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

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