Thursday, August 24, 2017

A 20th Anniversary

August 23, 1997 was a Saturday.  I slept reasonably well.  Sunday August 24 dawned sunny but windy.  Very windy.   Finished packing the last few things, went to Mass, said a few goodbyes, and had a quick lunch.   Then it was off to the Avoca Airport for the flight to Boston.  That was where the wind was significant. 

Twenty years ago there was direct flight service between Avoca and Boston on small prop planes with one seat on either side of the aisle.  We took off on time for what was a white-knuckler all the way to Boston.  The turbulence was among the worst I've ever experienced in the air--before or since.   As we took off, bouncing, tilting, shaking and everything else, the thought went through my mind, "I'm gonna' die over Dupont and won't even make it on the front page of the Voice."  I think the pilot was also white knuckling.  The passengers applauded when we touched down in Boston.

My bags were the first ones on the belt.  Looking to the right there he was descending the escalator:  George B. Murray, SJ, MD.  My mouth went into velcro mode with the tongue firmly adherent to the roof.   "OK, it's real."  Thirty minutes later George and I pulled up at the repurposed convent on Creighton Street in Jamaica Plain whereupon I walked through the door of the  Jesuit novitiate. 

Twenty years.  Impossible to summarize in fewer than 400 pages.  Perhaps most relevant, and something it took years to truly appreciate, is the comment a Jesuit friend made as I was applying to enter.   "If you are accepted, enter, and stay your reasons for staying will be different from your reasons for entering."  The only way I can remember my reasons for entering is to reread the application.  My reasons for staying?  See the 400 page manuscript when it is published. 

I am grateful to family and friends who were supportive of my decision to heed the vocation the Society.  I am also grateful to the many Jesuits who guided me, listened when I was struggling, and have helped me move in directions I never expected, directions that always had only one purpose:  Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, To the Greater Glory of God. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, August 12, 2017

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a
Ps 85
Rom 9:1-5
Mt 14:22-33

"Lord let us see your kindness
and grant us your salvation."

Psalm 85 brings the two readings and the Gospel together.  Each is a reading about faith fraying along the edges or faith that seemed to be lost.  Each of the speakers:  Elijah, Paul, and Peter could have easily uttered the psalm response from his position of desperation, discouragement, or fear.  We can identify with those feelings and add a few of our own. 

Things can't get worse for Elijah.  He is hiding in a cave to escape the wrath of the evil Jezebel who wanted him dead.  While in hiding an angel instructed him to eat and prepare for a journey.  All Elijah wanted was to die.  He had given up hope.  His faith was shaky.  He was despondent.  He ate only after the angel demanded that he do so.  Then, he began a journey of forty days. 

The Jewish Study Bible notes that a man could walk between 15 and 25 miles per day.  Multiplied by 40 days, Elijah walked from 600 and 1000 miles.  To put the distances into perspective, it is about 500 miles south from Boston to Washington, DC and 1000 miles west to Chicago.  What went through his mind during that arduous trek? What goes through our minds during the 40-day journeys we are forced to take during life, the journeys of chemotherapy, chronic pain, or the seemingly endless journey of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's?

Elijah's encounter with God in a whisper rather than an earth-shaking event is one of the remarkable images in the Old Testament.  Elijah had to be open and willing to hearing that whisper.  He had to be attuned to and ready for it.  Similarly, we have to be prepared and willing to hear the voice of God in a whisper, in the brief moment of quiet that interrupts the background noise that complicates our lives.  We can only say: 

"Lord let me see your kindness
and grant me your salvation."

One can feel Paul’s discouragement that his people rejected Jesus.  His distress was such that he would have been willing to have himself cut off from Christ if they would accept the great gift of salvation. We all know Paul’s frustration.  We know the pain when no one will listen to us.  We know the frustration of being met with opposition by everyone in our lives: family, friends, co-workers and so on.  We know that feeling of radical loneliness.  And thus can only say, or perhaps scream . . . .

"Lord let me see you kindness
and grant me your salvation." 

Today’s Gospel take place immediately after Jesus had fed the multitude with a few loaves and fishes.  The crowd had dispersed.  He dismissed his disciples and went up the mountain alone to pray.  While Jesus was praying the apostles were in a boat crossing the 4 1/2 mile wide Sea of Galilee.  They were a few miles off-shore and not in a position to swim if the boat capsized.  The fourth watch of the night was between 3:00 and 6:00 AM.  Thus they had been struggling to cross--and Jesus had been praying-- for a long time.  We can identify with their terror when they saw Jesus coming toward them on the water.  And then  Peter acted. “(he) got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened.”  For Peter, as for many of us, fear results in loss of faith.  We must thus ask, what is faith? 

Australian Trappist Fr. Michael Casey makes an important point:  “Faith has to grapple constantly with the doubts we may experience when we hear the words of the poet Robert Browning  ‘God is in his heaven—all’s right with the world.'  So often it doesn’t seem that way.”  Many times in our lives it doesn’t seem that God is in his heaven or that anything is right with the world.  Casey goes on to give a good definition of faith:  “Faith means letting go of our ambition to control, understand, or even cope with what happens. Faith means releasing our anxieties into God’s hands and seeing all that happens as coming from the hand of God. The fact that I cannot comprehend the logic of events means simply that my intellect is limited.  Our relationship with God is often undermined by fears about impending disaster” It is terrifying to be wheeled into an operating room.  It is panic-inducing to hear an unfavorable diagnosis after surgery. The emotions upon realizing our child will die cannot be described.  Our faith wavers and, like Peter, we begin to sink.  Our faith may waver when we realize the seriousness of our situation.  We may suddenly doubt as the river rises above flood stage in our lives. 

Faith does not mean that life will go smoothly.  Faith is not a shield against trauma or protection from pain. Faith is not a Berlin wall against the anguish of grieving the death of a spouse, a parent, or a child. Faith does not prevent illness and death.  Faith is an umbrella over us during these crises.  Peter’s faith was strong when he jumped out of the boat because he wasn't thinking about it too much.  When he began to intellectualize and pay attention to the storm he tried to take control.  For the moment his faith vanished.  And then he prayed; “Lord.  Save me!” 

We also try walk on the waters of a stormy lake at night. In those moments we can only plead with the psalmist:

"Lord let us see you kindness

and grant us your salvation."


After talking it over with the provincial and superior it was apparent that I had to purchase a new camera body.  Unlike the old days of single-lens reflex cameras (SLRs) that lasted forever unless dropped into water etc. digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras do not have that kind of life expectancy nor do they have interchangeable technology.  I've used Olympus for the past ten years.  Unfortunately Olympus abandoned the DSLR market completely, camera bodies and lenses,  a few years ago.  They have become one of the premier makers of mirrorless cameras that are lighter and smaller than the clunky and heavy DSLRs.  While I like the DSLR I had no option.  To switch to Canon, Nikon, or Sony and acquire the same quality lenses as the Olympus ones, would cost about 10 grand.  Purchasing a new Olympus mirrorless (aka m4/3) body was very much less.  With the addition of an inexpensive adapter I can use the same terrific lenses as I used on the DSLR.  The camera body itself only does so much.  The quality of the lenses or "glass" as hip photographers refer to them, make much more of a difference.  It is better to have great lenses on an OK camera than poor lenses on a top-of-the-line body.  I will keep the E-5 as backup and for those situations, particularly action shots, that mirrorless is less effective at shooting.  Am still getting used to what the camera does and how to do it.  So far I've learned to ignore the electronic viewfinder (much prefer the old fashioned optical) when shooting.  As long as it is framed properly I'm content.  Results of some shots taken here at Campion are below.  Given a few weeks I will probably come to love the camera.  

Entrance to the Campion infirmary.   It is obvious that the building was constructed almost 100 years ago.

Two different views of the chapel.  The first from the second floor balcony.  There is a third floor balcony as well.  The second on the ground.  The light over the altar makes from complicated shooting

Two different approaches to the chandeliers.  I like these.  They are of a simple design.  Each set can be controlled individually.  

The small chapel on the third floor.  Besides the Chapel of the Holy Spirit there is a daily Mass chapel that has easier wheelchair accessibility, small chapels on the third and fourth floors of assisted living, a few "pocket" chapels that come off some stair landings and one or two in the retreat house.  The daily Mass chapel is currently undergoing badly needed renovation (it was truly ugly) while we use a temporary chapel on the second floor.  The temporary chapel is an improvement over the daily one as it was.

Some flowers to end.   Am much more content with the rendition of reds with this camera.  It was difficult to get things the way they looked with the E-5 without a lot of post-processing.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Homily on the Memorial of St. Edith Stein (Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, OCD)

The train pulled into the station on August 6, 1942.  Among the thousand or so passengers who disembarked after a long uncomfortable trip from Holland was a woman clad in the habit of a Discalced Carmelite nun. 

The station was Auschwitz. 

The Carmelite’s name was Sr. Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, born Edith Stein on Oct 12, 1891 in Breslau, Poland.  She was the youngest of 11 children welcomed into a devoutly observant Jewish household.  Her academic brilliance was obvious at an early age.  She wrote that at 14 she,  “consciously and deliberately stopped praying” so as to rely exclusively on herself and to make all decisions about her life in freedom.   She received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Freiborg summa cum laude.  Her dissertation was titled, “On the Problem of Empathy.”  She later worked with her mentor Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology.  She embraced Catholicism during her studies.

Two episodes stand out in her move from the perceived freedom of atheistic self-dependence to the radical freedom of those who live under the cross of Christ.  The first was when she visited with the young widow of a colleague and friend killed in World War I.  Though bereaved the widow’s faith was such that she consoled those who came to console her.  Recalling the incident later, Stein wrote, “It was my first encounter with the cross and the divine power that it bestows on those who carry it.  For the first time I was seeing with my own eyes the Church born from its redeemer’s sufferings triumphant over the sting of death.  That was the moment my unbelief collapsed and Christ shone forth—in the mystery of his cross.”  The second episode was her encounter with the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila.  Upon closing the book, which she read in one sitting she said, “This is the truth.” 

Her remaining years were marked by carrying and living under the shadow of the cross.  She had difficulty gaining admission to Carmel but was finally able to enter in Cologne in 1933.  The pain she caused her family by her conversion and entry into religious life is indescribable. 

Because of the increasing persecution of Jews in Germany she was secretly sent to the Carmel in Echt, Holland in 1938.  At Echt she wrote her last work, fittingly titled, The Science of the Cross.   She was taken from the Carmel on 2 August 1942 along with her sister Rosa who had become a Catholic though not a nun.  A few days earlier, when questions about possible rescue were raised Stein dismissed them. “Do not do it.  Why should I be spared?  Is it not right that I should gain no advantage from my Baptism?  If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters; my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed.” 

Stein carried her cross to Calvary 75 years ago today.  She left behind 17 volumes of writings including difficult philosophical works, papers on educational theory, and a huge trove of letters to a diverse group of correspondents.  The letters are her most accessible writing. 

Released from the shackles of the illusory atheistic freedom she found radical freedom in the science and shadow of the cross. In the homily at her canonization Mass, St. Pope John Paul quoted Stein:

"Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love.
And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth!"
One without the other becomes a destructive lie.

Sometimes one stands in front of a history such as this and realizes that there is nothing more to say. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Dn 7:9-10, 13-14
Ps 97:1-2, 5-6,99
2 Pt 1:16-19
Mt 17:1-9
The Transfiguration is always celebrated on August 6 even when it falls on a Sunday as it does this year. This feast draws us into a mystery that is beyond the reach of historical reconstruction, the grasp of scientific explanation, and the possibility of geographic verification. All of these questions are irrelevant. The Transfiguration represents the fulfillment of scripture, fulfillment of the promise, the beginning of mankind's salvation, a promise made in the first reading of from Deuteronomy. 
"The Son of Man received dominion, glory, and kingship;
all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.
His dominion is everlasting;
his kingship shall not be destroyed."
"His dominion is everlasting;
his kingship shall not be destroyed."
On this Feast we recall Jesus appearing in brilliant glory to three of his disciples while in the company of Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. Imagine the scene: Dazzling light. Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus. Place yourself with the apostles, stand with them on the mountain. Your anxiety level increases as the tension becomes almost unbearable. And then you hear God's voice. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.”
The Father confirms that Jesus is who Peter had earlier confessed him to be: the Christ, the Son of God. The Father gives you a mission: "Listen to him." Like the apostles, you are stunned into silence; overcome with awe. On this day Jesus–the Nazarean, the ethical teacher, the wonder worker, the healer–was revealed in his Divinity. 
We recall another event on this date. That event was also marked by blinding light. It too was overshadowed by a cloud. It too was an event that, if you place yourself as a witness to it, will cause stunned silence and prostration. August 6 is the date on which the Church celebrates that Jesus revealed his Divinity on a mountain. August 6, 1945 is the date the human race revealed its depravity at Hiroshima. The world would never be the same. Hiroshima captured in one event the sum total of human sin since the fall of Adam and Eve. It took the cumulative horrors of all wars of the preceding centuries, the wars from the twentieth century, the bloodiest in history, and condensed them into a singular event. This time God did not seem to give mankind a mission out of the cloud. There was a terrible silence, there was a void. Or was there?
The voice of God was obscured by that explosion. It was not silenced. Today, almost 2000 years since Jesus death and seventy-two years since Hiroshima--and the follow-up explosion in Nagasaki three days later-- the mandate: “listen to him” is as compelling and urgent for us as it was for the shaken apostles. Indeed, it is more compelling because Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrated a capability for destruction on a large scale that is unique to the present time, a capability that will only increase. 
"This is my Son; listen to him.”
"Listen to him." 
As we listen to Jesus, as we take his teaching to heart and allow that teaching to transform us, we move that much closer to the eschatological glory of the transfigured Jesus. And we move that much farther from the apocalyptic destruction of the nuclear bomb, the destruction of the Armenian genocide, the agonies in the Baltic States, the Cultural Revolution of China, and the concerted and systematic attack on morality and life in the U.S. today. 
"The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory."
"The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth."

The Feast of the Transfiguration is of such great importance that it trumps the 18th Sunday.  In general the Mass of a feast or memorial is never celebrated on Sunday with certain exceptions.  The Transfiguration is one of those exceptions.  
The photos are of the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Arlington, Vermont.  It is the only Charterhouse in the U.S.  This year the Feast will celebrated with particular joy as one of the men is pronouncing his solemn profession.  

The Charterhouse of the Transfiguration sits on 7000 acres of Mt. Equinox in Vermont.  It is the most isolated Charterhouse in the world, an interesting fact in that all Charterhouses are isolated though the one in Slovenia less so than some others.   The monks live as hermits, spending up to sixteen hours a day in their cells praying, working, eating (all meals are taken alone except on Sundays and special feasts).  It is a place of exquisite silence.  A visit to Le Grande Chartreuse, the first Carthusian Charterhouse in the French Alps overlooking Grenoble, Switzerland, was the inspiration behind Robert Cardinal Sarah's fine book titled The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.  I am currently reading it.  Excellent book. 

The Carthusian seal and motto.  The motto is in Latin on the seal.  All of the prayer in a Carthusian house is in Latin and Gregorian chant.  

A view from the top of Mt. Equinox, over a mile higher than the viewing location for the monastery.  The land is spectacular.  It was donated by a wealthy industrialist.  Oddly enough I know a cloistered nun who skied on Mt. Equinox as a young woman.  The Charterhouse is only about 55 years old.  Mother is considerably older than that. 

The monastery was built of granite and unfinished concrete in the brutalist style of the sixties.  It is the only brutalist building I've seen that "works" i.e. I am not repelled by it as I am by the Boston City Hall or Georgetown's main library.  The less said about the annex to the HUB at Penn State the better.  It too is brutalist. It should be replaced.  This shot was taken with the equivalent of a 600 mm lens.

A better idea of the distance from Monastery Outlook to the monastery.  The monastery is not open for tours or tourists.  Indeed the closest one can get is about 2 miles.  Monks have two days of family visit per year.  

Sunset in August.  I was freezing while it was in the  80s in Boston.  

The reservoir.  The monastery itself is about a mile away over dirt roads. 

Another small body of water.  The monastery is off to the right a piece, perhaps 3/4 mile. There are no markings or signs for how to get there.  And there is an electronic gate back about a mile to the left.  No one is going to drive in by mistake. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ  MD