Saturday, March 25, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday)

Eph 5:8-14
Jn 9:1-41

"Laetare Jerusalem:
et conventum facite omnes
qui diligitis eam:
gaudete cum laetitia,
qui in tristitia fuistis . . ."

"Rejoice oh Jerusalem
and all who love her.
Be joyful,
all who were in mourning . . ."

Today is Laetare Sunday.  The designation, Laetare Sunday, comes from the first Latin word of the entrance antiphon,  Laetare. Rejoice.

In one of the many essays he wrote during a prolific  40 year career teaching at Georgetown, Jesuit Father Jim Schall wrote that: "Laetare Sunday is traditionally called a respite.  It makes us begin to feel the nearness of the Passion and the Resurrection, but with a reminder that even amid the Lenten fast and the coming remembrance  of the Crucifixion, we are not to forget that Christianity is a religion of joy."   We are called, in the words of Luke and Paul, to rejoice, and to rejoice always. 

Because of the respite, because of the call to joy that comes in the midst of sacrifice and fasting, the violet vestments signifying Lenten penitence, have been, or should be, replaced by dusty rose NOT hot pink.  Dusty rose is not the same as color as associated with Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde. The rose vestments visually remind us of the lightening of mood now that the penitential time is more than half over.  

Fr. Schall continues, "Christianity is called the most worldly of the religions. It is called the most worldly of religions because it is a religion engaged with the world and in the world, but it is not of the world.  Christianity transcends the world, it goes beyond the world and the universe. It will not cease when the world ends or when the universe involutes on itself.

Christianity is also the happiest religion since it knows this world is not all there is. There is something precious beyond the world.  The world is not a bad place.  It gives us enough room to relax in, if we don't expect of the world more than it can give, or if we don't see the world for what it is not."

Seeing the world for what it is and what it is not, is the caution Paul was giving to the Ephesians in the second reading.

“Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness, rather, expose them. . . "  He advised the Ephesians, and thus he advises us, “Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness, and righteousness, and truth.” . . . “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Soon the darkness will be replaced by the light of Christ.  We will bless the fire and then light the paschal candle on Holy Saturday.  The of churches throughout the world will blaze. Bells will ring wildly as the Gloria is intoned for the first time in weeks. Soon our mourning will be replaced by joy.  Not the short respite of Laetare Sunday but the unfettered joy of Easter, a joy we will carry forth for weeks.  The darkness of death will be overwhelmed by the light of eternal life.  Like the man born blind in today's Gospel, we will see with unclouded vision.  Unlike the man born blind, we will not be confused about who it was that gave us our sight.  We will know the source of our light.

"Laetare Jerusalem:
et conventum facite omnes
qui diligitis eam:
gaudete cum laetitia . . . "


The clock reads 8:35 PM.   Alas, Central Europe goes on daylight saving time tonight.  The time difference between LJ and the East Coast will be back to six hours.  Definitely an early to bed night.  I much prefer 'fall back' to 'spring ahead.'  

Had coffee with the pooch (and his owner) pictured below.  He is a Hungarian Sheepdog.  He is only six months.  Is going to be very large when fully grown.  He will also look like a 'spaghetti' mop. As he gets older the hair almost braids itself looking something like dreadlocks.  He lives in the neighborhood.  As his owner and I were having coffee he untied my shoes.  

Two views of the Ursuline Church that fronts Congress Square.  The first was an early AM shot.  Congress Square is rarely empty of people.  This was my first Saturday on retreat.  

Looking through the balustrade on one of the Three Bridges in front of the Franciscan Church.  This is the view a three year-old would have. 

Early morning new Congress Square.

Votive candles in the anteroom to the Franciscan Church.

Sitting along the river.  The are multiple access points to the paths along the river.

In front of the Franciscan Church.  One of the Triple Bridges.

Crossing the bridge toward the church.

Two night time scenes.  Love wandering the streets at night shooting black and white, or at least with the idea of black and white as I shoot everything in color and then convert on the computer.  A great advantage over the chemicals in a darkroom. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

3rd Tuesday in Lent

Mt 18:21-35

Peter asked, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how many times must I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”  Forgiving someone seven times seems reasonable.  Indeed forgiving someone seven times seems positively magnanimous, even saint-like if you will.  Jesus’ reply must have startled Peter.  Not seven times but seven times seventy-seven times. 

Jesus was not giving Peter a specific number or setting limits on forgiveness.  Rather, by using hyperbole he was indicating that forgiveness must be infinite.  Jesus' hyperbolic reply is analogous to something most of us heard when we were kids and, for many, something swore we would never say upon becoming parents or uncles (but we do), “If I told you once I told you a thousand times.”  Sometimes a thousand underestimated the real number but mostly it was hyperbole for effect.

The parable is chilling on two levels:  The first is the servant’s callous behavior toward a fellow servant.  The second is the punishment meted out to him when the master learns of his actions.  One could ask why the master was not forgiving toward the wicked servant.  It is a good question.  Perhaps there are actions that are unforgivable.  Or perhaps not.   Our challenge is to forgive as God forgives. That is an ideal humans generally can’t attain except under radical circumstances.  Those radical circumstances went on international display in 2006.

On 2 October 2006 Charles Roberts, IV entered the Amish one-room school house in Nickel Mines, PA.  After sending all of the boys out he murdered five girls between the ages of nine and thirteen.  He critically injured five others, one of whom is bedridden and severely brain-damaged. He killed himself when the police arrived.  His actions horrified the world.  The actions of the Amish community horrified much of the world even more.  Roberts horrified the world by the brutality of his act.  The Amish horrified the world by their forgiveness. 

The grandfather of one of the murdered girls told young relatives on the day of the shooting, "We must not think evil of this man.”  Another man noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God."  Still another Amish man held the shooter’s sobbing father in his arms for an hour in an attempt comfort him. Thirty members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral.  

Most of us are willing to forgive.  Sometimes.  Under certain circumstances.  For a limited number of times.  For some things. Jesus instructs us that seven times is not enough.  Through the use of hyperbole or exaggeration Jesus is telling us we must always forgive.  It is not an easy instruction to understand.  It is not an easy instruction to accept.  And yet, that is what God gives us.  God offers us forgiveness even more heroic than the forgiveness the Amish extended to the man who killed and maimed their daughters.  God offers us forgiveness every time we enter into and receive the sacrament of confession.  We need only begin, “I confess that I have sinned.” And ask for pardon and forgiveness. 


I still can't think about the Amish murders with any degree of equanimity.  I put this up because I am preaching this homily tonight in Slovenian though, for the translator's sake, I shortened it a bit.   One of the most impressive things the State of Pennsylvania did following the murders was to protect the Amish from interlopers, tourists, and, worst of all, photojournalists.  The only photos of the days following the murders are of Amish on bikes or on foot going to the funerals.  However, the roads to the area were blocked.  During the funerals air space was closed through the use of police helicopters preventing airborne photography.  This was before drones.  

Yesterday was the first day of spring.  A long afternoon walk was a necessity as was both cameras with different lenses.  Stayed along the river all the way down to the biotechnology institute that is the turn-around point when I'm on a walk (no camera) as opposed to a stroll (with camera and many stope).

 This building and restaurant always reminds me of the French Quarter in New Orleans. 

The biotechnology center.  Grounds are restricted.  The gray sets off the Crayola accents beautifully. 

Forsythia blooming.

Looking from the shadow of the colonnade to the light of the setting sun on the Franciscan Church towers.

Looking downriver away from the center of the city.  It is wonderful to be able to walk along this path in the dark and alone without anxiety or fear of assault or robbery.  I would never walk along the Potomac in D.C. alone at dusk to say nothing of dark. 

Relaxing at a cafe in the late afternoon. 

Black and white is my favorite medium.  I'm becoming fascinated with the interaction of light and glass. 

A sense of humor evident at this steak house.

Two boys going home from school along the colonnade.  Unaccompanied children is the rule not the exception here. 

Rowers heading toward the city center. 
  The return trip.

 The castle is always there.

Trta Pizzeria.  Trta (tur--roll the r--tuh) means vine in Slovenian.  Slovenian generally doesn't bother with vowels. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, March 19, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent
19 March 2017
Ex 17:3-7
Ps 95:1-2,6-7,8-9
Rom 5:1-2, 5-8
Jn 4:5-42

Today’s Gospel is long. It is filled with rich details.  First, John reveals Jesus’ humanity as he describes His fatigue and thirst on the journey to Jerusalem.  Then he reveals the Messiah’s divinity and the gift he brings.

As she  learns of the gift of eternal life the Samaritan woman represents us.  She is those of us who are are alive today.  We see how easily she misunderstood both the gift and the giver.  And her story forces us to ask if we also misunderstand the giver and the gift he brings.

The first reading and the Psalm are closely linked.  In fact, Psalm 95 refers specifically to the events described in the reading from Exodus. The newly freed Israelites were complaining again.  God had given them manna and quail to ease their hunger.  But the people quarreled with Moses. At Meribah and Massah they forgot all that God had done for them in the past. They demanded that God give them water.  And they were in a hostile mood.  Moses prayed, "What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!" In answer to his prayer God instructed Moses to strike the rock with the same staff he used to part the waters of the Red Sea.  And water flowed. 

Psalm 95 has two parts.  The first seven verses are an invitation worship and thanksgiving. 

“Come let us sing to the Lord,
and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us
Let us approach Him with praise and thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs to the Lord.” 

However, next four verses are a warning  not to act like the Israelites in the first reading, a warning not to doubt that God is in our midst.  The psalm ends with the chilling verse, “So I swore in my anger, they shall not enter into my rest.”  That generation of complainers, those who demanded water at Meribah and Massah while doubting God, did not enter the promised land.  Like the Samaritan woman they misunderstood the giver and the gift, the gift of their lives.

The Gospel could be a movie script.  The scene is set. The motivation for the actors is there. There dialogue as the action unfolds is detailed.  After a long tiring  journey with the apostles Jesus sat near a well to rest  It was hot.  He was thirsty.   A woman going about her daily chores came for water and the drama began. Jesus asked the woman for water.  She was shocked that a Jew would speak to a Samaritan woman.  The revelation comes in the subsequent dialogue.  Jesus makes it clear that he is offering her a gift. That gift is the water that will quench her thirst forever.  He offers her a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  She is amazed. She begins to wonder who this man is. Could he be the Messiah, the one called the Christ,  He who is to come?  Jesus replies, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”  Last week we heard the account of the Transfiguration in which Jesus' divinity was confirmed for his apostles in the Father's voice.  Today, Jesus confirms his divinity for the Samaritan woman in his own voice.

Jesus is offering the Samaritan woman, and thus he is offering us, the gift of eternal life.  However he is setting two conditions for that gift.  The first is that we must recognize our need for the gift, the very specific gift which Jesus brings. That need cannot be met by anyone or anything else:  “If you knew the gift of God.. . .”  The second condition, the point where the Israelites failed repeatedly, is to recognize the gift and thank the giver,  “and if you knew who is saying to you, ‘ Give me a drink’ . . . .” 

Asking for a gift is humbling. When we ask for a gift we  admit our need for it.  When we ask we confront our dependence on the One who can give us the gift.  Humble is a state we try to avoid.  

The Samaritan woman misunderstands the gift.  “Sir, give me this water, that I may not be thirsty, or have to keep coming here to draw water.”   She assumed that Jesus was offering her rest from her daily routine.  She assumed Jesus' gift would free her from life’s discomforts and rid her of all suffering.   Like the woman at the well, we all assume, if not demand, that in one way or another, Jesus' gift will end all our troubles if not prevent them from ever happening.  We imagine that all of our problems  will be resolved to our satisfaction in the way we have determined they should be.  No pain.  No suffering.   No problem.

Jesus did not come into the world to take us out of it.  Jesus did not come to spare us the pain of living on this earth.  He did not come to free us from the limitations of being flesh and blood.  He came to experience those limitations with us, from the moment of his birth until his passion and death.  And he did so out of love.  He did so to give us the waters of eternal life.

 As stated so forcefully in Paul's Letter to the Romans,

"But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners
Christ died for us."

Every day the divine office begins with today's psalm.  Listen to the first stanza again.

"Come, let us sing to the Lord,
and shout with joy to the God who made us,
let us approach him with praise and thanksgiving,
and sing joyful songs to the Lord."

Consider that for the rest of today.

Yesterday's trip to Brezje and Lake Bled was terrific.  I did not know the group of people I was accompanying.  They turned out to be participants in a workshop on computer communication.  Part of the trip was also part of their final project.  The fifteen or so of us traveled in a small bus.  The driver picked me up at sv. Jožefa.  We drove approximately four blocks, stopped and disembarked.  Most of the participants had never been to LJ.  This was to give them an opportunity to walk around and take photos at the market and other areas around the three bridges.   The camera stayed in my backpack.  

Following lunch I celebrated Mass in the chapel at the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians, one of three Marian shrines in Slovenia and probably the most well-known.  Afterwards we went to Lake Bled, one of the, if not the, most popular tourist destinations in Slovenia.  Though the weather was not ideal in that it was cloudy, some sun appeared just as it was setting.  Am happy with the results.

The restaurant at which we had lunch served Slovenian food.  It was very good.  It is owned by a well-known contemporary musician and composer.  This flower was on the wall.  It is about three feet across.  The petals are sheet music of one of his songs.  I converted it to black and white because the edges of the paper had aged to a beige-yellow that was not particularly appealing. 

The Shrine of Mary Help of Christians.  The small domed area to the right is the chapel in which the icon is venerated.  It is where I celebrated Mass for our group.  In English as it was the only language they had in common. 

The chapel.  It is very small.  There are benches for perhaps 20 or so.  A number of tourists dropped into the Mass.  Because the space is small there was no option but to face away from the congregation from the offertory to the elevation before communion (O Lord, I am not worthy . . . ) for which I turned around.  This is not the first time I've celebrated Mass facing away from the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer.  It is not a bad thing.  

The main altar taken from the back of the church.  One of the things I always do when shooting in a church is to take a series from the very center of the main aisle.  It minimizes distortion of the image caused by the lens.  The church is much less elaborately adorned than the Franciscan Church in LJ. 

The view from the front of the church toward the loft.  We had the chapel from 3:00 to 4:00 (and were running about eight minutes behind when we arrived).  Did not hear the organ.  A Mass in the main church was scheduled for 4:00 PM as we were leaving. 

A close-up of the loft.  The series of panels is very attractive and nicely done.  

The next two are the same sculpture of the Holy Family.  The workshop director Mateja clued me in about approaching close to the sculpture and stooping a bit.  From a distance the cross is about 100 yards behind the sculpture and much taller.  However, when stooping, well the result is visible.  I'm impressed by the vision of the artist and the amount of engineering that went into the project.  
And as a silhouette

Lake Bled may be the most well-known tourist attraction in Slovenia.  A few rays of sunshine broke through the haze to add a nice dimensions to the relatively few photos.  The castle overlooks the lake.  The path from the parking lot to the castle is steep.  Very steep.  Alas, the free admission to the grounds was abolished.  At 10 Euro per head we did not go in. 

The church on the shore. 

The island in the middle of the lake.  There is a church here as well.  The main entrance on the other side features a very long staircase.  Not certain how many steps but it is a lot.  The haze interfered with sharp photos but added an ethereal dimension that I like. 

I changed one into black and white with a lot of  other manipulation on the computer to produce the result. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD