Thursday, April 26, 2018

Memorial Mass

Wis 3:1-6,9
1 Cor 15:20-26
Jn 12:23-28

The sonnet begins with a challenge directed at death as if it were a person:

"Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so . . . "

The sonnet ends ten short lines later with gentle reassurance and a sense of hope directed to those who are dying and to those who survive and must go on.

"One short sleep past, we wake eternally, 
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die."

In his tenth holy sonnet, the 17thcentury Anglican priest and poet John Donne, tells the personification of death that he thinks very little of its reputation or its power. 

We heard in Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, "For as by a man came death by a man came also the resurrection.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

A few verses later we read Paul's declaration, "The last enemy to be destroyed is death."  It was these words that allowed Donne to end his sonnet as he did, 

"And death shall be no more, 
Death thou shalt die." 

A quiet moment.  A slight pause.  And it is done.

In an especial way during the Easter season, we are reminded of the significance of Jesus' life, the destruction of death and its power. Death no longer holds sway over us. Through his loving self-surrender Jesus vanquished the hold that death exerted over us for eons. He destroyed it so that it never can, and never will, exert that power again. 

We heard in the Gospel just proclaimed: "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be." This is our task and our mandate, to serve and follow Jesus, who freed us from the thrall of death. Only because of Jesus' saving act could Donne admonish: "Death, be not proud."

Jesus victory over death does not mean that we will not die.  Dying can never be avoided. Even though we can sometimes postpone it for many years, we all die. But, we do not have to submit to death. We never have to submit to the nihilism of the pseudo-sophisticate who sniffs that death is nothing more than returning to the food chain.  That is true only if one chooses to consciously and intentionally reject the promise of Jesus' redeeming act. That act of rejection requires great effort and determination. 

There are many challenges for those of us who must go on after the death of someone we love. The greatest of those challenges is grieving. Grief is never easy. It is never quick. Grief never reaches so-called 'closure,' one of the most bizarre and phony concepts ever forced down the throats of a gullible public. 

The first reading reinforces Donne's sonnet when it proclaims:  "The souls of the just are in the hands of God and no torment shall touch them."

We heard in the Gospel that was just proclaimed:  "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be."  This is our task, this is our mandate, to serve and follow Jesus, who freed us from the thrall of death.  Only because of Jesus' saving act could Donne admonish: "Death, be not proud."

The words of the readings are a source of some consolation.  But that consolation can only be partial. The words can never fully ease the pain of the broken hearted, they cannot answer the questions of those who wonder how to go on after the death of a spouse, a child, a parent, sibling, or friend.  

Grieving is the most solitary and isolating of all human experiences.  Grief is the great leveler.  It brings both the peasant and the dictator to his knees in pain, rage, and sorrow.  Grieving sets off an insatiable hunger in the poor man as well as in the wealthy gourmand.  Grief brings all of us to our knees, sometimes in prayer and oftentimes, perhaps most often, in pain.  It is an uncharted course through a wide variety of emotions.  

No writer ever described the grief better than C.S. Lewis did in the opening sentence of the small diary he kept after his wife's death. It is titled, A Grief Observed.  “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.  The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning." 

Grieving takes time. It takes energy.  It takes more than the week or two, or the maximum couple of months, that American society insists it should.  With time a loved one's death becomes part of a new reality.  Coming to that new reality compels new ways of living for all who survive.  

As we grieve we are called to pray:

Requiem aeternam 
dona eis, Domine, 
et lux perpetua luceat eis. 
Requiescant in pace. 

"Eternal rest 
grant unto them O Lord, 
and let perpetual light shine upon them. 
May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed
rest in peace."



In about 12 hours I will give this homily at the monthly memorial Mass for those who died the previous month at St. Patrick Manor, a 325 bed nursing home run by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.  It is always a difficult task.  Many recently bereaved family members are in attendance.  I'm not scheduled for Mass on Sunday.  After the past week of massive amounts of travel I will appreciate the time off.  

Photos were taken halfway up Mt. Equinox in Arlington, VT.  Still winter up there.  The background for the first and third shots is ice on Lake Madeleine.  I suspect it is all gone as a result of the warm temps on Monday and a lot of rain over the next two days; including during the drive home.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, April 23, 2018

Vocation Sunday

4th Sunday of Easter 
22 April 2018
55thDay of Prayer for Vocations

For the past 55 years the Church has designated the Fourth Sunday of Easter, as the Day of Prayer for Vocations, to the vowed religious life and to the priesthood. I look forward to this Sunday annually. It presents an opportunity to recall my own vocation journey, to consider the vocations of friends, and to encourage other young, and even middle-aged, men and women to be open to vocations to the religious life as nuns, brothers, and priests.    

The word vocation derives from the Latin root: Voco, vocare, vocatus.  To call. To name.  To summon.  To invite. To challenge.  Every vocation story, every description of what brought a man or woman to a particular order, congregation, monastery, or diocese taps into the different meanings of these words.  We spend the rest of our lives parsing those meanings. 

I arrived in Sydney, Australia on 10 January 2011 to begin tertianship, the last thing a Jesuit does before he pronounces final vows.  There were twelve of us including: 

A Belgian professor of canon law in Rome.  
A Korean Jesuit who became Catholic in high school and entered after college.  
A Vietnamese man who escaped to Germany and entered there.  
An American physics professor who was also a Penn State grad. 

So as to get to know each other we shared our vocation stories in great detail. Aspects of the individual stories were unique.  But the stories shared certain characteristics.  These included, a persistent sense of being called . . . even when we tried to ignore it, the anxiety upon beginning the application process, and the challenges of the two years as novices.  We all talked about the importance of prayer, the critical role of the Eucharist, the need for contemplation, and, ultimately, a willingness to say, 'Yes, I will follow you.'

One of my friends, a cloistered Benedictine nun, wrote with great insight about what a vocation is well after she entered the monastery. “Many people don't understand the difference between a vocation and your own idea about something.  A vocation is a call – one you don't necessarily want. The only thing I ever wanted to be was an actress.  But I was called by God.”

Shehadbeen an actress. A young, beautiful, successful, and increasingly busy actress.  Ten movies in five years.  But when Dolores Hart walked through the cloister door at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT in 1963, where she is now Mother Dolores, it was years before she appeared in public again.  She celebrated 50 years of monastic profession in September of 2016. I chatted with her this past Holy Saturday after celebrating the Vigil Mass at the Abbey.  At 78 she remains chatty, witty, sharp, and happy. She was truly called by God.  

As was Chase Hilgenbrinck, now Fr. Chase Hilgenbrinck, who, after playing pro soccer first in Chile and then with the New England Revolution in Boston, left pro sports behind to enter the seminary.  He is now a priest in the Diocese of Peoria, currently assigned as Newman Center chaplain at the University of Illinois.  

After considering what a vocation is we must ask, 'How do we encourage and nurture vocations, particularly in a sadly secular and increasingly amoral American society?' The single most important element, besides praying for vocations, is asking.  It is critical that someone ask.  It may be a parent or grandparent who sees something or a friend who recognizes a spark.  It may be another religious or priest. Someone needs to ask. 

I'd been considering the Jesuits for two years. No one knew.  On the Friday before Thanksgiving 1992, George Murray, SJ, MD under whom I was a psychiatry fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, didn't feel like rounding.  The other fellow was away.  It was just the two of us.  He suggested coffee. As we sipped it he cleared his throat and stammered: "There is something I have to ask. You don't have to answer but I have to ask.  Have you ever considered becoming a priest?  Have you thought about the Jesuits?  Have you given up on the idea?"  The rest is history.  I entered in 1997, three days before turning 48. He vested me as a priest ten years later. I celebrated his funeral Mass six weeks after he witnessed my final vows in 2013.

In 2002, I took a young Taiwanese friend, a grad student at Georgetown, to lunch. There was a reason. While driving home I asked the same questions George asked me.  What I didn't realize beforehand was that asking a man about becoming a Jesuit included the dry mouth, sweaty palms, butterflies-in-the-stomach and stammering that recalled asking for a date to the junior prom at PHS.   He was thinking about it.  No one knew. We talked for 2 1/2 hours.  He entered as soon as he got his green card. I didn't even try to hide the tears as he pronounced his vows a few years ago. 

The prayer and support of family and friends is crucial.  Many of us have stories of ruptured friendships or broken family ties because someone didn’t understand or accept the decision to enter religious life or the seminary.  We've all been bullied with arguments about throwing our lives away, wasting our educations, or the ever-popular whine, “But you would be such a good father, or "You would be an awesome mother.”

The arguments don't dissuade. They don't convince. They disappoint. They hurt. 

They hurt a lot. 

What I ask of you today is to encourage others to consider life in a religious order or congregation. Don't insult or devalue a decision to say yes to a vocation.  Say something like "That's great. Tell me more about it."   The other request is to pray that young men and women will say, with Mary our Mother, 

"Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."
“May it be done unto me according to your word.”

And, finally, as I am a shameless opportunist, if you know any young man wondering about becoming a Jesuit, he can call me at any time.  And, I'm on Facebook.  Send a PM.


Was in PA for a quick trip over the weekend.  Planned to post this last night.  However, by the time I got back the concept of exhaustion had taken on a whole new meaning.  Could barely move.  

The photos below are from the Boston Marathon last week.  The weather was beyond ugly.  It was the slowest marathon in forty years.  Many elite runners dropped out along the way.  The temperatures were in the high thirties to low forties.  The wind was hitting 25 mph.  It was a headwind.  And the rain varied between gentle and downpour.  Wretched running weather.  The only reason I got the photos was the proximity of our community to the course:  one block.  Was out there for much of three hours but that was it.  See last photo.  It was pouring.  Went back to house and up to bathroom.  Five layers of clothing did not prevent getting soaked to the skin.  It was worth it.  

BC is just below the crest of 'Heartbreak Hill."  This inflated sign was a challenge given the wind. 

BC is 5 1/4 miles from the finish of the 26 1/4 mile race.

The wheelchair racers begin earlier and finish in under two hours.  I can't imagine the challenge of figuring out what is a puddle and what is a pothole. 

The elite men were behind this truck.  Not a good photo technically.  As I was using the camera under a "rain bonnet" made of plastic bag and rubber bands, I couldn't necessarily see what I was doing with the buttons.  Changed autofocus to manual.  Had many photos out of focus until I figured out the problem. 

 Hundreds of paper cups on the ground.  This was well before the hoi polloi that made up the bulk of the 30,000k runners came by.  They would present quite a hazard on wet pavement. 

 I can't imagine being cold, hungry, thirsty, and having 5 1/4 miles to go.  

 A representative of the Navy. 

These three Army guys were enjoying themselves, waving, laughing, high-fiving. . . . 
Not sure I would want to run a marathon in combat boots. 

The volunteers who hand out the water are unsung.  And they hung in there for hours. 

It was getting ugly as a band of heavy rain was moving through. 

A man after my own heart who wears a proper fitted baseball cap rather than those silly things that are adjustable in the back.  Not much of a baseball hat wearer in the first place but the two I have (with Penn State on them, no surprise I'm sure) are fitted. 

It was starting to get real ugly with the rain at this point. 

Real ugly. 

And then I said:  "I'm done." 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, April 8, 2018

2nd Sunday of Easter

2nd Sunday of Easter 
Acts 4:32-35
Ps 118
1 Jn 5:1-6
Jn 20:19-31

When preaching on this Second Sunday of Easter it is tempting to focus on Thomas, or Doubting Thomas, as he is colloquially known.  However, focusing on Thomas--to say nothing of his putative doubt--would miss deeper meanings found in today's readings. The Gospel is not about doubt.  It is about faith, as are the other readings.    

Faith is not the opposite of doubt. Faith and doubt are complementary.  Faith and doubt are interdependent.  Neither could exist without the other.  Mature faith must always contend with a degree of doubt, sometimes more and sometimes not so much.  But faith, as it matures, must struggle with or pass through, periods of doubt if not angry denial. 

Many of the first readings in the Easter Season are from Acts of the Apostles, a book written by Luke the Evangelist.  While lacking the magnificent prayers of his Gospel, Acts describes the earliest days of the Church, the first gatherings of the faithful, and the first ministries of the apostles.  Acts of the Apostles is our history as a Church and as a people.  It is our spiritual genealogy.  

In the first reading we hear how "the community of believers was of one heart and mind," living in a manner that sounds almost idyllic and marked by sharing of resources. As the days go by we will learn that the ideal did not continue without problems, conflict, anger, disagreement, disaffection, and desertion. One would expect nothing else as the Church, then and now, is made up exclusively of imperfect human beings who are nonetheless loved by God.  A short term for the phenomenon is sinners.  Once we become too convinced of our fundamental goodness or rightness we are on a slippery slope to conflict.  Quite a bit of conflict marked the early Church.  At times that conflict was necessary to her development, growth, and maturation.  

The reading from the First letter of John and John's Gospel are about faith.  The second reading presents the problem that each verse could be the basis for a homily on faith.  "And the victory that conquers the world is our faith."  So it does. 

We must ask ourselves if our faith depends on signs and wonders, miracles, and prayers granted in the way we want them granted. Does our faith exist only in good times?  This of course brings up the fundamental question. What is faith? 

The Letter to the Hebrews gives a definition of faith that is unsurpassed for brevity and accuracy: “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 only in oral form, as it did during the Sermon on the Mount, the discourses in John’s Gospel, or Jesus' private discussions with the Twelve.  Jesus’ preaching comes to us in scripture, it comes through the tradition of the Church. It is manifest most perfectly in the Eucharist and the prayers of the Mass.  

The apostles and other disciples did not grasp the reality of Jesus’ resurrection immediately afterwards despite Jesus having foretold all that would happen.  Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus at the empty tomb. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were clueless about the man who joined them during their sad walk, recognizing Jesus only in the breaking of the bread.  Today's Gospel tempts us to use Thomas as an exampleagainst whom to compare ourselves in a self-righteous manner, as in, "Well, I never would have doubted." 

This particular Gospel passage ends with Jesus asking a question--“Have you believed because you have seen me?"--and pronouncing a blessing--"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  It is for the latter group, those who have not seen and yet believe, it is for us, that the Gospel was written.  

The gospels were not meant to be--and most decidedly are not-- albums of verbal snapshots. They were not meant to depict and record every episode from Jesus' life.  There are not video clips anywhere.  The gospels are not a log-book that traces Jesus daily movements nor are they a diary of Jesus’ day-to-day thoughts.  The gospels are definitely not history in the modern understanding of the word.   Any attempt to read the gospels through the lens of modern historiography, any attempt to limn the "historical Jesus," is doomed to failure.  We can never interpret the gospels in the light of the modern concept of journalism--whatever journalism means today--without frustration and ultimate faithlessness.  The less said about "Historical Biblical Novels" such as The DaVinci Code the better.  One learns little about Jesus from these sad self-aggrandizing attempts but a great deal about the writer.  The current embarrassing and appalling so-called theologian at the College of the Holy Cross is a useful illustration. 

The last sentences of today's Gospel puts all the fatuous attempts to reconstruct some sort of historical Jesus according to modern norms and desires 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 complete fullness of Easter joy is contained in Thomas’ startled, doubt-free, faith-filled, and ultimately joyous proclamation:  "My Lord and My God." 

That one essential truth is why we too can gaze upon the Body and Blood of Christ present on this altar and say, “My Lord and My God.”  

"Give thanks to the Lord, 
for He is good, 
His love is everlasting."

Some photos from Holy Week at the Abbey.  Was staying in a different house than usual along with another priest.  Great house with many photographic opportunities.  Built sometime in the 1800s but I don't know when.   This is the kind of setting made for black and white conversion.  One of the great things with digital photography is the ability to shoot in color and convert into black and white.  As I shoot almost exclusively in RAW, resulting in very large files and no loss of data, all the photos are in color.  However, upon clicking the black and white option in processing and then playing with light, shadow, and filters, the results are very good.  I love black and white photography and looking and black and white photos.  Without the distraction of color one can focus on other characteristics such as the interplay of light and shadow, shape, texture, and other attributes of the photo.  Another advantage is that in certain conditions, and this house had them, it is easier to work with black and white than color.  Any manipulations to the color versions results in some unnatural looks to the furniture.  The various lighting sources play a major role.  

The time at the Abbey was deeply consoling though also physically exhausting.  I celebrated Palm Sunday and the Triduum, and concelebrated the other Masses.  The traffic home was not too bad but was getting very heavy.  Having given up alcohol for Lent I drove directly to the Jesuit residence, grabbed a sandwich and two beers.  I needed nothing more for the afternoon.  

The main room of the house.  The floors are wide-plank.  There is a fireplace.  As I don't do fires on the hearth it stayed cold and I wore an extra sweatshirt of two.  

Shot this through the music stand of the piano. 

Who of my generation could look at the guts of a piano and not be reminded of the classic Tom and Jerry cartoon featuring Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #2? 

A very comfortable chair for morning and evening meditation. 

The interplay of light, shadow, shape and texture drew me to this.  It is also the kind of photo that a non-photographer companion might find inexplicable as in "Why in the hell are you taking a dozen pictures of THAT?"

The entrance to the farmhouse.  I posted this on a photography site.  At least two members who responded named it the freezer door.  It is the back door to the house. 

 Two studies of light.  The first is the paschal candle, all fifteen pounds of it, in the sacristy at the church awaiting the blessing and lighting at the Saturday vigil.  The second is three sources of light in the house: the small clip-on halogen nightlight seen only in its light, the candle and the kerosene lamp.  

The sheer curtains in my bathroom.  It had a free-standing claw-foot tub.  I've seen people go nuts over claw-foot tubs, screeching how badly one is needed for the master bath.  Don't.  Getting out of them when wet and the bottom is soapy is not easy. 

Outdoors by the car and pond.  Looking straight up.  Am still trying to learn the new camera, particularly metering.  It is coming along.  Took multiple shots of this in an attempt to see what worked best.  

Have a Blessed Easter Season. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, April 2, 2018

Homily for the Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday

All Seven Old Testament readings
Rom 6:3-11
Mk 16:1-7 
Liturgy speaks for itself if we listen carefully. This is particularly true of the Sacred Triduum that is celebrated so magnificently in all its fullness in this monastery. The liturgy speaks for itself at all times and in all places, from the hidden Masses of the Carthusians, to the splendor of this Abbey Church ringing with the ancient chants, to the parish noon Mass on the fourth Thursday in ordinary time. The prayers, readings, and actions are polyvalent. But they lead to, proclaim, and illuminate the same truth, the only truth. . . Jesus, Risen from the Dead
"Hæc nox est,
in qua, destrúctis vínculis mortis,
Christus ab ínferis victor ascéndit." 
"This is the night
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld."
God's first words in the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, the beginning of history as we know it, are: “Let there be light.” And so we heard, 
"Hæc nox est,
de qua scriptum est:
Et nox sicut dies illuminábitur:
et nox illuminátio mea in delíciis meis."
"This is the night
that is as bright as day,
dazzling is the night
and full of gladness"
The paschal candle was carried into the church with the words: 
"Lumen Christi"
"Christ our Light." 
Each of us held that light as it spread from taper to taper filling this exquisite space with new light from the Paschal Candle.
"Hæc ígitur nox est,
quæ peccatórum ténebras
colúmnæ illuminatióne purgávit."
"This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
the darkness of sin was banished."
We will hold those candles again during the blessing of the water as we recall the parted waters of the Red Sea that gave the people, led by the column of fire, life and hope. We will renew our baptismal promises and recall the saving waters that gave us life.
Mark’s Gospel, the Good News of the Resurrection, is cinematically detailed. We know dawn was just breaking. We know what the women were carrying. We know their concerns about the size of the stone. Imagine the astonished looks when they saw that the stone had been rolled away and their chagrin when told, "He is not here." Place yourself in that scene. Stand there in amazement, confusion, and fear. What do you feel? What are you thinking? What do you want to say? 
"O vere beáta nox,
in qua terrénis cæléstia,
humánis divína iungúntur!"
"O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven
are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human."
With the final blessing a liturgy of fifty hours will end. We will go forth to rejoice in the resurrection of Christ our Lord. Listen again to the words from the blessing of the paschal candle. They tell us everything we need to know.
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 forever." 
We can only add: 
Deo Gratias
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

I meant to post this after the Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday.  Foolish idea.  The Mass began at 8 PM and ended at 11 PM.  By the time we got back to the house it was close to midnight.  I'm not certain I could remember my computer password by then.  Celebrating the entire Triduum at the abbey is a great privilege.  It is also physically grueling
.  The candle in the photo below is 15 pounds.  The priest is the only one to carry it.  

It took about five minutes to get a taper lit from the paschal fire before the Paschal Candle could be lit.  The wind was shipping in multiple directions.  Rather than chanting the first Lumen Christi on the small porch outside the monastic church we took it inside the vestibule where there was no wind.  It stayed lit the entire time.  

Drove home yesterday immediately after the morning Mass.  I made the mistake of remaining for lunch several years ago resulting in an extra hour on the the normally 2 1/2 drive from CT to Boston.  By the time I got off the Mass Pike traffic was getting quite heavy.  

The photo shows the paschal candle that had just been brought into the sacristy wrapped in a wool blanket.  The tray contains the stylus needed to inscribe the candle, the grains of incense, and the nails that are inserted over the grains of incense.  The Abbey makes  its own candles.  This one was made three years ago so as to allow it to cure.  

Have a most Blessed Easter
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD