Monday, December 29, 2014

Feast of the Holy Family

Lk 2:22-40

Today’s feast of the Holy Family reminds us that Jesus was born into, raised by and emerged from a family.  The immediate family was small but there are hints that Jesus was raised among other relatives in a larger extended family.  Outside the circle of His family, Jesus emerged from a particular social world that was governed by the religious traditions and laws of Israel.  As we hear today, his parents observed the traditions and laws regarding circumcision, purification, and dedication of the first born male to the Lord.  The story of Jesus, and thus the story of our redemption from sin and death, is, above all, a human one.  We can identify with the humanity of his story.  We rejoice in the humanity of his story.

We rejoice because like us, Jesus was carried in the womb.  Like us, Jesus endured the messy process known as childbirth.  Like us, Jesus began life as a helpless, mewling, and completely dependent infant.  Like us, Jesus was raised in a family where He grew through childhood and adolescence into adulthood.  Like us, Jesus learned a trade.  Jesus was like us in everything but sin.  We rejoice because, Jesus did not put in a cameo appearance on earth and then return to Mt. Olympus after wreaking vengeance on an enemy god or goddess.   Jesus did not remain aloof from life on this earth.  He did not shy away from its trials and tribulations, its joys and sorrows. Rather, he participated fully in them.  Jesuit Father Karl Rahner points out that, Jesus “came into the world the same way we did in order to come to terms with the given facts of human existence, and to begin to die”

And to begin to die.

There are hints of the life Jesus was to live and the death he was to undergo in Simeon’s cryptic comment to Mary “and you yourself, a sword will pierce” or, in another translation “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”  What did Mary feel when she heard these words?  Did she recall them as she stood at the foot of the cross? There is no more searing pain, there is no deeper grief than that of a parent who endures the death of a child at any stage of the child’s life, from life in the womb to death in old age.  Mary knew that unimaginable pain.

Over the past weeks we heard the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel, chapters that contain the Church's most exquisite and frequently recited prayers.

The Benedictus begins the day.

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, He has come to His people and set them free.”  

The first four lines of The Ave Maria: 

“Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”

Mary’s  Magnificat
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” 

Today we hear,
Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine secundum verbum tuum in pace

"Lord, now you let your servant go in peace, your word has been fulfilled. . . ."

This is one of the last prayers of the Church's day.

Simeon and Anna are us. They are examples for us. They are examples for us because they recognized Jesus in the infant brought into the Temple.  Our challenge is to recognize Jesus when we encounter Him and wherever we encounter Him. When we encounter Him in the adolescent studying in our schools, in the child noisily exploring the world and most critically when we encounter Jesus in the infant being carried in the womb who is under attack by American society, sometimes for merely being less than perfectly formed.

Our challenge is to recognize the sanctity of the family and the sanctity family life. The challenges are significant. We are, after all, sinners who don’t always get it right.  But we have the example of the Holy Family.

The example is in Joseph’s yes to the angel who instructed him: “Do not fear to take Mary your wife . . .”

The example is in Mary’s yes, at the Annunciation, a yes that changed the history of the world, the yes that will echo through the universe even when it comes to an end. 

The example is in Jesus’ yes at Gethsemane, “not as I will, but as thou wilt.” 

As we commemorate the Holy Family we contemplate their yes to the will of God.  We pray that we too will say yes. 
I was a little hoarse giving this homily at Carmel Terrace.  Penn State defeated Boston College by one point in overtime after BC missed the extra point.  Penn State does not miss extra points, at least not this year (or most years).  The men in the house thought I had gone to the game when in fact I had gone to visit my niece and sister in upstate NY (near Kingston) 26 December and returned mid-day the next day.  I stayed in my room doing things that had to be done until game time at 4:30.  The men, all of whom were in the TV room, realized that I had not gone to the Bronx when we scored the winning touchdown.  Thus, the hoarseness.  I chose not to chant the preface at Mass the next day.  Wasn't too sure of my abilities.  

Below are some photos from Regina Laudis.  Will be returning there to celebrate the Easter Triduum.  Excited to be able to do so.  Have wanted to celebrate the entire triduum ever since I was ordained.  This will be my first chance.  And in Latin.  

The first is one of the lamb sculptures that dot the grounds.  All of the metalwork at the monastery was done by some of the nuns who are artisans.  The lambs are welded squares. 

The choir viewed through the grille.  Also forged at the Abbey.

The choir loft and organ.

The bench in front of the men's guesthouse where I stayed. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

"O Come All Ye Faithful"
"Silent Night"
"O Holy Night"
"Joy to the World"

We just heard the words of Luke's Gospel.  Simply hearing the titles of beloved Christmas hymns can trigger the melody in our minds.  These evocative words and familiar music may bring back memories of a particular Christmas. It may be THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER, or the one during which we were being crushed with pain, or somewhere in between. 

We may recall our first childhood memory of Christmas, that first Christmas as newlyweds, the last Christmas in the old house, the last Christmas with a loved one, that first Christmas when we knew nothing would ever be the same, or the first Christmas when we truly understood its meaning.  Sit with those memories.  They arise for a reason. 

The commercial message of how Christmas should be is oftentimes at odds with our experience.  But, the message of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord always reflects our lived reality. It is never at odds with our experience, be it the experience of the past or the Christmas we are living today; be it the experience of that best Christmas ever or the experience of the Christmas we wanted to end before it began.  The Lifetime Channel.  Hallmark.  Thousands of sappy advertisements.  And the dreadful 24/7 Christmas music stations have it all wrong with Frosty, Rudolph, and Santa.

As a society we get the kind of Christmas we want and deserve.  Many Americans today want little out of Christmas and that is what they get:  an expensive sweater that doesn’t quite fit and a lot of stress.  But it needn’t be that way. We can have the Christmas we want, deserve, and desperately need despite government sanctioned and ACLU driven attacks on all things religious, sacred and true.  This evening we recall Jesus’ redeeming act. This evening we celebrate the birth of Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man, and Son of Mary.  Jesus, like us in all things but sin. 

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola include meditations that bring the human reality of the Nativity to awareness.  These meditations help remove crusted eggnog from a sleeve, get that last annoying piece of static-glued tinsel off the fingers, diminish the fury of road rage, and bring us back to the humanness of and reason for the events of Jesus' birth.

Ignatius wrote:  “Imagine Mary, with child, seated on a donkey, set out from Nazareth.  She was accompanied by Joseph.  They are going to Bethlehem to pay the tax that Caesar Augustus imposed on those lands.  See in your imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Consider its length, and width; whether it was level or hilly.  Observe the place where Christ was born,  whether big or little; and how it was arranged.” 

We too journey and struggle like Mary and Joseph did.  It is not easy.  Rather than a recalcitrant donkey or a dusty road, we have to deal with cars and the deservedly infamous Mass Pike.  Rather than a barn filled with livestock we may have to cope with a too small guest room or a living room with inflatable mattresses.  With the scene set Ignatius gives the points for contemplation.

First:  Observe the persons of Mary, Joseph and the Infant Jesus after His birth. 
What do you see?

Second:  Consider what they are saying. 
What do you hear?

Third:  Consider what they are doing.  
What do you feel?

Here Ignatius adds the key element of the contemplation.  It is an element that we cannot forget or ignore unless we desire or are satisfied with a Holly Jolly, Hallmark, Red-nosed Rudolph, Winter Wonderland,  Rockin Around the Christmas tree bacchanal.  Stuffed from overeating.  Hung-over from . . . .well, you know.  And having received many too many Starbucks gift cards. He wrote.  “They made the journey and labored that our Lord might be born, and that after his labors and hunger, his thirst, and travail, and after insults and outrages, that He might die on the cross.  And do this for me.”

So that he might die on the cross for me.

 Place yourself at the manger.  Enter the scene as if you were stepping into the action of a movie.  Are you standing close to Jesus or cowering in a corner?  Are you adoring our Lord or looking for a place to stay warm, dry and fed?  Are you conversing  with Mary, Joseph, or the shepherds or are you mentally finishing your Christmas shopping while fuming about the fruitcake that Aunt Bertha gave you?.

It is crucial to understand that the scene of Jesus' birth was, and is, a slice of real life, the experience of real people, at a real place, at a particular time.  Jesus' birth irrevocably changed  the history and the nature of the universe.  Jesus' birth is not the end of the Christmas story.  What we call the Christmas story cannot stand alone. It is only a beginning, it is only the beginning of the story of our redemption.  The story of our redemption did not end with the Gloria in Excelsis Deo of the angels, or the departure of the magi after presenting their gifts. There was, and there is, much more.

The wood of the manger in Bethlehem led to the wood of the cross on Calvary.  Without the cross the manger is meaningless.  Without his passion, death and resurrection Jesus is just another cute kid born in Bethlehem.  Without the resurrection there would be nothing to celebrate.  A haiku written by Dag Hammarskjold explains it all in just seventeen syllables.

On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
Was foretold them
In a trumpet fanfare
Only because of Good Friday, can we proclaim this Christmas day with great joy to the sound of that trumpet fanfare.

Venite adoremus Dominum.
I celebrated the 5:30 PM Mass at St. Julia in "downtown" Weston last evening.  Was going to post the homily and photos last night but I realized just how physically demanding celebrating a large Mass is.  I was crawling when I got back and mostly crashed.  Had a beer that took away whatever motivation I might have had to hit the computer.  Very early to bed.  Will go down to the theology community near BC for dinner later this afternoon.  

Campion decorates tastefully for Christmas.  Nothing garish, not too much of anything and no Santa Clauses anywhere.  We had a funeral yesterday morning so the chapel was not finished until mid-afternoon.  Thus, these are photos from last year.  Will do some current ones over the weekend after a quick trip out to upper New York State tomorrow.  Off to Plymouth for New Year's to baptize my goddaughter's daughter and second child on 4 January and then back here for a few weeks.  

Will not need to throw in commentary on the photos.  They are all from Campion and include the main altar, the tree in the rotunda, the view from the back of the chapel and the view from the second balcony. 

Have a Blessed Christmas Season and a Happy New Year. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Luke 1:36-28

Luke's Gospel has given the Church some of her most beautiful prayers:  The Canticle of Zechariah, the Magnitificat,  and the Nunc Dimittis, each of which is said daily in the office.  It is also gave her the first half of the Hail Mary, which may be the most frequently said of all prayers in the Catholic Church. It is the frequent repetition that sometimes moves the Hail Mary from prayer to auto-pilot.  It is important when saying this prayer to listen and pay attention not only to what is said. It is important to listen to the silence. 

The gospel passage here gives the Angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary:  "Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee."  Simply saying the Latin words, Ave Maria gratia plena is sufficient to trigger cascades of melody in the minds of music lovers with each one hearing his or her own particular favorite, the famous melodies of Schubert and Bach/Gounod or the equally beautiful but much less well-known settings of Bruckner or Holst.  It is an exquisite prayer set to exquisite music. 

The alternate gospel for today's feast, verses 39-47 of the same chapter of Luke includes Elizabeth's greeting to Mary, "Blessed art though amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."   The Annunciation, the Visitation, and all that occurred between those two events, are summed up in these two short sentences straight from the Gospel. The history of the second half of the prayer is clouded in tradition, custom, and conjecture.  The historical analysis is irrelevant here. 

The most neglected part of the Hail Mary is the silence. 

When recited in common custom dictates that the first lines of the prayer are recited by the individual leading the congregation.  After the name Jesus, the multitude picks up in response with Holy Mary, Mother of God.  Most individuals, if asked to recite the Hail Mary aloud would similarly break, perhaps for only a second or two, between the name of Jesus and the second half of the prayer.  For some the break is unthinking and habitual while for others it is the opportunity to take a breath. 

Something important happens during that silence. 
Something important happened during that silence. 

Until the name of Jesus is pronounced we are in a state of advent, waiting for something that is ad venire, coming toward. Mary was in the same state of expectation as we are in this season. She was, as we are, awaiting the coming of Jesus.  After the silence Mary is now 'Mother of God.'   We can't not salute her as Holy, Holy Mary Mother of God? How else can one describe the Theotokos, the God-bearer, than with the word holy?

It was during that silence that we were redeemed.  The promise of the first half of the prayer is fulfilled in the transition to the second.  Some time today say the Hail Mary slowly.  Pay attention to the words and phrases.  Feel the rhythm of the prayer.  Savor the silence.  Avoid the temptation to jump over it with a quick downward bob of the head at the name of Jesus or a quick breath.  Sit in that silence.  It is the silence that enveloped Mary after the Angel departed.  It is the silence that Mary and Elizabeth shared.  It is the silence of that night on which Jesus was born.  It is also the silence that covered the earth after Jesus' body was placed in the tomb and the stunned silence in front of the empty tomb. 

Sit with the silence of this prayer. 
It contains the entire history of our redemption.
The photos below require no commentary or explanation except for a bit of history.  The Abbey of Regina Laudis was founded in Bethlehem, CT in 1947.  In 1949 Loretta Hines Howard donated a creche thought to be given to Victor Amadeus II, King of Sardinia for his coronation in 1720.  She donated a similar one to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it is part of the annual Christmas display.  

The creche at Regina Laudis is on permanent display in a climate controlled converted barn and displayed behind glass.  I wandered into the barn during retreat and almost shot out of there to return to the house to get the camera, tripod, cable release and everything else.  And the car.  Too heavy to schlep.  Spent two sessions there.  Am looking forward to a third when I go there for the Triduum or, more than likely, when I go there to prepare for the Triduum at Easter.  

The photos were taken as time exposures up to 40 seconds using a slow film speed and f22 so as to keep everything in focus.  

There are some spiritual excesses.  Mary and Joseph look decidedly non-Middle Eastern  The work on the clothing and ceramic figures is astonishing.  These are not life-size by any means but they are not tiny, under-the-tree figurines unless it is a very large tree.  The full display spans at least ten feet and contains 68 figurines and 20 small animals.  Imagine having to unwrap and wrap all of that every year.  Probably easier keeping it on display. 

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent

Is 40:1-5, 9-11
Ps 85:9-14
2 Pt 3:8-14
Mk 1:1-8

When the Church begins her new year on the first Sunday of Advent she begins a new cycle of reading from the lectionary.  The cycle of weekday readings switches between years I and II.  The Sunday readings cycle every three years with each year focusing on one of the synoptic Gospels.  This year is year B during which the Church proclaims Mark.  No matter which Sunday cycle is being read the second and third Sundays of Advent focus on John the Baptist and his message.  John the Baptist the prophet who was Jesus’ herald but who described himself as unworthy to hold or untie Jesus’ sandals.  

John was a kinsman of Jesus though the degree of kinship is unclear.  The magnificent first chapter of Luke’s Gospel describes the first encounter between John and Jesus at Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth. “. . . and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit cried out in a loud voice and said ‘Most Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leapt for joy.”  

Who was this herald?  In art work, movies, and a bizarre genre of novels, the kind in which Jesus and Mary Magdalene lived in sin, had six kids and a golden retriever, and moved to a condo in the Florida Keys, John the Baptist is depicted as something between a drugged out hippie and a wild-eyed lunatic, dressed in animal skins and consuming a diet that, by American standards, may be considered inedible except on a few of the weird shows on the Food Channel, Discovery and their ilk. 

Fortunately, we have credible testimony about John from a variety of sources.  In addition to being attested in all four Gospels, John appeared in the Antiquities of Josephus.  Josephus was an historian who lived from about A.D. 37 to 100.  He was neither Jewish nor Christian.   He wrote the following about John: “He was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety toward God, and in so doing to join in baptism.  In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism were to be acceptable to God.  They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behavior.”  

John’s mode of dressing was no different from that of any other desert dweller.  The fur was necessary during cold desert nights.  His diet had nothing to do with radical vegetarianism, or the new vogue of veganism, but the need to maintain ritual dietary purity.  His dress and diet are, however, irrelevant. His message, however, is as relevant to us as it was to the ancient Judeans who sought him out. 

As Josephus noted, he “exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety toward God.”  Justice toward their fellows and piety toward God.  Obviously neither  the message of faith and justice nor the behavior that is contrary to both is new.  

We hear in in the Letter of James, a letter which is not proclaimed nearly enough, “Be doers of the word not hearers only; deluding yourselves.” And a bit later, “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?”  Just proclaiming I HAVE FAITH or I BELIEEEEEEEEEEEVE IN JESUS is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Proclaiming that one has faith in Jesus without acting on, without living out, that faith, is not a free pass. 

Given the uncompromising nature of his message it is no wonder that John is depicted as deranged or wild-eyed.  It is easier to bash the messenger for dressing funny or being politically incorrect than it is to take the demands of the message to heart and live them out.  

The choices of Advent are not what to buy mom for Christmas, should I send a card to the Johnsons, or where can I find the least expensive 72 inch flat screen television? The choices are how to live out our faith in an attitude of repentance and conversion of heart so that we can say with the psalmist: 

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD—for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.Carmel Terrace 9:30 AM)
I am posting this on Saturday night, 6 December.  Tomorrow is an important anniversary.  Two years ago from this moment I was lying in a bed at the Washington Hospital Center in D.C. having had a cardiac catheterization that revealed problematic obstructions of a few coronary arteries.  Neither stents (already had two) or medication were acceptable options at that point and I opted for surgery.  I slept fairly well that night though I did have some Ambien. 

The following morning, 7 December, after a long shower during which I scrubbed my chest with iodinated soap (looked as if I had a great though limited tan) I was wheeled to the OR.  At no time was I anxious or frightened.  I'd been anointed the night before being admitted for the cath.  The patient's view of the ceilings of multiple hallways of the hospital center was interesting.  The only unpleasant part (we are speaking relatively here) of the experience was being extubated in the recovery room.  I had the surgery on 7 December and returned home on 11 December.  Many graces were apparent during the experience.  

I will admit that when I woke I felt as if I was reenacting Pearl Harbor.  Everything hurt but ti didn't last too long.  Never took a pain pill beyond the scattered acetaminophen from the time of discharge.  

The photos are a flashback for older dudes and dudesses.  I took them in Australia.  Black and white is the only acceptable way to present them.  I learned to type on a version of one of these two-ton monsters.  Except the keys where I learned during a summer course had no letters on them.  Even if we did look down, an action that was frowned upon, it was of little help.  I learned to type at 12.  It was the most valuable skill I learned prior to college.  At Penn State I would type papers for other guys charging one can of beer per page.  It worked well.  I'm still a very fast and accurate typist, especially when typing script rather than making it up as I go along.

A two-color ribbon!

After hearing the ding, and to start a new line, reach to the left and push.

The small numerals indicate the number of copies one could make.  Of course carbon paper was involved. 

The keyboard.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD