Saturday, June 24, 2017

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jer 20:10-13
Ps 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35
Rom 5:12-15
Mt 10:26-33

What does it mean to prophesy?  What does it mean to proclaim the gospel?     What does it cost?  What does it cost to preach the gospel at all times through one's words and actions?  We are all called to be prophetic.  We are all called to preach the truth of the Gospel even when it does not march in lock-step with current social trends and fads.

Jeremiah has been described as “the most sensitive and personal of the Old Testament prophets, conscious throughout of a close union with God.”  But, he was not exactly beloved.  He repeatedly denounced the sins of Judah.  He pointed out the ugly reality of the people's faithlessness.  He repeatedly denounced the sin of false worship, the most serious of all sins that leads almost linearly to all the other sins.  He was the forerunner of the brave souls today who call out the lies and falsehoods that characterize the dominant social narrative. These include worship of the self and self-determination along with proselytization of the newest social trend no matter how destructive it is to humanity, the family, or the individual.  His prophesying and preaching resulted in exile, imprisonment and disdain.  Today he would be pronouncing very public mea culpas on television and then be sent into social media exile with Oprah's hectoring voice screeching in the background.

If, as Jeremiah puts its, one’s so called friends are on the watch for any misstep, how much more are one's rivals and enemies examining every word and action so as to be able to scream “Gotcha” at the first slip of the tongue?  This is true even if the slip of the tongue was twenty years earlier while a drunk college freshman.  New 'isms,' unique 'phobias'--almost all of which misuse the meaing of phobia--and, in one of the very best examples of whiny creativity, what are called micro-aggressions (exactly what is a micro-aggression?) are being invented every day so as to wield the cudgel of accusing the speaker of the eighth deadly sin of political incorrectness.  The newest custom-designed social sin is so-called cultural appropriation.   

The mandate to proclaim the Gospel--a mandate in which we all share--involves the risk of rejection, insult and criticism.  Indeed, the mandate almost demands it considering the nature of the message.  

Jeremiah could have easily written Psalm 69: 

“For your sake I bear insult,
I have become an outcast to my brothers
Because zeal for your house consumes me
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.”

The idea of original sin has evolved over centuries.  The philosophy, biology, neuroscience, mode of transmission, and manner of action—corporately as well as individually—are beyond the scope of a homily.  However, the fact that we are sinners from the moment of conception is inarguable.  The fact that despite being sinners we are loved by God is consoling.  That the sacrifice of one man—Jesus Christ—negated the transgression of Adam is ultimately beyond our comprehension. 

One commentary on Romans noted that “sin for Paul represents a kind of deadly virus in human life, a fundamental revolt against the Creator that places self and the perceived needs of self in the position that should only be occupied by the sovereignty of God.”  That just about nails the clinical definition of narcissism and narcissistic personality. 

Jesus’ words in the Gospel suggest that we are to be like Jeremiah who was unafraid to proclaim the truth from the housetops, unafraid of those who can merely kill the body, or perhaps in the context of the above reading, undaunted by those who call us fools or worse for preaching the Gospel.  We are called to be proactive in spreading the Gospel through deed and word.  We are not to be diffident or afraid on the off-chance of perhaps, maybe, possibly, sort of, kinda-like offending someone when we name sin for what it is.  

The last words of this Gospel are both consolation and challenge:

“Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

Signed out for lunch and went for a walk mid-afternoon figuring I'd get some coffee and a light meal.   Upon approaching the colonnade the aromas became seductive and smoke was rising from a number of kiosks.  Why?  The Pivo & Burger Fest.  Burger needs no translation.  Pivo is Slovenian for beer.    As I was getting hungry I realized I could eat with minimal to no guilt as I'd had, at most, 250 calories at breakfast and that was it.  This was going to be my only other meal for the rest of the day. 

Free balloons for the kiddos and at least one parent. 

Some of the burgers.   I only realized about a week ago that I have not seen, smelled or tasted bacon since getting here.  Mentioned it in the community.  One of the men who studied in Ireland noted that you can't find bacon here.  Going without the bacon embellishment is certainly a good way to cut down calories, particularly the way it is overused in the U.S. Each scallop wrapped in a slice of bacon adds about 100 calories in its count.  

There was also the option for a pork burger.  This guy was very busy.  I was going to have one.  However, I had not had a hamburger or cheeseburger, since coming to Slovenia.  Definitely wanted beef. 

Some of the beers.  Beer was both domestic, imported (from Australia) and on tap.  

This display was perhaps a tad overdone.  It was Chinese beer.  The display looks more appropriate for wine.

These are not burgers but large macaroons in the shape of burgers. 

After about 30 minutes the smoke was making me cough.  Wandered to Prešernov Trg for a bit of a respite.  Heard this accordion ensemble, all children save on adult, sitting at the base of Prešeren's statue playing polka music.  They were very good.  Beautiful instruments. 

Then there was this sign that made me laugh out loud.  Put the camera to the eye and start shooting.  Most of us have believed "Trust me, you can dance.  (signed) Beer" at least once in our lives, oftentimes at family weddings or worse, reunions.  Took several shots and then purchased a very good beer from Croatia.  Nicely bitter and hoppy.  Then went to Pop's Place kiosk (he has a restaurant along the river), run by a Slovenian-American who grew up in CA, for a bacon cheeseburger with just enough bacon to flavor but not so much to take it off and make a BLT.  Perfectly rare meat.  Right size.  No fries (only one stand was offering them).  Below is a shot of one of the best Sunday dinners I've had since coming here.  I was sipping the beer as I walked to find a place to shoot the phot and sit down.  Great Sunday afternoon. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Corpus Christi or The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Cor 10-16-17
Jn 6:51-58

This feast is a personal milestone that marks my first Mass on Corpus Christi,  10 June 2007,  the day after ordination.  That was more than two thousand Masses ago.  It was a great joy to celebrate that first Mass on the day that celebrates and meditates upon the great gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, truly and substantially present in the bread and wine consecrated upon the altar. 

A soon-to-be priest has no opportunity to practice celebrating Mass.  As is true of hearing confessions for which there is also no practice, the first Mass is the first time, the very first time, he will get up in front of a congregation and begin, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  He can (and should) practice the movements and the words but it doesn't "count."  It is not a Mass.  It is not even close.  It is daunting to pronounce the words of consecration for the first time while the oil of consecration is still metaphorically fresh on his hands.  Only now, from the perspective of ten years, do I realize it is equally daunting the two thousandth time as I suspect it will be the three thousandth time I pronounce the sacred words.

The moment of the consecration is, or should be, one of overwhelming awe for all.  It is a moment that should never ever be rushed. The words should never tumble out indistinctly, mumbled, or muttered.  The cadence of speech must be slowed.  The words must be distinct and audible.  The most important thing about Mass in the vernacular is that the congregation has the opportunity to hear the words of consecration in its own language.  That privilege must never be taken from the congregation by a sloppy celebrant.

"Take this all of you and eat of it
for this is my Body
which will be given up for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins." 

"Vzemite in jejte od tega vsi,
to je moje telo,
ki se daje za vas."

Because Corpus Christi was celebrated on Thursday here in Slovenia our readings on Sunday will be those for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary time.  Thus the English Language Mass congregation will hear some of the most consoling words St. Paul ever wrote in his Letter to the Romans, words that echo those of the consecration.  "For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.  . . .  only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." 

Without the Church there is no Eucharist.  Without the Eucharist there is no Church.  The Church's most important role is not the struggle for justice or the rights of the current group du jour, however that might be defined.  The priest's most important role is not that of community organizer, social justice warrior, bingo caller, or anything else.  The priest's most important role is as celebrant of the sacred mysteries of the Mass. No other role comes close in importance to that, a role that includes under that rubric  administering the sacraments of the Church that are reserved to him.  Everything else, as nice and relevant as it is, is a mere grace note.  Without the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ the Church has nothing.  Without the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist the Church can offer nothing.  Without offering the Mass and other sacraments regularly and when needed, the priest is just another schlepper--pop open a cold one, sit back, and watch the game schlepper-- regardless of anything else he does.

"Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant,
which will be poured out for you
and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me."

"Vzemite in pijte iz njega vsi,
to je kelih moje krvi
nove in večne zaveze,
ki se za vas in za vse preliva v odpuščanje grehov.
To delajte v moj spomin."

Do this in memory of me.

This is the most important mandate the Church received.  Without the Mass the Church has no meaning or function.  

Pay careful attention to the readings for Corpus Christi on Sunday.  None of them is particularly long.  Listen to the Gospel from John.  You will hear the radical statement,

". . . my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him."

This is what we celebrate today.  

 Got back to Pleterje with some time to shoot more photos.  I will miss the opportunity to visit on a regular basis.  The day was cloudy but not particularly dark.  That made some of the shots easier as there was no risk of 'blow out.'  

There is something wonderful about stucco, even when it is getting rough and peeling.  The ochre paint or tint is very common.  It adds warmth that changes as a function of the light.  Some of the shots were through windows that could use a bit of washing.  The windows act like natural filters to change the experience of the photo.

 Opening the window changed the feeling of the shot compared with the one above taken of the same basic scene.

The handle and partial hinge on the main door to the monastic church. 

 The door to one of the cloister halls.  The primary colored block are not stained glass but plastic.  

I like the bit of color on the arches in the cloister walk.

A partial crucifix with only the torso of the corpus.

A medallion-icon on one of the doors.

The rope for the bell.  As a man comes into the church he takes the rope from whoever is ringing the bell and pulls a few times before passing it off.  The last man in choir puts the rope in this diagonal position.  It takes four or five hard tugs on the rope to get enough inertia so that the bell rings.   It takes a bit of time to get the bell to stop as well.

Looking across the front of the altar from left to right.  The candlesticks are very all even without the candles.

Two views from the loft.  The flowers in the second shot appeared at some point after noon.  Thursday was the celebration of Corpus Christi, a solemnity that will be observed in the U.S. on Sunday.  A few hours after I took this I joined the community for solemn vespers

The rose window over the loft.  There is no narrative or figurative stained glass. 

There is always a vase with some fresh-cut flowers in the room I use. 

I was playing with them.  this is a longish exposure during which I moved the camera slowly from top to bottom.

Approaching the town of Sevnice as seen from the moving train.

Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

 Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
11 June 2017

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. This celebration forces us to contemplate the essential dogma of our faith. We recall this dogma every time we begin and end Mass. We invoke the Trinity every time we pray.  We recall the Trinity whenever we say the words  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What we call the Trinitarian formula  is NOT the absurd gender free version in vogue in certain pathetic circles that chooses to invoke and pray in the name of a creator, a redeemer, and a sanctifier.  While this is linguistically awkward.  It is flat out theologically wrong.  A function is not a person.  No person is fully defined by his function. The dogma of the Holy Trinity is One God in Three Divine Persons.  It does not describe a god--intentional small g--defined by and limited to three functions.  The perversion of the Trinitarian formula to creator, redeemer, and sanctifier reduces God to functions not persons.  Why not use butcher, baker, and candlestick maker, or quarterback, fullback, and waterboy?  It would be equally absurd.

The Trinitarian formula, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is critical to the Church's seven sacraments, from baptism to the anointing of the sick and dying.  The sign of the cross begins and ends everything the Church does. As it should and as it must.

We read in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, (#234):  “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in Himself.  It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.  It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.”

Every time we make the sign of the cross we recall a mystery that remains incomprehensible.  It remains incomprehensible despite the many volumes attempting to explain the interpersonal dynamics within the Trinity, an absurd undertaking if there ever was one.

Each book may contain a tiny kernel of insight into the nature of the Trinity.  However, the sum of all the books written does not come close to capturing the essence of the Trinity.  The dogma of the Trinity depends on faith. It can only be understood through the eyes of faith.

This raises the question: What is faith?

A dictionary definition of faith is:  “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.”  The Letter to the Hebrews gives a better definition: "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. . . . By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible."  Thus, we must become comfortable with faith at its most mysterious and impenetrable because despite the absence of logical proof, despite the impossibility and futility  of philosophy, science, or theology of ever "explaining" the Trinity, no one can declare him or herself a Christian if he or she denies the Trinity.

The word Trinity does not appear in scripture.  The understanding of the Trinity grew in the earliest years of the Church as she began to consider what Jesus said and did during His time on earth.   Jesus always speaks of His Father as distinct from Himself but He also notes that “I and the Father are One.”  The same is true of the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus refers to His oneness with the Father he is referring to substance and NOT the functions of creation, redemption, or enlightenment.  Thus, the ancient Creeds in Greek use homoousion which was translated into consubstantialem  in Latin. It is obvious that the English consubstantial arises directly from the Latin.  Slovenian uses enega bistvam, one essence or one substance.  We are accustomed to persons being distinct rather than the same.  We have a hard time wrapping our minds around three in one. We have a very hard time wrapping our minds around “consubstantial."

Over the past weeks many of the gospel readings have been taken from the farewell discourse in John’s Gospel.  Jesus refers to both the Father and the Holy Spirit in reference to Himself several times in this discourse.  The Trinity is a mystery that, in the end, compels us to sing in praise and thanksgiving with the psalmist:

"Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages."

 Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of our ordination to the priesthood.  Ten years ago today was the first Mass.  It was a spectacularly beautiful day, an important consideration in Campion Center as it was, and remains, without air conditioning, unless something big has happened in my absence.  

Wednesday night was marked by serious insomnia with multiple awakenings every 90 minutes until by 4:30 AM I gave up, took my meds, got dressed, and went out with the camera a bit after 5:00.  Had a very productive time walking along the river.  Chose not to attempt a walk to the castle as the kind of fatigue associated with poor sleep makes it difficult to climb.  Got some shots I like. 

The sterling silver bowl was sitting in the window of a gallery that faces but is set back from the river.  The bowl is reflecting the buildings on the other side of the fiver.

 The curio shop was just a bit down the way.  Many of the window grates here are decorative and functional. 

A small locked cabinet outside an antique store. 

Probably walked a bit farther than I should have given the level of fatigue I managed by the time I got back to the house (and a nap).  Went fairly far down the river.  Didn't notice the spider web until I downloaded the shots. 

This bar is in the same general area as the antique shop.  Everything was set for opening which was quite a few hours away, at least not until 10 AM.  It is not just a bar and does serve food.  However, tourists can develop a powerful thirst at odd hours of the morning. 

I sometimes fantasize living in an apartment overlooking the river.  And then I remember that it is crowded and noisy at this part of the river.  LJ is not a late night city but I don't particularly want to spend my evenings listening to the noise of revelers.  This does look peaceful with the first rays of sun hitting the windows.  Ah, to take morning coffee sitting on a balcony. 

The colors in this scene have the potential to clash audibly if looked at too long.  If you follow the path to the right it would lead to the library, an interesting buildings that is a significant temptation to rock and wall climbers. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD