   Unseen.  Ignored.

Dives is not without merit.  He accepts that Lazarus cannot cross the chasm to ease his thirst without protest, argument or pleading.  But he wants to prevent his still living brothers, who are apparently as oblivious as he was, from suffering the same fate.  It can’t be done.  If his brothers won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.  Just like Dives and his brothers we have Moses and the Prophets.  Unlike this rich man and his brothers we also have Jesus who did rise from the dead.  Why do we not listen either?
The urge to prayer is universal.  All religions have modes of prayer and prayers that are characteristic.  Some are more well-known than others.  The first is a man and a woman in the adoration chapel at the National Shrine in D.C.  I posted this before but this is a bit of a reworking with Aperture 3. 

A very old Jesuit in Australia at prayer before the evening community Mass. 

A much younger Jesuit doing his evening meditation at Sevenhill, SA, Australia.

A couple at prayer in Longshan Temple in the old section of Taipei.  This was New Year's Eve 2010.  Ignatius and I wisely decided against going to Taipei 101, once the tallest building in the world.  There were approximately 2 million people there.  

This is the Nan Tien Monastery Berkley, NSW, Australia not too far from Wollangong.  It is a Taiwanese Buddhist monastery, the largest monastery in the southern hemisphere.  Here a nun is ringing one of the bells with what looks like a sawed off telephone pole.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, March 8, 2014

1st Sunday of Lent: Lead Us Not to the Test . . .

"Lead us not to the test" is an alternative translation for "Lead us not into temptation."  It makes sense given the roots of the word temptation.  I'm not ready to change my mode of praying the Our Father, but it is good to keep the alternative meanings or roots of the temptation in mind while praying. 

Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Ps 51:3-4,5-6,12-13,17
Rom 5:12-19
Mt 4:1-11

 “Come let us worship the Lord who for our sake endured temptation and suffering.”   Every morning during Lent the Divine Office begins with these words. Temptation and suffering.  Two words that help define what it means to be human.  Two words that characterize the human condition.  The two things in which Jesus was like us and also unlike us. 

Though the word temptation generally suggests a negative context its Latin, Hebrew, and Greek  roots are neutral and suggest “trying” “testing” or “proving.”  That is what we heard in today’s Gospel.  The evil one tested Jesus' fidelity to the Father.  Temptation tests our own fidelity to God and His law.

The first reading, one of the most familiar of all Old Testament stories, recounts the fall.  Adam and Eve were put to the test.  Did they trust God or did they not?    

The apple, as the fruit in the garden is frequently depicted or described, is a good symbol for sin. It is a metaphor that explains the ease with which we sin, impulsively, casually, and quickly.  Think about it.   Unlike an orange, a banana, a mango, or most other fruits that one might find in a garden, an apple is quick, easy and convenient.  No need to peel, cut, or anything else.  No one just bites into a pineapple.  But . . . .grab an apple and feast.  When done toss the core into a bush. 

The real kicker in this story of Adam and Eve is that they weren’t even hungry.  Their sin was so banal as to almost make it laughable.   Except it wasn’t laughable.  Most of our sins are committed under equally banal circumstances.   But they are no laughing matter.

Some sins require planning.  An adulterous affair.  Robbing a Bank of America branch.  Selling crystal meth.  How often, however, do we sin simply because the opportunity is there?  Because we want it?  Because, as the unfortunate 60’s motto went, If it feels good do it?  It wasn’t an apple that did us in.  It was human freedom.  Adam and Eve couldn't handle it.  We can't handle it.

The last verses tell us of the personal cost of sin: shame and embarrassment, particularly if we’re caught.   Being caught in sin is never pleasant.   The shame tells us what it means to a responsible adult.  The embarrassment hammers home the realization that we are sinners.   We are sinners because we are free.  Free to choose and free to act on that choice.  Adam and Eve were free, a state which is unique to human beings.  Among all creatures only humans are free.  Only humans are gifted with insight. The ability to plan far into the future, and knowledge of potential outcomes is for humans only.  How we manage that freedom is tested on a daily basis.

Human freedom is generally misunderstood.  It is not freedom from restrictions, rules, and responsibility—but  rather freedom for.  Freedom  is not the opportunity to choose anything whatsoever in the manner of a BC freshman in the dorm.
Freedom is not the ability to adopt an individual or idiosyncratic attitude towards this or that.  Human freedom is the freedom of self-understanding.  Human freedom is the possibility of saying yes or no to oneself. It is the possibility of deciding for or against oneself.  Human freedom is the opportunity to choose or to reject sin and to act on that choice.   Adam and Eve chose and acted.  Wrongly it turns out but they were and remained free.  We have the same freedom.  Jesus had that same freedom. This is where he was both like and unlike us.  Like us in being tempted but unlike us in not sinning.

Each of the temptations satan presented to Jesus were tests of his willingness to rely on God.  Each of the temptations tested Jesus’ obedience to his Father.  Unlike Adam who was disobedient to God’s command Jesus was obedient to his Father’s will; obedient  even to accepting death on the cross. 

The temptations satan dangled in front of Jesus, who was hungry from fasting, tired from prayer, and disoriented from being in the desert are the same temptations that dance in front of our eyes when we are hungry, tired, and disoriented, when we are dissatisfied with the status quo.

In the first test satan tempts a hungry Jesus with bread.  “C’mon, take care of yourself.  You can be self-sufficient.  Just do it.” It's more than bread here.  The temptation to self-sufficiency,  to taking care of number one, and only number one, looms large in our lives.  

The second temptation is to put God to the test.  “Hey Jesus, it’s a quid pro quo.  You jump and the Father saves you.  If not . . . welllllll.”  God is not a marionetteer who pulls our strings to make us dance.  Nor is God a marionette that we control.  “If this or that happens I will no longer believe in God.”  That is the type of thought process characteristic of a three year-old, a very immature three year-old. 

The third temptation is the classic Faustian bargain.  Sell your soul.  Worship me and look at the power I will give you.  Power.  Prestige.  Money.  Control.  You too can have the most toys when you die. These idols have replaced God in too many lives. 

With His replies to satan, all of which are direct quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy,  Jesus chose to be faithful and obedient to God the Father.  And in so doing made it possible for us to imitate Him. 

The responsorial psalm is Psalm 51, the great penitential psalm known as the Miserere that is recited every Friday in the Divine Office.  Read it at home.  It is short.  Let the words sink in.  Let it speak to you. 

"I acknowledge my offenses."

"A clean heart create for me O God."

"Give me back the joy of your salvation."

"O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise." 

“Come let us worship the Lord who for our sake endured temptation and suffering.”  
It was sunny and reasonably warm today.  Celebrated the 6:30 AM Mass in the community and then puttered about my room.  Lousy sleep last night so I had no desire to go out with the camera.  Tomorrow I have the 7:30 AM Mass at St. Joseph in Lincoln, MA, about 3 miles away.  Of course my body will think it is the 6:30 AM Mass due to the onset of EDST.  My mom loved the day the clocks switched.  I am of the opposite opinion.  All week I will feel like a minor case of jet lag.  

The photos are from the chapel here at Campion.  The first is looking from the door of the sacristy on the right toward the back of the chapel.

This is a detail at the top of the altar. 

The right sacristy is something of a storage area.  It was actually a disaster area.  Ignatius worked very hard to straighten it out for me.  Unlike me he has the ability to look at a mess a see a California Closet type of arrangement.  And then he did it.  These were a few leftovers.

One of the most amazing things he did was to get all the wax off all the candelabras and candle holders.  And arrange the chaos of candles.  It turns out we have a lot more than we expected.  These look terrific

The left sacristy is the vesting sacristy.  It is also where the sacred vessels are kept, the hosts, the wine, the vestments and so on.  It is also where I pronounced simple vows after the final vows Mass in October.  It is Our custom to pronounce those vows and sign the vow documents in the sacristy rather than the altar. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Friday After Ash Wednesday

Am posting several hours before Friday officially begins.  I hope to be in bed well before midnight.  Will give this homily to the Carmelites of the Aged and Infirm in Framingham at 7:45 AM. 

Is 58:1-9a
Ps 51
Mt 90:14-15

Fasting.  Why do we fast?  What is it about humans that impels them to voluntarily forgo, or severely limit, food and drink?  Possible motivations include: asceticism, purification, mourning, and supplication.  Alas, in the U.S. the primary reason for fasting and other “penitential-like practices” is weight loss.  Sackcloth and ashes have been replaced by sweat suits, treadmills and the absurd "detox" routines being shilled by faded or fading Hollywood starlets needing attention.

Xavier Leon-Dufour notes, “occasions and motives are varied.  But it is always a question of establishing oneself with faith in an attitude of humility in order to receive the action of God and to place oneself in his presence.” 

On Wednesday we were told how to fast.  With a washed face.  And combed hair.  And, if not with a smile, at least without a scowl.  Today’s first reading reveals more about the proper attitude toward fasting.  Fasting should lead to conversion, not quarreling and fighting.  Fasting is not an end unto itself.  Fasting is a means.  The second half of the reading describes ways of fasting other than going without food.  A lot of people would probably rather go without food than change their behavior so radically that it might actually cost something. 

In the short reading from Matthew’s Gospel John’s disciples are confused.  We fast.  The Pharisees fast.  Your disciples don’t.  Typical human behavior.  I’m miserable.  Why aren’t you?  It reminds me of a great definition of an alcoholic:  A patient who drinks more than his doctor. 

But, this interchange between John’s disciples and Jesus highlights the dangers of fasting, pride and ostentation.  Fasting is not a competitive sport.  In his summary on fasting Leon-Dufour notes .“(the Church) seeks by the practice of fasting to place the faithful in an attitude of total openness to the grace of the Lord, while waiting for his return.”  With that attitude we can pray with the great Miserere::

"A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me . . . 
. . . O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise."

Only when we can say the Miserere without equivocation can offer our sacrifice: A humbled and contrite heart. 
Long weekend.  Real long weekend.  Flew out of Boston on Thursday to officiate at a friend's wedding with plans to return on a 6:30 PM flight on Sunday.  The notification that the flight was cancelled arrived on Saturday night.  The e-mail went on to explain that I was booked on a 2:30 PM flight.  OK.  I can live with that though it did wreck plans to visit a friend.  Took rental car to airport at noon on Sunday.  Went to check-in desk.  I was booked on a flight at 2:30 to be sure.  On Tuesday.  Fortunately I was staying with Jesuits so I returned.  Apparently Jet Blue cancels early and often.  I had a place to go.  What of a tourist who finds himself stranded at an airport with no where to go and perhaps a few cranky kids?    

Got back to Boston on Tuesday at 4 PM.  Spent 1 1/2 hours getting to BC via subway despite terrific connections and a not particularly crowded train.  Boston made a huge mistake in not putting the entire subway system underground.  Riding the Green Line B train from Government Center to Boston College is a preview of purgatory.  Fortunately the suffering was eased with a pizza prior to going to Campion.  

The attached photos are all of the same thing, a busted rusted bicycle.  It was leaning against a wall in Sevenhill.  From its appearance it appears to have been leaning for several years.  If I had to choose I think I would prefer to shoot in black and white than color.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ MD