Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On the Fecklessness of ESPN and Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann.  The currently suspended news reader for ESPN is contemptible.  Suspension is not sufficient.  Based on his recent rant against Penn State students and the annual Dance Marathon, universally known as THON, firing is the only appropriate punishment that ESPN can dole out.  I doubt that ESPN has the guts to do it but that is a topic for another day.

When a student tweeted him WE ARE (a standard greeting among Penn State alumni) with a link to THON, the Penn State Dance Marathon that raised over 13 MILLION dollars for the Five Diamonds Fund again this past weekend, he responded with "pitiful" and then went on to denounce the value of a Penn State degree, Penn State's students and suggest the donors should be refunded. 

While it is tempting to describe him using adjectives that would involve various body parts modified by adjectives that some would find offensive I will refrain.  Almost.  The man does not have the balls to say the same thing to the twelve year-old at THON who is bald from chemotherapy.  Or to the kid with a IV port who is sitting on the shoulders of a student.  Or to the kid engaged in a water gun match with a student.  He would definitely not have the balls to decry the Penn State students face-to-face.   And he would most likely cringe if he had to recite his screed to the parents of the "THON kids," some of whom come back even after their child has died of cancer.   

Penn State's THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.  THON has raised over 100 million dollars.  The money is spent on cancer research, treatment, and to cover costs that families can't meet such as a missed mortgage payment, new tires, medication, and the like. 

I don't have a lot of discretionary money.  The only two charities to which I donate annually are the Jesuit Arca during lent and THON, the last week of February.  For months beforehand students are out in all kinds of weather "canning" i.e. standing in front of stores, in roadways, and anywhere else, with specially marked cans, raising money for THON.  Most of it is small bills.  During canning season one relative, who is a Penn State alumna, keeps wads of dollar bills in her car, the better to drop something into every can she sees.  But she lives in PA.  I have to be more efficient up here. I try to donate via a can rather than the internet whenever possible but unfortunately had to resort to internet this year. 

It is hard work raising millions in small bills.  A few days before I went in for bypass surgery in December 2011 I was with a friend who was helping me pick up one or two things I knew I would need post-op.  We went to Panera in Maryland for lunch.  Yes, there are canners in Maryland.  Going in I reached into the hidden part of my wallet for the fifty-dollar bill I keep there during canning season and dropped it in.  On the way out there was a different group.  When the can was proffered I responded, "I gave on the way in."  One of the students looked at me and said, "Oh yeah, we heard about you."  Made my day. 

It is impossible to quantify the effort that goes on behind the scenes in preparation for THON.  It involves many more students than those in the more visible role as dancers (for 46 hours without being allowed to sit) and supporters.  THON galvanizes the campus from about midway through fall semester.  Planning is already underway for next year.

I've oftentimes wanted to go to witness THON, particularly the reveal on Sunday evening.  However, the place is packed with the people who need to be there: the dancers, other supporters, the kids who are benefitting from THON, some of the kids who were successfully treated for cancer, a few of whom are now dancers themselves, the parents of kids who are being helped by THON, were helped by THON and the parents of kids who have died but who need to come back.  They need to be there for the reveal I do not. 

The psychiatrist part of me is mulling over a range of personality pathology diagnoses for Olbermann.  There are many.  However, the man in me, Penn State ex '72, '96  is not constrained by a diagnostic manual.  Keith Olbermann has no balls.  He is feckless and ball-free unless he is behind the safety of his TV studio or social media. 

Go ahead dude, say the same thing facing the students, the kids with cancer, or their parents. 

What did you say?  Oh.  Well I didn't think you had the balls to take up the offer anyway.  
Some photos

The top is the entrance gate in the west end of campus on 322.

Ever wonder about the etymology of Nittany?  Read the sign.  I like the story about the Algonquin princess named Nita-Nee better but this will do.

Whitmore Lab.  That was the site of organic chem labs.  Blindfold me and I could identify the aroma in the halls as Whitmore.  It has not changed in over 45 years.

Main library entrance

Old Main. 
For the Glory . . . .

WE ARE . . . . 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

1st Sunday of Lent

Am a little late on the uptake with getting this on the blog.  Spent the past Saturday night, as I did the previous weekend, at the convent of the Carmelites for the Aged and Infirm.  The weather forecast for Sunday morning was, typically, miserable.  While I didn't turn out as bad as predicted, I did cover both Masses   And slept well the night before as there was no concern about driving.  Driving on snow and/or ice is definitely not on the list with raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens and all that.  Quite the opposite.  

Gn 9:8-15
Ps 25:4-9
1 Pt 3:18-22
Mk 1:12-15

In general on Sundays the first reading and the gospel are related in some way while the second reading seems to be a bit deeper in left field.  On occasion the second reading and the gospel reflect each other with the first reading something of a puzzle.  Today however, the situation is such that the first and second readings play off each other while the gospel seems unattached.  The first reading details God's covenant with Noah, the covenant that promised flood waters would never cover the whole earth again.  This covenant was made despite the certainty that humankind would ignore and forget it. 

In its comments on this passage The Jewish Study Bible makes a fascinating point citing the Talmud.  Unlike the Torah, which is the first five books of the Jewish Bible,  the Talmud is a collection of commentaries on Torah that together form Jewish law. The Talmud makes the following observation in commenting on these verses. The descendants of Noah, that is all humankind, are obligated by seven commandments as opposed to the 613 imposed on observant Jews.  These seven are: To establish courts of justice, to refrain from blaspheming God, to refrain from idolatry, sexual perversion, bloodshed and robbery, and not to eat meat cut from a living animal.  Those who observe the "seven commandments of the descendants of Noah" can meet with God's full approval.  With the exception of eating meat cut from a living animal, the seven commandments resemble the Decalogue, the ten commandments, given to Moses.  The modern world would do well to take notice. 

The second reading from the First Letter of Peter, makes a direct reference to the Torah, in this case the story of Noah.  God waited patiently while the ark was built such that eight persons in all, and thus all humankind, were saved through water, water that Peter links to our baptism.

Water is a powerful symbol in the Church. It is a symbol that moves from the Old Testament into the New.  Consider the water in which the basket holding the infant Moses floated. The waters that were parted as the Israelites fled Egypt.  The waters of the Jordan in which Jesus was baptized.  The water mixed with blood that flowed from Jesus' side at the crucifixion.  Water is more important to human life than food.  We can live for quite a few days without food but only a handful of days without water.  Physicians spend much of their time in hospital, particularly in the intensive care units, worrying about and adjusting water balance in the critically ill.  Water is crucial to our physical lives; it is even more crucial to our spiritual lives.  

The waters of baptism are the way through which we all must enter to partake fully in the life of the Church.  Without the waters of baptism there is no spiritual life.  Without the waters of baptism there is no light of Christ.  Without the waters of baptism there is no partaking of the Eucharistic banquet or reception of the Holy Spirit.  Without the waters of baptism there is nothing.  Only a void.  A void like the one that existed before God said let there be light.  The light of Christ is fully visible only to those who have received the waters of baptism.

Unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, both of which give long and detailed descriptions of the interaction between Jesus and Satan in the desert, Mark's narrative of Jesus' forty days in the desert is as bare bones as it can be.  One would be hard pressed to understand the import or meaning of the forty days if we had only Mark's narrative.   

Lent is not meant to be only penitential.  It is a time that must be transformational as well.  It is a time to challenge ourselves to be more fully what Jesus wants us to be more fully what we want to be . . . but may not know how to become.

There were two possible formulae given for the imposition of ashes this past Wednesday. The first was a reminder of our common mortality:

"Remember, thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return."

The second is advice not only for the holy season of Lent but the rest of our lives:

"Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospels." 

As we observe this first Sunday of Lent, we are called to meditate on one and live according to the other.

Organs.  Nothing approaches the organ, particularly the power of a pipe organ, for liturgical music.  That organs are oftentimes visually beautiful adds to the experience.  All grand pianos look alike, they are rather boring.  But each organ is visually distinct and has its own personality when played.  

The organ at St. Mary's Church, Plymouth, PA, my home parish.  It is not the original one from when I was a kid.  Nice sound, particularly when Scott is playing it. 

The organ loft at St. Joseph Church in Warnambool, Victoria, Australia.  I spent three weeks here midway through tertianship.  It too had a lovely sound.  Very photogenic with the light coming through the stained glass. 

The organ in the loft at the Abbey of Regina Laudis.  This is a smaller organ for a smaller space.  Have only heard it briefly.  Am hoping to hear more when I celebrate the Triduum there at Easter. 

The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.  This organ has power.  A lot of power.  It fills a huge space easily.  

The organ at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.  One of Our schools.  This organ was featured on many organ recital programs on public radio back when I lived in Plymouth.  Have only heard it played a few times.  There is good reason for it to be featured. 

Stay warm.  Not an easy task.  Driving to Framingham this AM the outdoor temperature indicator in the car registered MINUS 7.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, February 15, 2015

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lv 13:1-2, 44-46
Ps 32 1-2, 5, 11
Mk 1:40-45

“The one who bears the sore of leprosy . . . shall cry out, “Unclean, unclean.’”

“A leper begged him and said,
‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’”

“I do will it.  Be made clean.”

I said, “I confess my faults to the Lord,
 and you took away the guilt of my sin.”

It is critical to understand that leprosy as used in scripture did not refer to the chronic infectious mycobacterial disease now known as Hansen’s disease.  While Hansen’s may have been present in the population during Jesus’ time it was probably not present during the time when Leviticus was written.  In addition,  the description of the disease in chapters 13 and 14 of Leviticus are inconsistent with Hansen’s disease as described in Harrison’s Textbook of Internal Medicine.  Finally, the word TZARA’ AT, translated as leprosy, was also applied to buildings and clothing, objects that may be infested but certainly are not infected.  One must ask then how TZARA’ AT was translated as leprosy?

Because biological theories of disease were millennia in the future the Bible used the same name for many conditions that looked similar, not unlike our use of, “I had a virus” as a catch all for feeling lousy. The Jewish Study Bible notes that the word TZARA’ AT in the Torah that is sometimes translated leprosy was, in humans, a scaly eruption of the skin.  Think psoriasis.  Leprosy comes from the Greek root LEPI which translates as scales of a fish.  Thus, it is easy to understand how we get from TZARA’ AT to leprosy; which is one of but one of many dermatologic afflictions that may include a scaly appearance.  

The fear of TZARA’AT  only makes sense  if we compare the understanding of life, illness and death in the Ancient Near East with the modern understanding.

We understand life and disease as part of a continuum that is radically ended by death.  One may be ill but one is still living until the moment of death. In the Ancient Near East, however, life was radically discontinuous with disease.  Disease and death formed a continuum such that disease was understood as a “mild form of death”  or “a living death” if you will.   When it came to TZARA’ AT specifically, the individual afflicted  with scaly, and perhaps oozing, skin lesions was thought to be losing life’s vital force from his or her body and thus already actively dying.  

Illness itself was understood as the result of sin.  It was seen as a punishment visited upon the individual, the group, or the nation.  Illness, as exemplified by leprosy, was visible evidence of uncleanness.  It was evidence that one was a sinner.  One need only read the book of Job for a vivid illustration of this belief in Job's friends who came to condole with him.  Of course those of us who live in the 21st century are MUCH too sophisticated for that kind of belief.  In fact, we are not, but that is a separate homily. 

The leper who approached Jesus had suffered much.  He asked that Jesus exhibit something that was in short supply in his life: pity or, in another translation, compassion. In his compassion for the man’s suffering, his isolation from society, and even his alienation from himself, Jesus healed him of the visible evidence that he was a sinner.  Jesus returned him to society.  Jesus gave him back to himself.

Jesus did and continues to do the same for us.  Like us in all things but sin, Jesus, in his compassion,  took upon himself the burden of our sin and redeemed us from it.   By his action he freed us from death.  In the sacrament of confession he offers us the opportunity to be made clean again and again, as often as we may need to be  cleansed, of the internal lesions of leprosy.  He gives us the gift of being restored to right relationship with God and with our own selves. 

In the formula of absolution one hears,
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins”

As we prepare for the beginning of Lent on Wednesday, as we enter the time when the Church asks us to confess our sins, what has historically been called the Easter Duty, a term that has fallen sadly into disuse, we need only hear the words of the psalmist to feel reassured. 

“I confess my faults to the Lord,
 and you took away the guilt of my sin.”

In the sacrament of confession we say with the leper.

“If you wish, you can make me clean”

And Jesus replies:

“I do will it.  Be made clean.”
I have not been deported or stopped this blog.  The past month has been nuts.  For starters the winter arrived.  Big time.  Besides the usual obligations for three or four Masses in various locations I was writing, fine-tuning and making the power points for lectures.  That is when life got interesting. 

The original plan was to fly to Naples, FL the day after the Super Bowl.  I was scheduled to give two lectures, one on Tuesday and the other on Friday.  both dealt with Alzheimer's disease.  As the first of the multiple huge snowstorms approached I changed the travel plans and thus arrived in Ft. Lauderdale an hour before the Super Bowl kicked off.  Rented a car and drove across FL.  Saw the second through fourth quarters.  The lectures went very well.  Immediately after the lecture on Friday I hopped on a plane for Chicago and thence to Boise, Idaho, a place I've never been, city or state.  

In Boise I presented eight lectures and two homilies to the newly installed Bishop of the Diocese of Boise (Peter Christensen) and all of his priests.  It went very well.  The conferences were at the diocesan-run retreat house set on 40 acres about ten minutes from the airport and twice that from the city.  The distance from the city didn't matter.  After three lectures per day and a homily I was whipped at the end of the day.  

Of course it continued to snow.  And snow.  And snow.  And snow.  Boston was getting buried.  I flew from Boise to Boston on Friday.  The only complications were after deplaning in Boston.  Traffic was so bad downtown that it was going to take the shuttle van close to an hour to simply pick me up.  No idea how long it would have taken to get to BC which would not be the first stop.  So, I took the T (subway for those of you who live beyond 495) to a predetermined stop and a buddy picked me up.  It was great to see my own bed.  Got one night in it. 

We are now in snowstorm 3,546.  Because of the roads and dreadful prediction I drove to the Carmelites for the Aged and Infirm where I celebrate Mass several times per week on Saturday afternoon.  The snow was just starting (we got about 13 inches by morning) and committed to staying until after Masses on Monday.  Nice accommodations.  The sisters are tremendous women who do great work.  I am going to designate Thursday as a don't-get-out-of-the-sweats days when there is finally an unplanned and uncommitted day.  

The photos are from Philly and Longwood gardens.  We will probably never see flowers again in Boston.  

Two shots of the skyline of Philly, one during the day and the other at sunset.  What looks like mountains in the sunset is a cloud.  No mountains in Philly.  The photos were taken from the old Holiday Inn near the Belmont Plateau.  

Longwood Gardens is where I learned to take photos.  Haven't been there in a while I may be able to get there in the spring when I go to Temple Med for our fortieth reunion. 
The first is a bird of paradise. 

Reflections in a glass door in the huge atrium. 

 Over the years I've taken many photos of the gazebo by the pond.  Alas, the best one I will ever take was with film back around 1982,  Beginner's luck. 

 A detail of the shadows from the wrought-iron top of the gazebo. 

Time to head over for dinner with a friend's father who lives in the assisted living unit known as Carmel Terrace. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD