Wednesday, December 20, 2017

On Mary's Yes

The second reading of today's office is from a homily by Bernard of Clairvaux.  The following excerpt captures the tension of the Annunciation. 

“The price of our salvation is offered to you.  We shall be set free at once if you consent.  In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die.  In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.” . . . 

“Answer quickly, O Virgin. 
Reply in haste . . . through the angel to the Lord. 

Answer with a word,
receive the word of God. 

Speak your own word,
conceive the divine Word. 

Breathe a passing word,
embrace the eternal Word.”  

Never has yes meant so much.
Never has yes sounded so sweet.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, December 18, 2017

18 December, the 3rd Monday in Advent

Jer 23:5-8
Ps 72
Mt 1:18-25

Matthew’s account of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth  is shorter than Luke’s.  It does not include the Annunciation, the Visitation, or the exquisite prayers we say daily in the office.  However, Joseph, who is almost ignored by Luke, plays a critical role in today’s Gospel.  On Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we will hear Mary’s yes at the Annunciation.  Today we hear Joseph’s yes. 

The background for Joseph's consternation and plan to quietly divorce his betrothed, is a rigid legal system that outlined the marriage process in great detail. The process was complex. It involved the families more than the couple.   Betrothals, were from one to several years. They  had a specific legal status and involved the exchange of a contract.  Only after an engagement, during which the woman remained in her father’s house, was she welcomed into her husband’s.  Today's gospel begins at this point.

Not one word is attributed to Joseph in scripture.  We know that he was righteous only by his actions, we know that he was righteous only by his willingness to do what God commanded through the angel: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”

Joseph  was righteous because, like Mary, his obedience to God was immediate and unquestioning.  There was no quid pro quo. He did not argue with God.  He did not weary God.  Joseph did what had to be done.  Upon hearing the angel’s message he took Mary into his house.  Later, an angel would come with another message.  Then Joseph would take his young family to Egypt for an extended exile that ended with Herod's death. 

The events we commemorate as we move through the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord are human and humane.  Mary and Joseph struggled as we do.  They were as stressed as we are.  They experienced the same emotions that we do from fear and anxiety to great joy and tremendous sorrow.  Mary and Joseph both acted with the obedience of faith without demanding explanations, goals, and a rationale for what they were told.  They understood that obedience entails giving up control and understanding that faith, as we hear in the Letter to the Romans,  is the conviction of things unseen. 

Tonight at vespers we will sing the second of the O Antiphons that introduce the Magnificat:

"O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free." 

Allow those words to stay with you. 


Every year during Advent, the 'O Antiphons' are sung or recited before the Magnificat in the Divine Office beginning on 17 December until 23 December.  In addition the readings in the office of readings and the readings at Mass are specific for the same dates.  There is no 4th Week of Advent this year except for a few hours at best sometime between the last Mass for the 4th Sunday of Advent and the Vigil of the Birth of Our Lord.  The readings over the coming days are familiar.  They are read annually.  But that does not diminish their power.  Indeed, the familiarity enhances their effect on those who attend to them as they allow us to meditate on them again in whatever state of body, mind, and spirit we happen to be.  

I took the photos below last Sunday morning after about 6 inches of snow feel over Boston.  The campus was particularly beautiful with the soft snow.  As there was no wind it remained on the branches of the trees and the many crevices and ledges of the buildings.  The sun enhanced the beauty further. 

Will celebrate Mass at St. Patrick Manor in Framingham this morning and then hit the computer to write a bunch of homilies for the coming days.  I suspect I will adapt a previous Christmas homily; no sense reinventing the wheel. 

The view overlooking Boston.  The Prudential Building (The Pru) is the tall building on the right while the Hancock (it may have been renamed) is to the left.  In several months the Boston Marathon thundering horde will pass BC at the top of 'Heartbreak Hill.'  Shortly afterward they will make a right turn and head down Beacon toward the finish line at the Pru.  

Two shots from the refectory in St. Mary 's Hall, the Jesuit residence.  Took these about twenty or thirty minutes after the one above.  The morning started out gray and then blossomed into cold perfection.  There are baskets of apples, plums, oranges, and bananas on top of one of the serving tables.  Nice still-life subjects. 

The Jesuit chapel in St. Mary's Hall.  This will be a frequent subject over the coming months. 

I've gone on record as saying that if I were forced to limit myself to either color or black and white photography for one year black and white would be the easy choice.  It is a tremendous medium.  Fuji makes a camera that only shoots black and white.  The problem is the price: $7500.00, lens not included.  The first black and white is the same as the one of the chapel above converted using the Capture One photo processing program.  

The entrance to St. Mary's Hall

Photography is the study of the relationship of light and shadow, brilliance and darkness.  I began shooting glass   as the primary subject when I was in Slovenia.  There aren't many outdoor cafes in Boston, especially in the winter, but this was an attractive subject in the rectory.  Some cutlery and plates.  

Gasson Hall.  I took this on the way to breakfast.  I'm not sure I can do any better than this.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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