Monday, April 22, 2019

History repeated itself

Sacrilege on Easter 2019

It is sad that I must repost a version of this, but it happened again. I am perplexed, angry, embarrassed, and running through a number of other emotions, particularly in light of the Islamic terrorist bombing in Sri Lanka that killed three hundred Catholic and Protestant worshippers in coordinated attacks on yesterday.  The posting appeared last night.  The poster described it as a "little gentle humor for Easter."  It is not gentle or humorous; sacrilege is rarely either. It showed one of the many versions of the ancient icon of Christ the Pantocrator.  

The icon, of which there are many versions, shows Christ with His right hand raised, with the thumb and third finger making a circle and the other three fingers outstretched.  A book rests in the crook of the left arm.  The gaze is directed at the worshipper. That gaze locks the worshippers eyes in His.  It is difficult to look away. The book's pages are inscribed in Greek.  

On the offensive post the words of scripture were erased to create a blank space.  In place of the word of God is a hand shadow of a bunny meant to appear as if coming from Christ's hand.  One caption noted that it is the explanation of the beginning Easter bunny.  

When I posted a response two years ago one commenter suggested an overreaction because "Jesus must have a sense of humor."  That tickled my sense of humor right before the anger swelled. Rather than saying, thinking, or admitting that the drawing is inappropriate, he lapsed into the kind of projective defensive posture characteristic of children (see Anna Freud's The Mechanisms of Defense for a fuller explanation) followed by a few ad hominem attacks that included the accusation that I am a judgmental Pharisee.  I am not judging.  I am making a diagnosis.   There is a difference.  One must call pathology for what it is. 

Another sampling of  so-called humor for Holy Week appeared later in a poorly done depiction of Batman and Robin.  Balloon over Batman:  "Hurry for the washing of the feet." Robin replies: "Holy Thursday Batman."  Why?  That is the burning question.  Why must Catholics embarrass themselves, the Church, and the rest of us?  Has a certain type of Catholic, both vowed and lay, become so desperate to be seen as hip, cool, funny, with it, laid back, modernist, or entertaining--Don Rickles is dead, a replacement is not needed--that thought and reflection have been replaced by the kind of disinhibited behavior seen in drunks? They generally can't figure out the difference between appropriate and wildly inappropriate or between the sacred  and obscene.

Was there an icon of Christ the Pantocrator making the Easter bunny on the pages of Scripture anywhere in the two Coptic Church that were bombed on Palm Sunday in 2017 or in the Catholic Churches bombed yesterday in Sri Lanka?  Would the vanishing Catholic communities in the Middle East find amusement in a superhero cartoon characters mocking the rituals of Holy Thursday? 

I suspect one of the reasons people flee the Catholic Church or move into fundamentalist sects is the joking approach some ostensible Catholics and, tragically, some priests and religious, take toward it.  The level of disgust I had to struggle with last night made sleep difficult.  

In 2017 I received an e-mail from a friend who saw the original version of this post on my blog.  "I read your post. . .  I completely agree that our culture (many Catholics included) is off the rails concerning any recognition of the sacred. The profane and cynical is lauded in the media. Facebook is just another vehicle. When we name the sin of profanity, it is turned into intolerance (or just not getting the joke).  The right hand gesture in the icon you mention is very sacred. I went to a Byzantine Ukrainian high school where the priest's hand for blessing was formed in that manner. The fingers spell out the Greek letters IC XC which are the first and last letters of Jesus and Christ. It is truly blasphemy that the name of Jesus Christ is photo-shopped into a bunny."
Included below are photos of the icon of the Pantocrator (I did not take the photo) and an ecumenical service at sv. Jože in Ljubljana on Easter Monday 2017 (took several hundred photos that night by request).  It was attended by  Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Byzantine Catholic men and women.  The principal celebrant was a Ukrainian Catholic priest assisted by a transitional deacon for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Slovenia.  One of the Jesuits also concelebrated.  Note the priest's right hand extended in blessing at the end of the service.  

Father, forgive them, for they are totally clueless. 

Note the position of the fingers on the right hand.  I took this at an ecumenical Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic, Orthodox service on Easter Monday in Slovenia in 2017.  The main celebrant was a Ukrainian Catholic priest.  He is blessing the congregation at the end of the service. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Acts 10: 34 a, 37-43
Ps 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Col 3:1-4
Jn 20:1-9

Haec dies quam fecit Dominus;
exsultemus et laetemur in ea "

“This is the day the Lord has made; 
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  

These joyful words from Psalm 118 have been echoing through the universe and circling the globe for several hours.  Australia heard them first.  Then they flew over to inform Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Church in Mainland China. After passing through Asia and across the vast expanse of Russia they were proclaimed in Slovenia.  

"To je dan, ki ga je Gospod naredil, veselimo se ga in se radujmo"

They will not finish their flight across the U.S. for a few more hours.  By the end of the day the news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead will have been proclaimed in every known tongue:  Chichiwa, Tagalog, and Portuguese, French, English, and Polish, Hindi, Swahili, and Mandarin

(zhè shì  shàng zhǔ suǒ  ān pái de yī tiān 。
wǒmen yīng gāi wéi cǐ gǔ wǔ xǐhuān)

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles summarized Jesus’ life. It began with His baptism and concluded with His death on the cross.  We heard the commission to the apostles to preach the message of salvation. It is the same commission we are given: to tell the world the message of salvation through Jesus act of self-surrender. That message is the reason we are to rejoice and be glad.  Jesus is the one set apart. Those who believe in him have forgiveness of sins through His name.   And so we are compelled to say:

“This is the day the Lord has made; 
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  

As St. Paul so memorably wrote in the Letter to the Romans:  “God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  

While we were yet sinners . . . Christ died for us.  

Jesus, fully Divine and fully human, Son of God and Son of Mary, Jesus who was like us in all things but sin, died for our sins.  He died because of our sins. He died to save us from those sins. 

We are sinners.  But, we are sinners who are passionately loved by God.  We were and are redeemed by Jesus’ passion and death.  That redemption was made manifest in His resurrection from the dead. What more can we say besides?

Este é o dia que o Senhor fez; 
alegremos e exultemos neste dia.

During the proclamation of John’s Gospel we heard of the disciple’s astonishment, confusion, sorrow, and fear when they discovered that the tomb in which Jesus had been placed three days earlier was empty. 

The last verse is instructive:  “Remember, as yet they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”  

". . . as yet they did not understand. . . ."  

Despite the years spent with Him the disciples still did not fully grasp who Jesus was.  That was going to change with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  But, for the moment the apostles and other disciples were perplexed.

The apostle’s confusion mirrors ours.  Despite the evidence of Jesus’ presence and action in our lives, we don’t always understand.  Unlike the apostles and other disciples, who lived the events recounted here in real time, we have scripture and the tradition of the Church to instruct us, guide us, and help us understand.  Still, we don’t always get it.  We sometimes fail to understand the gift Jesus is to us.  We sometimes fail to appreciate the gift he gave us. Thus, it is today, as it is every day, that we are called to pray, to meditate on scripture, and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, truly and substantially present in the bread and wine, so that, unlike the apostles, we will understand, we will see, and we will believe. 

Last night, we gathered in front of this church to bless the new fire from which we lit this exquisite paschal candle.  The formula pronounced while inscribing the candle explains everything. 

“Christ 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 for ever.” 

'Haec dies quam fecit Dominus;
exsultemus et laetemur in ea.'

This is the day the Lord has made, 
let us rejoice and be glad.

And we respond with perhaps the only word which all of the languages of the world understand and hold in common. 


The homily is for tomorrow morning.  Because of the length of tonight's Mass at the Abbey the homily is going to very short.  

The holy oils for the coming year

The Carthusian motto applies here:  The Cross stands firm while the world turns

Holy Water ready for blessing

Christ, the Dawn 

Blessed Easter
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday

Good Friday 

'Stabat Mater dolorosa
Iuxta Crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat filius'

At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother weeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

The 13th century  Stabat Mater Dolorosa is one of the greatest of all Latin hymns.  It has been set to music by composers ranging from Palestrina in the 16th century to Dvořák in the 19,th Poulenc and Szymanowski in the 20,thand Muñiz and Jenkins in the 21st.  The hymn meditates on the sorrows of Mary, Mother of Jesus.  It recalls the sorrows prophesied by Simeon at the presentation in the Temple.  Each verse recounts the sorry scene as Mary stood at the foot of her Son's cross--the "sign that is spoken against" that she heard of in Simeon's prophecy years earlier.  

'Cuius animam gementem, 
Contristatam et colentem, 
Pertransivit gladius.'

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing, 
All His bitter anguish bearing, 
Now at length the sword had passed.

Place yourself there. Go to Calvary and enter into the scene John described.  Jesus, hanging on the cross as life ebbs from his body. Mary, His Holy Mother, watching as Simeon's words echo in her ears. The beloved disciple helpless and hopeless at the loss of all he had found in Jesus.  How does Jesus' voice sound?  Is it strong? Or does he struggle to speak in a hoarse whisper? Is Mary standing erect and stoic?  Or is she collapsing under the unique and terrible grief of a mother watching her son die?  What of John? Does he remain standing in the same place?  Or does he move closer to the woman who is now his mother?

Recall that Jesus said: "Behold your mother."  He did not say "my mother."  He said "your mother."  In this charge and in his words to Mary,  "Woman behold your son," Jesus confirmed Mary's role as the new Eve, mother to us all, a mother whose obedience reversed Eve's disobedience,  a reversal effected when she said:

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

'Pro peccatis suae gentis
Vidit Iesum in tormentis, 
Et flagellis subditum.'

For His people's sins rejected,
Saw her Jesus unprotected, 
All with bloody scourges rent.

Remain there contemplating the scene.  Gaze up at Jesus suspended between heaven and earth. He is close to death,  exhausted by the struggle,  haggard,  dehydrated, pale from blood loss. 

At the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius instructs us in what is known as the triple colloquy: Imagine Christ our Lord on the cross. Ask yourself how, Jesus is come to make Himself man,  and so to die for my sins.  Likewise, looking at myself ask: 

What have I done for Christ?
What am I doing for Christ?
What ought I to do for Christ? 

However, today, as we commemorate Christ's passion and death, there is another colloquy: 

What has Christ done for me?
What is Christ doing for me?
What will Christ do for me?  

While we could probably come to some sort of agreement on the first question, the answers to:  what is Christ doing for me and what will Christ do for me,  will be unique to each of us.  Perhaps we will never be able to fully articulate those answers.  They may have to remain fragments we can experience only in silent prayer rather than as words we can share.  

'Fac, ut ardeat cor meum, 
In amando Christum Deum, 
Ut sibi complaceam.'

Unto Christ with pure emotion, 
Raise my contrite heart's devotion, 
To read love in every wound.

We are sinners  loved passionately and completely by God.  We are loved by God who sent His only Son born of Mary, she who stood at the foot of the cross.  We are loved by God who sent His only Son to die for our sins and the sins of all the world. 

Three and one-half months ago we gathered to celebrate Jesus' birth.  Were we not gathered here today to commemorate his passion and death, what we call the Christmas story would make no sense.  Were we not here today, the story of Jesus' birth would be nothing more than a charming fable without meaning. The trumpet fanfare of Christmas Eve is a faint memory.  But it foretold what Christ did for us. 

"We adore thee O Christ and we bless thee,
Because by thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world."\
Just finished the liturgy at the Abbey of Regina Laudis.  It is quite strenuous.  Fortunately I had a younger priest-friend here with me  .  .  . wayyyy younger.  He carried the cross used for the veneration.  The cross is not large but it is extremely heavy.  Last night he helped with the foot washing.  I washed the feet of the first six and he did the second six.  My legs were thanking me.  

Spring is hitting New England.  Took the enclosed photos over the past two days.  Forecast for Holy Saturday is not the greatest.  Hoping that it does not rain while we are lighting the fire from which the paschal candle is lit.  

The magnolias are coming into blossom.  There is really nothing more to add. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Wednesday of Holy Week (Spy Wednesday)

Considering all four accounts of the Passion it is easy to note points of agreement and points of disagreement.  Facts that are ignored or not mentioned in one account assume critical important in another.  Taken as a whole, however, the four accounts give us rounded portraits of some of the actors in the drama of Our Lord's passion.  Among these is the portrait of Judas Ischariot. 

Just a few minutes ago we heard, in the account written by Mark. 

" . . .but woe to that man 
by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for him 
had he never been born."

We know how Judas' story ended.   Were we to move to Matthew's text we would hear how Judas burst in on the officials and admitted he had betrayed an innocent man; and then the chilling words, "And throwing down the pieces of silver . . . he departed; and went and hanged himself."  

Place yourself in the room.  Become a bystander or a servant.   Or one of the elders.  Or the doorkeeper.  Observe the scene.  The door slams into the wall.  Judas pushes his way through the crowd. What does his face look like?  How does his voice sound?  What do you feel as you observe the scene?  Are you annoyed?  Are you confused?  

Imagine the sound of the silver hitting the floor and scattering.   Judas flees.  He looks stricken. You follow him impulsively.   The look on his face scares you.  You want to say something—anything.  You follow him but he is moving fast.  You try to catch up, but you must rest and get your breath.  You start to move again. He can only go in one direction. You attempt to pick up your pace.  You want--no you need--to catch up with him but your legs are turning to lead.   And then in the distance you see his silhouette.  He is standing on a tree stump.  A rope is tied to a tree branch. The noose is around his neck.  You try to scream . . . DON’T!

Before the scream can form he leans forward. The stump rolls away. 

It is over.  

The sun is setting. The breeze is picking up. You wrap your cloak against the chill wind.  Judas’ body swings in the breeze.  You slowly retrace your way back to town. 

The tragedy is more than Judas betraying Jesus.  Peter also betrayed Jesus.  The tragedy is that, unlike Peter, Judas could not imagine being forgiven by the one against whom he had sinned.  We will never know what drove Judas to betray Jesus.  But we can wonder. 
Some scholars suggest Judas had become disillusioned with Jesus.  Like many today Judas expected, wanted, and perhaps even demanded, a political Messiah, a social justice warrior, a militant and perhaps military Messiah to lead the Jewish people from under Roman occupation.  A Jesus who would rubber stamp any new movement society decreed good, even when it violates the moral law.   Did Judas kill himself in despair for having betrayed Jesus? Did he kill himself because he was also betrayed, because he was played like a cheap guitar?  Or did he kill himself because he thought he could never be forgiven by the one whom he had betrayed?  No matter the motives Matthew described one of the great tragedies in scripture: the tragedy of Judas' despair.  A tragedy too common in many lives today. 

A few years ago, I was sorting the belongings of a newly deceased Jesuit.  I found a battered book of daily meditations on a bookshelf.  It was old and very used.  Originally in French it was translated into English in 1868. The meditation on the story of Judas gives sound advice even today.  "Never let us count on help, sympathy, or respect, from those whom we have served against our own conscience and against the law of God."  Then the anonymous Jesuit writer gets to the heart of the tragedy when he notes that  "Judas' belief  that his crime was unpardonable was disbelief in God . . .”  When he believed his sin could not be forgiven Judas stopped believing in God.  It was then that despair drove him to violent suicide.

Standard dictionaries define despair as loss of hope.  However, despair is more complex than that.  One theological source defines despair as the voluntary and complete abandonment of all hope of saving one’s soul,  the voluntary abandonment of hope in salvation, and the intentional denial of the meaning of Jesus’ saving act. Despair is not passive. It requires an act of the will to give up hope of eternal life.  Despair whispers in our ear that God will not pardon our sins.  And we believe that whispered message.  Judas did. 

We can only pray that despair of this type never controls us, no matter what, no matter when, no matter why.  Yes, we are sinners.  We are sinners loved by God who pardons our sins when we acknowledge them, confess them, and seek pardon, while resolving to amend our lives.  

As we ponder Judas' action, as we stand speechless over the act of ultimate violence that emerged from his despair, we recall Jesus’ words on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Judas was included in that forgiveness.  Or could have been included.  But, it was too late.  He ceased believing he could know God’s forgiveness, he ceased believing in God's love. He rejected the possibility of forgiveness and condemned himself to a death from which he could not be saved. 

At the Abbey of Regina Laudis until Easter Sunday.  Arrived on Saturday afternoon to celebrate all of the liturgies until after Mass on Easter Sunday.  Then back to Boston. Fortunately it is not a terribly long drive and I will have some company.  A priest-friend is joining me tomorrow to help out a bit.  We will return to Boston together.   

Will be quite tired after all is over.  Mass on Saturday won't end until after 11 PM.  Mass on Sunday is at 8:45 AM.  It is not easy to get to sleep after the vigil Mass.   Heading out immediately after Sunday Mass as the traffic on I-84 and the Mass Pike gets very ugly by mid-afternoon.  

The photos are highly processed black and whites that I took over the past day or so in and around the guest house.  I like the pen and ink (or thick brush and black ink) effect ever since a now deceased friend gave me a drawing she did in college.  It hung in my offices for years until I entered the Society.  I included the before and after; the black and white conversion (I shoot RAW so that everything is in color when it comes out of the camera) and then did some processing using a "curves" adjustment.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Homily for Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday 

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 
The most horrifying words ever written. 

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
The most consoling words ever proclaimed. 

On Thursday we will commemorate the institution of the Eucharist,
the great gift of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, 
truly and substantially present 
in the elements of bread and wine consecrated at Mass. 

On Friday 
the Passion will be proclaimed again. 
and we will venerate the cross, the instrument of our salvation. 
All will lead up to the wild joy of the Easter Vigil.  

But today we are weighed down by the words: 
The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  

We can only remain in stunned silence.    

The challenges of Holy Week are many.  I will be celebrating all of them from today to Easter Sunday at the same enclosed monastery of nuns.  Will post homilies daily. 

I took the two photos below at Campion Center several years ago.  I was the celebrant for Palm Sunday.  The simple arrangement of the palms against a brilliant red table cloth caught me eye.  Will be wearing a chasuble of the same color later this morning.  

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD