Sunday, September 25, 2016

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time . . . . in Ljubljana

Am 6:1a, 4-7
Ps 146
1 Tm 6:11-16
Lk 16:19-31

The warning in the first reading from Amos is harsh.  The description of the people is contemporary.

“Woe to the complacent of Zion . . .
Lying upon beds of ivory
they eat lamb taken from the flock
they anoint themselves with the best oils . . .

Perhaps today Amos would write,

“Woe to the self-obsessed
slouched in front of their computers.
They eat fast food taken from a bag,
wear too much perfume and inject Botox.” 

The Book of Amos repeatedly stresses social and political ills in general terms.  Thus, it can be read in the context of our own time. There are social and political ills in every country. These are caused by, and contribute to, a variety of personal ills.  There are social and political sins that contribute to our human propensity to sin.  It seems that individual sin drives social sin, and social sin allows individuals more creative opportunities for individual sin. How much of our current economic situation grew out of, and is maintained by, the sin of greed, both corporate and individual greed?

“Therefore now they shall go into exile
and their wanton revelry
shall be done away with.”

Amos’ warning is a stark contrast to Paul’s letter.  Given the context of Amos’ message and the Gospel it is a pity that the second reading didn’t begin with verse ten rather than verse eleven.  Verse ten is the well-known. “For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through their craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.”   THEN we hear Paul’s charge to Timothy in the proper context,  “BUT as for you . . . .pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.”

It is fascinating that the line  "For the love of money is the root of all evils," is generally misquoted as "money is the root of all evil."  They do not mean the same thing.  Money itself is not necessarily the root of all evil.  Money is a necessity. Emotional attachment to money, to obtaining ever more and more, loving, adoring, or worshipping it is the root of all evil.

This evil may be on a corporate level.  Currently in the U.S. the immaculately coifed and fabulously dressed Heather Bresch, the daughter of a U.S. senator, whose compensation last year was over $8,700,000, is defending herself for increasing the price of the Epi Pen for anaphylactic shock from $100 to $600 for two. The cost of the epinephrine, the active drug, is mere pennies per dose. The rest is delivery system, advertising, costs, and of course, her obscene salary.  On the individual level, one reads far too many stories about the church secretary or the treasurer of the fire company, who diverts many thousands of dollars to his or her personal use. The love of and desire for more money, drives all of them into sin.

The parable sometimes referred to as Dives and Lazarus is unique to Luke's Gospel.  The names are important though only one of them appears in the Gospel narrative.  Lazarus, is derived from the Hebrew El azar which means “God has helped.”  Obviously the name is no accident.  We heard, “When the poor man died he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.”  God had indeed helped him.  Tradition gave the rich man his name.  Dives is a Latin adjective for rich.  Thus Dives and Lazarus, The Rich Man and the One God has helped.  The first part of the parable describes a reversal of fortune. Upon his death Lazarus, the beggar, was carried to Abraham’s bosom. Upon his death, Dives, the man who had it all, was tormented in the netherworld.  The second half of the parable is a conversation between the rich man and Abraham.  It is instructive. 

Dives is not portrayed as a particularly bad man. He is not wicked or malevolent. True, he dressed well. He ate a rich diet and lived in comfortable surroundings. He was a man who enjoyed the rewards of his hard work. The rich man was not necessarily evil.  He was blind. He was oblivious.  He was oblivious to the suffering around him.  He didn’t notice it.  Lazarus, like the poor in our streets today, was merely a part of the landscape. He was passed by, stepped over, or avoided by crossing the street. Dives, the wealthy man, bore him no ill-will. He was not hostile. He didn't notice.  Lazarus was there but invisible.

Dives is not without merit.  He accepted that Lazarus could not cross the chasm to ease his thirst. He didn't protest.  He didn't whine.  He didn't argue.  He didn't plead.  But he wanted to prevent his equally oblivious and blind brothers from suffering the same fate. It couldn't be done. If his brothers wouldn't listen to Moses and the prophets, they would not be persuaded even if someone rose from the dead. Just like Dives and his brothers we have Moses and the Prophets. Unlike this rich man and his brothers we also have Jesus. Jesus who suffered, died and rose from the dead to save us from sin.

Why do we not listen to him either? 

Arrived in Ljubljana two days ago after an overnight flight from Boston to Munich.  Smooth and pleasant flight.  The big surprise was being able to watch the Patriots-Oilers game live. Nice win!  For Patriots fans.  After three hours in Munich spent drinking coffee I hopped Adria Airways for the 35 minute flight to Ljubljana.  Thirty minutes later I was in my room, same one as in the winter.  

The jet lag is slowly receding.  On Friday I thought I'd been hit by an 18-wheeler.  Today it feels like a smaller truck.  The weather is glorious.  It feels just like September in Boston though the nights are a bit colder.  The city is bustling during the day with tourists everywhere.  Sidewalk cafes that I thought were small and quaint are quite large.  Only a fraction of the tables were outdoors during the winter.  

I will be here until July or so.  The homily above was given at the English language Mass this AM.  I will take it over next week or so while one of the men is on an extended time in England.  

Ljubljana Castle from the Triple Bridge.  Looks different with green rather than snow or bare trees surrounding it.

The river about a block from the community.  Followed it along assuming it would take me to the center of the city.  Alas, I was heading in the wrong direction.  However, it was a nice walk anyway.

The Church of St. Peter.  I can see this from my room.  It appears to be farther away than it actually is.   

LJ is a fantastic city for night shots.  The arches are behind the Cathedral of St. Nicholas looking toward the market place.

The main plaza in front of the Franciscan Church (pink building to the left).  Many people milling about and passing through. 

An art gallery near the funiculaire to the castle.

Can't not do black and white.  Of course this not technically black and white but the effect is close.  The lamp is not 'blown out.'  Rather it appears to be a molded piece of plastic that is fully illuminated.  Pity that whoever was drinking the beer didn't finish it. 

Bicyclist was listening to a jazz group performing in front of the Franciscan Church.  The group was very good.  The woman holding the microphone had a lovely voice.  Hope they are there next Friday when I should be in much better shape to stand and listen. 

A man and his sons riding bikes along the river this afternoon.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, September 10, 2016

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
Ps 51
1 Tim 1:12-17
Lk: 1-32

“Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see”

The first stanza of one of the English speaking world’s greatest and most well-known hymns says it all.  The words were written by John Newton in 1772 when he had the same realization Paul described to Timothy.  He had the same realization as the psalmist. He had the same realization as the prodigal son of the gospel. I am a sinner.  Weirdly enough, there are other versions of the hymn that replace the word wretch with the non-judgmental and vaguely self-affirming term "soul", or the thoroughly pallid, “that saved and set me free”

These revisionist song writers are trying to deny the reality that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and redemption.  The sanitized versions of the hymn apparently understand the human condition in the same way as Garrison Keilor described Lake Woebegone,

“. . .where all the men are strong,
the women good-looking,
and the children above average.” 

Today’s readings testify to the fact that we are wretches in need of saving.  They affirm that the we are sinners.  But, we are sinners who are actively and passionately pursued by God who loved us first.  By God who continues to love us.  How can anyone explain the behavior of the Israelites in the desert?  When Moses did not return from Mt. Sinai quickly enough they manufactured and worshipped the infamous golden calf.  How quickly they forgot what God had done for them.  We differ from the ancient Israelites only in our choices of false gods.  More often than not the false god is a version of our own image of ourselves.  Being a wretch, being a sinner, being in need of repentance and forgiveness  is not usually part of that image. 

The letter to Timothy gets it right, just as the original version of Amazing Grace gets it right,

“I was once a blasphemer
and a persecutor
and arrogant. 
But I have been mercifully treated.” 

After this confession of his own sin, Paul goes on to state a fundamental tenet of our faith:  “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance, 
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Like God the Father with the Israelites in the desert—Jesus is patient and forgiving.  We need only admit that we are sinners, confess our sins, and ask for forgiveness. 

The responsorial psalm, Psalm 51, is the great Miserere, a psalm that has been set to music by many composers.

It begins by pleading for mercy,
Miserere mei, Deus:
secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

“Have mercy on me, God,
in your kindness.
In your compassion
Blot out my offense. . .
and cleanse me from my sin . . .

“ . . . My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.

The Church prays the Miserere every Friday morning.  Read it slowly.  Read it out loud.  Listen to the sound and cadence of the words.  What does it say to you? 

The Gospel parables continue the theme: “I once was lost but now I’m found.”  All three parables describe what God will do to find us and the enormity of His mercy and love once we allow ourselves to be found. We can all identify with the woman who swept the entire house searching for her lost coin.   All of us have lost something valuable and turned the house upside down looking for it.  We can identify with her joy when she recovered that which she had lost.

Though Jesus' question suggests otherwise, it makes no sense to abandon 99% of the flock so as to search for the one that strayed.  What rational shepherd would leave his entire investment unguarded in the hostile desert to search for one stray?  It makes no sense to take that much of a risk for one sheep.  None whatsoever.  Yet that is exactly what God does for us.

The parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin come together in the famous third parable.  The prodigal son is a challenging parable.  It can be read and analyzed on many levels.  It is rich with characters, motives, actions and reactions.  Psychiatrists have a field day evaluating the personalities of the various actors in the drama. In the end, however, the parable of the prodigal son reveals the depth God’s love and mercy for us once we have admitted to Him and to ourselves that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and love. The father loved his son enough to let him go out on his own, well financed and provisioned.  The rest was up to the boy.  The son rejoiced in his new freedom. Liberty.  No curfew.  Carouse.  Party.  Make noise. He spent his money and fell into  despair.   Only when he was at rock-bottom did he yearn for his father’s steadfast love.  Only when broken and wretched did he want to return to the safety of home.   Having squandered all he had been given, he swallowed his pride, admitted his wretched state to himself and journeyed back.  What he didn’t know was his father's desperation for his return.  He had no idea how the father would rejoice.  The son had been lost and now was found. 

As is usual in Jesus’ parable the story does not have a pat ending.  We don’t know how the lost son acted once he was home.  We don’t know if his angry older brother reconciled with him.  All we know is that the father forgave him.  And welcomed him back.  Just as God forgives us and welcomes us back again and again, once we admit our need for His love and mercy. 

This will be the last post before I head to Slovenia in 12 days.  Will be there for nine months, returning to the U.S. sometime in July.  Except for the packing part I'm ready to go.  Will fly to Munich, have a fairly short layover and then to Ljubljana.  

My sister came to visit for a few days this week.  She succeeded in making me do something I've been avoiding since first moving to Boston in 1993: The Duck Tour.  I'm not certain I would have enjoyed it as much without the camera.  As things turned out it was informative (discount everything you know about Paul Revere) and allowed for some photos of Boston from a different perspective.  

We had about 30 minutes to wait for the boat.  No problem.  Got this shot of pedestrians crossing one of the skywalks at the Copley Place mall and hotel complex.  
While driving through the streets of Boston got this reflection.   Reflections are a particular favorite technique as is shooting through store windows. 
While on the Charles had a chance to photograph Warren Building (the red brick with white window frames) at Mass General.  One of the windows on the sixth floor is the office I used while a fellow with George.

A view of the Zakim Bridge from the water.  Had never seen it from this perspective.  The Zakim bridge almost makes the Big Dig worth it.  It became a landmark almost as soon as the towers went up.  It is illuminated at night.  It leads underground.  
Going back onto land in the duck boat.  Traffic mirrors even on the river. 

After the tour we stopped in Copley Place for a light lunch.  Got this photo of the Prudential Building using the supports of one of the arcades to add emphasis. 
The next day we went to Gloucester.  I'm still amazed that there was a full-bore cruise ship in Gloucester Harbor.  Was the captain lost of was he taking a page out of the idiot Italian ship captain who ran aground?
The light house near the breakwater at Gloucester Harbor.  One of my favorite places up there.  During the novice long retreat I'd run down there and then scamper along the breakwater, a scamper that required close attention as the granite blocks were quite irregular. 
Two mailboxes at the lighthouse.  The sort of simple photo that says a great deal.  Looks as if Mr. Postman hasn't stopped in a bit. 

Next entry probably from Ljubljana.  Leave here on 22 September with anticipated arrival early Friday afternoon 23 September.  

+Fr. Jack SJ, MD