Saturday, June 27, 2015

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wis 1:13-15, 2:23-24
Ps 30:2,4,5,6,11-13,
2 Cor 8:7,9, 11-13
Mk 5:21-43

One of the most spectacular choruses in Handel's Messiah is a study in contrast.  In the superb recording by Boston Baroque it begins with a short minor chord on the organ after which the chorus sings a cappella: "Since by man came death, since by man came death."  Then the organ and orchestra explode in joy as the chorus proclaims: "By man came also the resurrection of the dead" three times.   Another somber chord leads into another a cappella passage:  "For as in Adam all die, for as in Adam all die."  That is followed by another explosion of rejoicing as organ, orchestra and chorus proclaim:  "Even so in Christ shall all be made alive" four times.  This contrast is apparent in today's readings. 

The first reading began with "God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living." 

God is not a sadistic marionetteer who induces personal tragedy in random fashion.  Nor is God a benign magician who guides a desperation pass into the arms of a receiver in the end-zone, not even the magnificent Flutie to Phalen pass at Miami, or, to think of it, the pass on 27 December that allowed Penn State to defeat Boston College.  Both ends of this continuum represent a faith that is fit only for three year-olds.

God created the world for humankind.  God created us in His own image to be imperishable.  We promptly rejected the gifts of that creation--we continue to reject the gifts of that creation--for the hubris of being completely self-determining.  Thus death entered the world.  And so it remains: hubris, sin, and death. But then we see hope in today's long Gospel reading. It would be easy to spend most of a semester on this particular Gospel passage.  Faith, death, ritual impurity, the significance of a 12 year-old girl and a 12 year duration of blood flow.  Sociology, medicine, theology, philosophy and more, all wrapped up in one reading.

In the gospel we hear what is sometimes called a "Markan Sandwich."  A Markan sandwich begins with a narrative that is interrupted by a different self-contained narrative followed by the conclusion of the first narrative.  The themes uniting both are faith and the most dire forms of ritual impurity: menstrual blood and death.

The woman was excluded from full-participation in the land of the living by her chronic state of ritual impurity.  That state was due to what today is called dysfunctional uterine bleeding.  Uterine cancer?  Firbroids?  No clue.  She was not only continuously bleeding; she was also infertile, something that was understood as a great curse.  Merely being touched by her, intentionally or unintentionally, would transmit that ritual impurity.  That contagion of impurity was a very bad thing for all concerned. 

In the situation of the young girl Jesus risked ritual impurity by touching her dead body.  Of course today we are much too sophisticated to believe in ritual impurity.  We are too modern to believe that contact with another individual could defile or contaminate us.  Yeah, right!

Try being a smoker.  Banished to the physical margins, a portico, a store overhang, the back porch, and being treated with disdain by a certain self-righteous tribe.  Suggest that animals have their place, and it does not equal that of humans, and one may be castigated or accused--horror of horrors--of being a "speciesist," whatever that might mean.   Are you against abortion?  Would you rather not kill grand pop because he is demented?  Don't admit that at a cocktail party in Manhattan.  "I could never socialize with someone with such unenlightened views" would be the sniffed retort.  We still believe in ritual impurity.  We call it by other names but we still believe in it.  Because of ritual impurity this is probably not a good week to display a confederate flag on the porch.

"Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead."  We heard this reiterated in the Alleluia verse:  "Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel."

He offers that life to all of us through faith, the faith of the woman who had heard about Jesus, a woman who was sufficiently daring to mingle with a crowd to whom she could impart her impurity. She risked being beaten for touching others.  She took the risk to touch Jesus' clothing so that she might be healed.  Jesus offers life to us through the faith of the little girl's father who was willing to endure the crowd's ridicule to seek help for his daughter.  Jesus' miracles did not cause faith. They were driven by faith.

Jesus offers us the same.  He offers us the same healing in the sacraments of the Church: in baptism that cleanses us from original sin and begins our journey into full communion with the Church.  He offers that healing in confession that removes the stain of the sins we consciously choose to commit.  He offers that healing at Mass where we are privileged to hear His word and receive His sacred body and blood.

In light of this great gift we sing with the psalmist:
"Hear O Lord, and have pity on me;
O Lord, be my helper.
You changed my mourning into dancing:
O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks."

Am recovering from a miserable cold.  It hit two days after I got home from Lorraine's funeral and laid me low for an entire week.  The coughing was severe and exhausting.  Sleep was difficult for several nights.  Am now on the mend though chanting is still a bit dicey.  However, I should be back to normal voice when I go to Regina Laudis in two weeks.  

School has finally ended in Boston after all the make-up time for the snow days.  I forgot that fact on Friday morning and, as a result, arrived at the convent for Mass rather early.  NO SCHOOL BUSES!!!!!!  Best part of summer.  

The photos below are a study in color, shape, texture and light.  They are closeups of the stained glass on the entrance ramp at St. Mary's Church in Plymouth, PA, my home parish.  The last one is a quick snapshot of the area to give an idea of what the windows look like as it would be impossible to tell from the first photos. 

Finally, the windows. These were done by Baut Studios in Swoyersville, PA, not too far from Plymouth.  Baut is a longstanding family owned and run stained glass studio that has received commissions from all over the world including the Vatican.  Magnificent work.  The technique of embedding thick pieces of glass in metal, at times very thick and heavy metal, is one of their innovations.  

Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More

What does it cost to take a stand for one’s faith?  What does it cost to go against the court of public opinion?  What does it cost to believe?  It costs a lot.  Today we celebrate the memorial of two great English martyrs. Both died because they held to the principles of their faith.  Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More were both martyred in 1535.  Their deaths were ordered by King Henry VIII because they opposed his plan to name himself head of the church so that he could divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.  Of course Henry went on to marry as many times as Elizabeth Taylor thereby making a mockery of the sacrament.  But, that is a different homily.

Both men had the courage of their convictions.  They stood alone in defying the king.  Fisher was the only bishop to speak out against the king’s plan.  But he did not criticize those bishops who lacked the courage to speak out.  Thomas More, who had held the highest legal post in England, would not budge from his principles.  He bore no ill will toward the judges who condemned him to death.  Neither man wavered in his beliefs.  Both died for them.  The courage of these two great saints should be a model for us when we have to speak out against the abuses of our age.  

We don’t face martyrdom in quite the same way.  We face something we may dread more.  Criticism.  We face being considered hopelessly “behind the times.”  We face ostracism or exclusion because of our beliefs. We face the public execution by the perpetually aggrieved. Trying saying in the public that Bruce Jenner is not a woman. The demands for apologies, groveling, and job loss would reach a fever pitch immediately.

Confucius described  “the rectification of names.”  One explanation of this key concept of Chinese philosophy is that the corruption of society begins with the failure to call things by their proper names… and its reconstruction begins with reattaching words to real things and precise concepts.   Is it women’s health care or abortion?  Is it death with dignity or killing a sick old man?  Is it just a little affair or is it adultery?  We cannot afford euphemisms that deny the reality of sin or rationalize it into something else.  We cannot bear the cost of words that normalize wrong or evil action. 

John Fisher and Thomas More died because they called the king’s actions what they were.  Sin. We should expect no less of ourselves.  We should expect no less of our Church.  

The cold is letting up.  Slowly.  The timing was perfect as I'd planned on being away for a few days but then canceled the plans after Lorraine died.  Thus I had no Mass commitments.  Good thing.  I can barely speak a sentence without coughing, much to the chagrin of some of my friends.  Going to Regina Laudis for a few days later.  I assume the chanting voice will have returned by then.  

When I was at Longwood I took over 400 photos.  Besides the water lilies a must stop is the orchid room.  Orchids are very different on the stem than leering up from the left shoulder of a prom gown.  In the sixties if it wasn't an orchid is was carnations died colors that God never planned for a carnation or any other flower.  As long as it matched the dress.  Bridezillas in training.  

Herewith, the orchids. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, June 12, 2015

Difficult Time

My oldest sister, Lorraine, died on Tuesday 2 June.   Her death, while sudden, was not entirely unexpected in the context of some medical problems that were diagnosed about a year ago.  It was one of those settings in which being a physician is a tremendous disadvantage.  We know too much.  That makes it difficult to deny the reality of the future.  The funeral was Wednesday 10 June.  I celebrated and preached.  The readings and homily are below. 

Lorraine lived in the Wilmington, DE area for at least 50 years.  I drove to PA the Thursday after she died and, after a few days in our hometown, checked into an Inn about 15 minutes away from the church.  It was also 15 minutes away from Longwood Gardens.  Once the homily was finished I went over to Longwood for several hours with the camera, the better to wrap my head around the changes that will overtake the family.  

Lorraine was 14 years old (our other sister Ellie was 10) when my twin brother and I were born.  We didn't really get to know each other until we were adults.  When I was in medical school at Temple in Philadelphia, it was about 1/2 mile walk to the North Philly train station and a similar distance to her house from the Claymont (DE) station.  We had great times together and she, for the most part, taught me to cook long distance.  We parted cooking ways when I began baking bread.  Though she was a superb cook she turned the page immediately upon seeing the word yeast.  

Wisdom 3:1-6,9
First Letter to the Corinthians 15L:51-57
John 14:1-6


" . . . in an instant
in the blink of an eye."

For Lorraine it was exactly that, an instant, a mere instant between life and eternal life.  For those of us left behind to mourn  it was, is, and will be for a long time, an instant we wish had not happened.  It was an instant that plunged us into a world of perplexity, a world of grief, a time of sorrow and confusion. It will take a long time before things seem to make some sense.  There is a degree of comfort in the reading from the ancient Book of Wisdom. But only a degree.

"The souls of the just
are in the hands of God
and no torment shall touch them."

Hearing these words of assurance  so soon after Lorraine's unexpected death gives us only a hint of comfort.  For now.   However, the readings from Wisdom, from Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, and from John's Gospel remind us that death is not the end.  It is a beginning.  It is a beginning that none of us can know or describe or fully apprehend no matter how hard we try.
Lorraine will be missed by many people.  She will be missed in a manner that will be unique to each of us.  She will be missed in a way that is specific to the nature of the relationship each of us had with her.  For many, if not most of us, it will be the absence of the little things in particular that will provoke  some of the most severe pangs of grief over the coming months and years.  It will be difficult at Christmas when I have to actually purchase for myself  the toothbrush and 12-pack of Penn State embossed pencils that arrived annually without fail for the past twenty or so years. 

Lorraine had a close relationship with our cousin Susan Gaylor and, in particular, with her daughter Rosie, now a 24 year-old who will start medical school in August.  Susan is in Ireland today and could not be here.  She sent a long letter of recollections of Lorraine.  I want to share some of them with you.

"I can remember the phone call from Lorraine as I lay in my hospital bed, holding Rosie who was one day old.  'Congratulations, and would you mind if Jim and I sort of adopted Rosie?'"  She went on to explain that Lorraine wanted to do special things for her on holidays and the like.

A forty-one year old first-time mother Susan wrote, "Mind?  I needed all the help I could get!!!"  She continued.  "Little did I realize what Lorraine would go on to do for us. There was all that exquisite needlepoint.  There were the carefully smocked dresses. They were works of art."  But, "over the years, Lorraine was always there.  She was not a distant supporter. First communion, confirmation, graduation .  .usually showing up with some wonderful delectable foods to share.

Lorraine was a role model for me. Raising an only child has certain challenges.  When I see the beautiful job Lorraine did raising Kate,  a strong, smart, successful and happy woman, it is inspiring.  One day Lorraine said,  'Don't worry, Susan, there IS life after 50!'  How right she was.  One only had to look at her and Jim planning their next trip or adventure."  She ended, "Yes, Lorraine, you were right, life is what you make it, and it can be great an any age.

Thank you for being such a great role model."

"Don't worry, Susan, there IS life after 50!"  For Lorraine there was life after 50, after 60, and deep, very deep, into her seventies.  But, it is the promise of our faith that there is always life, even after life as we know it on this earth, has ended. That is the gift of eternal life.

It is that sure knowledge, it is that faith in eternal life, that allowed St. Paul to ask, with a tone of defiance and perhaps even sarcasm,

"O death, where is thy victory,
O grave, where is thy sting?"

That faith is strengthened when we hear Jesus proclaim,

"I am the resurrection and the life,
whoever believes in me
will not die for ever"

Death has a different meaning for those who profess themselves to be Christian.  It is no longer simply an inevitable future to which you must resign yourself.  It is no longer a condemnation.  Dying in Christ is dying to death itself.  As we heard in the first reading moments ago,

"They seemed in the view of the foolish, to be dead, . . . but they are in peace."

In the Gospel, Jesus instructed his disciples, as he instructs us at this moment, "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God, have faith also in me."  We know, of course, that we will have a difficult time following this instruction.  Our hearts will be troubled for a long time. Our faith will waver, it may seem to disappear.  We hear of that tenuous faith in the Gospel when Thomas, the one who doubted Jesus' resurrection, asked,  ". . . we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?"

"How can we know the way?"  We will ask ourselves that question multiple times over the coming months. "How can we know the way?"

Many of you may not know that for a woman who did not drive, Lorraine was a superb navigator. She was better than GPS.  And she pre-dated GPS by a few years.  You ignored her instruction to turn right at your own peril.   (You know who you are.)

At the end of the Gospel Jesus replied to Thomas,  "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  We will leave this church bereaved but we are also called to leave with a small degree of comfort.

Lorraine always knew the way.  Now she knows the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis!

Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord`
and let perpetual light shine upon her.


The water liles at Longwood

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD