Saturday, April 26, 2014

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:42-47
Ps 118:2-3, 13-15, 22-24
1Pt 1:3-9
Jn 20:19-31

When preaching on this gospel it is tempting to focus solely on the story of Thomas, or Doubting Thomas as he is colloquially known, so as to engage in the popular sport of Apostle Bashing.  But to do that would miss both its deeper meaning and its relationship to the first two readings.  Today’s readings are not about doubt.  Today’s readings are about faith.   Faith is not the polar opposite of doubt.  Mature faith must always contend with an element of doubt, sometimes more and sometimes not so much.  But faith, as it matures, must contend with doubt nonetheless.

The first reading describes the earliest coming together of the Church and the first gatherings of the faithful. Thus we read, “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”  That is precisely what we are doing here and now, communally hearing the words of the gospel and reciting prayers as we prepare for the Eucharistic supper, the Body and Blood of our Lord.  Note the description of the congregation.  “They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart; praising God.”  We are called to do the same at the Eucharistic Banquet.

The second reading shines a bit of light on the Gospel.  “Although you have not seen him you love him.  Even though you do not see him now yet believe in him you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy."  Peter’s letter describes a joy that is the same as that described in the first reading, a joy that is driven by participation in this, our Eucharistic feast.  It is reasonable to suspect that in the period between the apostles telling Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them and this particular Gospel Thomas, despite not seeing him and not having seen him with the rest of the apostles, continued to love the Jesus with whom he had cast his lot so long ago.  That love did not die with Jesus.

What is faith?  The letter to the Hebrews puts it well, “Now faith is the conviction of things not seen.”  Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Romans, “Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Jesus Christ.”  That preaching of Jesus Christ does not come to us in oral form as it did during the Sermon on the Mount or the discourses in John’s Gospel.  Jesus’ preaching comes to us in scripture and in the tradition of the Church.  Both of the first two reading are important because they tells us what it means to be a Church, what it means to be a people of faith, and what we can expect.

The Gospel portrayal of Thomas supplies us with a tempting target against whom to compare ourselves—generally in a self-righteous manner, or an example to compare—and condemn—others whose faith we do not feel is adequate (this too is generally done from the position of self-righteousness).  Most of us would have responded the same way as Thomas with a "yeah, riiiiiiight" had we been there.

At the end of this Gospel Jesus asks a question and gives a blessing, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  It is for this last group, those who have not seen and yet believe; it is for us that the Gospel was written. 

Neither John’s Gospel nor the synoptic gospels was meant to be an album of verbal snapshots showing detailed scenes from the life of Jesus.  The Gospels are not a log book tracing Jesus movements augmented by facts and figures.  The gospels are not a diary of Jesus’ day-to-day thoughts. They most certainly are not history in the modern understanding of the word.  Any attempt to read the gospels through the lens of modern historiography or, even worse, in the light of the modern concept of journalism, is doomed to failure, frustration, and ultimate faithlessness.  The less said about QUOTE Historical Biblical Novels UNQUOTE the better. 

The last sentence of this Gospel reading puts the historical nature of the Gospels into perspective, “Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in His name.”

The Gospel proclaims one essential truth: that the Jesus of Nazareth of whom it speaks is indeed the Lord.  Thus, the fullness of Easter joy is contained in Thomas’ faith-filled, startled, and ultimately joyous proclamation:  "My Lord and my God."

It is why we too can gaze upon the Body and Blood of Christ and say, “My Lord and my God.” 

"Give thanks to the Lord,
for he is good,
his love is everlasting."
Went to the travel clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) on Friday for the shots needed for upcoming travel.  I felt like a voodoo doll or at least a pooch on a bad day at the vet.  Five shots divided between each deltoid.  Still sore but nothing unbearable.  

MGH played a big part in my life.  I did my fellowship in consultation psychiatry there with George Murray, SJ, MD and worked on staff off and on (part-time) for a few years.  The complex is massive.  It is at the base of Beacon Hill just off the river.   When I was a fellow (in 1992-93) I was running a lot.  It was great to take clothes to work, change in the office and run  along the Charles.  Those days are over for many reasons but it was great while I could do it. 

The view of Downtown Boston and the edge of Beacon Hill.  The tall building to the right is the Prudential Building.  That is where the Marathon ended earlier in the week.  I am impressed how quickly the city cleaned up the detritus of a large road race. 

 Some of the newer buildings at The General.  They weren't there when I was.

Liked the interplay of lines in the out-patient building directly across from the parking lot.  Some of George's physicians were in here.  Not the easiest place to get around because of an odd layout.  From the White Building entrance one needed to take an elevator one floor to get to the foyer to get to the elevators for the building.  Having to take an elevator one floor makes no sense.  

The main entrance to the General in the White Building.  I can still remember the feelings walking through the door of this entrance on the way to the interview with George on Friday September 13, 1991.  The sense was "I belong here."  I did.  George accepted me on the spot.  The rest is history.   At the end I pushed George up the grade from the same parking lot many times.  It was a way to save money on stress tests.  If I didn't have angina doing that it wasn't going to be a problem. 

 +Fr. Jack, SJ MD

Monday, April 21, 2014

He Is Risen, Alleluia!

I'd planned on posting some of the homilies from Holy Week while in Plymouth.  Alas, in the frenzy of packing for a 4:30 AM departure on Holy Thursday the charger for the computer remained in the wall.  I only had enough charge to work on the homilies for Friday and Sunday.  The poor night sleep on Wednesday did not help me remember some of the things that needed to be done before leaving.  

The homily below is from the 9:30 AM Mass on Easter Sunday at St. Mary's Church in Plymouth.  While the parish is All Saints, one cannot rename a church easily.  Some of the names that have been invented for combined parishes have been ludicrous.  But, I'll stay off that soapbox for now.  
Easter Sunday  

Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Ps 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Col 3:1-4
Jn 20:1-9

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

These words of joy have been circling the globe and stirring the universe for hours. They began in Australia, moved to Taiwan and thence to Vietnam and the underground Churches of Mainland China.  They moved through Asia and from East to West in Europe before landing in the United States.  Our joyous words were repeated in Mandarin, Fujianese, Swahili, Portuguese, French, Chichiwa, and English, as the news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was proclaimed yet again as we announced, the mystery and joy of the empty tomb.

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” 

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles summarized Jesus’ life, beginning with His baptism and ending with His death on the cross.  We heard the commission to the apostles to preach the message of salvation.  It is the same commission we received, to preach the message of salvation through Jesus. That message is the reason we are to rejoice and be glad.  Jesus is the one set apart, and those who believe in him have  forgiveness of sins through His name.

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

As St. Paul so memorably wrote in the Letter to the Romans:  “God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  Jesus, fully Divine and fully human, Son of God and Son of Mary, like us in all things but sin, died for our sins; because of our sins and to save us from those sins.  We are sinners.  But, we are sinners loved by God.  We are redeemed by Jesus’ passion and death in a redemption made manifest in His resurrection from the dead.  What more can we say than?

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” 

In the proclamation of John’s Gospel we heard of the disciple’s astonishment, confusion, sorrow, and fear upon discovering that the tomb in which Jesus had been placed was empty. The cloths with which his body had been wrapped were rolled up and lying off to the side.  The last line of this Gospel reading is the important:  “Remember, as yet they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”  They did not yet understand.  Despite the years that they had followed Him the disciples did not really understand who this Jesus was.  But that was going to change  at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon them.

The apostle’s confusion and lack of understanding about Jesus mirrors our situation.  Despite Jesus’ action in our lives, we don’t always understand.  Unlike the apostles who lived the events recounted here in real time we have scripture and the tradition of the Church to instruct us, to help us understand.  Still, we don’t always get it.  We sometimes fail to understand how great a gift Jesus is to us.  We sometimes fail to appreciate the gift he gave us. Thus, it is today, and every day, we are called to pray, to meditate on scripture and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ so that unlike the apostles, we will understand, we will see, we will believe.

Last night, we gathered in the parking lot to bless the new fire and to light this paschal candle.  The words repeated while inscribing the paschal candle explain everything.

“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.” 

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.”

On Holy Thursday the church was simply decorated.  The chairs were for the washing of feet ritual (some strong opinions on that too).  

The oils were blessed by the bishop at the Chrism Mass earlier.  They were sitting on a table at the break from which they would be brought forward at the Mass later.  Note the reflection of the stained glass on the surface.  I looked like a contortionist getting the tripod into the position needed to capture those reflections. 

The sacred vessels were cleaned and waiting for Mass to begin on Thursday night. 

There was an old monstrance in the sacristy.  I'd not seen it before.  I put it on the altar without the Sacred Body of Christ in the luna (the clear opening).  I like this shot through the glass luna that captures the door of the tabernacle behind it. 

The Church on Holy Saturday afternoon several hours before Mass. 

Sunday morning early before Mass. 

Have a Blessed Easter. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday

An overwhelming feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder.

We hear the words 'The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ' 
with reverence.

We stand gazing at Jesus dying on the cross, 
in fear.

We depart the sealed tomb,
in anxious wonder.

An overwhelming feeling of reverence, fear and wonder.

we can only respond to God’s love for us sinners. . .

with awe.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, April 6, 2014

5th Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday)

Ez 37:12-14
Ps 130
Rom 8:8-11
Jn 11:1-45

These are extraordinary and almost overwhelming readings that deserve prolonged meditation.  Ezekiel begins with a promise: "Thus says the Lord God: I will open your graves and have you rise from them." The Jewish Study Bible gives a succinct commentary on this passage:  “Traditional Jewish exegetes find here the idea of the resurrection of the dead before the day of judgment, a fundamental belief of rabbinic Judaism ascribed to Moses.”   Obviously, resurrection is not a new or exclusively Christian belief. 

Paul comments on the cost of sin and announces good news.  Although the body is dead because of sin; if Christ is in us the spirit is alive because of righteousness.  What more could we want? 

Psalm 130—De profundis—is one of the most beautiful and evocative hymns in the entire psalter.  We call to the Lord out of the depths, the depths of sin, the tomb in which we find ourselves again and again.  We call to the Lord who hears our plea; the Lord who forgives our sins. 

Thus, the cinematically detailed story of Lazarus is our story—a  story of being brought back to life in Christ through the forgiveness of sins—until the final resurrection of the dead. 

Jesus, fully human, weeps at Lazarus’ tomb.  Jesus, fully God commands Lazarus to come forth from that tomb.  This same Jesus, fully human, wept over Jerusalem as he weeps over us.  This same Jesus, fully God, commanded Lazarus to come forth from the tomb, the son of the widow of Nain to rise from his stretcher, and the daughter of the official to get up from her bed, just as he calls us to eternal life. 

In his commentary on this Gospel Stanley Marrow necessarily points out the fundamental difference between Lazarus and the others who were brought back to life ONLY to have to die again later; and Jesus, who rises from the dead NEVER to die again. 

If Lazarus is us so is Martha.  The same Martha who complained to Jesus about Mary now makes a profound act of faith,  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  And then the climax of this narrative in Jesus statement:  “I am the resurrection and life; whoever believes in me will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” 

It is not that we will not physically die.  Jesus did not come to save us from the reality of being human, a reality that must include physical death. That death may be through a process that is sudden and without warning.

Death may come as a slow but easy passage from this life, or death may be the welcome relief at the end of a prolonged period of pain, suffering, and decay.  What Jesus is promising is that, in Stanley’s words, “the eternal life which we possess here and now cannot and will not be interrupted even by death.” 

We cry to the Lord out of the depths of our souls.  The Lord answers with kindness and plenteous redemption.  What more could we want?


Glorious spring day.  Finally.  Apparently a lot of rain coming tomorrow night but I can live with that.  It isn't snow.  Can really live with that.  My homily for Palm Sunday here at Campion and for St. Mary's in Plymouth on Good Friday is done.  The homily will follow the proclamation of the Passion.  It is 63 words.  Anything more than 100 words commenting on the Passion Narrative is worse than gilding the lily.  As I can feel a nap coming on very quickly it is time to post a few photos and grab a quick nap.  

The photos are another series of chairs.  There is something evocative about an empty chair.  Each one has a story unique to its location.  

A desk chair in a room that a Jesuit being assigned to Campion had just moved out of. 

 That chair has very different associations than the chairs on the porch at the villa house in Cohasset. 

These chairs have a different reason for being than the lounge chairs at the Norseman Motel in Ogunquit, Maine. 

And these are different from the two chairs overlooking Brace's Rock at the retreat house in Gloucester. 

These last chairs are fascinating.  They are in the chapel of the Jesuit residence at Fu-jen University just outside Taipei.  They are lined up with precision making the photo through several rows possible.  I was doing an abdominal crunch to get this photo.  I also captured my bare feet.  Cropped those out. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, April 3, 2014

4th Thursday of Lent

Time is moving fast.  Very fast.  Ash Wednesday seems as if it were yesterday.  The calendar suggests it wasn't.  

A Jesuit novice arrived in the community yesterday morning for five weeks of "experiment" (SJ s have a unique meaning attached to the word experiment).  Nice guy.  I will be his immediate contact here.  With a 22 year-old in the community our average age has dropped to 80.  Spring may have come east with him.  We have finally had two gloriously sunny days that suggest, no they scream, IT IS SPRING!!!!!!!
4th  Thursday of Lent
3 April 2014
Ex 32:7-14
Ps 106:19-23
Jn 5:31-47

In his commentary on this Gospel, Jesuit Father Stanley Marrow wrote that Jesus has no other purpose except to carry out the will of the One who sent him.  The revelation of Jesus is not found in studies of His psychology. Nor is not found in His goodness, meekness, gentleness, wisdom, or any of the qualities we look for as we try to find what some call the Historical Jesus.  The revelation of Jesus is found in the perfection of his obedience to the Father.  Jesus is wholly at the service of the Father, even to the point of dying on the cross.  Jesus words and his example of fidelity to the Father’s will stand in stark contrast to our own inability to obey God's will in any more than fleeting fashion—on a good day.

The Israelites in the desert are us, and we are them, becoming depraved and worshipping a molten calf—though in the modern U.S. we are more prone to worshipping the golden retriever.  We are prone to making an idol of money, or power, or the newest hot thing in the world of spirituality as in  “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

As a people who place the highest premium on autonomy and who worship self-determination, obedience to the will of God is not a valued commodity.  It is only through Moses’ reminder of the covenant God struck with His people that the Israelites were saved from destruction. “They forgot the God who had saved them, who had done great deeds in Egypt, wondrous deeds in the land of Ham, terrible things at the Red Sea”

And so it is with us. We forget. Perhaps we don’t even really believe that God has done great and wondrous deeds for us.  The Gospel of Dives and Lazarus ends with the warning: “Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’“

In today’s Gospel Jesus says to the Israelites as he says to us: “. . .if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

In whom do we believe? 
There is only one correct answer. 
 Haven't had any time to get out with the camera.  I spent all of last week at a review of internal medicine course in Lancaster, PA to prepare to reactivate my MA medical license.  Time to go back to work.  The weather was grim.  No reason to take the camera out of the bag.  Drove to Penn State at the end of the conference only to find more of the same weather.  Some how I managed to drive back con Sunday in a narrow "envelope" of tolerable weather with only mist but no rain.  That changed a few hours after I got back to Campion.  Now it is time to catch up with reality. 

Below are photos of two common objects that have undergone such dramatic transformation since I was young that they are no longer recognizable in their modern incarnations.  The typewriter and the non-digital (i.e. film) camera. 

The typewriter first.  I learned to type on the offspring of this one.  It was huge.  We sat on stools above the keyboard.  Never bent the wrists.  They were amazing machines.  Tremendous key action and feel.  The best typewriter I ever used was the IBM Selectric that used a typing ball.  It wasn't the ball so much as the feel of the keyboard.  It was a great.  

The typewriter photos were from the small museum at the Sevenhill Winery.  Computers are great but I miss the aerobic aspect of typing on those old beasts. 

The cameras were in the antique store between Port Lincoln and Coffin Bay.  We've come a real long way. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD