Monday, December 28, 2015

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Matthew 2:13-18

The narrative of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents is unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  It is not unique to world history.  Various ancient accounts give wildly disparate, and sometimes outlandishly large, numbers to describe the extent of the slaughter. It is also difficult to determine the historicity. The details, however, are less important than the underlying motivations of the killer.  The historical details are less important than the fact that the slaughter of children continues in the present.  Herod was known to be unstable. Toward the end of his life, he apparently became even crazier and more violent.  When he perceived a threat to his power in the message of a newborn king he ordered the extermination of all male children up to the age of two.
The atrocities, however, did not end in Ancient Jerusalem.  They continue in today's world.  They will recur in the future. Newtown, CT.  Columbine, CO.  Both are previews of others to come.  However, the slaughter of children is not a phenomenon unique to the U.S. 

Anders Breivik murdered scores of children at a Norwegian summer camp in July 2011.  The Nazis did their best to exterminate Jewish children.  As well as children who were deemed mentally or physically defective.  China has had multiple events over the years.  Details lacking.

We grieve for those children.

We grieve for the Holy Innocents who are killed because they are inconveniently conceived. 

We grieve for the Holy Innocents who are killed, with the same underlying logic as the Nazis, because they are not going to be born perfect: with straight teeth, thick hair, and high SAT scores.

We grieve for the 87 to 98 percent of children who are killed in the U.S. and Europe because they carry three copies of chromosome 21, trisomy 21 or Down's Syndrome.

We must ask if those children carrying a gene for Alzheimer’s disease will be the next candidates for extermination?  These killings in the abortion clinic are more heinous than the slaughters in Columbine, Norway or Newtown because they are non-random. They are chosen by the parents or, if a father is not in evidence, by the mother. 

What motivates a crazy man to slaughter children?  Herod was an insane megalomaniac.  Sufficient motivation right there.  What of the modern day killers of the innocent?  A delusion of power?  A psychotic desire for revenge?  The desire to be free of the responsibility for a child? 

Adam Lanza may have been in the early stages of schizophrenia or other form of psychosis.  Anders Breivik has proven repeatedly that he is a complete whack job.  But what about the mothers who eliminate their children in utero?  What about the physicians who chose to perform multiple abortions daily?  What of the nurses who assist?  What of the femi-Nazis who insist there is nothing wrong with this slaughter or that repeated abortion is free of repercussions for the mothers who choose death for their children as a form of birth control? 

A few years ago three Harvard medical students, all girls, tried to push a demand that all third year medical students in the U.S. be compelled to learn how to perform abortions while on their mandatory ob-gyn rotation.  The attempt failed. 

We pray today for those Holy Innocents who never had a chance no matter what their age, no matter if the killing occurred in the womb our outside it.  We pray that those who are complicit in these ongoing killings will undergo a change of heart.  And we pray for those mothers, who like Rachel, will mourn and carry the scars of their deed for the rest of their lives.


A very busy day.  After Mass at Carmel Terrace where I gave the homily above I raced across the complex to St. Patrick to celebrate a funeral Mass.  The funeral was deeply moving.  The widower of the woman who died was mourning his spouse of 75 years.  He said through his tears that it went by in an instant.  I believe him.  

The temperatures dropped at least 20 degrees.  Feels much more like Christmas.  Finally broke out my black wool overcoat.  I don't care if it snows or not but it should be a lot colder than 60 at Christmas. 

I am happy to announce that I actually remembered to get the car inspected, a December duty, before the time expired.  Over the years, though not since entering the Society, I got two tickets for not having had the car inspected in a timely fashion.  

Two busy days coming up.  Nothing scheduled for New Year's Eve or Day.  My goal is to buy a pizza, put it on the porch off my room, and have cold pizza and beer while watching football games.  One of the great joys of life.  Cold pizza that is.  My mom used to lose her mind when she would see me eating cold pizza with a heavy layer of crushed red pepper with my coffee for breakfast.  

The photos attached are Christmas decorations, some at my nieces house and some here at Campion.  

My niece Kate has a good eye for decor.  She is something of a minimalist.  Her place never looks overdone.  I like these two mantle decorations. 

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Campion is decorated beautifully at the very last minute.  Because of the health care center we are not allowed live trees.  However, there is a relatively minimalist decor.  

The main altar in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit

Trees and candles.

Trees from the back of the sacristy. 

View through the glass in the chapel doors.  I like the distortion caused by the old glass.

Have a Blessed New Year. 

+Fr. Jack SJ, MD

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015

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

Simply hearing the titles of beloved Christmas hymns can trigger the melody in our minds. The evocative words and familiar music have the potential to bring back memories. They may be memories of THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!!!! , the Christmas we were being crushed with pain, or something in between.  We may recall our first childhood Christmas memory, the first Christmas as a newlywed, the last Christmas in the old house, the final Christmas with a loved one, the Christmas when we knew nothing would ever be the same, or the first Christmas when we understood its true meaning.  Sit with those memories.  They arise for a reason. 

The fantasies of what Christmas should be, the secular and commercial message of Christmas, is oftentimes at odds with our experience.  But, the truth of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, always fits our lived reality. The Feast of the Nativity is never at odds with our experience, be it the experience Christmases past, the Christmas we are living right now, or Christmases yet to come. 

Lifetime Channel.  Hallmark cards.  Sappy advertisements.  Dreadful 24/7 Christmas music stations. They have it all wrong. They have it all wrong with Frosty, Rudolph, Santa, and Brenda Lee singin' about rockin' around the tree.  Sloppy sentimentalists have it all wrong when they say,  "Christmas is for children."  It ain't.  Never was.  As a society we get the kind of Christmas we want and deserve.  Many Americans want little out of Christmas.  And that is what they get, an expensive sweater that doesn’t quite fit and a lot of stress. 

It need not be that way. We can have the Christmas we want, the Christmas we deserve . . . the Christmas we desperately need.  And we can have it despite government sanctioned and ACLU driven attacks on all things religious, sacred and true, the criminalization of Christianity.  This evening we celebrate the birth of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man. Son of the Father. Son of Mary. Jesus, like us in all things but sin.

St. Ignatius makes a crucial point in one of the meditations from the Spiritual Exercises.  It is a point we cannot forget or ignore unless. . .  we want or are satisfied with a Holly Jolly, Hallmark, Red-nosed Rudolph, Winter Wonderland,  Rockin Around the Christmas tree drunken bacchanal.  Stuffed from overeating.  Hung-over.  Gifted with way too many Starbucks gift cards.  Ignatius wrote: “Mary and Joseph journeyed and struggled so that our Lord might be born, so that after his labors and hunger, his thirst and work, and after insults and outrages, that He might die on the cross.  And do this for me.”

"That he might die on the cross. And do this for me."

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

Never forget that the scene of Jesus' birth was, and is, a slice of real life.  It was experienced by real people, in a specific place, at a particular time. It was neither clean nor neat, childbirth rarely is.  Jesus' birth changed history. It changed the nature of the universe.  Jesus' birth is not the end of the Christmas story. The so-called 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. Our redemption was not secured when the magi departed.

Gaze at the manger again. The wood of the manger in Bethlehem led to the wood of the cross on Calvary.  It could be no other way.  Without the cross the manger means nothing.  Without Christ's passion, death, resurrection and ascension Jesus is just another cute kid born in Bethlehem a few thousand years ago.  Without Jesus' death and resurrection there would be no reason to celebrate today.

Dag Hammarskjold, second Secretary General of the U.N. who died in a plane crash in what is now Zimbabwe, traced the entire arc of our salvation in a seventeen-syllable haiku.  Hammarskjold captured the real meaning of Christmas in twelve short words

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

Venite adoremus Dominum.

Just returned from the Christmas Vigil Mass at St. Patrick Nursing Home, part of the complex founded by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.  The chapel has the seating capacity of a small church with a lot of room for wheelchairs.  It was packed with patients at St. Patrick, some from Carmel Terrace, the assisted living facility adjacent, a family visitors.  It is becoming an increasing challenge to sit upright.  So I will post some photos of the chapel and call it a night.  Back to Carmel Terrace in the morning. 

Have a most Blessed Christmas

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Lk 1:39-45

The dates on the calendar are disappearing fast, not unlike the cinematic device of pages dropping off a calendar or turning rapidly so as to show the passage of time.  In just a few days the last of the "O Antiphons" will have been chanted. They will be replaced by Gloria in Excelsis Deo.  The tone of the readings is changing.  The penitential and apocalyptic tenor is fading into the background and being replaced by a cautious note of hope and joy.

"from you shall come forth
one who is to be ruler in Israel;
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient times."

We are approaching the apogee of the genealogy that was proclaimed on Thursday.  He who was present before the beginning of time is prepared to enter into time and space. Indeed, today's gospel describes that he is already in time and space.  He will soon set foot on this same earth on which we walk, the same earth in which we work and relax, pray and struggle, weep and sing.   

"Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste."

Ignatian meditation demands that the imagination be fully engaged with the Gospel.  Each exercise entails preparatory preludes followed by points for meditation on specific gospel narratives. 

The first prelude consists of meditating on the story, meditating on the facts underlying the mystery.  Mary has been told that she is to be the Mother of Our Lord.  She hastens to visit Elizabeth.  She is probably still a bit taken aback by the angel's message.  Nonetheless, she sets out for Judah in the hill country. 

The second prelude is something referred to as the composition of place.  Today's narrative supplies scanty information.  This is where the imagination comes into play.  This is the kind of imagination that undergirds the work of many artists who tried to depict the scene, some more successfully than others.  (Try to skip the chubby cherubs hovering above.)

Mary undertook a 90-mile journey. Imagine the road from Bethlehem to Judah. Was it smooth or rocky?  Wide or narrow?  Were there grass or gutters on the sides?  How steep were the hills?  What was Mary carrying with her?   How was she dressed?  (I suspect she was not traveling in watered silk studded with seed pearls and rhinestones.)  What did Elizabeth's home look like?  Were there many windows?  How wide was the door?  How was it furnished?  Then comes an application of the senses.  Is it hot or cold?  Dry or damp?  What aromas tinged the air?  You want to place yourself in the scene as if you were stepping from your seat in the theater into the action on the screen.  Once the scene has been composed in as much detail as you would like enter into the meditations.

This particular narrative detailed Mary going to Elizabeth's house and John's recognition of Jesus presence.  Merton described this moment in exquisite imagery in his work, "The Quickening of John the Baptist" a portion of which reads,

"The day Our Lady, full of Christ,
Entered the dooryard of her relative
Did not her steps, light steps, lay on the paving leaves
like gold?
Did not her eyes as grey as doves
Alight like the peace of a new world upon that house, upon
miraculous Elizabeth?
Her salutation
Sings in the stone valley like a Charterhouse bell:
And the unborn saint John
Wakes in his mother’s body,
Bounds with the echoes of discovery."

One question preoccupied me while meditating on this narrative. What did Mary and Elizabeth talk about?  What did they discuss?  They were two first time mothers. One was young and the other significantly older.  Both pregnancies were unexpected.  Both pregnancies miraculous, each in its own way. How did they sound as they talked?  An interesting meditative excercise would be to write the dialogue for this scene, the part the follows after the Magnificat. Write the dialogue and create the scene for other moments during Mary's three month visit with Elizabeth.

O Clavis David
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David, . . .
come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.
Thought I would put more on the blog during Advent but time got away.  A late-planned trip to PA took more time than planned.  Many Masses during this season in a variety of places. I spent this final weekend of Advent at the Abbey of Regina Laudis celebrating Mass daily.  I got down every several months in part to help the nuns out as they do not have a resident chaplain and as a way of getting some very quiet time away from here.  Also get to exercise the camera.  Alas, Saturday was cold and very windy.  Way to windy to photograph and maintain feeling in my fingers, at least outdoors. 

I got dragooned into helping put the lights on the tree in the monastic church.  Good way to fill up several hours on an otherwise nasty rainy and windy day.  

Some outdoor photos first. 

There is a broken bottle on a bunch of railroad ties.  It is fascinating as a study in shape, texture and light.  
As noted above it was rainy, misty, foggy and damp.  My camera is not weatherproof so I spent little time outdoors.  When the sun did come out it was very cold and very windy.  This is the land just outside the men's guesthouse (St. Joseph). 

The Madonna and Child at the main entrance near St. Joseph. 

St. Joseph from the meadow. 

The monastic choir and altar taken from the back of the church. 

Candles on the altar.  When I celebrate Mass I am facing the nun's with back to the congregation from outside. 

Cruets prepared for Mass the next morning. 

The Christmas tree light crew including my long-time buddy Karl who as visiting for a day.  

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