Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Solemnity of All Saints

Rv 7:2-4, 9-14
Ps 24: 1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
I Jn 3:1-3
Mt 5:1-12a

The practice of venerating and invoking saints is an ancient one in the Church.  The actual beginning of such veneration is unknown though we do know that saints have been venerated since the 4th century. Over time the veneration of saints degenerated into superstition. It still appears superstitious in the minds of many.   And truth be told, human nature being what it is, there are superstitious customs that have nothing to do with sanctity, sainthood, or reality. Burying a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the lawn so as to sell the house is bizarre.  However, the Saints are critical for our spiritual lives.  The examples of their lives are important guides to living the Christian life.  They are our models of that life.  They are our intercessors at the throne of heaven.

The Church sets the first day of November as a holy day of obligation in honor of the saints.  Thus, the root meaning of Halloween is holy eve and not what it has bizarrely become in large cities, a cross-dressing festival for adults.  The Solemnity of All Saints honors ALL saints, those who have been formally canonized and those known only to God.   The readings help to explain why and what sainthood is.

The reading from Revelation is fascinating.  Revelation is the most wildly misunderstood, misquoted, and misused book in the entire Bible.  It is part of the difficult form of biblical literature known as apocalyptic.  It is not Ancient Near Eastern science fiction. The apocalyptic literature was meant to give hope during times of persecution.  It was written so as to be understood by those who were persecuted, those for whom it was intended, while remaining unintelligible and incomprehensible to those outside.  Something like the way teenagers speak when their parents and teachers are around.

The symbolism is dense.  The meaning of some of the symbols and allusions is, and will remain, unknown.  Numerology is part of that symbolism.  It cannot be taken literally.  There are meanings attached to numbers in apocalyptic that go beyond the amount.  Sainthood, seeing the face of God, is not limited to the absolute number of 144,000 described in the reading.  Certain fundamentalist sects would argue to the death that it is, but that is their problem and pathology, not ours. 

In Revelation the number 1000 signifies an immense number, the equivalent of a "bazillion" today. Remember, hyperbole is not a 20th century American invention.  One hundred forty-four is the square of twelve  (a number which carries its own symbolism within the tribes of Israel).   Thus, 144,000 signifies a multitude beyond counting, an infinite number.  Though few of us will be canonized we are all called to sainthood.  Despite the claims of the rapturists, there is room for everyone. 

Who can hope to be numbered among the saints?  Who can hope to ascend the mountain of the Lord?  One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. 

As John wrote in his letter, God the Father has bestowed such love on us that we are the children of God.  We are his beloved because of Jesus’ radical self-surrender that brought sinful humanity to redemption.  His obedience opened the path to those who wish to ascend the mountain of the Lord.  The stepping-stones of that path are outlined in Matthew’s Gospel, that is far and away the most well-known part of the significantly longer Sermon on the Mount. 

Read through these “Blessed are” statements some time today.  They are an expansion of the psalmist’s answer to the questions:  Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?  Who may stand in his holy place?  The Beatitudes tell us how to be those whose hands are sinless, whose hearts are clean, and who desire not what is vain. 

We do not know what we shall be.  We do not know what it will be like to be in God’s presence.  We do not know what it will be like to be numbered among the saints.  But Matthew tells us it will be blessed.  There is no reason to quibble with that.     


It has been a few weeks since I posted.  Just moved to the SJ community at Boston College.  The move should be finished on Friday. The unpacking should be finished sometime during the current year.  It is good to be here.  I like the arrangement.  Because I live on campus there will be many more photographic opportunities than there were at Campion Center.  One can only photograph a tree so many times.  As I've no interest in birds and wildlife as photographic subjects, the pickings were slim.  Will post some photos from my first nighttime foray here in a day or two.  

The photos below were taken on All Saints Day in Slovenia.  All Saints is a national holiday.  Halloween appears to be unknown, something for which I am thankful.  At about age ten I decided it was ridiculous.  Even today I will not go to a costume party.  In many large cities halloween is now a festival of (mostly it seems) cross-dressing for adults who spend way more money than anyone should pretending to be what they are not.  

Early on All Saints morning Fr. Jože asked if I wanted to go to his sister's house in Bašelj.  I'd been there before.  Was kind of tired but decided to go.  Fortunately with camera.  We had lunch at his sister's and then went to the parish church in Preddvor to concelebrate Mass.  

The church was packed.  After Mass the three priests processed behind the crucifix with the entire congregation following in complete silence.  Our destination was the cemetery about 1/8 mile away.  What a shock.  There was a line of parked cars stretching into the distance.  At least 500 people were in the cemetery, all of them standing at the base of the family plot facing the stone.  No one was speaking.  Not one cell phone was visible.  We stopped at the crucifix in the center while the congregation silently went to their family plots.  

Each grave was adorned with flowers and somewhere between two to twelve seven-day red votive candles.  Everything remained silent.  After the prayers and hymns we returned to the church.  As Father Jože's family is buried there we returned to the graves and thus the photos.  

Upon returning to LJ, about thirty minutes away, the plan was for the Jesuit community to go to our plot in Žale, a massive cemetery in LJ.  I will let the photos at the bottom do the describing.  I can't.  


The view from the back door at Fr. Joze's sister's house.  

The village of Bašelj.  Father is related to about 23 people here.  It is tiny.

Father's sister cooking lunch.  There was no fog.  The window was steamed up from the heat of the kitchen.  Splendid meal that included . . . .

. . . this for desert.

The mountains from the church yard gate in Preddvor.

The church taken from the cemetery.

The inside of the church.

Landscape perspective of the inside before Father turned on the lights

The cemetery after Mass.  This shows about 1/3 of it.

One typical grave site.

We stopped to drop something off at a house.  Took advantage of the five minutes to shoot a landscape.

Žale Cemetery.  The building is the chapel of moderate size in which the funeral Mass is held.  This ring of candles circled the entire church except for the front entrance.  One could feel the heat emanating from all the candles.   As we were heading to Žale to meet the rest of the Jesuits in LJ (and say the rosary at our brothers' graves) one of the men asked if I was taking the camera.  I told him probably not.  He replied, "You'll be sorry."  I took camera and thanked him for the next three days.

The other side of the church.  Eucharistic Adoration was happening in the church.  I lasted four minutes.  I don't know how many candles were lit in the church but the heat, despite the wide-open door, was suffocating.

The Jesuit plot.  Before going to LJ I directed that were I to die there I was to be buried there.  After seeing Žale I felt very comfortable with that decision.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Still in the Country

I've not returned to Slovenia.  Yet.  Not until May.  However, since returning home I've had fewer Masses on Sundays.  In addition I am moving to the Boston College community in two days.  It is only about eight miles away.  The moving itself will be piecemeal.  Most of my clothes are in the new house.  Will take some things tomorrow and Thursday.  At some point Thursday night I will get a ride from Campion to BC and that will be that.  Will need help with a few things such as my futon and a lot of boxes of books but BC will supply that.  

In addition, I spent over a week on the road driving from Weston to Malvern, PA to officiate at a cousin's wedding.  It was great.  The day after the wedding I drove up to Newburgh, NY, spent the night and then drove in a miserable rain to Arlington, VT.  The rain eased up in Albany.  Alas, that meant ninety minutes in driving rain, trucks, and the dark as I left at 5:30 AM.  Long long trip.  Seemed much longer than the three hours that it took.  However, Tuesday was magnificent.  We'd moved some of my talks to Monday so suddenly I had a free day with perfect photo weather.  Photos at the bottom. 

Eager to get started with the new work.  It will be interesting to live on a college campus again.  There is a different sense of energy on a campus though at times it would be nice if it were at a bit lower volume.  Especially after midnight.  

Will probably post a homily in a day or two when it is ready.  Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Luke.  The following day is the North American Martyrs. That is the day I move to BC.  Am looking forward to a few weeks of not much travel or activity.  

One of the cloister walks.  The monastery is in the brutalist fashion.  It is one of the very few brutalist buildings I like.  It works.  It will probably stand forever.  

The monastic church, choir stalls, lecterns and altar.  The central time of  Carthusian life is the night office that begins with the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin in the cell beginning at 11:30 PM.  At midnight the community meets in the church for a two to three hours of the night office.  Mass at 7:45 AM and vespers at 5.  Otherwise the men remain alone in silence. 

The main altar and tabernacle.

The stained glass is magnificent.  It is non-figurative in purple, blues, and gold.  The light suffuses the entire church in a warm glow depending on the time of day. 

The books are very large, old, in Latin, and use Gregorian chant.  

The graveyard is in the center of the cloister.  A Carthusian is buried beneath a simple cross with no name, date of birth, death, or anything else.  He is buried as anonymously as he lived. 

Sunrise overlooking Arlington, VT.  This is from a point about 2/3 up Mt. Equinox.

Sunrise reflected in the windshield of the car. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD