Sunday, August 19, 2018

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time  
Prov 9:1-6
Ps 33
Eph 5:15-20
Jn 6:51-58

Last Saturday,  August 11, 2018, a ritual that is over 450 years old was reenacted in several cities across the U.S.  Following the entrance procession Mass went on as usual until just before communion.  After the Lamb of God a Jesuit provincial stood at the altar.  He elevated the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord  in front of the congregation that solemnly repeated the words,  "O Lord, I am not worthy . . . ." as usual.  But then he remained in place.  One by one black clad young men approached the altar.  Each man knelt alone, gazed at the Body and Blood of Our Lord for some moments, and then began to read from a document he had hand written a few days earlier:  “Almighty and eternal God.  I understand how unworthy I am in your divine sight.  Yet I am strengthened by your infinite compassion and mercy, and I am moved by the desire to serve you. . . . “  

He continued for a few more sentences.  The newly vowed man then partook of the banquet that Jesus brought to its fullest expression, the Eucharistic banquet, the same banquet in which we will share in a few minutes.  When he returned to his place he was no longer a novice. He was now, and would remain, a perpetually vowed Jesuit.  Nineteen years and five days ago, 14 August 2018,  I read the same vow formula that, except for being in English rather than Latin, has not changed in centuries.  

The Jesuit vow Mass is unusual because rather than pronouncing vows after the homily as in other orders, we pronounce our vows kneeling in front of the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord, just as St. Ignatius of Loyola and his original companions did on August 15, 1534.  

Images of a banquet, food, and drink are prominent in today's readings and gospel.

The first reading describes the banquet that Wisdom has prepared for all who choose to partake of it True wisdom comes from God, who gave humans, and only humans, not dogs, or cats, or other lower animals no matter how much we anthropomorphize them, hearts capable of discerning good from evil.  He gave us, and only us, hearts capable of choosing to return God’s love with love, and hearts that are equally capable of rejecting God's love.  A few verses after the end of this reading one reads:  “The beginning of Wisdom is fear of the Lord; and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  There is no possible counter-argument. 

The reading from Ephesians gives important advice.  “Do not drug yourselves with wine.”  

Paul is not referring only to drinkable wine, a little chardonnay here and some merlot there. He is referring to the wine of power, the wine of money, the wine of sensual pleasure, and the resulting intoxications that cloud one's judgment.  Paul is referring to the drunkenness that takes one’s mind from discerning God’s will.  He is describing the inebriation that destroys the gifts of Wisdom. How many lives have been damaged by those who are drunk on their own greed and intoxicated by their lust for power and possessions?  Contrast this drunkenness on the wine of power, compare the gluttony at the banquet of money with the Gospel.  

Jesus tells the crowds:   “I am the living bread that came down from heaven:  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  At the end He reiterates.  “This is the bread that came down from heaven.  Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Jesus wants to guide us on a challenging journey of faith.  A journey for which we are nourished only at the Eucharistic Banquet.  Unlike the wine of power and greed, unlike the junk food of position, unlike the saturated fat diet of privilege, partaking in the banquet of the Eucharist, hearing and obeying the Word of God, brings us to eternal life.  

However, there is one thing we must never forget.  Jesus is NOT promising that our lives will be free of pain and suffering.  Jesus is not promising that we won’t die; sometimes peacefully sometimes after a prolonged and difficult struggle. Jesus is not promising that those we love won’t die; be it before their time or after a long life. We all must die if we are to know eternal life. Eternal life is only possible through the Living Word, eternal life comes only through Jesus the Son of God. It is only possible because Jesus gave Himself for our salvation.  Eternal life is possible only if we avail ourselves of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

In a few moments, just as those brand new Jesuit scholastics did last Saturday, you will kneel and gaze up at the Body and Blood of Christ. 

You will hear the words:
”Behold the Lamb of God.
Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called
to the supper of the Lamb." 

You are being invited to the banquet of Wisdom.
You are being invited to the banquet that leads to eternal life. 
You need only respond: 


So be it.

Most of the boys at camp making the flag pole for the 'camp flag.' 

The flag.  It was fascinating to watch the boys cooperating as they began with a large tree branch, stripped it, and eventually raised the flag. 

A silhouette of tourists at the summit of Višarje

The kids eating lunch at a farm about one mile down a ski slope from the summit of the mountain they walked down. No way I could have done that.  Riding down in a 4wd vehicle was an interesting experience.  We went very slowly. 

Three reasonably newborn calves.  Apparently they were sent into time out. 

Smoking ricotta cheese.  I've never heard of this but it sounds good. 

The farmer makes the cheese from the cow's milk he obtains daily.  This is the windowsill in his cheesemaking room.

The pot in which the milk was heated to a very specific temperature so as to make ricotta.

This explains everything about being young.  The girls ambled off at the beginning of the scavenger hunt.  The boys took off like rockets.

The kids left crumbs.  I missed lunch completely.  Had a beer instead. 

A last photo of the flag pole work. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kgs 19:4-8
Ps 34
Eph 4:30-5:2
Jn 6:41-51

"Taste and see, the goodness of the Lord"

The psalm response begins with two imperative verbs. The subject of an imperative verb isn’t stated but is understood to be you.  You taste the goodness of the Lord. You see the goodness of the Lord. It is probably best that the you is understood  rather than stated.  Various emphases could dramatically affect the sense of the statement. 

Taste is a complex word with multiple meanings and shades of meaning.  In medicine it means one of the five basic senses served by a complicated neural pathway.  In everyday life it means, among other things, not wearing plaid, stripes, and polka dots together unless you are a fashion designer. It may mean to experience something as in a taste of one’s own medicine; a statement that always frightens me.  And of course it can mean to sample something such as the soup to determine if there is enough salt.

Taste has specific meanings in scripture. It sometimes means to absorb nourishment in a way that it is closer to the meaning of to eat.  Thus, in response to Jonah’s preaching the King of the Ninevites proclaimed a fast when he decreed:  “Let neither man nor beast nor herd nor flock taste anything . . .”  The psalm tells us that taste includes discerning moral values, and savoring the knowledge of God, enjoying the delights of our lives here on earth and anticipating the joys of heaven.   

Elijah is an important figure in scripture.  He had tasted the delights of the Lord. He had discerned the moral laws of the Lord.   He was fearless in his prophesying  to those who had fallen from the worship of the true God, to those who had forgotten the covenant.  

In the reading from Kings Elijah was in deep despair. He had fled the wrath of Jezebel. He prayed for death. He had given up hope.  He had lost faith.  He was despondent.  When he woke from sleep he ate only after the angel commanded him.  He then set off on a journey of 40 days.  

The Jewish Study Biblenotes that  an unburdened man could walk from 15 to 25 miles a day.  Thus, in 40 days Elijah covered between 600 and 1000 miles on foot.  To put it into context, if Elijah walked 800 miles he covered the distance from Boston to Detroit.   What went through his mind during that arduous trek?  What goes through ourminds during the 40-day journeys we are forced to take on foot during our lives?  Chemotherapy. Chronic pain.  Loss. The diminishment of aging.  Are we able to taste and see the goodness of the Lord as Elijah did in spite of the despair?  

Elijah was a prophet pursued.  In today’s Gospel we are reminded that Jesus was—and remains—misunderstood  by those who purportedly believe and by those who militantly do not believe. 

A few weeks ago we heard Matthew’s Gospel in which the crowd asked,  “Where did this man get such wisdom and might deeds?  Is he not the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother named Mary?” Today we hear once more what is called the “prejudice of familiarity.” There are also hints of the “prejudice of theology” and “the bias of philosophy”

The crowd’s incredulity makes sense.  How can Jesus, an ordinary guy in their experience, son of Joseph and Mary, make the claim, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”?  If nothing else their theology prevented them from accepting such a claim, a claim that their theological understanding would determine to be blasphemous.

In his commentary on this passage from his superb book: The Gospel of John: A Reading the late Jesuit Father Stanley Marrow writes:  “In expressing their justifiable reaction, the Jews . . . illustrate the absurdity of all those who put their trust in philosophical argument and theological reasoning to compel belief in Jesus Christ.  For, . . there is no argument that cannot be overturned by counterargument, and no theological reasoning that cannot, sooner or later, be reduced to absurdity." 

It is a brash statement. Fr. Marrow continues: "The ONLY way to accept Jesus’ claim is faith. Every other way being a rejection. You either believe he 'came down from heaven' or you do not. Knowing his father and mother has nothing to do with accepting or rejecting the revelation."

Toward the end of the Gospel, Jesus begins a statement with Amen, amen, a signal that what He is about to say is important.  And it is important:  “Whoever eats this bread will live forever;and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The life that Jesus promises will not be under the sway of death.  That life will not be interrupted by the act of dying.

In a few minutes you will hear me repeat the words: 

"Take this all of you and eat of it:
for this is my body 
which will be given up for you." 

And shortly afterwards we will taste, we will see, and we will experience the goodness of the Lord. 
I think I've finally bounced back from jet lag.  It was a bear.  Normally I do a lot better returning to the U.S. from Europe but that was not the case this trip.  A very busy week coming up.  Will be covering at a parish in Westport, MA for part of the week.  Because of the distance will spend several nights down there rather than trying to commute.  

The photos are a result of wandering in Slovenia on some nice days.  

The first is from the base of the castle looking down on Congress Square.  The church is referred to as the Ursuline Church as it is attached to their convent.  

Looking across the Ljubljanica Riveron a Sunday afternoon in the spring.

Descending from the castle on the side opposite where I ascended.  The his was very steep and cobblestoned.  One day I saw a woman getting ready to walk up in three-inch heels.  It was not going to be a pleasant experience.  I've no idea what the trip down would be like.  

Symmetry in the windows of an apartment interrupted only by the randomness of the open panes.

Up close and personal with Ljubljanski Grad (Ljubljana Castle)

A table arrangement.  There is an elegance to the tables at the many outdoor cafes that is often lacking in the U.S.  

One of the many cobblestoned alleys.  

Flower baskets are suspended everywhere in the city. 

Another outdoor table.  For some reason I am fascinated by empty tables still holding the used glasses.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Monday, August 6, 2018

Homily on the 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima--and 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 draws us into a mystery. It is a mystery that is beyond the reach of historical reconstruction, the grasp of scientific explanation, and well-beyond the possibility of geographic verification.  All of these are irrelevant. The Transfiguration represents the fulfillment of scripture, the fulfillment of a promise, and the beginning of mankind's salvation, as in the reading 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 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.  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.”

"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 has given you a mission:  "Listen to him."  Like the apostles, you are stunned into silence and overcome with awe.  On this day Jesus--Jesus the Nazarean, Jesus the teacher, Jesus the wonder worker, Jesus the healer was revealed in his Divinity. 

There is another event to recall today. That event was also marked by blinding light. It was also overshadowed by a cloud.  It was an event which, if you place yourself at the scene, will cause stunned silence and prostration.  

August 6 is the date the Church sets aside to recall that Jesus revealed his Divinity on a mountain. On August 6, 1945 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 depravity since the fall of Adam and Eve.  It took the cumulative horrors from all the wars of the past centuries, from the twentieth century, the bloodiest in history, and condensed them into a singular event.  This time God did not give mankind a mission from the cloud.  There was a terrible silence. There was a void. Or was there?
The voice of God was obscured by the explosion.  It was not silenced.  

Almost 2000 years since Jesus' incarnation, birth, passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and seventy-two years since Hiroshima, 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 three days later, demonstrated a capability for destruction on a large scale that is unique to the present time, a capability that will only increase.  A capability shared by too many countries.

"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 on the Baltic States, the Cultural Revolution of China, and the concerted attacks on morality and human 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."

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

St. Ignatius Feast and Final Vows

Will be heading to the airport in Ljubljana in about three hours.  Fortunately packing, which hasn't begun, will take no time at all.  Every bit of clothing I brought has been used.  Am simply going to stuff it in the suitcase.  Everything goes into the wash over the weekend.  Fortunately, I'm not scheduled for any Masses until Sunday so here will be time to wash etc over the weekend.

Yesterday, on the Feast of St. Ignatius, Fr. Tomaž Mikuš, SJ pronounced his final vows in the Society.  I had the privilege, honor, and, I will admit, fun, of taking photos.  Took lots.  The ones included below are a small sampling.  Prior to Mass there was an hour of prayer, including the rosary, for the intention of an increase in vocations to the Society of Jesus and to religious life.   Afterwards came the vow Mass celebrated by RP Ivan Bresciani, SJ.

Sitting at the back of the church during the prayers for vocations.

A shot of the congregation from under the altar.  This was about 30 minutes before the Mass began.  When it did begin all seats were taken with some standees at the back.

The ciboria and chalice for the Mass.

Vesting in the sacristy.
Procession into the church.


Opening of the Mass. Fr. Damjan Ristič, SJ, is pastor.  He is the unbearded one (not counting the acolytes who have yet to learn of the joys of shaving).

Some of the Jesuit community in Ljubljana and elsewhere.

During the Mass from behind the main altar.

The first reading.

Listening to the homily.

RP Ivan Bresciani, SJ during the homily.

Fr. Tomaž reading the prayers of the faithful.

Preparing for the vows.  Jesuits, unlike all other orders who pronounce their vows at the offertory, pronounce theirs at communion, kneeling in front of the elevated Body and Blood of Our Lord.  This is how Ignatius and his original companions did it when they were formally founded.

Waiting to begin.  It helped that I know what is happening, when and where it is happening, and that I don't have a lot of time to get the shots.

"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof .  . . . (in Slovenian).

Pronouncing the vow formula.

Addressing the congregation just before the conclusion of Mass.

Jesuits heading into the sacristy for the signing of the documents, another unique trait of Jesuit vows. Most other orders have the solemnly professed sign the documents on the altar.  We sign ours in the sacristy of the church following the Mass.

Signing the documents in triplicate.  The man must handwrite them.   He uses one of the copies to pronounce the vow formula.

Signing is a sobering moment.  I pronounced final vows five years ago on 1 October.

There was a large outdoor reception afterwards in the garden adjacent to the church and community. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD