Monday, October 26, 2015

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Ps 126
Mk 10:46-52

"Master, I want to see." 
"Master, I want to see." 

What did Bartimaeus' voice sound like?  Was it high or low, loud or soft?  What was the tone of his voice?  Was it angry and demanding or desperate and pleading?  What did his face look like?  What was his posture?  Enter into this narrative as if you were in the cast of a movie about Jesus. Place yourself in the scene.  Spend as much time as you wish recreating it. This composition of the scene and placing yourself in the action is one of the fundamental practices of contemplation as St. Ignatius described in the Spiritual Exercises.  Be there in as much detail as you can create or as long as you can tolerate.

We are all Bartimaeus, at least some of the time.  We are all blind to God's presence in our lives, at least some of the time. That blindness may come on us suddenly as we stand at the bedside of a dying spouse or watch the house burn down.  Bartimaeus' plea, "Master I want to see" may emerge from our lips in different words:  The angry WHY? of the suddenly bereaved, the desperate Help Me! as cancer pain becomes worse. Where is your mercy?  Where is your power?  Where . . . . .is your love?  We are all Bartimaeus.  We are all, at some point, that man sitting at the roadside blind, disoriented, confused and desperate to see and understand.

One of the challenges of getting old is seeing. Or rather, the challenge is loss of the ability to see in the same way we saw at age twenty-five.  Cataracts.  Macular degeneration. Diabetic eye disease. Glaucoma. They all impair the ability to see.  But even in uncomplicated aging, the changes in the eye result in diminished vision.  By age sixty the retina receives only receives one-third the light than it did at twenty-one.  THAT is why gray-haired old dudes like me--I am now a patient in the geriatric medicine clinic at MGH--that is why gray-haired old dudes always have the high beams on.  CAUSE THEY CAN'T SEE WITH THE LOW BEAMS.  Even when we are not blind to Jesus, we can always see better.  It is rather like  cleaning our glasses, putting them on, getting a stronger prescription, or the startling improvement in vision after cataract extraction and lens implant.  With prayer, with the sacraments, with contemplation on God's word, we can always see even better.

Whenever we hear one of Jesus' healing miracles, it is important to remember that those miracles did not create faith in a vacuum. They were not like David Henning's magic tricks. They were not feats meant to awe, amaze, confuse and impress people. With one or two exceptions faith in Jesus' ability to make him whole, faith in Jesus' ability to return her to society, prompted the request for healing.  (We will hear one of the exceptions in tomorrow's Gospel). Thus we heard Bartimaeus say, "I want to see."  Jesus said nothing about vision to him. "Go . .  your faith has made you well."  That's all. "Go, your faith has made you well." Jesus is saying the same thing to us. He says the same thing to us. Your faith has made you well.  And your faith keeps you well.

"They left in tears 
I will comfort them 
as I lead them back 
I will guide them."  

Sometimes we need Jesus to find us when we are lost, when we are blind, when we are confused and hurting.  All of us go out in life full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing.  Sowing is backbreaking, exhausting, and painful work. That is the reality of life, it is the cross of being human.  But as we come back rejoicing, carrying the sheaves we realize what God has done for us. We know what God will do for us.

"Master, I want to see."

That should be our prayer for all of this coming week.

Life has been very busy.  A little too busy.  I've been on the road and will be heading out again soon.  Driving 300 or 400 miles each way is tiring.  In general I leave a day earlier than needed so as to have recovery time.  Am putting the finishing touches on a talk on aging and driving that I will be giving in State College, PA.  Fascinating topic.  It is a lot more fascinating, a anxiety-provoking, the deeper one goes into old age.  

American Jesuits are all required to take the AARP 55 and Alive class at 70.  At 75, when the rate and incidence of driving impairment increases, each man must take an on-road supervised driving exam with an occupational therapist, not a driving school.  four years to the course and nine to the driving test.  

The photos below are an example of my first attempt at light painting.  My niece has a pond on her property.  The pond has a dock, the end of which floats on pontoons.  I went down in the early AM to get photos of some of the leaves.  While adjusting my stance on the dock I noticed the reflections in the ripples.  So, I began to bounce up and down on the dock and take photos of the reflections in the ripples.  The first few were early in the AM, before the sun was visible on the water.  After breakfast I took some with much more sun resulting in a dramatic difference in color and effect. 

A photo of the reflections before I started bouncing on the dock. 

The first three were taken in the early AM and the last three around 10:30 AM.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Good Samaritan (27th Monday of Ordinary Time)

Luke 10:25-37

The Good Samaritan is a parable which Jesuit Father Joe Fitzmyer, S.J. notes,  “. . . supplies a practical model for Christian conduct, and  includes radical demands that require the approval or rejection of certain modes of action.”  However, the parable of the Good Samaritan is more than that.  It is an image.  It is an image which, along with the Prodigal Son, is part of the English language, even among those who profess no faith, even among those who are militantly atheistic.  A generic definition for Good Samaritan is, “A compassionate person who unselfishly helps another.”   The Good Samaritan is much more than just a nice guy.
The bumper sticker that advises one to “commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” annoys me beyond tolerance.  It annoys me almost as much as baby on board stickers on cars to which I want to scream, "Then drive carefully."  Perhaps my annoyance springs from the words random and senseless. The Samaritan did not commit a random act of kindness.  That would have been too easy.   The critical component in this parable is that the Samaritan made a commitment to another. 

“Look after him, and if there is any further expense I will repay you on my way back,”   It was the act of making a commitment, the creation of a future relationship, that took this act from the category of random good deed or senseless act of beauty into something more important.     

Suppose the two pieces of silver didn't cover all of the expenses and the Samaritan didn’t return because he forgot?  Or he didn’t feel like stopping?  Or was too busy and took a shorter route back?  Or, the dreaded, SOMETHING came up?   The victim would have been stuck with the bill.  Since he was robbed of everything, he might have been put in prison as a debtor. 

What does it cost someone else when I break a commitment?  What is the impact on another when I renege on a promise?  What does it cost us when we break a commitment or renege on a promise?

Like many of the parables the parable of the Good Samaritan is ultimately frustrating.  The story ends too soon.   It is like seeing only the first act of a two-act play.  We don’t know if the Samaritan kept his word. The Samaritan forced the innkeeper into a commitment he may not have wanted.   Did he care for the man or did he pocket the silver?  

Perhaps it's better to have only part of the story.  The incompleteness allows us to insert ourselves into the parable and explore it's meaning without a preordained conclusion, or a comfortable: And they lived happily ever after.  We don’t know if the Samaritan kept his word.  We don’t know if the innkeeper kept up his part of the bargain. However, we know that Jesus keeps His word to us.    We know that Jesus’ commitment has never wavered.  We need only go to Him in prayer and we will be cared for.  No silver necessary.
It has been a while since I've posted.   Busy is part of the answer.  I've been on the road a bit with a trip to Germantown, NY coming up to give some lectures.  I concelebrated the wedding Mass of a former college roommate.  Both were widowed a few years ago.  It was one of the most enjoyable weddings I've ever attended.  Long drive back and forth but in the end it was worth every leg cramp.  

Attached are some fall photos.  So far things are looking good.  There are some dramatic oranges and scarlets appearing in spotty fashion.  We are about a week away from the usual peak.  These are from last year as I've not been out.  I will take the camera to Germantown, a town just off the Taconic Parkway overlooking the Hudson.  See what I can get during the off hours.  

The read leaves clinging to the slightly pink plaster outside wall caught my attention.  It screams "FALL."  Bit of trivia.  If an American says fall in Australia the Australian has no idea what he is talking about.  Autumn?  Yes.  Fall?  Excuse me?  Eucalypts don't drop their leaves.  

 Squirrel grabbing a quick snack.

St. Joseph Abbey at sunrise.  As I'd already been in the chapel for vigils at 3:30 AM there was no real effort being up for sunrise. 

The abbey infirmary at sunrise. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD