Friday, December 8, 2017

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Gn Gen 3:9-15,20
Ps 98:1-4
Eph 1:3-6, 11-12
Lk 1:26-38
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the dogma declared by Pius IX in 1854 that, "from the first moment of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin." 
This feast has a long and controversial history. Reading an abbreviated account in the Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that, compared to the 12th and 13th centuries arguments over the Immaculate Conception, the contemporary debates on global warning have been most civilized and painfully cordial. Much of the debate then centered on determining the moment when Mary's soul was sanctified; before, during, or after its infusion into her body. These arguments don't surface often today. Thus, rather than focusing on metaphysics, we are better served by considering the scriptural text. 
The reading from Exodus and the recounting of the Annunciation from Luke’s Gospel form a set of parentheses. Disobedience and obedience. Doing and undoing. Action and reaction. 
The sin of Adam and Eve had little--it probably had nothing--to do with an apple or any other kind of fruit in the actual sense. The interchange with the serpent about the fruit found on the tree in the center of the garden, the tree which God explicitly forbade Adam and Eve to taste, is, at least in part, a metaphor for something very complex and uniquely human, the action of free will, the ability to say yes or no, the choice to obey or disobey. Human sin always has turned, and always will turn, on the axis of free will determining obedience and disobedience, action and reaction, that we hear in the ancient book. 
In Genesis we hear of Eve's radical disobedience. Despite being aware of the injunction not to eat of the fruit of the tree, it took little persuasion on the part of the serpent for Eve to chose to eat the fruit and share it with Adam. The ancient author of Genesis certainly understood modern human nature well. It is amazing how little persuasion we need to intentionally sin. The contrast between Eve's radical disobedience and Mary's obedience could not be greater. 
Because she was preserved from original sin, Mary's 'yes', her radical obedience to the will of God, could be perfect. There was most certainly fear and confusion on Mary's part; we hear it in her word's in the Gospel, “How can this be?” 
What thoughts went through her mind as she said these words? The answer matters little because we hear her yes. 
A yes that changed the history of the world up to and including this moment. 
A yes that echoes through the universe more loudly than the cumulative sound of all the bombs ever dropped. 
A yes that continues to echo through the universe today. 
A yes that will continue to echo after the universe has ended. 
"Ecce ancilla Domini,
fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

Sunday, December 3, 2017

1st Sunday of Advent

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the new Church year.  It is not Christmas shopping season.  Indeed, the European custom of exchanging gifts on 6 December, the feast of St. Nicholas, makes a lot more sense than the chaos of the American observance.  It would be nice if Christmas were celebrated as a strictly religious day, which is what it is, rather than a bacchanal of gifts and gastronomic goodies. 

The Latin roots of the word advent are important if we are to comprehend the season.  "Ad" and "venire" mean “to come to.”  But that translation does not convey the full meaning of this season.  Pope Benedict wrote that advent is the translation of the Greek word "parousia", which means presence, but even more specifically, means arrival.  Arrival is the beginning of another’s presence, it is not the fullness of that presence. Think about it.   Arrival is the beginning of another’s presence, it is not the fullness of that presence.

The birth of a baby initiates a presence that will change and shape a family forever.  That process oftentimes begins the moment the pregnancy is known.  It continues well after death, even death in great old age.

Presence is never full, it is always in process. Presence is always a becoming, always an approach toward fulfillment.

Presence is never complete, it is always changing and evolving, whether the other is physically present or not. 

We have all been, and are even now being, influenced by the presence of others. Some are physically distant. Some are dead.  They include: parents,  teachers,  mentors,  and friends. Though not sharing space with us, perhaps never again able to share physical space with us, their presence in our lives is tangible.  Their presence influences how we live our lives.  That presence helps determine our decisions and actions.  Their presence may soothe and comfort us during times of stress or may be a permanent source of anxiety and pain. 

It is impossible not to respond to another’s presence.  Even “ignoring” another’s presence is a response to it.  The "silent treatment" is a deafening response to another's presence.

Jesus’ presence is an advent presence.  A presence that is a process of “coming to.”  During this season, through attention to the readings and gospel, we become particularly aware that Jesus is becoming present to this world.  But, it is only the beginning and not the fullness of His presence. That fullness will only be known when each of us has died.  That fullness will be known only after the universe has ceased to exist.

Jesus’ presence in our lives is threefold.  We need only look and listen to experience that triple presence. Jesus is present as shepherd in the community of believers when the Church prays as one.  Jesus is present in his word as proclaimed at Mass and meditated upon in the quiet of one's room.  And, most tangibly, Christ is present truly and substantially present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

We heard in the Gospel antiphon, "Show us Lord your love, and grant us your salvation."  We have already been shown that love.  We have already been promised salvation.
The above is something of a pseudo-homily in that I did not preach this morning.  Deacon Alan Wong, SJ asked if I would celebrate Mass for a group of teenagers from the Boston Chinese Catholic Community who are in the process of preparing for confirmation. They were having a half-day of recollection at Faber Community.  The only place closer to celebrate Mass would have been St. Mary's Hall in the Jesuit residence.  Just far enough down the street (and a hill) that walking back was not an option.  Alan proclaimed the Gospel and preached.  Nice.  

The photos are from an hour spent on campus and in the chapel last night.  BC is a great place for photography.  It will be possible to visit the same places under different weather conditions and times of day.  

Gasson Hall with the tree visible in the distance.  

The Tip O'Neil (or is it O'Neal, can't figure out Irish names) Library.  The entrance is on the third level.  Most of it is below grade.  The terrain drops off quite sharply behind and alongside of the library. 

Great moon last night. 

The tree and the back of Gasson.

Gasson as seen from one of the windows in the hall leading past the dining rom of St. Mary's Hall.

The view of the tree from the window.  Saw this and went back for the camera.

The chapel.  This was a difficult photo to process in that I was using available light; no flash and did not turn the chapel lights on, in order to test the limits of the camera in low light with high speed "film."  Am pleased.  Night photography is going to be a lot easier with this new camera.  If only I could figure out the cataloging function of the software. 

Couldn't correct the color in this one to my satisfaction.  Switched to black and white.  Problem solved and photo showing more impact to my eye.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, November 10, 2017

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Ez 47:1-2,8-9,12
Ps 46: 2-3,5-6,8-9
1 Cor 3:9c-11,16-17
Jn 2:13-22

The source of life
The slaker of thirst.   

Everything on earth depends on it.  Human history, violent and peaceful, was, and is, very much the story of water.  Migration patterns and development have shifted with the availability of water.  There have been serious crises worldwide because of prolonged droughts. Some places are almost completely lacking in water.  We can go without food for days.  (Many Americans should go without food for days.)  We cannot survive without water. 

Too many people, including med students, whine that physicians don't learn enough about nutrition in med school. Nutrition.  Big deal.  A Big Mac can solve all hunger problems.  However, physicians learn a lot about water, fluid balance, IV's and so on.  Water is a much higher priority to human physiology than organic, vegan, gluten-free, and all the other trends and hobby horses today.

Flowing from the Temple in the eschatological promise of Ezekiel.

Making glad the city of God in the Psalm.  Water, giving us eternal life in Jesus. Today's readings reflect the basic and elemental nature of this feast.

The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica is a sign of devotion to, and unity with, the Chair of Peter which, St Ignatius of Antioch noted, “presides over the whole assembly of charity.” 

The name of the feast may be confusing.  We are not celebrating a building. The Church building of the Lateran was destroyed and rebuilt a few times over the centuries.  Facades were replaced and restored.  What stands today is not the original.  We don't celebrate a Church today.  We celebrate The Church.  The Church into which one enters solely through the waters of baptism the Church which can have no other foundation than the one that is already there, Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the foundation from whom living waters flow in all directions, to all peoples,  if they choose to bathe in those waters.  If they are willing to drink of the living water that is Jesus. 

In his splendid commentary on this Gospel the late Jesuit Father Stanley Marrow writes,   “One incidental and puzzling aspect of the narrative is how generation after generation can read or hear the account itself and yet persist in clinging to their cherished image of Jesus.  They cherish an image of Jesus so “gentle and mild” as to be incapable of “overthrowing anything, not even the reader’s smugness. . . . The Jesus in the pages of this or any other gospel is not exactly a standard-bearer for bleeding hearts. . . .the aim is not to provide us with the biography of an inspiring hero, proportioned to the size of our ambitions, conformed to our ideals, and meeting our currently prevailing notions of what constitutes greatness.”

The elemental nature of this feast, as reflected in the Gospel, reflects the elemental nature of water.  Without water human life cannot survive.  Without zeal for God’s house, without zeal for preaching His word the Church cannot survive.

The Jesus of the gospels is not a Jesus of relativism, a Jesus of  accommodation, or a Jesus of negotiation.  The Jesus of the gospels is not a wimp.  The Jesus of the gospels called a spade a spade.  The Jesus of the gospels did not cave into secularist society.  The Jesus of the gospels did not tolerate desecration of His Father’s house.  The Jesus of the gospels acted forcefully when He had to.

We do well to remember that. 

Winter is making an appearance up here. The temperature will be around freezing for BCs last home game on Saturday.  At least it is technically their last home game if one considers home to be campus.  There is a game remaining against UConn to be played at Fenway, not too far down the street.  

Slowly getting settled at BC.  It has been very busy with little time to unpack boxes.  By next week there is a bit of a lull.  Am awaiting a few seven-shelf bookcases so I can begin unpacking boxes.  

The Rule of St. Benedict in its slipcase.  It is read each evening before dinner in the men's guest house at the Abbey.  The slipcase is a faded reddish color.  This is one situation in which black and white is much more effective than color. 

This was taken at Campion Center.  It may look like a large stained glass piece but it is in fact a shot of a small frame that is only about eight inches square.    Photography allows one to notice small details and record them, a definite memory aid.

The Jesuit church on the grounds of Sevenhill Winery in the Clare valley of South Australia.  We did the thirty-day retreat here during tertianship.  Extraordinarily beautiful place. 

There is a cemetery at the edge of the winery.    This photo required a lot of post-processing as the large insignia was supported by several struts.  They were removed. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, November 6, 2017

Mass of Remembrance for Veterans' Day

Mass of Remembrance for Veterans' Day
5 November 2017
Sir 44:1, 9-13
Ps 122:1-2, 4-5,6-7,8-9
Eph 4:30-5:2
Mt 5:1-12a

WW I:              Gallipoli, Verdun.
WW II:             Iwo Jima, Anzio, D-Day
Korea:            Inchon
Viet Nam:      Tet, the Fall of Saigon

The Gulf War and all the subsequent worldwide involvements.

The changes in the art and science of war, the way wars are fought, and the reasons underlying wars emerge from changes in society and in those who fight them.  Were any of the veteran's of the 26th Yankee Division--or any veteran's of WW I--alive today, it is unlikely that they would recognize anything about the way wars are fought or the way in which those who serve are trained and prepared for war. 

The philosophical and theological understandings of conflict and war have changed dramatically in the century since World Wars I and II.  It is unlikely that either "Over There," George M. Cohan's WW I song, or Frank Loesser's "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" of WW II vintage would be written today, or become the hits they were at the time.

Much has changed since the founding of the 26th Yankee Division one hundred years ago here in Massachusetts.  We commemorate those changes and the veterans of military service, including the recently discharged, who implemented and lived them. 

The WW I trenches, hand to hand combat, and bayonets were replaced by a powerful air force, and bombs with extraordinary destructive potential in WW II.  Today, missiles can be deployed via computer. There is a risk of sophisticated chemical and biological warfare.  All of these developments have changed the experience of those called to fight wars.

The response of American society to veterans has also changed. The ticker-tape parades and welcomes  given veterans returning from battle after World Wars I and II contrast sharply with the vitriolic ugliness dished out to veterans of Vietnam by so-called 'peaceniks.' And this is different from the sense of ho-hum that marks returning veterans today.  I will only comment on professional athletes  quote taking a knee unquote during the National Anthem by ignoring further comment.  This is sacred space.  There are some words and concepts that cannot be spoken here.

Wars define the generation that fought it and the generation that follows, the veterans' sons and daughters.  My dad, born in 1905, was too young for WW I.  However, during WW II he served four years in Europe as a physician in the Army medical corps.  Like many veterans, he rarely spoke about it, though a few years before he died, we had a few late night conversations on being a physician during war, conversations that I promised not to share with siblings or the rest of the family.

The four years I worked at the White River Junction VA before entering the Jesuits, were eye-opening and, at times, heart-rending. It was not, is not, and never will be, easy to serve.

The first reading from Sirach was an intentional choice.

"Now will I praise those godly men, our ancestors,
each in his own time." 

Another version translates the verse differently:

"Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers
in their generations."

Both translation are appropriate for this Mass.  Both translations describe the life and plight of the veteran, each in its own way.

"Now will I praise those godly men,
our ancestors . . . "

The sacrifices the veteran made--and will continue to make-- are oftentimes discounted or ignored.  Future plans, family life, education, jobs . . . all  of these are put on hold when one is called or volunteers to serve in the armed forces.  Injuries may short circuit some plans. The risk of death needs no elaboration.  Other times military service opens up previously undreamed of opportunities and paths of life.

"Let us now praise famous men
our fathers . . ."

The Revised Standard Version translation was used ironically as the title for a depression-era book of photos and essays by Walker Evans and James Agee.  The subjects were sharecroppers.  The irony is that the families were anonymous.  In fact their surnames were changed for the purposes of the book. Their fame was found only in that anonymity.  They were famous for their hiddenness. 

That is the plight of the one serving in the military and  the veteran.  Anonymity.  Hiddenness. The fame of the veteran is in the hiddenness of the veteran's service.  Doing a job day by day with little recognition or appreciation.

The Godly One.

The Anonymous One.

"Of others there is no memory . . .
Yet these also were godly men, . . .
their wealth remains in their families,
their heritage with their descendants"

It the task of us who are the descendants of the veterans, to keep their memories, and the narrative they shared with us alive.  And, by keeping those memories alive, we learn from them.  Take a look at the WW I memorabilia on display here. What was it like to carry that canvas backpack in battle?  What was it like packing it before shipping out?  What about the man to whom they belonged?

The Beatitudes are the most familiar portion of the much longer Sermon on the Mount.

"Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God."

Sometimes peace can only be accomplished through war.  Peace may only be possible  when enemy threats from the outside are crushed in the fight.  Ideally swords will be pounded into plowshares and spears will be turned into pruning hooks. But at times plowshares must be forged again into swords and pruning hooks back into spears. 

The reality of the human condition is that we are sinners.  At times those sins manifest in actions that threaten the lives and safety of others.  At times those sins ignite the fuse that leads to war.  This has been true since the beginning of time and it will be true until the end of time.  Thus our gratitude to those who served.  Our thanks to the veteran who risked everything to ensure the safety and freedom we enjoy.

Paul instructs us that: All bitterness, fury, anger . . . reviling and malice must not find a home in our hearts. This is particularly true after the battle.  We are called to put the hostility toward the enemy aside and to work for reconciliation. We may never become buddies with our enemy but we can try to live in a state of cautious armistice.  That may be the only form of peace possible in this deeply troubled world.

"Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God."

We thank them.

And we pray for them.

The Mass was held yesterday afternoon, Sunday 5 November, at St. Patrick Manor in Framingham.  It was nicely planned and executed, including a color guard, music, and dinner afterwards.  

The photos are from Boston College, my new home.  I took them before the BC-Florida State football game.  It was the firs time out with the new camera at night.  Am very pleased with the results.  

The Boston College Eagle in front of Gasson Hall.  It is a challenge to have one's photo taken with the eagle given that it is about 15 feet above the ground

Gasson Hall from the front facing Commonwealth Ave.  

The back of Gasson Hall. 

Tailgaters don't change much across schools.  

Nice touch. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Solemnity of All Saints

Rv 7:2-4, 9-14
Ps 24: 1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
I Jn 3:1-3
Mt 5:1-12a

The practice of venerating and invoking saints is an ancient one in the Church.  The actual beginning of such veneration is unknown though we do know that saints have been venerated since the 4th century. Over time the veneration of saints degenerated into superstition. It still appears superstitious in the minds of many.   And truth be told, human nature being what it is, there are superstitious customs that have nothing to do with sanctity, sainthood, or reality. Burying a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the lawn so as to sell the house is bizarre.  However, the Saints are critical for our spiritual lives.  The examples of their lives are important guides to living the Christian life.  They are our models of that life.  They are our intercessors at the throne of heaven.

The Church sets the first day of November as a holy day of obligation in honor of the saints.  Thus, the root meaning of Halloween is holy eve and not what it has bizarrely become in large cities, a cross-dressing festival for adults.  The Solemnity of All Saints honors ALL saints, those who have been formally canonized and those known only to God.   The readings help to explain why and what sainthood is.

The reading from Revelation is fascinating.  Revelation is the most wildly misunderstood, misquoted, and misused book in the entire Bible.  It is part of the difficult form of biblical literature known as apocalyptic.  It is not Ancient Near Eastern science fiction. The apocalyptic literature was meant to give hope during times of persecution.  It was written so as to be understood by those who were persecuted, those for whom it was intended, while remaining unintelligible and incomprehensible to those outside.  Something like the way teenagers speak when their parents and teachers are around.

The symbolism is dense.  The meaning of some of the symbols and allusions is, and will remain, unknown.  Numerology is part of that symbolism.  It cannot be taken literally.  There are meanings attached to numbers in apocalyptic that go beyond the amount.  Sainthood, seeing the face of God, is not limited to the absolute number of 144,000 described in the reading.  Certain fundamentalist sects would argue to the death that it is, but that is their problem and pathology, not ours. 

In Revelation the number 1000 signifies an immense number, the equivalent of a "bazillion" today. Remember, hyperbole is not a 20th century American invention.  One hundred forty-four is the square of twelve  (a number which carries its own symbolism within the tribes of Israel).   Thus, 144,000 signifies a multitude beyond counting, an infinite number.  Though few of us will be canonized we are all called to sainthood.  Despite the claims of the rapturists, there is room for everyone. 

Who can hope to be numbered among the saints?  Who can hope to ascend the mountain of the Lord?  One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. 

As John wrote in his letter, God the Father has bestowed such love on us that we are the children of God.  We are his beloved because of Jesus’ radical self-surrender that brought sinful humanity to redemption.  His obedience opened the path to those who wish to ascend the mountain of the Lord.  The stepping-stones of that path are outlined in Matthew’s Gospel, that is far and away the most well-known part of the significantly longer Sermon on the Mount. 

Read through these “Blessed are” statements some time today.  They are an expansion of the psalmist’s answer to the questions:  Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?  Who may stand in his holy place?  The Beatitudes tell us how to be those whose hands are sinless, whose hearts are clean, and who desire not what is vain. 

We do not know what we shall be.  We do not know what it will be like to be in God’s presence.  We do not know what it will be like to be numbered among the saints.  But Matthew tells us it will be blessed.  There is no reason to quibble with that.     


It has been a few weeks since I posted.  Just moved to the SJ community at Boston College.  The move should be finished on Friday. The unpacking should be finished sometime during the current year.  It is good to be here.  I like the arrangement.  Because I live on campus there will be many more photographic opportunities than there were at Campion Center.  One can only photograph a tree so many times.  As I've no interest in birds and wildlife as photographic subjects, the pickings were slim.  Will post some photos from my first nighttime foray here in a day or two.  

The photos below were taken on All Saints Day in Slovenia.  All Saints is a national holiday.  Halloween appears to be unknown, something for which I am thankful.  At about age ten I decided it was ridiculous.  Even today I will not go to a costume party.  In many large cities halloween is now a festival of (mostly it seems) cross-dressing for adults who spend way more money than anyone should pretending to be what they are not.  

Early on All Saints morning Fr. Jože asked if I wanted to go to his sister's house in Bašelj.  I'd been there before.  Was kind of tired but decided to go.  Fortunately with camera.  We had lunch at his sister's and then went to the parish church in Preddvor to concelebrate Mass.  

The church was packed.  After Mass the three priests processed behind the crucifix with the entire congregation following in complete silence.  Our destination was the cemetery about 1/8 mile away.  What a shock.  There was a line of parked cars stretching into the distance.  At least 500 people were in the cemetery, all of them standing at the base of the family plot facing the stone.  No one was speaking.  Not one cell phone was visible.  We stopped at the crucifix in the center while the congregation silently went to their family plots.  

Each grave was adorned with flowers and somewhere between two to twelve seven-day red votive candles.  Everything remained silent.  After the prayers and hymns we returned to the church.  As Father Jože's family is buried there we returned to the graves and thus the photos.  

Upon returning to LJ, about thirty minutes away, the plan was for the Jesuit community to go to our plot in Žale, a massive cemetery in LJ.  I will let the photos at the bottom do the describing.  I can't.  


The view from the back door at Fr. Joze's sister's house.  

The village of Bašelj.  Father is related to about 23 people here.  It is tiny.

Father's sister cooking lunch.  There was no fog.  The window was steamed up from the heat of the kitchen.  Splendid meal that included . . . .

. . . this for desert.

The mountains from the church yard gate in Preddvor.

The church taken from the cemetery.

The inside of the church.

Landscape perspective of the inside before Father turned on the lights

The cemetery after Mass.  This shows about 1/3 of it.

One typical grave site.

We stopped to drop something off at a house.  Took advantage of the five minutes to shoot a landscape.

Žale Cemetery.  The building is the chapel of moderate size in which the funeral Mass is held.  This ring of candles circled the entire church except for the front entrance.  One could feel the heat emanating from all the candles.   As we were heading to Žale to meet the rest of the Jesuits in LJ (and say the rosary at our brothers' graves) one of the men asked if I was taking the camera.  I told him probably not.  He replied, "You'll be sorry."  I took camera and thanked him for the next three days.

The other side of the church.  Eucharistic Adoration was happening in the church.  I lasted four minutes.  I don't know how many candles were lit in the church but the heat, despite the wide-open door, was suffocating.

The Jesuit plot.  Before going to LJ I directed that were I to die there I was to be buried there.  After seeing Žale I felt very comfortable with that decision.