Saturday, April 29, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14, 22-33
Ps 16:1-2,5,7-8,9-10,11
1 Pt 1:17-21 
Lk 24:13-35

“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven,
raised his voice and proclaimed . . . . “

Is this the same man who denied Jesus three times?  Is this the same man whose incomprehension provoked Jesus to say, “Get behind me satan?”  Peter, who swore he did not know this Jesus of Nazareth, is now proclaiming that He is risen from the dead.  Peter, whose nerve failed him at the first hint of threat, is now professing Jesus as the one  of whom David spoke.  Fearful of being known as one of His disciples while huddled around a fire, Peter is now preaching what, to many ears, was blasphemy. He was telling all who could hear that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Talk about a makeover!  What did Peter look like as he proclaimed these words about Jesus’ mighty deeds and told of Jesus' wonders and signs?  How did his voice sound?  What gestures did he make? 

It is likely he did not resemble the cowering man in the high priest’s courtyard who said, “I do not know Him.”  Something fundamental had changed.  The change was not subtle. Peter was taking an enormous risk when he spoke. Of course this was after Pentecost.  Filled with the Holy Spirit it is obvious that Peter now understood that which he had failed to comprehend earlier. 

Luke’s narrative of the encounter on the road to Emmaus, with its expertly set scene, is ripe for contemplation.  One can sense the despondency of the two men. Their weariness is palpable. There are hints of disbelief and fear as they journey toward Emmaus.  Are they walking away from Jerusalem because their hopes have been destroyed?  Are they retreating because Jesus was not the Messiah of their dreams?  What was the subject about which they were “conversing and debating?”  Conversing is a neutral word but debating suggests disagreement and attempts by each to change the other’s mind.  Who was winning?  

They stopped talking when Jesus appeared. They were shocked that their unrecognized companion was not aware of the events that had taken place in Jerusalem.  Jesus’ impatience with them is palpable.  It is  approximately seven and one-half miles, or twelve and one-half kilometers, from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Jesus began with Moses and all the prophets and explained “what referred to him in all the Scriptures." The conversation must have been a long one. 

Like the entire Jewish nation the two disciples had had hopes for the Messiah.  Many of these hopes were attached to the politics of the day and driven by Israel's desire to be free of the yoke of Roman domination.  They had desires for the one of whom David spoke to be a military leader, a super-politician, and a social reformer all at once. Today we expect the one of whom David spoke to have, in addition the skills of a five-star general, unifying politician, and presto-chango  social justice warrior, a sufficiently relaxed moral compass that would enable him endorse anything that feels good no matter the fundamental wrongness of the act.  Jesus fulfilled none of Israel's expectations.  Jesus will fulfill none of those expectations even today.  Given that he seemed to be apolitical it is ironic how often Jesus’ message is politicized and twisted to promote a particular agenda on both the left and the right as in, "You cannot call yourself a Christian if you do not  . . . . . .  (fill in blank with  pet agenda)."  The only thing one can say about this statement is that it is breathtakingly manipulative.  It is  on par with the recent suggestion, "You can't be a democratic candidate if you don't support abortion." 

Jesus was not the Messiah Israel wanted.  He was the Messiah Israel needed.  Jesus is not the Christ we want Him to be.  He is not the Messiah we try to force Him to be in our attempts to remake God in our own image.  He is the Christ we need. 

Jesus’ two companions on the road to Emmaus were deeply consoled after the fact.  “Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”   They immediately began the long walk back to Jerusalem to share the news.  Peter’s heart was aflame with ardor as he interpreted scripture and shared the news with his listeners. 

When we pray we are continually on the road to Emmaus.  In prayer we are continually forced to recognize the One who joins us along the way.  We are continually meeting this stranger who we may not recognize at first.  We encounter Him every time we partake of the Eucharistic Feast.  

Listen carefully to the words you will hear as the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord are elevated above the altar just before communion.  Let them sink in.

"Behold the Lamb of God,
Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those who are called
to the supper of the Lamb."

And attend to the response you will give.

"Lord, I am not worthy
that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word
and my soul shall be healed."


Last Tuesday Fr. Peter knocked on my door.  Short version of story:  Can you go to Stična for the night at 5 PM to help with the first day of a retreat?"  I could.  The demands of the retreat were such that there was plenty of time to shoot.  Took one lens along, a 25 mm f/1.4.  The 25 mm is the equivalent of 50 mm on an Olympus DSLR.  It is a good length as it captures more or less the field of vision we see.   The f/1.4 means that it can capture light where there is none.  The good news is that I just got an e-mail from Peter asking if I can go back tomorrow night until Tuesday should the other priest chooses to remain in LJ.  Absolutely.  I only took one lens because I came back by train  with an already heavy backpack that made the mile walk back to the house from the station seem a lot longer.  

The monastery is Cistercian  but is O. Cist. rather than OCSO aka Trappist.  The Cistercian Order was founded in the waning years of the 11th century.  It split into two branches about five hundred years later.  This particular monastery, founded within thirty years of the the order's foundation, is one of the most important sites of religious visits and pilgrimages in Slovenia.  It is the home of 14th century illuminated manuscripts that I didn't get a chance to see during the twenty-four hours I was there.  That may change.  Some of the exterior walls, particularly of the monastic church are original. The interiors are mostly not.  The church was redone in baroque style during the baroque.  (Hint for Americans traveling in Europe.  Never describe something in the U.S. as "really old" because, unless you are speaking of the sequoias, it isn't.  Being enclosed by walls constructed in the 12th century is old.)  I'm putting up a lot of the shots.  Enjoy.

The Abbey Church tower as seen from inside the visitor garth.

The view from another gate.  The shrine in the background holds a pietà. 

The visitor garth.  The church is toward the background and to the right.

A sundial on a cloudy day.  Not too handy.  Don't know the meaning of the 20th century date.  The monastery, along with other contemplative religious houses, was suppressed by one of the emperor's for a bit more than a century.  It was eventually reestablished.

Entrance to the cloister.

As soon as I saw this bell sitting in the ground I wondered where the crack was.  Is about the same size as the liberty bell.  The wooden housing, meant to go over the metal, was off to the side in very bad condition.

Beautiful detail of one of the interior doors. 

A "modern" stained glass window added in 1907.

The cloister.  The color made me close to speechless (a rarity).  

A close-up.  The color was either rubbed on or perhaps painted on and rubbed off.  Thus the texture is highlighted.  The stone is not marble.   The camera did a good job of capturing the color exactly.
 The ceiling is painted in between the arches. 

The Abbey Church serves as both the monastic church and a long-established parish church.  Unlike the OCSO some of the O. Cist. monasteries have external ministry rather than being cloistered contemplative.  The O. Cist. has a high school in Dallas, TX.  The nave is 63 meters long.

The monks' choir stalls and close-up of the altar.  

Pulpit.  Have never seen a crucifix held out by a sculpted arm before.  The decor on the pulpit almost shouts Baroque.

The entrance, choir loft and organ. 

A ceiling detail in the church.  A more wide-angle lens would have been handy here.  Interesting chandelier.  Hope to see it lighted if I go back tomorrow. 

View of one of the enclosure gardens from my room.  The hills surrounding the area remind me of Northeastern and Central PA. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, April 22, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:42-47
Ps 118:2-3, 13-15, 22-24
1Pt 1:3-9
Jn 20:19-31

When preaching on these readings it is tempting to focus solely on the story of Thomas, or Doubting Thomas as he is colloquially known, so as to engage in the popular indoor sport of Apostle Bashing (a very intense competition in theology schools).  But to do that would miss the deeper meaning of these readings and their interrelationship. 

Today’s readings are not about doubt.  The readings are about faith.  Faith is not the polar opposite of doubt. Mature faith must always contend with a degree of doubt, sometimes more and sometimes not so much.  But faith, as it matures, must contend with doubt throughout life.

The first reading describes the earliest coming together of the Church in the first gatherings of the faithful.  “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”  That is precisely what we are doing here and now,  communally hearing the words of the Gospel and reciting prayers as we prepare for the Eucharistic Banquet at which we will receive the True Body and Blood of our Lord.  Note the description of that earliest congregation,  “They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God.”  We are to imitate them in that.

The second reading shines a bit of light on the Gospel:  “Although you have not seen him you love him.  Even though you do not see him now yet believe in him you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”  Peter’s letter describes a joy that is the same as that described in the first reading, a joy that is nourished by participation in this our Eucharistic feast. 

It is reasonable to suspect that in the period between the apostles telling him that Jesus had appeared to them and the appearance detailed in today's gospel, Thomas, despite not having seen him with the rest of the apostles, continued to love the Jesus with whom he had cast his lot so long ago. As is true of the love we maintain for a deceased parent or friend, Thomas' love for Jesus did not die on the cross.

Periodically we must ask ourselves, what is faith? 

The definition of faith in the Letter to the Hebrews is unsurpassed, “Now faith is the conviction of things not seen.”  In his Letter to the Romans Paul reminds us that,  “Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Jesus Christ.”  That preaching of Jesus Christ does not come to us in the oral form it did at the Sermon on the Mount or in the many parables Jesus related to the apostles and others who followed him.  Jesus’ preaching comes to us in scripture and in the tradition of the Church. The first two readings are important because they tells us what it means to be a Church, what it means to be a people of faith, and what we can expect.  The gospel tells us something a bit different though complementary

A superficial reading of the Gospel's portrayal of Thomas supplies us with a tempting target.  Indeed it is too easy a target as Thomas becomes someone against whom we can compare ourselves in a self-righteous manner.  He can be used to compare, and condemn, others whose faith we do not feel is adequate.  Calling someone 'a doubting Thomas' is generally not a compliment. This comparison too is generally done from the position of self-righteousness. 

At the end of the Gospel Jesus asks a question and gives a blessing, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  It is worth pondering  in relation to ourselves. 

Neither John’s Gospel nor the synoptic gospels were meant to be albums with verbal snapshots of detailed scenes from Jesus' life.   The gospels are not a log book that trace Jesus' daily movements--there is no "Star Date" affixed to them.  The gospels are not a diary of Jesus’ day-to-day thoughts and they definitely are not history in the modern understanding of the word. Any attempt to read the gospels through the lens of modern historical convention is doomed to failure and perhaps high comedy.  We can never interpret the gospels in the light of the modern concepts of history, journalism, and science without frustration and faithlessness.  The less said about novels such as The da Vinci Code the better. 

The last sentence of this Gospel passage puts the nature of the Gospels into perspective:  “Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in His name.”

The Gospel proclaims one essential truth, that Jesus of Nazareth, of whom it speaks, is the Lord.  Thus, the fullness of Easter joy is contained in Thomas’ faith-filled, startled, and ultimately joyous proclamation:  "My Lord and My God."  It is why we too can gaze upon the True Body and Blood of Christ at the consecration in a few minutes and say with Thomas and all the Church, “My Lord and My God.” 

"Give thanks to the Lord,
for he is good,
his love is everlasting."

Alleluia, alleluia.


A very busy week that included a one day trip up near Krško (Slovenian wastes little time with vowels).  Left house at 6 AM and returned at 8 PM, ninety minute train ride each way.  Few other meetings and Masses.   On Easter Sunday I was asked to take photos of an annual service commemorating the earthquake of 1895.  The Archbishop of Ljubljana presided.  On Monday night there was an ecumenical communion service with the Greek Catholic priest and deacon with a number of Eastern Rite, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics in attendance.  I was asked to take photos.  Took lots.  And lots.  

I discovered a terrific perspective on Easter Sunday: behind and under the altar.  The altar at sv. Jožef is supported by twenty marble columns.  Under and behind the altar offers a great view with a natural frame of the altar, celebrants, and congregation.  Getting those photos requires assuming a position that I would never allow anyone to photograph.  Also a degree of concentration and thought when trying to get out of it.  

The chalice and bread prepared for the communion service.

The deacon beforehand.  He is checking out his chanting (the epistle).  Very nice guy who speaks good English.  Will be ordained to the priesthood in September. 

The choir.  A choir of Slovenian men chanting a capella is glorious.  It was the first time I regretted that I don't do video with sound recording.  They were rehearsing here.  

The next three were taken during the service.  The priest on the left is Fr. Tomaž P (of our community there are two of them, M and P) who put together the service.  Unlike the Roman church where the deacon is behind the priest the deacon's place seems to be to the left of the altar. 

From the back of the church looking toward the altar.  The arches echo from the front door all the way to the back.  I hope to get a shot through the open front door as the main entrance is a dramatic arch. 

Here it is.  Under and behind the altar.  I would like to shoot this some day with no one at the altar so I can use a tripod and a time exposure.  

In contortionist mode to get this one.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Sunday

Acts 10: 34 a, 37-43
Ps 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Col 3:1-4
Jn 20:1-9

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”
"To je dan , ki ga je Gospod, naredil, veselimo se ga in se radujmo"

These joyful words have been circling the globe and stirring the universe for hours.  First in Australia, then Taiwan and the underground Churches of Mainland China.  After passing through Asia and Russia they are being proclaimed here in Slovenia.  By the end of this day, the joyful command from the psalms will have been repeated in: Mandarin, Swahili, Tagalog, Slovenian, Croatian, Portuguese, French, English, and every other tongue in the known world, as the news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is proclaimed yet again.

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” 

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles summarized Jesus’ life, beginning with His baptism and ending with His death on the cross.  We heard the commission to the apostles to preach the message of salvation.  It is the same commission we received: Preach the message of salvation through Jesus! That message is the reason we are to rejoice and be glad.  Jesus IS the one set apart. Those who believe in him have  forgiveness of sins through His name.

"To je dan, ki ga je Gospod naredil, veselimo se ga in se radujmo"

As St. Paul so memorably wrote in the Letter to the Romans:  “God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  Jesus, fully Divine and fully human, Son of God and Son of Mary, like us in all things but sin, died for our sins, because of our sins, and to save us from those sins.  We are sinners.  But, we are sinners passionately loved by God.  We are redeemed by Jesus’ passion and death in a redemption made manifest in His resurrection from the dead.  What more can we say than?

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” 

In the proclamation of John’s Gospel we heard of the disciple’s astonishment, confusion, sorrow, and fear upon discovering that the tomb in which Jesus had been placed was empty. The burial cloths were rolled up and lying off to the side.  The last line of this Gospel reading is the most instructive:  “Remember, as yet they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”  ". . . they did not yet understand.  Despite the years that they had followed Him the disciples did not really understand who this Jesus was.  But that was going to change at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended.

The apostle’s confusion and lack of understanding about Jesus mirrors our situation.  Despite Jesus’ action in our lives, we don’t always understand.  Unlike the apostles who lived the events recounted here in real time we have scripture and the tradition of the Church to instruct us and help us understand.  Still, we don’t always get it.  We sometimes fail to understand how great a gift Jesus is to us.  We sometimes fail to appreciate the gift he gave us. Thus, it is today, and every day, we are called to pray, to meditate on scripture and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ so that unlike the apostles, we will understand, we will see, and, through understanding and seeing ,we will believe.

Last night, we gathered to bless the new fire and to light this paschal candle.  The words repeated while inscribing the paschal candle explain everything.

“Christ yesterday and today the beginning and the end.  Alpha and Omega; all time belongs to him, and all the ages; to him be glory and power, through every age for ever.” 

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.”
"To je dan, ki ga je Gospod, naredil, veselimo se ga in se radujmo"


The main stained glass window in the Jesuit residence chapel at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.  Excellent school.  Taken while on retreat there a few years ago.

The tabernacle at St. Joseph Abbey, a Trappist monastery not too far from Holy Cross.  The abbey church is beautiful.   The grounds of the enclosure exquisite.  

The rose window at the back of St. Joseph.  The window faces directly west.  I've been in the choir there often to appreciate the effect of the light at various times of the year at vespers.  Vespers is celebrated at 5:30.  Very different light in the summer than in the winter. 

The Abbey Church at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA.  The archabbey is the first Benedictine house in the U.S. over 200 years ago.  It was the recent location of Arnold Palmer's funeral.  The archabbey grounds include the monastery, alas a brutalist architecture design to replace the original abbey that burned, a college, and a seminary.  
The reserved holy oils at the archabbey.
 The cross at Old St. Joseph Church on Willing's Alley in Philly between Walnut and Locust and between S 4th and S 3rd.  National Historic Landmark.  Exquisitely architected and done building.  Because it is a landmark it cannot be updated (I use the term with a bit of sarcasm).  The altar rail remains intact and echoes the curve of the balcony.  It is a gem. 

The sacristy at Old St. Joe before Mass.

The "Red Cathedral" in Saigon, Vietnam (aka Ho Chi Minh City).  Photography is allowed but no one is allowed to wander.  One views the cathedral from the back. 

A simple village church in rural Viet Nam somewhere in the Mekong Delta just outside My Tho. 

A shrine to Our Lady in Lyon, France.  Unfortunately the sanctuary of the cathedral was blocked off for major repair.  Apparently there was some subsidence.  

Candles reflected in the metal on a wall.  Taken in the lower chapel of The Basilica Notre Dame de Fourviere, in Lyon, France.  Different from the cathedral.

Saint-Martin d'Ainay.  The site of a Benedictine monastery founded in the 9th century

May you have a Blessed Easter
+ Fr. Jack SJ, MD

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sacrilege and Holy Week

I hate posting this, am embarrassed because I have to,  but it is necessary.

One of the sad aspects of this Easter is what appears to be the "facebooking of sacrilege."  Yesterday (Holy Thursday) morning a post with photo appeared on my page or whatever it is called.  The title was something such as "my new favorite Easter card." It showed one of the many versions of the ancient icon of Christ the Pantocrator.  It was reposted by a vowed religious.

The icon, of which there are many versions, shows Christ with His right hand raised, often times with two fingers outstretched as if administering a blessing.  A book, sometimes opened and sometime closed, is resting in the crook of the left arm.  The gaze is directed at the worshipper. That gaze locks the worshippers eyes in His.  It is difficult to look away. If the book is open the pages are inscribed with what is probably Holy Scripture.  I am not certain as I have no Greek.

On the post the words of scripture were erased, a very simple couple-of-second procedure with photoshop.  In place of the word of God is a hand shadow of a bunny meant to appear as if coming from Christ's hand.  One caption noted that it is the explanation of the beginning Easter bunny. 

That a member of religious order would find this even remotely amusing, to say nothing of funny and worthy or reposting, is appalling.  See your spiritual director STAT!  One commenter on my response, non-vowed as best I can tell,  was suggesting an overreaction because Jesus must have a sense of humor.  That tickled my sense of humor right before the anger fuse ignited because rather than saying, thinking, or admitting that perhaps this isn't appropriate, he lapsed into the kind of defensive posture characteristic of children (see Anna Freud's The Mechanisms of Defense for a fuller explanation) followed by a few ad hominem attacks that included the accusation that I am a judgmental Pharisee.  I wasn't judging.  I was making a diagnosis.   There is a difference. 

The remainder of the conversation deteriorated.  A few people are now blocked.  I will admit to closing that conversation with a favorite Anglo-Saxon word used as an adjective prior to mentioning a body part.  No regret for that.  Sometimes an 'intensifier' is needed to get the point across. 

Later in the day another sampling of  so-called humor for Holy Week appeared.  A poorly done depiction of Batman and Robin.  Balloon over Batman:  "Hurry for the washing of the feet." Robin replies: "Holy Thursday Batman."  Why?  That is the burning question.  Why must Catholics embarrass themselves, the Church and the rest of us?  Why would a member of a religious order even acknowledge such trash?  Why would he post it as a little humor for Holy Week?  Is it possible to take the order he represents seriously?  Has a certain type of Catholic, both vowed and lay, become so desperate to be seen as hip, cool, funny, with it, laid back, modernist, or entertaining (Don Rickles is dead, a replacement is not needed) that thought and reflection have been replaced by the kind of disinhibited behavior generally seen in drunks?  Drunks generally can't figure out the difference between appropriate and wildly inappropriate or between the sacred  and obscene.

Was there an icon of Christ the Pantocrator making the Easter bunny on the pages of Scripture anywhere in the Coptic Church that was bombed on Palm Sunday?  Would the vanishing Catholic communities in the Middle East find amusement in superhero cartoon characters mocking the rituals of Holy Thursday?

I suspect one of the reasons people flee the Catholic Church or move into fundamentalist sects is the jokey approach some ostensible Catholics and, tragically, some priests and religious, take toward it.  The level of disgust I had to struggle with yesterday during Mass made it difficult to concentrate.  Fortunately I was concelebrating. The Batman crap popped up after Mass.  It took a long time to calm down the enraged fury.  It is still simmering.  But, all things considered, I would rather confess to the sins of anger and f-bombing than the sin of participating in and encouraging blasphemy.   

Father, forgive them, for they are totally clueless.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD