Friday, May 29, 2015

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity compels us to consider the most important truth of our faith.  We recall this truth every time we begin and end Mass.  We invoke the Trinity every time we pray.  We call upon the Trinity whenever we say the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  What we call the Trinitarian formula is critical to every sacrament from baptism to the anointing of the sick and dying. The sign of the cross with the Trinitarian formula begins and ends everything the Church does.  As it should.

We read in The Catechism of the Catholic Church,  “Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. "  I would add that they are never, and can never be, baptized in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, a formula that some with delicate but bizarre sensitivities would like to use.

The Catechism continues, "The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith . . . (It is) the light that enlightens them.  It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.”

The most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.

Every time we make the sign of the cross, we recall a mystery that is inexplicable. The Trinity remains inexplicable despite the vast number of books written about it.  Though each book may contain a bit of insight into the nature of the Trinity, no book captures the essence of the Trinity.  No book, or the sum of all books, will ever capture that full essence.  The dogma of the Trinity depends on faith and faith alone.

One definition of faith is:  “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.”  Another definition of faith comes from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the conviction of things unseen.”   Both definitions tell us something important in light of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity:  There will never be a logical proof of that doctrine.

We must become comfortable with the definition of faith as mysterious because despite the absence of logical proof, despite the impossibility of philosophy or science to begin to explain the Trinity,  one cannot call oneself Christian if he or she denies the Trinity.  Father.  Son.  Holy Spirit.

Many of you have probably heard the story that I did back in grade school a lot of decades ago.  It still serves to illustrate the impossibility of understanding the dogma of the Trinity.  The great theologian and philosopher St. Augustine was walking along a beach trying to understand One God in Three Divine Persons.  He wanted to explain the Trinity through logic.   He saw a child who had dug a hole in the sand.  The child was walking back and forth between the water and the hole with a small cup.  He would fill the cup at the water’s edge and then empty it into the hole in the sand.  Augustine observed this for a while and then moved closer to ask what he was doing.  The child responded that he was emptying the sea into the hole.  Augustine asked, “How do you expect to be able to empty something as vast as the sea into this small hole?”  The child responded, “I can empty the sea into this hole more easily than you can understand the Trinity.” 

The child’s point is still valid.  Only through faith can we understand some things that our inadequate intelligence will never be able to comprehend.  Even if we were to comprehend the Trinity, the limits of human vocabulary, the emptiness of all languages, the pallid nature of similes and metaphors, would not allow us to explain it in a way that others could understand.

The word Trinity does not appear anywhere in the Bible.  Rather, the understanding of the Trinity grew in the early years of the Church as the Church began to consider what Jesus had said and done during His time on earth.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine that in the unity of God there are three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each of these three Persons is God.  There is only One God  yet the Persons are distinct. Thus, Jesus always speaks of His Father as distinct from Himself, yet also notes that  “I and the Father are One.”  The same is true of the Holy Spirit.

We are accustomed to persons being distinct and not the same, even when the persons are identical twins. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around three in one the same yet distinct.  Thus, Augustine’s walk along that distant shore. 

Over the past weeks many of the gospels have been taken from the farewell discourse of John’s Gospel.  Jesus refers to both the Father and the Holy Spirit in reference to Himself several times throughout this farewell.  Ultimately though, the Trinity is, and will remain forever, a mystery.

The Gospel antiphon following the Alleluia tells us everything we need to know.  "Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to God who is, who was, and who is to come."
A very busy couple of weeks.  Spent Wednesday to Sunday before Memorial Day at Regina Laudis.  It was a nice time to be there.  So as not to repeat the dreadful drive of Easter Sunday that took 3 1/2 hours (should be about 2 1/2) I left not too long after Mass on Pentecost.  Will go back in July.  

Today is the 40th anniversary of our graduation from Temple Medical.  Shocking in some ways.  Despite sounding like the cliche that it is, it doesn't seem to have been that long.  But after forty years in medicine I can say I've done it all my life.  On Thursday night I sent an e-mail with some of the photos below to several friends with whom I have stayed in touch these forty years.  

The Kresge Building.  This was where it all happened.  I have strong memories of walking into that building the first time and being struck by its ugliness.  It wasn't too great inside.  Brutalist architecture was one of the saddest chapters in the history of American architecture.  The building was dark, cold, ungainly, and ugly.  Almost no natural light came through the small slit windows in the second photo.  The sad thing is that building faced directly east. It would have been nice to have direct sunlight at least some of the time.  

The building beyond Kresge was the research building.  It had no windows.  The guy who designed the building and the deans who thought it was a good idea should have been shot. 

John Franklin "Daddy" Huber, PhD.   Dr. Huber was universally called Daddy.  He interviewed me.  It was a pleasant interview of which I still have fond memories.  At one point Dean Brigham happened into the room.  He asked if I wanted a Coke.  Given that my mouth was so dry that my tongue was like a velcro blood pressure cuff on the roof of my mouth I was more than happy to accept.  At that point the dean carefully picked a few quarters of of his pocket, disappeared for a minute and returned from the soda machine in the "mezzanine" that was actually in the basement with two cans of Coke.  

The mailboxes.  These haven't changed though I don't think they are in use any longer now that the new school is opened.  These were a lifeline to the outside world in a day before e-mail, texting and face time.  

Jones Hall.  This was a dorm.  A number of the women in our class lived there during freshman year.  The roof was the scene of many a boozy party.  Superb views of Center City Philadelphia.  

The "Old Medical School."  I referred to it as that when I came home from my first semester. Dad asked what the "old" medical school looked like.  When I told him he noted that it was the brand new medical school when he was there (graduated in 1931).  It opened in 1929 or 30.  Unfortunately it is slated for demolition.  It was a much warmer, friendlier, and attractive building than bloody Kresge. 

Sitting on the wall.  A lot happened on that wall.  We ate lunch there on nice days.  Sat out there reading, chatting or trying to get a date.  There were a number of food trucks in front.  Cheap, good, and high volume food.  Yeah, that's me.  Forty years gone by.  Wow.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

6th Monday of Easter

Acts 16:11-15
Ps 149
Jn 15:26-16:4a

The first reading and the gospel illustrate the ideal of the Church and the challenges for us as believers.  The newly converted Lydia said “’If you really think me a true believer in the Lord, come and stay with us,’ and she would take no refusal.”  That statement contrasts with Jesus' warning in the Gospel, a warning that remains relevant today. 

Jesus describes two risks to believers: loss of faith and persecution.  The two are frequently related.  The words so that your faith may not be shaken” can also be translated as “to keep you from falling away.” “to keep you from stumbling.” or to keep you from scandal.”

Falling away is a risk to all believers.  No one is immune.  Faith that goes untended, faith that is not nourished by prayer, contemplation on scripture and,  particularly the Eucharistic banquet, is at serious risk in times of persecution. 

Unlike the current situation in the Middle East our lives are not at risk, because of our faith in Jesus.  However, we are subject to a different form of persecution.  A persecution that some may find as painful as imprisonment.  It is the persecution of ostracism, of being considered hopelessly behind the times.  It is the persecution of being mocked.  It is the persecution seen in an event last year when Harvard University chose to permit a "Black Mass," a sacrilege against the Blessed Sacrament.  The permission was withdrawn when Cardinal O'Malley made his fury known.  It is the persecution of those who argue that it should have been allowed to go on because of free speech, an idea that no longer exists in this country for certain groups. 

We face the persecution of being asked, “how can someone as smart as you believe all that stuff?”  Some, in their desire to be seen as hip, modern, cool, or progressive willingly abandon their faith. 

It is difficult to stand up for the sacredness of marriage between a man and woman in a society saturated by sex and enamored of perversion.  One may be roundly criticized for speaking against the culture of death.  One may be demonized for insisting that abortion is not a form of women’s health care, particularly for the large number of girl babies aborted in China and India.   Somehow those who oppose killing grandma because she has Alzheimer’s are the ones criticized for being callous and cruel. 

The reasons are easy to understand.  “They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.”  Our choice is to fall away or to say to Jesus the same words that Lydia said to Paul, “Come and stay with us.”

Granted today is the 6th Tuesday of Easter.  However, good intentions got waylaid by exhaustion.  It was too far to walk from the recliner to the desk.  The bed was closer.

One of my favorite photo settings is through windows.  The first photo was taken in October at Regina Laudis.  The red shed is not too far from the men's guest house.  Am going to try to recapture the shot next week.  Nice project would be to take the same shot in each of the four seasons.   The second is through a window in a previously unused and junky shed at the Gloucester retreat house.  I took it in November.  About a year ago I went back to retake the photo.  Big mistake.  The shed had been converted into a small chapel.  It is a lovely small chapel  but the ghastly wire (chicken wire) put on the windows to keep out critters, made any significant photography impossible.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Off the Highway. Finally

6th Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Ps 98
1 Jn 4:7-10
Jn 15:9-17

The Acts of the Apostles and John's Gospel are prominent during the Easter Season.  Acts tells of the Church's early history.  It describes the growth and success of the apostles' mission, as well as the conflicts and squabbles during that mission. The Gospel from the farewell discourse in John, recalls Jesus' teaching on love.

One of the things that has mystified and amused me over the years is apostle bashing.  Apostle bashing is a very popular indoor sport in theology schools and among scripture scholars.  It reaches its peak during Lent when we are reminded of the apostles misstatements and miscues and, of course, Peter's triple denial.  Alas, the bashers never admit, in fact they are blissfully unaware, that their underlying assumptions are: I never would have acted that way.  I never would have misunderstood, rejected, or tried to manipulate Jesus were I there. Like I would have TOTALLY understood everything.  

The reality is that none of us would have responded any better than the apostles.  Most likely, we would have reacted to Jesus' teaching more like the Pharisees and lawyers.  The bashers have little to say about the apostles' behaviors and motivations, especially Peter's, after Jesus' glorification.  You don't have to be too psychiatrically sophisticated to figure out why. 

Over the past weeks we have seen a different Peter.  He is now confident, eloquent and humble. This is quite a contrast to the brash, shoot-from-the-hip-and-the-lip target of the bashers.  The man who swung a sword in Gethsemane is now abashed by Cornelius' homage.  "Get up.  I myself am also a human being."  The man who denied Jesus three times, now fearlessly preaches Jesus' death and resurrection in hostile territory.  Quite a change.

This particular reading from Acts is not continuous.  We miss much of what the newly eloquent Peter said to Cornelius and his guests.  We miss the background that makes Peter's statements radical.  Peter is preaching against an exclusivist tendency in the Judaism of the time.  He is preaching against our own desire for exclusivism.  That God is impartial, was not, and is not, a new or uniquely Christian teaching. The statement that whoever fears him and acts "uprightly is acceptable to him" is not radically novel in Christianity.  

The late Jesuit Biblical scholar Xavier Leon-Dufour traces the idea of God's impartiality back to the Old Testament, beginning with the psalms and moving to Jonah.  He writes, ". . .gradually we see the emergence of the idea that apart from the Jew Yahweh's love even embraces the pagans as well. . ."   Thus it is no surprise that Peter ordered that the Gentiles be given baptism. 

The second reading from the First Letter of John and the reading from John's Gospel are perfectly intertwined.  "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins."  This verse recalls Paul's Letter to the Romans, "(God) shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."  

John and Paul both defined the human condition: we are sinners.  And they described God's response to that condition: His love.  We are sinners loved by God.  That is why we rejoice during this Easter Season. We are sinners loved by God and redeemed by God.

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  . . . Love one another." These words are among the most poignant and comforting in John's Gospel. 

One important dimension of friendship is that we are never really separated from true friends.  It doesn't matter if there are thousands of miles between friends, or if dementia wrecks in the mind and memory of one, or if one or the other has died. The relationship between friends never ends.  It never ends because true friends are united by love.  Love never dies.  Love never succumbs to dementia.  Love never moves away. 

As our friendship with Jesus grows, as his dwelling in us permeates deeper into our beings, it becomes more natural for us to share that love with others.  That sharing is less through our words than our actions responding to the needs of the other. 

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman defined our friendship with Jesus, and the ideal relationship between two people,  when he chose his motto:  Cor ad Cor Loquitur.  Heart speaks unto Heart.

He wrote the following prayer about friendship:

"Shine through me Jesus
and be so in me
that every soul I come in contact with
may feel your presence in my soul.
Let them look up
and see no longer me,
but only You."


Living out of a suitcase for two weeks got a bit old.  As there were a few one-night stops I packed a small bag for easy in and out (not counting the camera case and briefcase) and only dragged in the big suitcase for longer stays.  Started with a quick trip to Plymouth (overnight) and thence to D.C. to give a lecture at 3 PM after which I drove up to Wilmington, DE in rush hour traffic.  Not pretty.  The following day it was off to Philly, 40 minutes away.  Pulled into Old St. Joseph Church at 4th and Walnut.  The reason for Philly was my 40th  reunion from Temple Medical.  Had a very good time.  Picked two classmates up at the airport at 9.  As they couldn't check into hotel until 3 we spent a few hours wandering the chilly streets.  Will detail that in the photos.  Later Friday night five of us went to Sue's house in at the western edge of Philly.  The proof that it was a good time was that at midnight we were still sitting at her dining room table talking and laughing.  Forty years.  Wow!  We met in 1971 and that was long ago.  

The reunion was very good.  Saw some guys I haven't seen in forty years and others I saw five years ago.  Will certainly go to the 45th.  

From Philly I headed to visit some cousins and thence to State College to give a talk.  After the talk on dying (at a retirement facility) I went to visit another college roommate in Woodstock, MD and thence back to D.C. to baptize the newborn daughter of a former colleague in the psychiatry department.  

I expected to crash when I got back on Monday at noon (very early departure from Plymouth) but was a bit miffed that Tuesday was a total loss.  Could hardly move.  Fortunately no big travel between now and August.  Quick trip to NYC for province assembly and a few days at Regina Laudis later this month.  

While on the road I took a lot of photos.  Today will focus on Philly, a city I dearly love.  While Pam, Mary Ann, and I were wandering I was taking mostly snapshots.  Saturday AM I was alone and had more time to wander the Society Hill and South Street areas and think a little more.  

A favorite photographic exercise is to take photos with the intention of changing them into black and white.  The first role of film I ever shot in 1977 was black and white.  With the right subject it is much more interesting than color as it causes one to focus on shape, color, texture and content rather than being distracted by brilliant color.  

While on the way to the Reading Terminal Market for a soft pretzel I took this shot looking west on 10th and Market.  Never noticed how the tower of the new building mirrors City Hall.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church is not far from Old St. Joseph.  The graveyard extends to colonial times.  

The Second Bank was built during colonial times.  The columns are fantastic. 

There is a large heavy wrought iron balustrade in front.  This is the detail of one of the components. 

Stumbled across the bridal shop on Walnut St.  Note how the bodice of the gown echoes the arches of the windows.  

Philly is also very colorful.  The blossoms on St. Peter's Way, a small alley connecting Willings Alley with Locust St. were just coming into bloom. 

Two views of Independence Hall.  Shooting from the sidewalk that is about five feet below grade allowed me to get the tulips.  

The (relatively) new Constitution Center is a tad expensive to visit, even for the elderly.  The second photo is a view looking back toward Independence Hall to the south. 

Then there is eating in Philly.  One of the places I still miss is the Reading Terminal Market.  Lived about a mile away.  Every Saturday I wasn't on call I went there to food shop.  I restrained myself and had only a soft pretzel.  However, I couldn't resist taking a shot of my favorite neon sign there.  Good advice too. 

Then we have the antithesis of John Yi's advice.  Jim's Cheesesteak at 4th and South.  I hadn't had one of those in 15 years.  I corrected that slight on Friday.  Of course it was with: onion and whiz (Cheeze Whiz).  Am still paying for that indulgence but I'll recover in a few weeks.   Great art-deco look.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD