Saturday, November 29, 2014

First Sunday of Advent

Is 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7
Ps 80
1 Cor 1:3-9
Mk 13:33-37

Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!

"O come o come Emmanuel! 
And ransom captive Israel!"

Today is the first day of Advent, the first day of the new Church year.   In the lectionary it is the first day of year B readings, the year during which the majority of Sunday Gospel readings will be from Mark.  Unlike Lent, a season that begins with the visible imposition of ashes and special liturgies, Advent simply begins. It begins on the first of the four Sundays preceding the Great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.  Advent ends with the commemoration of Jesus’ birth, the commemoration of Jesus’ flesh and blood arrival in this world.  Advent ends with the commemoration that Jesus, fully Divine and fully human was born into, and lived on, this planet where we now live and breathe, study and work, celebrate and mourn. 

The Latin roots of the word advent: ad and venire mean “to come to.”  But that translation does not convey the full meaning of Advent.  Pope Benedict writes that advent is the translation of the Greek word parousia which means presence, but even more specifically means arrival. 

Arrival is the beginning of another’s presence.
It is not the fullness of that presence.

Think about it. 

Arrival is the beginning of another’s presence, 
it is not the fullness of that presence. 

The birth of a baby is only the beginning of a presence that will change and mold a family continuously over the life of the family unit and beyond it.  Perhaps presence is never full but is always becoming, perhaps presence is never complete but always changing and evolving, whether the other is physically present or not. 

We have all been, and are even now being, influenced by the presence of others who are physically distant or even dead.  Parents.  Teachers.  Mentors.  Friends.  Though not sharing space with us, perhaps never again able to share physical space with us, their presence in our lives is tangible.  Their presence influences how we live our lives.  Their presence may determine our decisions and our actions.  Their presence in our lives may soothe and comfort us during times of stress or may be a permanent source of anxiety and pain.  It all depends.  It is impossible not to respond to another’s presence.  Even “ignoring” another’s presence is a response to it. 

Jesus’ presence is an advent presence.  A presence of “coming to.”  During advent we become particularly aware that Jesus is becoming present to this world, that Jesus is becoming present in this place.  But, it is only the beginning not the fullness of His presence. That fullness will only be known when each of us passes from life into eternal life. That fullness will be known only after the universe has ceased to exist.

Jesus’ presence in our lives is threefold.  We need only look around, we need only listen to experience that triple presence.  Jesus is present in the community of believers when the Church prays as one.  Jesus is present in the Word as it is proclaimed at Mass.  And, most tangibly, Jesus is present, truly and substantially present, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist that will be consecrated, broken, and shared soon.  

The first reading and the Gospel are united by a common thread.  They mark the first time in this new liturgical year, that we will be reminded to be ready when the Lord comes.  From Isaiah we heard, "Would that you might meet us doing right.  That we were mindful of you in our ways."  The Gospel is more explicit. "Be watchful, be alert.  You do not know when the time will come."  We must be vigilant.  We truly do not know the day or the hour in which we will be asked to give a full account of our lives.  We can only remain prepared at all times. 

As advent progresses toward the great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord we will hear readings that remind us of those final things that are to come.  We will hear of the end times as we do today.  On the second and third Sundays the Gospel will focus on John the Baptist, the herald.  And on the fourth Sunday the Gospel will speak of the Annunciation to Mary when we will again hear the words of Mary's fiat, words that changed the nature of the universe once and forever.

As you leave this church today and during the coming weeks, recall and consider that despite the pressure from advertisers, regardless of the pressure we place on ourselves, outside the carousing and drunkenness of the annual “Holiday” party, and ignoring the increasing restrictions on using the word Christmas in the public forum, advent is not the time of preparation for a holiday.  It is the time of preparation for a Holy Day.  We are preparing to commemorate the birth of the Messiah, the anointed one, Son of God, Son of David, Son of Man, who was born of woman, like us in all things but sin, who became man to ransom us from sin and death. 

Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
 Am posting a bit early.  The only way to describe the coming week is overcommitted.  Masses every day (a few tomorrow) and a retreat for the Carmelites of the Aged and Infirm from Wednesday to Friday.  Breakfast with friends passing through on Thursday AM and a few other commitments.  C'est la vie.   Monday is the Feast (for Jesuits) of Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell, and Companions.  Will post another homily then. 

The snow arrived the night before Thanksgiving into the early morning hours.  Ignatius wanted pictures of the snow.  So, I took some.  Drove to Marblehead for dinner as per usual, stopping at Revere (pronounced Ruh veahh) Beach and Swampscott Beach on the way up. Great dinner.  Got back at 8 PM and watched football.  

Going over to breakfast just after the sun climbed above the level of the building. 

 A self-portrait in the door to the basement of the big house.

Revere Beach.  The first is high-rise apartments along the beach.  The other two are studies of benches under a pavilion that overlooks the ocean.  Benches unoccupied for a good reason.  It was cold.  Not as cold as today but plenty cold. 

Boston skyline from the beach at Swampscott, 12 miles to the north. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

34th Tuesday of Ordinary Time

Rev 14:14-19
Ps 96:10-13
Lk 21:5-11

The readings at Mass become more apocalyptic at the end of the Church year.  They become more anxiety provoking and less comforting.  Images of harvesting the earth, the winepress of God’s fury and the trials that Jesus describes in the Gospel are not the sort of thing on which one wants to meditate immediately before bed.  The Gospel is fascinating because it offers a window into human nature, it tells us about ourselves. I think that as Jesus was speaking to the people there was an edge of frustration or irritation in his voice. 

Even this late into his ministry, despite the parables emphasizing that we will not know the hour or the day; despite being warned that the master will come when we least expect his return, those questioning Jesus don’t, and didn't, get it.   They want specifics:  When will the Kingdom of God arrive?  Where will it be?  How will we be able to tell when it is coming?  Because Jesus’ questioners lack faith they are willing to follow any charlatan who tells them what they want to hear.  It is no different today.

What would Jesus have said about the people's behavior at the turn of the millennium when 2000 arrived?  Many of the quote religious prognostications unquote were beyond bizarre, as were the individuals making them.  People hung onto the words of self-appointed evangelists and interpreters who were nothing more than soothsayers spreading alarm. 

Thirty-six years and one week ago, on November 18, 1978, over 900 men, women and children died in Guyana—Jonestown, Guyana—after years of following the rantings of a mad man. Jim Jones disguised his combination of egocentric and delusional thinking with the veil of religion.  He was nothing but a lethal psychopath.

Jesus cautions his hearers, He warns us, not to be taken in by false messengers.  My sense is that the degree of skepticism toward claims about the coming of the Kingdom of God, and details of what will happen, should be proportional to the degree of certainty and detail with which those claims are put forth.  What Jesus described in the Gospel is not only what is to come. It is a description of the time in which we are living and the times in which people have lived since he spoke these words.  Natural disaster, war, discord within the community, and dissension within the family are facts of human life. These facts have existed and persisted since the beginning.  Those who follow Jesus have been persecuted since the crucifixion.  They will continue to be persecuted until the second coming.  Little has changed.  Our only option is to wait and pray in faith.  "Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done." 
I celebrate Mass every Tuesday at 7:45 at the convent of the Carmelites for the Aged and Infirm in Framingham.  Thus I have a lot of Tuesday homilies to prepare.  Next week I will give the sisters three days of recollection with Mass, benediction and conference each day.  They do very fine work.  

The photos below are from the advantage of being able to get into churches and chapels on "off hours" or backstage as it were.  These are some shots of "church hardware," the various vessels etc. that are necessary for appropriate liturgy.  

The first two are from the Abbey of Regina Laudis showing two thuribles, the swinging pots (inelegant term but accurate) for incense, and the bells, one of which is run during the Consecration, an action that has fallen out of favor in many churches (pity).  

The next three are from Campion Center.  The first shows part of setting up for a funeral Mass.  When I was minister part of my job was to prepare the chapel for funeral Masses. That involved counting out the hosts (after an estimate of how many might be needed) and getting the various vessels prepared.  I tried to do some of this the night before as the morning of was generally a degree of controlled chaos. 

The second two are candelabra in one of the sacristies.  The freshly polished ones were polished by Ignatius Hung, SJ while he was here on sabbatical.  Unlike me he is meticulous in doing things such as that to the point that he dipped everything with wax on it into hot water to get it off.  

The last two are from St. Mary's Church in Plymouth, PA, my home church, taken on Holy Saturday. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

33rd Tuesday in Ordinary Time

Lk 19:1-10

The story of Zacchaeus is fascinating.  On the literary level the story is rich in detail:  The unruly crowd, the short man running ahead to climb a sycamore tree, the grumbling  when Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house, the dinner conversation and finally Jesus’ promise that  “Salvation has come to this house.”  It is easy to imagine filming this scene for a movie, the atmosphere and dialogue are already given.   The only thing needed is two stars and a crowd.  The story of Zacchaeus is fascinating because, to paraphrase one of the most famous lines ever to appear in a comic strip,  We have met Zacchaeus and he is us.   Zacchaeus is us because he is a man of contradiction and confusion, a man who doesn’t always do the right thing but who, when he becomes aware of his sinful nature, tries to atone for his sin.  Zacchaues had obviously heard about this Jesus.  Otherwise, why would he have been so strenuous—and even risked looking ridiculous—by climbing a tree just to catch a glimpse of him?  

This story appears late in Jesus’ public ministry.  His reputation had spread.  The question one must ask about Zacchaeus—and thus about ourselves—is:  What did Zacchaeus expect to see?  Who did Zacchaeus expect to see?   A  miracle worker who healed the sick and the lame?  A political leader?  A firebrand who took on the legal and religious establishments? Who was Jesus for this man?  Who is Jesus for each of us?

There is an interesting bit of wordplay in this gospel.  We read that:  “Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was.”    A bit later we hear the words from Jesus’ lips:  “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”  THAT is us.  Those of us who seek to find, to know, to see Jesus are being sought by him more avidly than we can imagine.  We need only come down from our tree to be welcome at the table of the altar.  We need only descend from the perch where we are trying to catch a glimpse of the Son of Man to partake of the supper where we are assured, just as Zacchaeus was assured, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Unlike Zacchaeus climbing trees is not one of my strengths.  There were a few over in "The Field" where we hung out from about 10 to driver's license age.  Several of us built a tree house about twelve feet up in an elm tree.  It could have been a lot higher as it was a huge tree but this kept it accessible, particularly from a bully type (the old meaning not the contemporary one) who, while he was happy to throw rocks at the tree house was afraid to climb up.  It was something of a sanctuary from his annoying behavior.  

Prayer and contemplation are universal needs.  They are part of being human.  I suspect the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes comes from acknowledging this basic fact.  Many are happy to stuff the need for prayer, for meditation, for communion in the non-Mass sense, most of the time or deny that they feel it.  But, after 40 years in medicine and 17 in religious life, I stand by the statement.  

An elderly Jesuit at prayer during his evening meditation.  This was about thirty minutes before Mass at Pymble in Australia.  I was getting ready to go in to say the office when I saw Father sitting there.  My room was at the top of the staircase.  I took the steps two at a time, grabbed the camera and shot about four.  Father had very little vision and multiple other medical problems.  But he was there daily. 

A Buddhist nun at Nan Tien Buddhist temple in Berkley, NSW, Australia.  We stopped there on the way to Gerroa at the very beginning of tertianship.  It was an amazing place to visit.  The bell gonged with a low a very resonant sound.

Longshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan.  This temple is in the oldest part of Taipei where, if one looks closely enough, one sees other evidence of age.  This was New Year's Eve 2010, ten days before going to Australia.  Ignatius and I went there in lieu of going to the fireworks at Taipei 101, then the tallest building in the world.  Turned out to be a good move.  The estimate was that there were close to 2 million people at the fireworks.  We had an easy time getting home.  As we both had Masses the following morning it turned out to be a prudent decision. 

A young Jesuit Brother making his evening meditation at Sevenhill, SA, Australia. 

A woman placing a candle in one of the chapels at ND de Fourviere.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, November 15, 2014

32nd Saturday in Ordinary Time

Lk 18:1-11

In 1969 The Doors released an album titled, “The Soft Parade.”  Critics do not list it among one of their better albums but, for better or for worse, it was part of the soundtrack for my later years at Penn State and beyond.  It is the only Doors album in my collection (I preferred The Moody Blues).  It was a concept album in which the title track was placed last rather than the first on the disc.  That title track, The Soft Parade,  began with Jim Morrison proclaiming “when I was back there in seminary school there was a person who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer.” 

He repeated, “petition the Lord with prayer" twice more with increasing sarcasm in his voice.  And then screamed

By then the drugs had completely addled his brain. He would be dead less than two years later, most likely of a heroin overdose.  He was wrong.  

You can petition the Lord with prayer. 
You should petition the Lord with prayer. 
You must petition the Lord with prayer. 

The gospel illustrates how to petition the Lord with prayer.  One word comes to mind.  Importune.  To importune means: to demand with urgency or persistence; to annoy, to beset with solicitations; to be troublesomely persistent.  A three year-old’s entire job is to importune.  And three year-olds importune very well indeed. 

Only the first of the definitions for importune fits when one is considering prayer:  to demand with urgency and persistence.  One can never annoy or trouble God with prayer.  What one would think is too much is barely enough.   The entire psalter, from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150, is a long, continuous, importuning prayer.  It is a model for how we are to pray.   

The widow in the Gospel would not give up.  No matter what the unjust judge did she returned importuning until he gave her a just judgment.  The judge’s motivations for giving that judgment were less than pure; fear of being struck rather than a desire for justice, motivated his ruling.  Today in Massachusetts the fear would be not being reelected to his or her sinecure.  The judge's actions recall T.S. Eliot’s observation, “The final temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”  But God can never be unjust.  Jesus asks the rhetorical question: “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?”  In the context of this Gospel passage we know the answer.    
Given that the roots of this homily played out in Geary Hall (Chris' and my room) and Tenner Hall (Paul and Al's room) at Penn State,  (Paul brought the album to Penn State at the start of sophomore year) it seems appropriate to include a few shots from the side-trip to Penn State after retreat.  I didn't take as many shots as I thought I would. The skies were very gray and I was tired.  However, I did stop a few times along Rt. 45 on the way down.  Rt. 45 is my favorite road.  Were I to know I had to give up my driver's license I would hope I could take one more drive from Plymouth to Penn State and back along 45.  Then I would be ready.  

Rt 45 is two lanes all the way from just outside of Danville to Boalsburg.  It then breaks at 322 and, after a bit of a dog leg continues west toward Pittsburgh.  I've never traveled that part of it.  One of my favorite places is driving through Mifflinburg and Hartleton.  Hartleton is the location of one of the most infamous speed traps in PA.  It is a real hazard driving to football games.  The limit drops from 55 to 35.  As soon as I see the sign for Hartleton I slow down.  Yes, I got a speeding ticket driving through there many years ago.  Beginning with Mifflinburg and extending west until the state game lands, there are many Amish farms lining the roadways.  And many buggies. 

Whenever possible I pull off at Hairy John State Park, a bit further down 45.  If I ever get another speeding ticket on 45 it will be on the mountainous state game roads.  There is a picnic area in Hairy John that is very popular with people heading to the game early.  The first photo is a road that gradually goes up the side of the mountain.  The other is a detail of a picnic table in the pavilion.  That photo is an interesting survey of texture in natural objects.

I took the first shot of Old Main from the top of the Pugh Street parking garage.  Wonder why I never thought of going up there before?  Will do so again on my next trip. The second photo is from ground level. 

The Rathskellar, universally known as "the Skellar," is on the corner of Pugh St. and College Ave.  I haven't been in there in decades but was a regular once I hit 21.  It is below ground.  If there was ever a fire it would be a catastrophe.  But, the beer is cold and plentiful.  A custom during my time there was that upon turning 21 a student would go to the Skellar to order "a box of rocks" i.e. a case of pony bottles of Rolling Rock beer from nearby Latrobe.  The idea was to drink it all.  I did some foolish things at Penn State involving alcohol but nothing quite that foolish. And, I turned 21 during break.  By the time we returned the glow was off the event of turning 21.  But it was a rush being able to go there in the first place.  Finally. Watched most away football games there. 

Walked through Whitmore Lab.  The second door on the right (open) is where I had organic chemistry lab fall term sophomore year.  The aroma in the building hasn't changed.  There are rumors that it is going to be torn down.  That would be a pity.  The second photo is an architectural detail, the kind of which will never been seen again on a campus anywhere. 

In the homily I quoted Eliot.  Thus the photo of the outdoor pool near the Natatorium.  During my last year at PSU my niece Kate came up for a football game with her parents.  It was Penn State-Pitt, last game of the season.  It was cold.  As we walked back to my apartment downtown we passed the pool which, at the time, was brand new.  A guy was standing on the top platform ready to jump into the water.  I suspect  that first, he was drunk and second, he really didn't want to go through with it but the crowd that had gathered was getting impatient.  So he jumped and received great applause.  My 12 year-old niece was beyond impressed.  She decided then and there that she wanted to attend Penn State.  And she graduated with her degree in microbiology eleven years later in 1982.   

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD