Saturday, May 27, 2017

7th Sunday of Easter

Slovenia celebrates the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday.  Different readings for those dioceses that celebrate Ascension on Sunday.  In the U.S. much of the Northeast Coast (Boston, Philadelphia, and Hartford plus some others) continue to celebrate the feast on Thursday rather than moving it to Sunday. . . a move I've never understood.  

Ps 27:1,4, 7-8
Jn 17:1-11

Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, a feast that marks forty days from Jesus’ resurrection.  One week from today we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost.  With that feast the Easter Season will be over. 

The day after Pentecost the Church will resume ordinary time visibly symbolized by the priest's green vestments rather than white.  Ordinary time will continue through the summer and autumn until the new liturgical year begins on December 3, the first Sunday of Advent.  During the fifty days after Easter many of the readings come from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John. 

Acts was written by Luke the Evangelist, the same Luke as wrote the Gospel.  Acts gives us a window into the early life of the Church.  We see the interpersonal and social dynamics that brought together--and sometimes split apart--a community that recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Promised One, the Christ. 

The formation and growth of the early Church wasn’t always smooth. Sinful human nature raised its head more than once in those early years.  It continues to do so at times today. But despite the challenges the community grew rapidly as it spread the Gospel throughout the universe.  Something unique was identified in this group.  Something that had never been seen before.  As a result we heard in the reading from Acts two weeks ago  “It was at Antioch that they were first called Christians.” The giving of that name was crucial.

Once a group has a name it can begin to assume an identity.  Once an individual has a name, he can establish a way of being and a way of proceeding. Once we as a group or as individuals have a name we become rooted in history.  The name Christian took root and has continued for two millennia despite attempts to erase it.  It will continue for another two millennia despite attempts to erase it unless Christians themselves cooperate with efforts to bury the name by coming to understand themselves as just another religion among all others.

Acts gives us history in the broadest sense of the term.  John's Gospel gives us Christology, an understanding of Jesus. That Christology is different from what we find in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  It is as important.  The Gospel just proclaimed was verses 1 to 11 of the 17th chapter of the John's Gospel.   Chapter seventeen of John is unique. It has no parables, stories, or discourse.  There is no instruction or dialogue with the apostles.  The entire chapter is one long prayer from Jesus to the Father. It is worth reading slowly at home. 

"Now this is eternal life,
that they should know you, the only true God,
and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ."

"Now this is eternal life . . . "

Eternal life is not some distant far-away place.  Eternal life has nothing to do with Dante's Divine Comedy, a work that can be described as exquisite poetry but terrible theology.  When Jesus described eternal life in this prayer that he made shorty before entering into His passion, he repeated  what he had said earlier in the Gospel.

"Who believes in the Son has eternal life." (3:36)
"Who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me
has eternal life." (5:24)

The late Jesuit Father Stanley Marrow wrote in his commentary on the Gospel of John as follows:  "To believe in and to know the one whom God has sent does not lead to or result in eternal life. It is eternal life."

That is a powerful statement. To believe in the one whom the Father sent . . . is eternal life. It suggests that as we come to believe in Christ, the one sent by the Father, we know eternal life, not as a promised reward after death, but as the life we live here and now. Thus, death is not the beginning of eternal life.  Death continues the eternal life that began when we came to believe in and to know the one sent by God, Jesus, Son of the Father, Son of Mary, Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Redeemer.

The psalmist shows he understood this when he wrote:

"One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek:
to dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord
 and contemplate his temple."

"To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life"

Not after my life has ended but all the days of my life as it is in this moment and in every moment more that I live; a dwelling that will continue after my death.

Fr. Jože frequently picks up a few blooms for the dinner table.  This was his most recent effort.  

The Central Market in LJ, a short walk from the house, has many flower sellers.  Those who sell flowers for planting are clustered in one area.  The sellers of fresh cut flowers are alongside the cathedral where there is little sun. 

The market sells a lot of produce as well.  

Just on the other side of the market is "Odprta Kuhna" (Open Kitchen) which consists of about 30 or so stalls that sell all kinds of food, Slovenian as well as other ethnicities.  I couldn't help thinking of the poor woman in Portland, OR (a city with more crazies per square mile than any other) who was forced to close her burrito stand because of "Cultural Appropriation," whatever the hell that means except someone is looking for something to whine about.  Maybe she should move here.  Couldn't get a good photo of the woman making tortillas and things because tourists kept walking in front of the camera.  The potatoes looked great.  Next to them was an entire pig that was roasting.  Tried to get a photo when the grill master took off the lid to turn it.  A blue-haired tourist lady got in my way.  "Father, do not throw an old woman to the ground."  

Potica (po TEETS uh).  A Slovenian defining food.  It is good.  Actually it is superb. 

I call this Roses and Lemonade.  Many attempts to get a shot without a tourist walking through it.  

A recently vacated table.  For some reason used tables are a source of fascination. 

One of my favorite streets when walking home from the train at night.  A little funkier than along the river.  

Keep those veterans who died in the service of the U.S. and those who served and returned home in your prayers this weekend. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Homily for Newly Graduated Medical Doctors

There are two unusual things here.  The first is that the homily has nothing to do with today's readings for the 6th Sunday of Easter.  Ten years ago today I gave this homily as a deacon at the baccalaureate Mass at Georgetown University School of Medicine.  I was ordained three week later.  The gospel for the Mass was the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.

Georgetown University School of Medicine
Baccalaureate Mass
20 June 2007

In about twenty-four hours we will process into Constitution Hall wearing the dark green-trimmed black robes of Doctor of Medicine.  Those of us seated on the stage will be wearing hoods lined with multiple colors; some of which will clash audibly if we stand too close to each other. You, the graduating class, will enter with your hoods hanging over your arms.  You will exit the hall with the blue and gray lined Georgetown University School of Medicine hood draped over your shoulders.  Doctors of Medicine.  At last.  Enjoy every minute of tomorrow.  We will enjoy it with you and think back to our own graduations.   On behalf of the four dozen or so  Jesuit physicians throughout the world  I want to say:  Welcome. . . . Doctors.

The hoods have a substantial weight that is physical, affective, and spiritual.  The burdens they impart are significant.  They are the burdens of this gospel:  The burden to notice.  The burden to care.  The burden to act.   The burden to be an instrument of God’s justice.  Thus, Luke’s familiar recounting of the Good Samaritan is particularly appropriate to celebrate your formal entry into the world of medicine as physicians. 

The story of the Good Samaritan is more than familiar.  It is overly familiar.  The Good Samaritan—like the Prodigal Son—is a figure of speech, the meaning of which is sometimes diluted through overuse and misapplication.  Agreeing to switch call at the last minute because a residency classmate has just been given tickets to the hottest concert of the year is admirable.  Whether this action qualifies one to be called a Good Samaritan is debatable.  A good friend?  Yes.  An example of treating others in the way you would hope to be treated?  Also yes.  A good Samaritan?   Tough call.  

What is distinct about the action of the Samaritan?  Risk.  The risk of stepping outside the script for the day and intervening in a way that bound him to another forever; in a way that added a quantum of justice to the world.  The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy.  Apathy was the sin of the other passers-by: not caring enough to notice or get involved. Or, to notice but assume, “I can’t do anything to help.”  Consider the reenactment of the Good Samaritan which I witnessed a few years ago.
The psychiatry department at Temple University Hospital was on the second floor of a building across from the busy Tioga Street entrance.  I was standing at a window contemplating the scene below on the kind of perfect day that occurs only in May:  Food trucks selling hot dogs and soft pretzels dotted the street.  Patients, families, white-coated physicians, scrub suited staff, and pedestrians were passing by.  It was a Friday lunch time.  All was right with the world.  Then the drama unfolded.
 A young man and his mother were seated on a bench eating hot dogs they had just purchased from one of the food trucks.  They were plainly dressed and both appeared to be developmentally disabled.  Suddenly the woman began to choke.  Her son was gesturing frantically and calling for help.  Two ear, nose, and throat residents passed within fifteen feet of the frantic boy  and continued walking as if they heard and saw nothing.  Other people ambled by as well.  Suddenly one of the psychiatry residents and a student, who were crossing the street to the hospital, raced up to the boy and his mother.  The resident applied the Heimlich maneuver.  The student disappeared into the hospital and, after a few moments, emerged with a wheelchair.  They put the still coughing and agitated woman into the chair and raced into the ER with her son running behind.

Later I spoke with the still shaken resident and student.  They were rattled not only by the ENT residents’ reaction—perhaps non-reaction is a better term—but were also unsettled by the response in the ER.  The student initially went to get one of the physicians, but was told they could not go out of the ER to help a patient.  The patient had to come in by ambulance.  Thinking quickly, the student grabbed the wheelchair, which was apparently an ambulance equivalent, and flew back to the plaza.          

What were the facts?  Two ENT residents, experts in treating choking patients, ignored a woman with a piece of hot dog in her trachea.  ER policy kept the doctors indoors, no more than 150 feet from the woman and her overwhelmed son.  A psychiatry resident and a junior student, neither one of them particularly trained to deal with this sort of thing, intervened.  Unlike the others, the resident and student got involved.  They acted instinctively without weighing the risks:  Could I be liable to a malpractice suit if things didn’t turn out well?  Am I violating hospital or school policy?   Am I going to look like an idiot doing the Heimlich in the middle of the Tioga Street Plaza? 
Justice.  Social involvement.  These do not necessarily require agendas, policy meetings, demonstrations and speeches.   Sometimes meetings are necessary.  But this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  During the next few years you are not going to have the time or the energy to get involved with issues of justice and fairness in the way you may have been in college and med school.  Eighty hour work-weeks and thirty-hour shifts every fourth night or so take a significant toll on time and energy—especially the latter. 
When we think of peace and justice many of us  tend to think macroscopically:  Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Voter registration drives, and so on.  But justice is—indeed it must be—microscopic as well as macroscopic.   Perhaps it has to be microscopic before it can become macroscopic.  Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa both started small, on the level of the individual

The action of the gospel Good Samaritan  was a relatively simple event.  Man gets mugged.  Passers-by ignore him.  Someone finally stops to offer aid.  The Samaritan gave of himself, his time, and his treasure.  So it was for the resident and student.  Only a few people in the plaza bothered to notice what was going on.  No one came over to help.  It was microscopic justice when the resident and student intervened.  It was a moment in time that would be forgotten by everyone except the primary actors.  I often wonder what kind of difference this event made in the lives of the patient, her son, the resident and, particularly, the student. 

Justice begins when one notices injustice.  Injustice is corrected only by action.   In time some of you may become involved in health care policy. You may work to change inequitable distribution and availability of health care for the poor.  You may work to improve insurance coverage for those who currently do not have or cannot afford it.  You are not going to do that as first-year residents.  In reality, most of us will not be able to attack these issues on the macroscopic level.  But, as we all learned in histology, the microscopic supports the macroscopic.  Indeed, the microscopic determines the structure and function of the macroscopic.

Physically you will wear this hood for an hour or two tomorrow.  In reality, however, the Georgetown University School of Medicine hood will be draped over your shoulders for the rest of your lives.  The privileges and burdens implied and granted by this hood do not come off at 5:00 PM.  You can’t fold your responsibilities as physicians neatly into a drawer when you’re on vacation.  Tomorrow, and for the rest of your lives, you will wear the gospel on your shoulders. 

The Good Samaritan helped one individual.  The Good Samaritan made a commitment to care and thus became an instrument of justice.   Go and do likewise.

The second oddity is the photos.  I took them last week at the Carthusian Charterhouse in Pltereje.  Using my iPhone.  Have never used the phone to take photos but as I didn't have the real camera with me thought I would give it a try.  The only reason they came out well was the light.  It was great, first time in a while. I will be back there in a few weeks.  As I will not need the computer will take the camera instead.  Extraordinary place.

The entrance to the monastic church.  The Carthusians are the most cloistered of all orders.  The church is not open to the public at any time.  They order has no external ministry.  They are purely contemplative.  This is the entrance within the garth.  The monastery is not as old as the Cistercians in Stična.  The order is older but the monastery had a very rough go of things and was destroyed several times over the centuries and rebuilt.

The view of the church from within the monastery.

The church with the monk's choir stalls along the well.  The most characteristic aspect of Carthusian liturgy is that the office begins at midnight and ends at about 2:30 AM.  It is chanted in the dark.  There is a light above each stall for when needed.

A view of the choir from the gallery.  The church is very large and thus, during the winter when it would  be impossible to heat, the smaller brother's chapel is used for the liturgy and Mass.

One of the office books.  I wish I'd thought to put my day planner next to it to give an idea of the scale.  These books are very large and heavy.  The studs on the cover makes them easier to close.  When I am in the choir for vespers I do not touch the book or try to turn the pages.  One book is shared by two men.  I let the prior turn the pages.  I can't imagine ripping one of them.

The chant.  This book was up in the gallery and open.  I felt a bit better about shooting it.  Most of the liturgy is in Latin.  Latin Gregorian chant has a mystical quality that cannot be captured in English.  

The "bishop's room."  It is not used and I do not nap on the bed when I use it.  It is actually a small apartment with a living dining area on the other side of the wall.  Carthusians live as hermits.  The priests live in a two floor cell with outdoor garden that is accessible only through the cell and not from the outside.  They take their meals alone in the cell, coming together only for the midnight office, Mass, and vespers in the early afternoon.  All other prayer and work is done alone and in silence in the cell.  The monastery has no central heat.  The monks' cells are heated with a similar stove.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, May 13, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter

Acts 6:1-7
Psalm 33
1 Ptr 2:4-9
Jn 14:1-12

During the Easter Season, we hear many readings from the Acts of the Apostles.  This is important because Acts tells us the earliest history of the Church.  And it describes the behavior, struggles and conflicts of the earliest communities. 

On Tuesday we heard, “And it was at Antioch that they were first called Christians.”  Today we hear more of that early history:  complaining, perceived slights, and everything else.  Being part of the Christian community has never been easy.  Our status as sinners reveals itself again and again, century after century. That should be no surprise as the history of the Church reflects the history of the world and our own personal histories.  The Greeks complained that the Hebrews weren’t fair when distributing food.  It is likely that the Hebrews had their own complaints against the Greeks that didn't get written down.  But something had to be done.  That something was the beginning of the order of deacon, ". . . select seven reputable men whom we shall appoint to this task." The task was to serve at table.

A close reading of scripture reminds us that what we have in the Church today--the Eucharist, a hierarchy of leaders, and human arguments and disagreements--has been with us from the beginning.  Human behavior has not improved much over the past two millennia.  It will not improve much over the next two millennia either.

The second reading from the First Letter of Peter is taken from a section subtitled, The Dignity of the Christian Vocation.  “Like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house . . .”  The Church is always under construction, it is always being rebuilt and remodeled, in the same way  that our lives are always changing and being renewed.  Think about building or remodeling a home. Some of the work is obvious such as repainting or adding a room. Other work is overlooked.  Who notices new wiring or a new hot water heater?  Like us, like our homes, and like our society, the Church changes and renews itself, but unlike the other categories mentioned, the Church  remains timeless.  It changes in response to external factors.  It remains timeless in the Eucharist.  It changes through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It changes in ways that may take a long time to appreciate and understand but the Eucharist endures and will always endure.

Our spiritual home, the Church, is constructed of living stones. We are those living stones.  When we transmit the faith to others, particularly our children, if and when we have them, we assure a continuing supply of building materials.  The exchanges that Thomas and Philip have with Jesus are revealing. Thomas asked, “how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered with a triple I AM statement.

It is important to point out that whenever Jesus begins with "I AM"  He is making a statement of exclusivity. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  

Jesus is the only Way . . . in a world of blind alleys. 
Jesus is the only Truth . . .in a world of politics and lies. 
Jesus is the only source of Life . . .  in a culture Saint John Paul II called a “culture of death.”
Jesus is the cornerstone. He is the cornerstone who bears the weight of the entire edifice constructed by Him and on Him.

Philip’s request reflects the inability of the disciples to truly recognize Jesus; “Show us the Father, that will be enough for us.”  Of course, that would change when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost.  One can sense Jesus’ irritation in His answer:  “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” 

The only access to “seeing” God is through the Son, the Son who took on human flesh, the Son who took on human concerns, the Son who lived life the same way we do.  The only way to “see” the Father is to see the Son, to see the Son with the eyes of our souls. To see the Son who endured temptation but who, unlike us, did not sin.  There is no direct vision of the Father.   We are limited to the indirect vision of faith, which the Letter to the Hebrews defines as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." 

All that Jesus is for us He is by reason of His obedience to the Father’s will.  Therefore, the works He does, the signs He performs, the words He speaks and the revelation He brings are all the work of the Father.  They are all windows through which to know the Father.

Later on in John’s Gospel we will hear a beatitude to add to those from the Sermon on the Mount:  “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.”  It may be the most important beatitude of all.  Only as we remain the living stones of the Church, only as we allow ourselves to be held in place by Jesus, the cornerstone, only as we believe that Christ is truly and substantially present in the great gift and mystery of the Eucharist, only then can we say, as we will in a few moments:

"Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. 
Hosanna in the Highest."


The week has been busy to the point of exhausting.  Peter asked, last minute of course, if I would go to Maribor with him on Monday at 5:30 PM for a student concert.  And would I take my camera?  Well of course I would take my camera.  It was a very good concert in the Jesuit church just down the street from Magis, the residential college.  Got back at midnight.  As I am giving a retreat to a group of physicians next week (Friday to Sunday) I've been working on it.  Some of the handouts and prayers will be in both Slovenian and English.  Other parts will be in English.  The retreat is requiring quite a bit of computer time. 

The photos below are one of a photographer's favorite things.  Flowers.  They can be a challenge but the results are usually pretty good.  Raindrops on roses?  A total cliche that few can resist. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD