Saturday, January 28, 2017

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Zep 2:3, 3:12-13
Ps 146:6-7,8-9, 9-10
1 Cor 1:26-31
Mt 5:1-12a

Sometimes the only response to the editors who assembled the lectionary, the book that contains the Church's readings for every day of the year, is why?  What is the rationale for the cuts?  Today's first reading is a case in point.

The reading from Zephaniah is not continuous.  It joins chapter 2 verse 3 to chapter 3 verses 12 and 13.  The result is consoling.  It is almost idyllic.  The 23 verses that were cut consist of a long list of prophecies of doom, death, destruction and punishment.  Only when much of the world is destroyed do we hear of the protected remnant, only then do we learn of the promised consolation.  Peace doesn’t just happen.  It appears to be preceded by turmoil and strife.  Peace and comfort preceded by turmoil and chaos.  That is an accurate description for the reality of life as we live it, of life as it was lived during the writer's time; turmoil followed by consolation.

Psalm 146, the responsorial, is the first of the last five hymns in the magnificent Book of Psalms.  Psalms 146 to 150 are unlike anything that preceded them.  We do not hear "Why, O Lord?"  We do not hear  “How long O God, how long?”  These last five psalms are songs of pure praise.  Each begins and ends with Hallelujah: Praise the Lord; the Lord who keeps faith forever, who gives sight to the blind and who sustains the widow; the Lord who promises that those who mourn shall be comforted; this, after 145 psalms mostly lamenting the past and praying for a better future.  Psalm 146 is a perfect introduction to today's Gospel.

One challenge when preaching on Matthew's Beatitudes is the common misperception that the beatitudes are the entire Sermon on the Mount.  They are not.  They are only part of what is a very long and wide-ranging teaching.  The beatitudes are as ambiguous as anything ever written. They have been used, and misused, interpreted and misinterpreted, to push social agendas on both the left and the right.   Settle for your lot or begin radical revolution regardless of the damage you cause.  One can justify almost anything through skillful use of words and concepts in relation to the beatitudes. With one exception.  The exception is the beatitude that is ignored by preachers and activists.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Poverty. Peace. Persecution. Hunger. These are headline grabbers. They offer a chance to mount the political soapbox.  To rant.  To gesticulate.  To speak in bumper sticker language.  They are an opportunity for inflammatory and passionate speeches in the manner of Elmer Gantry.  Mourning doesn't get headlines.  Grieving doesn't make it to the front page without being associated with the ridiculous concept "closure" included somewhere.  Mourning doesn't get headlines because it is personal, private, and solitary. Those who are mourning make those who are not very uncomfortable.  People are poor together.  Groups suffer injustice.  Persecution is systematic.  Mourning is solitary. Mourning is solitary even when the loss is shared.  And those who do not mourn will say or do anything to deny the pain of others.   "There, there, you'll get closure real soon.  Let's go out for dinner and a movie."

Mourning is the most solitary and isolating of human experiences.  While most people who hear the word mourning ask “Who died?”, mourning and grief are triggered by any loss:  Loss of another through death to be sure.  But also loss of another through Alzheimer’s disease, a move from the independence of one's home to the dependence of a nursing home, or even the loss of one's driver's license and the independence it granted. Grief and mourning can be triggered by the loss of a part of oneself.  The loss may be physical such as a breast or a limb, or a more abstract loss such as retirement or one’s health where one's self-definition is radically changed. 

The difficulty with mourning and grieving is that no one can do the work of mourning for another. There are no substitutions, or, for those who understand American baseball, no pinch-hitters.  Oftentimes attempts to comfort those who mourn fall somewhere between clumsy and damaging.  There is no social justice solution for mourning.  There is no preferential option for those who mourn.  There is no answer except compassion and a willingness to listen.

Mourning is the great leveler. It brings the peasant and the dictator to his knees in pain, rage, fear, and sorrow.  It sets off  deep hunger in the one who can barely afford bread as well as the gourmand.  Those who mourn do not know peace.  Unlike the poor or persecuted who can be rallied to action or marching there is nothing for those who mourn except to hope for comfort while trying to get from day to day. Those who mourn are alone. Those who weep are isolated from the rest of society. 

No writer ever described the existence of those who mourn more effectively than C.S. Lewis in the opening sentence of the short journal he kept following the death of his wife, A Grief Observed .

“No one ever told me
that grief felt so like fear. 
I am not afraid,
but the sensation is like being afraid. 
The same fluttering in the stomach,
the same restlessness, the yawning. 
I keep on swallowing.”

Lonely.  Hungry.  Isolated.  Overwhelmed. 

Blessed are they who mourn.  May they be comforted.


Went out with camera for a bit last night.  I love black and white shots at night.  The lighting in many cities makes color photography difficult unless one wants odd color casts.  The lighting in many areas here carries cause a yellow tint. Trying to correct it makes things worse.   The final shot here is an exception.  For the most part I prefer to convert night time photos to black and white.  

Along the river not too far from the house.  This is one of the possible routes to get to Plečnikov trg in front of the Franciscan Church 

A friend commented that I have the ability to capture solitude.  This man is walking throguh the empty marketplace.  And it is very cold. 

Walking along Plečnikov's colonnade at the market.  The other side overlooks the river.

A view across the river on the backside of the colonnade.  

Plečnikov's colonnade.  The place is bustling during the day with every table covered with wares.  

An outdoor cafe.  Even with under-the-table-heaters it was too cold for most to sip outside.  

A votive candle on a table outdoors. 

The Franciscan Church and triple bridges reflected in the river. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Day of Prayer for the Protection of the Unborn

Monday, 22 January 2017, was the annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.  January 22, 2017 was the fortieth-fourth anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the disastrous Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand, a decision that paved the way for abortion as a form of birth control.  It was a mistake.   And it remains a mistake.  The ruling was the beginning of a slippery slope that more than likely led to killing sick old people as well.  If one does not value the beginning of life it is easy to disvalue the end of it as well.  Both extremes are equally vulnerable.

Initially legal only during the first 12 to 16 weeks of pregnancy, a time when survival outside the womb is impossible, the U.S. government has slowly chipped away at the rights of the unborn child. While a child born at 24 weeks does not have the best odds of survival, even in a neonatal ICU, some, such as the recently defeated candidate for president, wish to extend partial birth abortion to any age in the womb from the barely viable 24 week-old to the viable 30 week-old.  What about a 30 week old birth?  Perhaps only those of a certain age will recall the Dionne quintuplets.  The identical French Canadian quints were born on 24 May 1934 at 30 weeks gestation, decades before the advent of neonatal intensive care units.  All survived into adulthood.  Two are alive at age 83.

Abortion in the early stage is a scrape or vacuum procedure. Partial birth abortion is a more complicated and brutal procedure.  A bit of explanation.

The head is the largest part of a baby.  The disproportion between head and body size is one of the factors that induces the "awwwww" reflex upon seeing a newborn.  The large head/small body of a newborn is both cute and sends a message of vulnerability and the need to protect, thus the awwww.   By about sixteen weeks gestation the head is no longer able to pass through an undilated cervix and is becoming calcified.  Thus, something must be done to allow it to get through the cervix.  The baby's lower body is first delivered part of the way.  That is the partial birth part.  Then the size of the baby's head is reduced that's the abortion part.  That can be done two ways.  Either insert a large bore needle through the foramen magnum at the base of the skull and remove the brain by suction or crush the skull with forceps.  The dead child is then fully delivered and disposed of.

This week we are called to pray for the legal protection of unborn children.  We are called to pray that people realize the barbaric uncivilized nature of partial-birth abortion.  And we are called to pray for a change of heart for those abortionists and their collaborators who violate the proscription against abortion in the original Hippocratic Oath, an oath that has been so distorted by the liberal politically correct left that the references forbidding abortion, killing the elderly, and having sex with one's patient have all been removed.   The so-called Hippocratic Oath that is administered in medical schools today is a complete travesty and should be abandoned.  It is window dressing at best and rank hypocrisy to use that name at worst.

On Friday January 27 tens of thousands of people, many of them students from Catholic high schools and universities, will descend on Washington, march in the 44th Annual March for Life, protesting the heinous laws supporting abortion and partial-birth abortion.  The marchers need our prayers. The march will be an antidote of sorts to the women's march travesties over the past weekend in D.C. and other major cities.   There was a photo of Catholic religious sisters in Boston who participated there, one of whom appeared to be wearing what has been called a "pussy hat." (Sister hasn't worn a veil in years).  That goes a long way toward explaining why their particular congregation has not had a vocation or profession in about a millennium.  Will they be equally enthusiastic participants in the March for Life this week? 

I would have posted a few days earlier but a viral illness of some kind that seems to be moving through the house laid me low.  Not terribly ill, at least not today (early Monday AM was a different story), but lethargic and fatiguing way too easily.  Feeling about 85% better and expect to be fully normal by tomorrow. As I did yesterday I cancelled all commitments.  Haven't been out of sweat clothes in two days.  Lots of water, rest, and sleep. 

I haven't stopped posting.  I was in Lithuania for ten days where I was not preaching and the internet access was middling at best.  

Wednesday of last week several of us from the community drove about an hour to the funeral of another Jesuit's father.  I had not met the Jesuit as he works in Rome.  We went to Črny Vrh (Black Pass) up in the mountains at an elevation of 2400 feet.  Cold doesn't begin to describe the experience.  Besides a temperature that was in the high teens at best the wind was relentless.  After the funeral we walked 200 yards in procession and vestments  to the cemetery for the interment.  After the interment we walked the same 200 yards, more rapidly this time, to return to the church.  Vestments were whipping around all over the place.  One Franciscan's stole wrapped completely around his neck due to the wind.  

After the Mass Br. Robert drove about a mile farther down the road to the flat land for some photos.  We lasted about 8 minutes in the cold without gloves before the pain became intolerable.  It is impossible to shoot with regular gloves.  The pain was some of the worst I've ever had in my hands due to cold.  It took a long time for the throbbing to go away.  However, I got some good shots.  Am posting most of them in black and white as they have more impact than in color.  

The church is typical of small Slovenian villages.  This particular village has a population of about 600.  The church was unheated.  All the priests looked as if they were the Boston Bruins.  I had six layers under the alb, a mix of nylon, cotton, and polartec.  

Detail of the altar.

Winter is black and white seems colder than in color.  Black and white is my favorite photographic medium.  In these the bleakness is transmitted effectively.  I took this through the windshield of the moving car.  The bit of streaking on the left is the salt on the windshield.  

The graveyard about 200 yards from the church.  It was a long procession ahead of the coffin but a fairly brisk walk back.  

A typical farm building not far from the church. 

One of the hamlets that  make up the village.  There were scattered areas of glare ice.  Don't know if they were lakes or due to melting and freezing.  Nothing was melting this day except my resolve to continue shooting. 

I can only think tundra when I look at this. 

Brother Robert.  He is an excellent architect and artist.  We had just decided, "Outta here!"

On the way home we stopped for coffee.  This pig, transient folk art, was traced in the snow on a table under an awning.  It was going to last for quite a while. 

After coffee we stopped for gas.  These kids were going home from the nearby school.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD