Sunday, December 22, 2019

4th Sunday of Advent

On Tuesday evening we begin the vigil of the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord.  How did we get here?  Where are we going?  A quick review of the readings is helpful in answering the first question. The second question can only be answered by each of us individually.
The Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent emphasized being awake, alert, and prepared for the coming of the Son of Man.  This is not the only time we will be cautioned to be ready. The admonition to be awake, alert, and prepared will be repeated several times during the liturgical year.  

Will we recognize Jesus when He comes?  Will we recognize him  in the child playing?  Will we recognize him in the child still in the womb?  Will we recognize him in the demented ninety year-old?  Will we recognize him in the struggle of the dying?  Will we recognize Him in the face of the poor, or in the face of the spiritually bankrupt wealthy?  Will we recognize him in the assembly of believers and in the proclamation of scripture?  Most critically, will we recognize His Real Presence in the bread and wine consecrated during the Mass?  Will we choose to follow Him?  In the end it always comes down to choice.  Jesus chose us and remains faithful.  Will we chose Him and remain faithful to that choice?

The Gospel for the second and third Sundays of Advent spoke of John the Baptist, the herald of the Son of Man,  the voice crying out in the desert, he who deemed himself unworthy to untie Jesus' sandal.   John’s appearance was the beginning of the end and the beginning of the beginning.  He was and is the bridge from old to new, from the Old Law to the New Covenant.   A bridge permits continuity.  It brings the past into the present and allows the present to move into the future.  We can never hope to understand the New Testament if we don’t first know the Old Testament.  Indeed, the New Testament makes no sense if it is removed from its moorings in the Old.  

Today’s Gospel is a shift from the previous three Sundays.    
Joseph is the focus.  

Not one word in scripture is attributed to Joseph.  We know that he was righteous only by his actions.  We know that he was a good man only by his willingness to do what God commanded. We know that he was a compassionate man when we read that he was unwilling to expose Mary to shame and thus planned to divorce her quietly. But, it was not only from shame that Joseph wanted to protect Mary. He wanted to prevent her possible death from stoning, the penalty for presumed adultery. 

Ecce Ancilla Domini, 
fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum,

"Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, 
may it be done to me according to your word."

Mary’s yes changed the world, it changed the universe, and all that lies beyond the universe.  That yes echoes today reverberating among the planets for those who choose to hear it.  Joseph's yes was unspoken, but it too changed the universe.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”

Joseph's obedience was immediate;  it was without question.. There was no quid pro quo. He did not argue with God. Unlike Ahaz in the first reading, he did not weary God.  Joseph did what had to be done.  Upon hearing the angel’s message he took Mary into his house.  Later, an angel would come with another message.  Without question or qualm Joseph would take his young family to Egypt for an extended exile.  

As we move toward the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord we recall and meditate upon events that are profoundly human.  Over the next days we will sing with melodies both ancient and new, about events that reflect the humanness of the Holy Family.  We will recall that Mary and Joseph struggled the same as we do today.  They experienced the same stressors we do.  They knew the same emotions we know: fear and anxiety, joy and sorrow and everything in between.  

Both Mary and Joseph acted with the obedience rooted in faith. They understood that obedience entails giving up control. They knew that faith is the conviction of things unseen and the acceptance of things that remain inexplicable. 

Tonight at vespers priests, religious, and laity throughout the world will recite or chant the penultimate 'O Antiphon' before and after the Magnificat:

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

"O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay."

St. Joseph pray for us.


Advent is rapidly ending.  BC is very quiet as the students are gone.  Is like living on a beautifully landscaped club.  Not a lot of snow.  Not unhappy that none is in the forecast for Christmas.  Have Masses on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Am always happy to be free of the stress of driving in snow, especially as I don't have 4-wd.  

The photos below both came from Campion Center when I was minister there.  The first is a simple plywood and painted cutout of the Holy Family.  I shot it to get the silhouette effect.  The second is the candles and trees near the altar in the chapel at Campion.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, December 15, 2019

3rd Sunday of Advent

15 December 2019 
Is 35:1-6a, 10
Ps 146: 6-7,8-9,9-10
Jas 5:7-10
Mt 11:2-11

Gaudete in Domino semper, 
iterum dice gaudete. 
Dominus enim prope est. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; 
again I say rejoice!  
The Lord is near.  

The first word of the entrance antiphon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent says it all:  Gaudete!  Rejoice!  Only one more Sunday stands between us and the great feast of the Nativity of the Lord; the feast when we celebrate that Jesus, fully God and fully man, was born into this world; the same world where we now live and breathe, work and pray, rejoice and mourn.  We rejoice because Jesus walked this same earth on which we now stand.  

Gaudete in Domino semper.

The joy of this third Sunday of Advent is apparent in the readings:  Isaiah described how  the desert will exult--that lowers will bloom with abundant flowers on the steppes—those steppes will bloom, and rejoice with joyful song.

The psalmist affirmed the joy when he wrote. 

'The Lord God keeps faith forever
secures justice for the oppressed
He gives food to the hungry
and sets captives free.' 

Those who are familiar with Messiah Handel's masterpiece, will recognize verses from Isaiah as part of the libretto.  This includes verses that were just proclaimed: 

"Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, 
and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, 
and the tongue of the dumb shall sing."

In the oratorio, this recitative is followed immediately  by the exquisitely beautiful aria for soprano, alto, or both depending on the version:  “He Shall Feed His Flock."

It includes what could be seen as good advice for all of us: "come unto Him all ye that labor, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest."

As was true last Sunday, the gospel related more about John the Baptist, the herald who announced the news of Jesus, the voice of the one crying out in the desert, the kinsman who felt unworthy to untie the sandal of the one who was to come.

When John sent messengers to inquire if Jesus was indeed he who was to come, Jesus' instructed the messengers, 'tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.'

On this  Gaudete Sunday we celebrate that our redemption through Jesus the Lord, the one who feeds his flock like a shepherd,  is near at hand. Our celebration will increase another in two more days.  On Tuesday evening, December 17,  we will recite the first of the “O Antiphons” that introduce the Magnificat in the Liturgy of the Hours.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

“O Wisdom, 
O holy Word of God.  
You govern all creation with strong yet tender care.  
Come and show your people 
the way to salvation.”   

Each day thereafter, ending on December 23, we will recite the subsequent antiphons, which give another name for Christ, and describe yet another attribute of the one who comes to free us from our sins. 

O Adonai
O Radix Jesse 
O Clavis David
O Oriens
O Rex Gentium 
O Emmanuel

In this case, the Latin is critical to understanding these magnificent antiphons. When the antiphons are written in a column with one per line and the first letter after the 'O' is read from bottom to top the result is a Latin acrostic Ero Cras which translates "Tomorrow I will be there" or "Tomorrow I will come"  

Like the farmer in the Letter of James we must be patient, we must still await the precious fruit of Mary’s womb.  The blessed fruit of that womb, Jesus, the savior of the world. . . . . 

Gaudete in Domino semper, 
iterum dice gaudete. 
Dominus enim prope est. 
Just gave this homily at the Monastery of the Poor Clares in Jamaica Plain, MA, not far from oour novitiate when I was there 22 years ago.  It is in an enviable location in that it backs up against the Arnold Arboretum.  They know there will never be any kind of developement behind their garden.  

The photos below are from Vermont a little while ago.  The snow at 2000 or so feet is different and of much greater amount than down at sea level.  These were taken at the beginning of a storm that dumped 17 inches at that level and perhaps an inch at seas level.   

Fog and snow are among a photographers best friends.  

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

1st Wednesday in Advent

4 December 2019
Is 25:6-10a
Ps 23
We are now in the first week of Advent. The wreathe was blessed on Sunday. In many churches the beginning of Mass was heralded by the ancient chant 
Veni, veni, Emmanuel
captivum solve Israel.
O come, o come Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
began the Mass. 
Advent is not a stand-alone season, anymore than is Christmas (though it is treated as such by many), Easter, or even ordinary time. Advent is the beginning of the Church's liturgical year. We are now on the fourth day of that new year. 
Advent is not meant to be a synonym for frantic shopping. It is a time to prepare oneself for the commemoration of the Nativity of Our Lord. Advent was not created by Martha Stewart as a time to plan menus, run berserk with a glue gun, or ice cookies with uniquely individual messages as place markers. And it is definitely not well-observed by the office "Holiday Party," an event that can be a minefield of risk to one's job, marriage, and sanity. My advice for getting through the office holiday party safely: Don't Drink anything stronger ginger ale, even if the boss insists (I take this new medication . . . . )
Despite secular messages to the contrary, despite a government and many universities that are trying to remove all religious associations from the word Christmas, despite attempts to ban the word itself,
Advent is a penitential season. It is a season of preparation for a holy day. Thus, the priest wears purple vestments and there is no Gloria at Sunday Mass. It is a time for prayer and meditation, a time to contemplate what we will soon celebrate, Jesus ad venire, Jesus coming toward, and into, the world.
We heard in the first reading from Isaiah about an idyllic time that has, at least in part, yet to exist, a time in which hunger, pain, suffering and death will be banished. 
". . . he will destroy death forever
The Lord God will wipe away,
the tears from all faces." 
The promise that 'he will destroy death forever' was fulfilled in Jesus. We are reminded of this in the responsorial psalm, Psalm 23, which is probably the most well-known and frequently recited of the 150 psalms in the psalter. 
"Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come."
This too belongs to the promise fulfilled in Christ. 
As we gaze at the single candle in the Advent wreathe, a wreathe that will be fully lit before we have time to catch our breaths, we are called to sing in gratitude with the psalmist: 
"You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows..”
Veni, veni, Emmanuel
captivum solve Israel.
The photo is a life-sized sculpture on the grounds of a monastery. The monochrome is perfect for the subject. Tried a black and white conversion but didn't like it. It needs to be this pseudo-sepia. 
Went to Pittsburgh on Sunday to attend a series of work-related meetings on Monday with the plan to return Monday night. All went well until our BC group of five got to the airport. Three were on a 4:10 Delta flight to Boston and two on a 6:01 to Boston. I was on the latter flight. The Delta flight was canceled rather quickly when the extent of the weather in Boston was known. The three were able to transfer to our flight. Which was promptly delayed. We went to TGI Fridays. 
The gate crew was terrific and accommodating. The flight delay was extended about every hour. Long story short, the flight that should have touched down at Logan at 7:25 PM or so took off at 12:45 AM and arrived at 2:45 AM. One of the guys in the group who lived nearby gave me a lift home. As the T closes at midnight until 5 AM this was a deeply appreciated act. Crawled into bed at 4 AM. Phone on airplane silence. Woke at 10:00 AM. Still feel like "the wreck of the Hesperus" to use one of mom's favorite terms.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Homily on the Memorial of St. Alphonsus Rodriquez,

Monday's Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude celebrated two saints, who, despite being among Jesus' twelve apostles, remain obscure. Today is the memorial of another obscure saint. This one is a Jesuit. Despite his obscurity, he is a model for all of us both lay and those living under vows. Alfonsus Rodriguez was born in 1533 and died in 1617 is notable only because of his ordinariness, simplicity, obscurity, and mediocrity.

Born into a comfortable merchant family in Segovia, he quit school after his father's death to learn and run the family business. He married at 27. By 35 he was widowed, had buried his three children, and lost the family business. A complete failure.

He asked to enter the Society of Jesus when he was 37 but was rejected because of poor health and poor education. That did not stop him. He spent the next two years crouched at a grammar school desk learning the Latin and Greek he needed to enter the Society. He entered as a brother novice. He rejoiced and said, "I will never again follow my own will for the rest of my life." Would that all religious--including this one--could say that and truly mean it the way Rodriguez did.

He was made porter at a Jesuit college on Majorca spending the next 46 years in this unseen, grueling, and humble occupation. As one biographer noted, "He greeted everyone who came to the door with a smile; treating each one as if "God Himself" were standing there." When he died his diaries revealed that he was a man of deep prayer and mystical experiences.

Students at the college, of course, knew what a powerhouse Alphonsus was. They regularly sought him out for spiritual direction and advice. One of those seeking his counsel was a confused Jesuit scholastic who wanted to do great things for God but didn't know how. Rodriguez advised him to go to the New World. That scholastic, Peter Claver, labored for 39 years in Cartegena, Colombia ministering to Africans brought to the port on slave ships. Rodriguez and Claver, one who spent almost a half century answering the college door, and the other who labored half a world away, were canonized in the same ceremony in 1888.

Rodriguez died bedridden at age 85 with dementia so severe he could not remember any prayers. Except one. As death approached he gazed at the crucifix he held in his hand and with his last breath he murmured the only prayer he could remember: Jesus.

Poorly educated. A disaster with finances. A lowly porter for 46 years. Demented at the end. An obscure failure.
And a saint.

Rodriguez was memorialized in a poem by the renown English Jesuit poet (and convert from Anglicanism) Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

In honour of
St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
Laybrother of the Society of Jesus

Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.

⁠Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
The photo was one of those chance moments. It was taken through the window in the door of a Catholic Church somewhere in Chang-hwa, Taiwan. Ignatius and I were traveling to Sun Moon Lake. We stopped so he could rest (the driver). Ran into the priest. He took us into the church. And then served us coffee.  He was Vietnamese.  Over the coffee (Vienamese coffee is great but adds hair too your toe nails) the three of us discovered that Ignatius and I had gone to theology school with two Vietnamese Jesuits who were schoolmates of his in Viet Nam.  Small world, isn't it? 

+Fr Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, October 27, 2019

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Sir 35:12-14, 16-18
Ps 34:2-3,17-18-19, 23
2 Tm 4:6-8, 16-18
Lk 18:9-14

Each of the readings and the psalm for today's Mass could be the basis for a fairly long homily.  There is an overabundance of riches for preaching, for teaching, and for meditation.  As was true of last Sunday's parable of the woman and the unjust judge, the parable of the Pharisee and the publican in the Temple, is found only in Luke's Gospel.  Both parables are about prayer.  Last week we heard about the need to pray without ceasing.  Today are told how to pray and how not to pray.  This example is confirmed in the first reading from Sirach. 

Sirach is a unique book. Though written in Hebrew before Jesus' birth it was translated into Greek by the author's grandson and known only in Greek  until the early twentieth century.  Also known as Ecclesiasticus, (not to be confused with Eccesiastes) it is not part of the Hebrew Scripture.  Protestants do not recognize it as authoritative.  However, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox do hold Sirach as canonical. The non-acceptance of Sirach by the Protestant Church is a pity. Like the rest of the wisdom literature, Sirach is relevant to our lives in the present.  It is very much worth reading in its entirety.  The reading from Sirach is a commentary on prayer.  Both readings depend on stereotypes to make their points.  That begs the question, what is a stereotype? 

A stereotype is a general statement  applied to a group whose members share a particular characteristic or set of characteristics.  Stereotypes may be used to judge and classify others negatively or to set some groups apart as unique.  Today, it seems that stereotypes are roundly condemned as biased, discriminatory, unfair . . . pick the negative word and fill in the  blank.  But they are not necessarily so.

The problem with condemning stereotypes--a popular form of virtue signaling today--be they positive or negative stereotypes, is that all stereotypes contain an element of truth.  One writer defined stereotypes as statistics in narrative form. All statistics have a degree of truth and a degree of untruth or exceptions when applied to individuals.  Unfortunately, all statistics, from those used in medical research to those describing global warming, to those applied to people, can be falsely manipulated in order to push an agenda or prove a point that is not necessarily true.   

For example, a common stereotype holds that Asian men have straight black hair and are shorter than the average American man.  Statistically this is true.  But then, there is this photo from my ordination.  I am standing next to one of my closest friends on earth, Ignatius Hung Wan-liu, a Taiwanese Jesuit priest who does, in fact, have straight black hair--he actually has great hair.  But, at 6' 3" he is four inches taller--now closer to five--than my statistically average height for an American man.  In Ignatius' case, the stereotypes applied to an Asian man are only partially true.  Thus, caution is necessary  regarding stereotypes or statistics describing just about anything.  

What of the stereotypes that emerge from scripture?  Were all Pharisees arrogant egotists such as the one in the parable?  There is only one answer:  No.  Were all tax collectors humble and self-aware as the one in the parable? No.  No stereotype holds true when applied to every individual.   Thus the challenge in both readings.  

Poverty, marginalization, and oppression do not automatically confer otherwise unattainable virtue on any individual.  Wealth, intelligence, and power are not the invariable marks of a sinner.  The poor can be, and are, sinners on the same plane as the wealthiest.  And the wealthy can be as seemingly virtuous as the publican of the parable.  Sometimes the only difference is the size of the budget.  How would we understand this parable if the roles were reversed?  Would our feelings for the men change if the Pharisee acknowledged his sinfulness while the tax-collector boasted of his fundamental righteousness?  Or, to put it into contemporary terms, suppose it was the tax-collector who had a case of inflated self-esteem while the Pharisee was humble?  

In his commentary on this Gospel passage Luke Timothy Johnson warns that,  "The parable . . . invites internalization by all readers because it speaks to something deep within every human heart.  The love of God can easily become a kind of idolatrous self-love. God's gifts can quickly be seized as possessions; what is given by another can be turned into one's own accomplishment."  

Prayer can become bragging.  He concludes with: "Piety is not an unambiguous posture.”  It is worth remembering this, and perhaps emblazoning it on the lintel of all theology schools.  

The monastic literature contains frequent warnings about taking pride in one’s humility or boasting about one's prayer.  It is a temptation we all face.  Humility and arrogant pride or what is called "virtue signaling" today are separated by a very fine line. 

One is frequently advised in scripture courses and preaching practica to compare different translations when possible.  This is useful in considering Sirach.  The New American Bible translation we just heard reads: “though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.”  The Revised Standard Version, the version I prefer for daily use, translates the same line differently: “He will not show partiality in the case of the poor, and he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged.”   Wronged and oppressed have different shades of meaning.

God's mercy does not depend on one's bank account.  God's mercy does not depend on being a member of certain oppressed groups.  God's mercy is available to all those who seek it in prayer. 

Luke's Gospel is sometimes called the Gospel of Prayer. In Luke, prayer is not simply an exercise of piety, it is faith in action. Prayer reveals who we are.  Prayer reveals the nature our relationship with God.  Prayer reveals our relationship with others.  When we pray, we are to come before the Lord in sincerity and truth. In the Lord's light we are called to admit that we are sinners, sinners who are in need of his mercy. 

We heard a consoling truth in the psalm: 
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
The Lord redeems the lives of his servants;
no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him."

It is worth meditating on that for the rest of the day.
Celebrate Mass this morning at the Monastery of the Poor Clares in Jamaica Plain (part of Boston where my novitiate was).  This was the first time.  Have committed to celebrating Mass there once a month.  It was a very enjoyable experience.  Seeing as I mentioned my buddy Ignatius it seemed reasonable to include the photo to which I referred.  He really is a lot taller than I am. 
 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, October 20, 2019

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ex 17:8-13
Ps 121
2 Tm 3:14-4:2
Lk 18:1-8

The Doors released an album titled “The Soft Parade” in July of 1969. Critics do not consider it one of their best but, for better or worse it was, along with the soundtrack from Easy Rider, the background music for my sophomore year at Penn State.  The Soft Parade remains a favorite. It is perfect for long drives, with or without head banging.  It will be in the album rotation when I drive to Penn State in mid-November. 

The title track began with Jim Morrison announcing in a deep, amplified, and exaggerated voice “when I was back there in seminary school there was a person who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer.”  He repeated, “petition the Lord with prayer” twice with sarcasm dripping from each word.  And then screamed:  “YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD . . .  WITH PRAYER.”   Then followed a soft beautiful melody that was incongruous with the intro.

Unfortunately, by the time the album was released the drugs had completely addled his brain.  He would be dead less than two years later, age 27, most likely from a heroin overdose.  

He was wrong.   

You can petition the Lord with prayer.  

You should petition the Lord with prayer.  

You must petition the Lord with prayer. 

The first reading and the gospel tell us how to petition the Lord with prayer.  There is a one word summary: importune

To importune means: to demand with urgency or persistence; to annoy, to beset with solicitations; to be troublesomely persistent.  The entire job description for a two year-old is to importune.  And they do it extremely well.  

Only the first of the definitions; to demand with urgency and persistence, truly fits prayer.  It is impossible to annoy or trouble God with prayer.  What some would think is too much is just barely enough.  The entire psalter, from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150 is one long, continuous, importuning prayer.  

The image in the first reading is fascinating.  As long as Moses’ arms were raised in prayer the Israelites were winning the battle.  When his hands dropped with fatigue the tide would shift.  But Moses had help.  Aaron and Hur supported his arms as long as necessary.  

So it is for us.  We can’t always do it alone in prayer.  That is why we are surrounded by a community of believers.  That is why we should ask for help with our prayer.  That is why we pray for other people. That is why others pray for us.  The community of believers is Aaron and Hur supporting our arms when we are too fatigued, too anxiety-ridden, or too overwrought to pray.  And we do the same for others when we pray for and with them. The community of believers is first and foremost a community of prayer.   Our prayer is important.  Our persistence in prayer is crucial to the ongoing salvation of the world.  Prayer may be the only thing keeping the world spinning on its axis.  

The Gospel is fascinating.  The widow was relentless.  No matter what the unjust judge did she returned importuning until he gave her a just judgment.  The judge’s motivations for giving that judgment were less than honorable.  He was motivated not by a thirst for justice but  by the fear of being struck. The judge's actions recall T.S. Eliot’s observation, 

“The final temptation is the greatest treason, 
to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”  

God can never be unjust.  Jesus asks the rhetorical question: “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?”  In the context of this Gospel passage we already know the answer.    

The responsorial psalm, Psalm 121, is among the most beautiful and poignant prayers in the entire psalter.  

About nineteen years ago Jesuit Father Paul Harmon was addressing thirty Jesuit scholastics, men who were not yet ordained.  This psalm was the topic of one of his talks.  He suggested that when the psalmist looked up to the mountains he saw that he was surrounded by the fires of sacrifice offered to the Baals, the pagan gods.  That compelled him to ask 

“Whence shall help come to me?” 

The psalmist had been abandoned by his people. They were following not the God of the covenant, the one and only true God. They were following the au courant gods, the gods it was politically correct and socially expedient to worship. Things haven't changed much over the centuries.

And then, from the depths of his despair, the psalmist recalled, 

“My help is from the Lord, 
who made heaven and earth.”  

Father Harmon’s explanation, one I’ve not seen elsewhere and cannot find, put this psalm into a new and deeper context.  Rather than a comforting image of looking toward the mountains  to see angels, pretty sunsets, and cottony clouds, the psalmist saw the treachery and betrayal of his own people in the flames and smoke coming off the mountains.  Upon realizing this abandonment he had to look interiorly, he had to pray, to realize that help came not from the pagan baals. Help came not from power, money, social status, or any of the -isms that are the false gods of today.  Help came from the Lord, and only from the Lord, who created both heaven and earth.  

"I lift up my eyes toward the mountains;
whence shall help come to me?
My help is from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth."

Stay with that thought for the rest of this day. 


Wandering around the BC campus yesterday (Saturday 19 October) around lunch time.  There was a football game at noon.  BC defeated NC State.  More critically, Penn State defeated Michigan later that night.  

Shooting through a window in St. Mary's Hall.  Deliberately overexposed in brilliant sunlight, converted to black and white, and then processed a lot.  The results suggests the old Brownie Starflash.

The spectrum in the foreground is an example of lens flare due to the harsh sunlight.  Generally not considered an asset I rather like the effect. 

Leaves in the fountain that sits in front of the Tip O'Neil Library.

Wonder if Greta of the Pigtails would fall into hysterical sobs at this.  I'm certain her handlers would be certain of it.  

I never noticed this crucifixion over the chapel in St. Mary's Hall before.  Part of the reason is that I am rarely in that part of campus.  I will return. 

Converted the above into black and white and processed on the computer.  Very happy with the result. 

Gasson Hall tower shot from halfway up from the football field. 

Lampost, tower, leaves, and sky. 

Shot through the windows in St. Mary's Hall. 

+ Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, October 18, 2019

Feast of the North American Martyrs

John de Brebeuf, SJ and Isaac Jogues, SJ and Companions (Carmel Terrace)
Patronal Feast U.S. Assistancy of the Society of Jesus
19 October 2019

Today it is the feast of The North American Martyrs, Sts. John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their six companions.  It is a major feast for Jesuits in the U.S. as these men are the patrons of the American Assistancy (or branch) of the Society of Jesus of which they were members.  The eight men came from France in the early 17th century as missionaries to what became Canada and the United States. They worked for many years with the Huron.  Eventually, however, the Mohawk attacked.  Jogues was tortured and martyred in 1646.  Brebeuf was tortured and martyred in 1649.  The details of their suffering are best left undescribed except by the words gruesome and unspeakably cruel on the part of their killers. 

The readings for this feast were chosen well.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Only faith made it possible for these men to endure the sufferings of their mission in the harsh climate of North America,knowing they would never see their families again and the risks they were taking.  Only faith allowed them to embrace martyrdom when it came.  

Jesus placed a choice in front of his disciples in today's Gospel.  Faith placed a choice  in front of Brebeuf, Jogues and their companions.   We face the same choice as the disciples and the martyrs we celebrate today.  The choice between life and death. The choice between faith and rejection of the gift of faith.

“Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Jesus is not speaking about biological life. He is speaking of the life of the soul, the life we actually live.  He is saying that we must undergo a conversion, we must die to worldly desires such as the desires for power, money, fame and possessions so as to follow Him unencumbered. 

Success.  Prestige. Power.  These are not wrong in themselves.  But,  when the desire for these things, when pursuing and having them controls one’s life,  when the attempt to gain the whole world excludes God, when it excludes loving others one must ask if it leads to happiness, or if it leads to death long before the body’s vital functions cease. 

Brebeuf, Jogues and their companions made a choice.  They knew the risk when they came.  They knew the hardships they would endure.  Faith brought them to these shores.  Taking up the cross and following Jesus kept them here.  Faith allowed them to endure unspeakably painful martyrdom at the hands of their captors. 

The saddest bumper sticker one can see on any highway is the one that reads, “He who has the most toys when he dies wins.”  The question of exactly what he---or she--wins is never broached.  What profit is there for me to gain the whole world but forfeit the life of my soul?  

Each of us must answer that question for him or her self.  Each of us must choose.

This week has been marked by a lot of red vestments. Today is no exception. The Jesuits martyred in what became Northern NY State and Canada were depicted in the movie "Blackrobe." The shrine to the martyrs is in Auriesville, NY. Have yet to visit there. 
The two attached photos are from Loyola, Spain. Took them during the conference at which I presented two papers. The mosaic appears to be made of granite tiles, rather thick ones. Would like to know how many tons of stone went into it. That wall/floor is supporting a lot of weight. The stained glass is among some of the most beautiful I ever saw. After finding my room I went into the chapel for some short meditation (it was an awful trip, what I really needed was a nap). The moment I saw the glass I went back to my room down the hall to get the camera.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, October 3, 2019


Heading into the end of a retreat with priests at Cohasset, a town on the South Shore overooking Cohasset Harbor.  Boston College has Bellarmine House, a conference center and retreat house, that we are using for the priests' retreat.  Gorgeous weather on arrival day (first set of photos).  Then nothing but gray and gloom until sunrise this AM.  Opened eyes, looked out window and shot out of bed.  Was outdoors in minutes . . . without having had coffee.  Stiff wind but it was worth it.  First the sunny-day shots and then this morning. 

The house next door to our place. They have their own access to the land.  And a dock and a few other things.

Bellarmine is an old house.  The glass is old.  It produces some interesting distortions.

Acorns in pastel colors.  This is how I saw them on the ground.  No computer manipulation. 

The Adirondack Chair is not meant for a seventy  year-old man. 

 At high tide the water stretches across the road at the Cohaseet Yacht Club at the entrance to the hill to our place. 

Sea Kayaks.  No way I would ever try to use one of them.

Weeds work well as a photo subject if the light is right. 

 Black and white of the house next door from the porches at Bellarmine.

This morning's sunrise.

Same Adirondack chairs.

Our Lady of the Harbor overlooking the water. 

One of the sailboats at the yacht club. 

A more panoramic view of the boats moored at the yacht club. 

The Quincy Adams estate in the distance.  This is in Scituate.

 The view from the third floor sleeping quarters

Looking out from the balcony

+ Fr Jack, SJ, MD