Monday, April 20, 2015

Hitting the Highway

Not certain how much I'll be posting over the next two weeks.  Will leave Campion early tomorrow morning for a two week "road trip" that will include two lectures, one baptism, and our 40th Med School reunion on Saturday 25 April in Philadelphia.  Very much looking forward to the reunion and the chance to spend a free day in Philly with the camera.  Some of us will get together on Friday night for beer and pizza at one classmate's house.  She suggested a yearbook review as well.  That should be good for a number of laughs.  

Will be giving a talk on how we die in State College, PA.  Very much looking forward to that trip as I will have a free day to wander town and campus with the camera.  Once I return I hope to stay put during the month of May.  Staying put is, of course, a relative term.  I will be in CT for a few days toward the end of the month but compared with the upcoming trip that is staying local in a relative sense of the term.  No flying anticipated until August.  Then it is time to cash in some frequent flyer miles and go to LA for vows.  

A few disparate photos that I will be using as background etc. for the new talk.  

The Jesuit dining room/kitchen in Saigon.  As soon as I post this I head to breakfast.  I don't like grapefruit.  I don't know if those green things are grapefruit or a sort of hybrid unique to the tropics.  However, after eating one of those it became a daily practice.  Sweet.  Juicy.  

This is a manipulated photo taken during a late afternoon at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan.  Sun Moon Lake remains one of my favorite spots on earth.   I like being able to play with the color and tint of something like this.

The Church of St. George in Lyon.  I went to Mass there often as it was at 5 PM.  I could walk there from the community in a matter of minutes.  All Masses were in the extraordinary form.  The stained glass behind the altar was shades of yellow, gold and ochre.  

I've forgotten the name of the church here.  I believe it was the site of the tomb of the foundress of the Religious of Jesus and Mary.  This was not too far from St. Georges.  Lyon is a city of many churches.

Votive candles in the Cathedral of St. Jean in Lyon.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, April 18, 2015

3rd Sunday of Easter

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8,9
Lk 24:35-48

During the Easter Season many of the first readings on both Sundays and weekdays are taken from Acts of the Apostles.  This will continue until the end of the Easter Season.  Acts was written by St. Luke who also wrote today's Gospel.  Academics often refer to Luke-Acts so as to emphasize the common authorship of the two books.

Whereas the Gospel of Luke recounts the story of Jesus in much the same way as the other three Gospels, Acts is the story of the first years of the community that came to be known as The Church.  Acts is an important story because it is our story. It is the story of us as Church. Pay attention to the readings from Acts over the next weeks. You will hear of the growth of the Church and the challenges the community faced. You will hear of the arguments, the infighting, and the jealousies. You will also hear about the care extended to the poor and less fortunate. You will hear of the coming together into community of those who believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. It is a fascinating story.  The Church wasn't easy then just as it isn't easy today.

In the reading from Acts Peter gives a very short summary of the prophecies about Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one.  He also assures his hearers that they and their leaders acted out of ignorance when they crucified Jesus.  But remember, this was some time after the fact.  How long did it take Peter and the others who witnessed Jesus’ passion and death, to truly understand the resurrection?  How long did it take before they were able to internalize the fact that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead?  How long does it take us to realize who Jesus is?  In the days immediately following Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, his followers' predominant emotions were confusion and consternation.  They were living these events in real time.  Jesus had foretold his passion and death but none of those who heard him really understood.  It is likely that they didn't truly understand until Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon them.

There is an odd but important detail in today's Gospel.  After greeting His astonished disciples Jesus ate a piece of fish in front of them. He did so for a specific reason.  Jesus ate to prove that he had indeed risen bodily from the dead.  He ate a bit of solid food to demonstrate to their uncertain hearts and confused minds that he was not a ghost, that he was not a spirit, that he was not an hallucination. 

He said, “Touch me and see,because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”  He requested something to eat as if to prove His resurrection before they could doubt.  Only corporal beings need to eat.  Only physical beings are able to eat.  By eating a piece of fish in front of them Jesus gave proof to the prophecy, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.. .”  It was not a ghost standing before them. It was Jesus, risen from the dead. 

We have something in common with those disciples. Whenever we gather at the altar Jesus is as much present to us as He was to His disciples in that room. Thus we too can sing out with the psalmist:

“O Lord, our Lord,
how glorious is your name
over all the earth!”
Going through photos as I prepare to give some lectures.  Four years ago at this time we were getting ready to drive from Sevenhill, South Australia back to Sydney, a trek of 17 hours.  We did not even try to make it in one day.  Spent one night in Hay, NSW a very tiny town that give in the middle of nowhere a new depth of meaning.  Two of us would have been happy to spend three days on the return trip but the other two wanted to get back as soon as possible.  There was no way we could split up despite driving in two cars.  Half of the men had driven out to Sevenhill and flew back.  We flew out and drove back.  I'll never drive 17 hours in two days again.  It was a great trip but it almost killed me.  I limited my driving to the highways and turned over the keys as we approached Sydney. 

We left from the Jesuit community in Adelaide that was attached to a prep school.  The skies were threatening as we left but the rain never materialized. 

Good thing we had reservations at a motel that the tertian master used every year.  The Saltbush Motor Inn had no vacancies. 

Hay is so isolated that it was the site of concentration camps for Japanese POW's during WW II.  Even if a prisoner escaped he would die in the Outback.  I imagine there was even less there then than there is now.   The four of us stayed in a motel.  There were only three rooms available so Vincent and I bunked together.  I took this in the early morning as we were preparing to leave.

Before we left Hay we stopped at a bakery for breakfast and coffee. 

We bought some hot cross buns for nibbling on the final 8 hours of the drive.

 The Outback Cafe in West Wyalong, a short stop to stretch legs, was open.  

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

He Is Risen! Alleluia.

I celebrated the Triduum at the Abbey of Regina Laudis.  Will comment more on the experience below.  The homily is from the Vigil Mass.  Thought I would post it earlier but by the time I got home on Sunday, after fighting wretched traffic that added an hour to the normally 2 1/2 trip I was wasted, a sense that continued throughout Monday when there was finally some time to edit the photos.  

Liturgy speaks for itself in both simple and complex ways.  The prayers, the readings, and the actions all have multiple meanings, both simple and complex, while simultaneously pointing toward the same truth. The liturgy speaks for itself on this most joyful night when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.  The liturgy announces this most glorious night in unequivocal terms with the magnificent Exsultet where we heard:

Hæc nox est,
in qua, destrúctis vínculis mortis,
Christus ab ínferis victor ascéndit.

This is the night
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.

God's first words in the first verse of the first book of the Old Testament are: 

“Let there be light.” 

Thus, we began with light, blessing the fire and paschal candle that was carried into the church with the words: 

Lumen Christi

Christ our Light. 

Each of us held that light in our hands.  From the Exsultet again.

Hæc nox est, de qua scriptum est:
Et nox sicut dies illuminábitur:
et nox illuminátio mea in delíciis meis.

This is the night
that is as bright as day,
dazzling is the night
and full of gladness

Soon I will bless the water and we will recall in ritual form the parting of the waters.  We will recall the new life and hope we were given in baptism, a recollection augmented by renewing our baptismal promises.

Mark’s Gospel is cinematic in its detail.  We know what the women were carrying.  We know dawn was just breaking.  We know their concerns about the size of the stone.  We can imagine the amazed looks on their faces when they saw that the stone had been rolled away. Put yourself into that scene.  Stand with those amazed, frightened and confused women.  Had the grave been robbed?  Where was Jesus?  Who was the white-robed young man?  What would you have felt?  What would you have thought?  What would you have said?

With the final blessing a liturgy of more than fifty hours will come to an end.  We will go forth to rejoice in the resurrection of  Christ our Lord.  Listen again to the words I said while inscribing this paschal candle.

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."  

We can only add:

Thanks be to God.

Being invited to celebrate the Triduum at the Abbey of Regina Laudis was a privilege and then some.  After eight years a priest I finally celebrated the entire liturgy.  The nuns have elected to cut nothing from the full observance of the great feast of Easter.  Each day, Thursday through Saturday began with Tenebrae at 7:30 AM and continued until 10:00 AM or so, with chanted psalms and readings.  Tenebrae is Matins and Lauds in sequence.  After each psalm one of the candles atop the grille was snuffed out until the last one was snuffed and the book was audibly slammed at the very end.  

The vigil liturgy was magnificent.  The new fire was started using an eight-foot Christmas tree.  Gas or some other fuel was soaked into the burlap wrapped around the trunk.  It took a minute or so for things to get going but once they did the fire was impressive.  The paschal candle seen below was 15 pounds of was.  It was an endurance challenge to carry it in procession into the church.  A nubbin of trunk was still burning when I left the church after Mass three hours later.

Though the rubrics indicate that four of the seven Old Testament readings may be cut for "pastoral reasons", after hearing all seven, I can't think of many good reasons to omit them.  Whining that the Mass would be too long is not an adequate reason.  

Except for the time from blessing the fire to renewing our baptismal vows everything was in Latin and, when indicated, chanted in Gregorian chant.  I will admit that my voice was close to giving out by the end of Mass on Sunday.  

Somehow the weather improved on Good Friday evening.  Though chilly the sky was clear and, fortunately, the heavy wind that marked Holy Saturday, ended a few hours before Mass at 8:00 PM.  The clouds rolled back in shortly after Mass on Sunday.  The trip home was marked with some rain showers and a few areas of snowflakes.  By the time I got home I was whipped from the physical demands of kneeling, lifting, carrying, kneeling, and so on.  Next year I will go to the gym for Lent rather than giving up anything such as meat.  

There are a lot of photographic opportunities in the men's guest house where the chaplain's quarters are located in what had been the chapel of the original monastery.  One of the joys of post-processing in the computerized darkroom is making a photo look something like a Lowlands genre painting.  A simple red candle, a pewter reflector and paneling says a lot. 

The guest house is painted a brilliant red with white trim.  The photo is a study in shape, texture and color. 

Buds on a tree behind the guesthouse. 

Each evening there is a reading from the Rule of St. Benedict as per monastic custom.  This is true even in the guest house.  The rule is kept in a slip case.  I took this photo solely with the intention of turning it into black and white. 

The paschal candle was 16 pounds of wax.  Its simplicity was stunning.  It was made and carved at the monastery.  Some of the commercial candles are way over decorated.  One year I had to force the second nail into what was Jesus' navel as there was a wax applique of the Risen Christ superimposed on the cross.  Very bad taste.  

The candle with the tray holding the stylus to inscribe, the incense to insert into the holes, the nails and charcoal for the thurible.  The charcoal was lit from the fire thus the very long tongs behind the candle.  

Many of the flowers were grown on-site.  I don't know about the tulips but the orchids and others came from the small greenhouse (there may be a larger one elsewhere) in front of the door to the portresses' area.  Some of the photos are from there and others are from in front of the altar.  

Processional cross at cloister gate with flowers.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, April 3, 2015

On The Matter of Judas Isacriot

Matthew (27:3-10)

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.”  They said, “What is that to us?  See to it yourself.”  And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.”  So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore, that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying,  “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the son’s of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

Imagine the scene in the chambers of the chief priests and elders.  Place yourself there.  Become a bystander or a servant.  Perhaps you are one of the elders or the doorkeeper.  Imagine yourself in that room.  Are the officials passing out cigars?  Are they slapping each other on the back because they got the conviction they wanted?  Are they relieved because this troublemaker,  this “King” of the Jews will no longer be a force to contend with?  Suddenly the door slams into the wall.  Judas Iscariot pushes his way past the doorkeeper and through the crowd. What does his face look like?  How does his voice sound as he blurts out, “I have sinned”?

What do you feel as you observe the scene?  Are you annoyed?  Are you confused? What’s going on?  Suddenly, the thirty pieces of silver hit the floor, clanking as they scatter. Judas flees.  He looks stricken.  Impulsively you follow him out.  You want to say something . . . anything. You follow him but he is moving fast.  You try to catch up but you have to rest and get your breath.  You start to move again. He can only go in one direction. You try to pick up your pace.  You need to catch up with him.  And then in the distance you see his silhouette.  He is standing on a small log. The rope is looped over the tree.  The noose is around his neck.  You try to scream . . . DON’T!  Before the scream escapes your lips he kicks away the log. It is over.

The sun is going down. The wind is picking up.  It’s getting cold. Judas’ body swings in the breeze.  Slowly you retrace your steps back into the town. The pathos in this Gospel passage is more than Judas betraying Jesus.  Peter also betrayed Jesus. The pathos is that, unlike Peter, Judas could not imagine being forgiven by the one against whom he had sinned.

We’ll never know what drove Judas to betray Jesus.  But we can wonder.  Was it the tempting sounds of  thirty pieces of silver jingling in the treasurer’s purse?  Some scholars suggest that Judas betrayed Jesus because he had become disillusioned with Him.  Like many others, even people today, Judas was expecting a political Messiah.  He wanted a Messiah who would lead the Jewish people out from the Roman occupation.  By turning him over to the authorities Judas may have been trying to force Jesus  to act like the revolutionary leader he wanted him to be.  No matter what Judas’ motives were, these verses from Matthew’s Gospel following the act of betrayal describe one of the great tragedies in scripture, the tragedy of despair. The tragedy of ceasing to believe in God. 

Judas betrayed Jesus.  Judas was, in his turn, betrayed by those who used him to get to Jesus.  Did Judas kill himself out of despair over having betrayed Jesus?  Or did he kill himself because he was angry that he himself was betrayed?   “What is that to us?  See to it yourself.”  Harsh words.  In the end it seems that two things drove Judas to suicide:  Anger at being a fool.  And despair upon realizing he had sinned.

A few years ago I found a battered book of daily meditations by an anonymous Jesuit that was translated from French into English in 1868.  A meditation based on this Gospel passage gives sound advice for today. It reads in part:  "Never let us count on help, sympathy, or respect, from those whom we have served against our own conscience and against the law of God."  In short: Never trust the untrustworthy.

Another meditation in the same book found a bit further along gets to the heart of Judas’ sin.  Judas’ belief  “that his crime was unpardonable was disbelief in God . . .”  When Judas believed his sin could not be forgiven he stopped believing in God. It was then that despair spiraled down and drove him to suicide.

Standard dictionaries define despair as loss of hope, hopelessness,  to give up, to be without hope.  In this narrative, however, despair has a more complex meaning.  One theological source defines despair as the voluntary and complete abandonment of all hope of saving one’s soul.  The voluntary abandonment of hope in salvation.  The intentional denial of the meaning of Jesus’ saving act.  That saving act we recall as we move through the liturgies of Holy Week.

Despair is not passive. Despair is a conscious choice.  The Sin of Despair is an act of the will.  It is an act that chooses to give up any hope of eternal life.  Despair whispers in our ear that God will not pardon our sins.  And we believe that whispered message.

That was Judas’ sin.  Believing that God would not pardon his sin.  We can only pray that that kind of despair never controls us, no matter what, no matter when, no matter why.  Yes, we are sinners.  But we are sinners loved by God.  We are sinners loved by God who pardons our sins when we acknowledge them, when we confess them, and when we seek pardon, while resolving to amend our lives. 

As we ponder the actions and death of Judas, as we stand speechless over his ultimate act of despair, we recall Jesus’ words on the cross.

“Father, forgive them
for they know not what they do.”

Judas was included in that forgiveness.  Or could have been included in that forgiveness.  It was too late. He never believed he could know God’s forgiveness and love.