Monday, August 24, 2015

21st Sunday Ordinary Time

Did not have time to post this yesterday.  Today, 24 August, is the 18th anniversary of my entering the novitiate.  Better than my birthday that will be in a few days. 

Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Eph 5:21-32
Jn 6:60-69

The readings and gospel all present a problem for preaching. The reading from the 24th chapter of Joshua is a problem because it is discontinuous. After hearing the first two verses it jumps to verses fifteen to eighteen.  Joshua had led the people into the promised land.  He is now a dying old man.  He is making his valedictory address.  From verses two to fifteen Joshua reviews the history of what God had done for his people and how he led them in their journey.  We only heard that the people pledged their loyalty. 

Loyalty to God was the major point of the covenant.  Loyalty to the one with whom a covenant was made is always the most important element of the covenant. This includes the marriage covenant.  Being loyal to God is the first commandment.  In the flush of enthusiasm the people pledged that loyalty.  Alas, we know they would go on to forget the covenant many times. 

The reading from Ephesians is a problem because some people respond to it in hostile, defensive, angry or dismissive fashion. Or they ignore  the line "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands."  It is a prime example of responding negatively to something taken out of context without thought.  Many forget what immediately precedes it, "Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ."  The letter compares the relationship between husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and His Church.  Thus we hear, "even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her . . . so husbands should love their wives as their own body."  We cannot separate Christ from the Church of which he is the head. 

In the ideal marriage husband and wife subordinate their needs and desires to those of the other.  Both must be constantly aware that loving the other means honoring, obeying, and subordinating oneself to the other in equal measure.  And both are called in turn to subordinate themselves to God.  As one commentary puts it,  "Just as the God of old encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so Christ encounters Christian spouses in the sacrament of marriage.  He remains with them so that by their mutual self-giving spouses will love each other with enduring fidelity. . . " 

In the sacrament of marriage both man and woman, both woman and man, are called into a relationship of dignity and equality.   The common denominator in most failed marriages is the lack or loss of the mutual self-giving and sacrifice that are crucial to marriage.  The "irreconcilable differences" that seem to be the excuse for the failure of most celebrity marriages is, in fact, the result of a marital philosophy of  you do your thing and I'll do mine.  And don't bother me. 

The problem with John's Gospel is that we need to know the previous thirty verses so as to understand what the disciples were "murmuring" about.  Many of the disciples could not accept the revelation of Jesus as Bread of Life, as The Word Made Flesh.  They could not accept Jesus as the revelation of the Father. It got challenging. Thus  many of the disciples returned to their former ways of life and no longer followed Jesus.

Jesus even gave the twelve apostles the option to leave.   But Peter, acting as their spokesman said, "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."  This is a radical statement of faith. We must keep it in mind  because it describes the necessary growth and evolution of faith in each of us.  That faith is nurtured in the triple presence of Christ: his presence in the assembly of people at prayer, his presence in the word proclaimed in scripture and in His real presence in the Eucharist.

Through most of the past week the gospel readings at Mass have focused on being called and chosen.  We heard "many are called and few are chosen,"  "the last shall be first and the first shall be last."  This gospel reading reminds us that those who are called, that those who are chosen, are free to reject the revelation that is Jesus.  Many did.  Many do today.  Just as the Israelites forgot and rejected the covenant with God over and over, just as some of those who enter into the covenant of marriage ignore the terms of that covenant, there are those who reject the revelation of Jesus as Bread of Life, as the Word come down from Heaven. 

They are to be pitied.

Some of the photos from the recent trip to California.  I made one error in not taking a tripod.  The opportunities for night photography are splendid.  I had one lens that could mostly manage but barely.  

The campus at Loyola Marymount (LMU) is beautiful.  It is very spread out, dotted with palm trees and quite flat.  The university sits on a bluff overlooking LA with views from the ocean to many miles to the east.  The backdrop for the cityscape is mountains.  I'd only been there once before, nine years ago and, because I did not have a camera at the time, did not remember much about the setting.  

The chapel in which the vows was held is simple but not stripped down.  Indeed, it has pews rather than chairs that would allow it to be a "multi-purpose" space.  A chapel should not be a multi-purpose space.  It has one purpose and one purpose only:  prayer.  

The entrance.  There are three gothic arches over the porch area.  Interesting saw-tooth pattern. 

The view of the chapel from the sanctuary.  The chapel was packed for the vow Mass. 

The stained glass windows at eye-level along the aisle are each dedicated to a famous man though not necessarily a saint.  I've always been a fan of Thomas More. 

The view of the chapel from the back with the focus on the holy water font.  

There is a piece of the Berlin Wall on Campus.

This cluster of houses was fascinating.  It sits at the base of the bluff. The stark white broken up with blocks of primary color bring Mondrian to mind. 

The view of LA from the bluff.  The weather was close to perfect.  There was no smoke from the forest fires to the north. 

A reflection of LA in the rounded glass wall of the library. 

LA by night.  Why did I not think to take the tripod?  I had space. 

I am going on retreat on Saturday 29 August until the Sunday before Labor Day (eight days).  Please keep me in your prayers.  Looking forward to the silence and isolation.  Will be at the Abbey. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, August 14, 2015

An Anniversary and a New Jesuit

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Prov 9:1-6
Ps 33
Eph 5:15-20
Jn 6:51-58

Last Saturday, the Chapel of the Sacred Heart at Loyola Marymount University-Los Angeles was packed. Behind the processional cross eight men, all in clerical dress, preceded the celebrants.  Mass went on as usual until communion.  After the Lamb of God the Jesuit Provincial of California stood in front of the altar. He was holding the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord. The eight men were kneeling at the foot of the altar.  One by one, each man began,

“Almighty and eternal God. 
I understand how unworthy I am in your divine sight. 
Yet I am strengthened
by your infinite compassion and mercy,
and I am moved by the desire to serve you. . . . “ 

He continued for a bit longer.  When he returned to his place he was a perpetually vowed Jesuit.  Sixteen years  ago I read the same vow formula that, except for being in English rather than Latin, has not changed in centuries. 
The Jesuit vow Mass is unusual because rather than pronouncing vows after the homily as in other orders, the men pronounce their vows kneeling in front of the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord, just as St. Ignatius of Loyola and his original companions did 471 years ago yesterday, August 15, 1534.  The newly vowed man then partakes of the Eucharistic Banquet, the banquet that Jesus brought to its fullest expression.  The banquet in which you will share in a few minutes.

The first reading describes the banquet that Wisdom has prepared for all who choose to partake.  True wisdom comes from God, who gave humans, and only humans, hearts capable of discerning good from evil, hearts capable of returning God’s love with love.  A few verses after the end of this reading one reads:  “The beginning of Wisdom is fear of the Lord; and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” 

The reading from Ephesians gives good advice.  “Do not drug yourselves with wine.”  Paul is not referring only to drinkable wine. He is referring to the wine of power, the wine of money, the wine of sensual pleasure, the wine of Florida condos and yachts, and the resulting intoxication that clouds one's judgment.  Paul is referring to the drunkenness that takes one’s mind from discerning God’s will to the inebriation that destroys Wisdom. 

Here in the Valley we are too familiar with the stories of those intoxicated by power, money and QUOTE the good life UQUOTE.  The names of the corrupt tripped off our tongues. It was quite a list.  How many lives have been damaged by these senseless people, drunk on their own greed and intoxicated by their lust for power and possessions?  Contrast this drunkenness on the wine of power and the gluttony at the banquet of money with the Gospel. 

Jesus tells the crowds:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven: Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

At the end He reiterates.

“This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Jesus wants to guide us on a challenging journey of faith.  A journey for which we are nourished at the Eucharistic Banquet.  Unlike the wine of power and greed, unlike the junk food of position and privilege, partaking of the banquet of the Eucharist, hearing and following the Word of God, brings us to eternal life. 

However, there is one thing we must never ever forget.  Jesus is NOT promising that our lives will be free of pain and suffering.  Jesus is not promising that we won’t die, sometimes peacefully and sometimes after a prolonged struggle.  Jesus is not promising that those we love won’t die, be it before their time or after a long long life. We all must die if we are to know eternal life.  Eternal life is possible only through the Living Word, through Jesus the Son of God.  It is only possible because Jesus gave Himself for our salvation.  Eternal life is possible only if we avail ourselves of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  In a few moments, just as those brand new Jesuit scholastics did last Saturday, you will kneel and gaze up at the Body and Blood of Christ. You will hear the words:

”Behold the Lamb of God.
Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called
to the supper of the Lamb."

You are being invited to the banquet of Wisdom.  You are being invited to the banquet that leads to eternal life. You need only respond: Amen.  So be it.
Two Happy Jesuits.  

Only one photo today.  I am in my home town to baptize the fifth grandchild of very long time friends.  That the baptism coincides with the 12th (or so) annual kielbasa festival makes it a bit more interesting.  Haven't been to this event in about seven years.  Spent some time wandering around.  Ran into a number of people from high school who I haven't seen in years.  Pierogi for lunch today.  Kielbasa tomorrow.  Probably lunch and dinner. 

I was in Los Angeles last week for vows.  That was apparent in the homily.  It was a lot of travel for a weekend but worth every leg cramp.  I've known Ryan for four years when he was still wondering if he was being called to the Society.  There is no doubt in my mind that he was.  It was very moving to see him and the other seven men, pronounce their vows one by one.  It hearkened back to our vow Mass back in 1999 (last century!).  There was a sense of solidarity and renewal for all the men attending the Mass.  Perhaps friends and families of the men did not, some never will, understand exactly what each man did.  But those of us who have pronounced vows were with the each man with every word he said.

It is odd to look back on each of the steps in formation that we all have in common.  Entry day, the long retreat, the experiments, the Jesuit history course, the long experiment, the vow retreat a few days before vows, and that moment of approaching the altar, kneeling and repeating the formula.  That was only the beginning.  There was much more.  Ordination, tertianship and then final vows.  Jesuit final vows are a very different experience from first vows.  The formula is different, there is a fourth vow for many, and there are the simple vows after Mass.  I suggested that my siblings and family not attend.  I pronounced the vows on a weekday, it would have been a very long and costly trip and it was over in three minutes.  The second part, the simple vows and signing the documents, takes place in the sacristy with only other Jesuits present.  "We drove all that way for that?"  It would have been a reasonable question.  No drama, prostrations, litanies, signing documents on the altar or anything else.  I like it that way. 

I explain to people who are surprised that I am not going to my second home town, Philadelphia, when the pope is there that I don't need to see him.  I know him.  We had the same experiences of walking into the novitiate on entry day, going through formation, vows, ordination, and so on.  Religious can identify with each other on a fundamental level, even across orders and congregations.

I drive back to Boston very early Monday.  In town for twelve days and then it is time for my eight-day retreat.  Will be counting the days.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD