Saturday, August 24, 2019

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Isaiah 66:18-21
Ps 117
Heb 12:5-7, 11-13
Luke 13:22-30

Today's readings are neither comforting nor consoling. They will not soothe fears. They will not erase doubt.  It is much more comforting to hear blessed are the poor or I am the Good Shepherd.  Those sentiments  will have to wait for another day.  If anything, the readings from Hebrews and Luke will increase frustration; they will  force us to ask questions:  Why bother? Where is God?  

Disturbing though they may be these readings are also important. They reflect a primary reality of human life.  They reflect the lives of believers as well as those deemed to be saints, a life following Jesus is neither easy nor smooth.  We must cope with doubt and uncertainty.  Each of us must recommit daily and then continue the journey. 

A recurring theme in the recent daily gospels has been that of exclusion.  The gospels from Monday through Thursday, included variations on the themes of, many are called and few are chosen, the last shall be first and the first last.  How many will arrive at the gate?  Who will get through?  Will I make the cut?  

The first reading from Isaiah proclaims that people from other nations who hear of the True God, the God of Abraham and Moses, the only True God, will come to Jerusalem from all over the world to worship and offer sacrifice. These particular passages come from the end of the last chapter of Isaiah.  The penultimate verse of this chapter, indeed the penultimate verse of the entire Book of Isaiah is:  “And Sabbath after Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, says the Lord.” 

This is key:  Worship, prayer, thanksgiving, and  observing the Sabbath; ultimately, these are what will bring us through the narrow door. 

The reading from Hebrews emphasizes that the journey is neither easy nor guaranteed to be pleasant.  It is, in fact, a difficult journey, a journey of trial, a journey in which weakness is revealed.  It is the journey of life as we experience it.  It is a journey punctuated by struggle, doubt, and error.  It is a journey of being disciplined for that error. There is no promise--there has never been a promise--that following Jesus brings a life free of challenge,  a life without sorrow, a life absent suffering or darkness, or a life in which one never feels abandoned.   

Pie in the sky preaching borders is cruelly delusional.  Discipline is painful to receive.  Discipline is painful to administer.  It alienates the one who is disciplined from the one who disciplines and vice-versa.
It may take a long time before we can look the one who disciplined us in the eye without resentment, without feeling a sting or becoming defensive.   Not one of us enjoys being criticized.  No one enjoys being disciplined even when it is deserved.  However, Hebrews includes a promise of relief:  “At the time it is administered, all discipline seems a cause for grief and not for joy.  But later it brings forth the fruit of peace and justice to those who are trained in its school.”   

We recall discipline more acutely than we do praise.  We learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.  We grow more from adversity than we do in times of plenty and ease.  It is paradoxical that sometimes the farther we feel from God the closer we are to Him, the more distant Jesus seems the more likely He is walking next to us.  

In the context of this week’s readings, the gospel is a further warning against spiritual elitism, a warning against sectarianism and self-importance. . .  a warning against assuming we are God’s chosen;  His favorites, while everyone else is second class.  We have all been guilty--and will be guilty--of saying or thinking something along the lines of, “What is someone like her doing here?”  Or, in a variation on Groucho's famous statement, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that lets him in.”  

Each one of us is the potential hearer of Jesus’ statement, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from.  Away from me, you evildoers!”  We are sinners.  We are sinners loved by God to be sure, but sinners nonetheless.  This is true even of those who are deemed living saints.

Think back to when excerpts of Mother Teresa’s letters were published, letters she wanted destroyed after her death.  Some of the commentary was the fruit of reflection. Some pushed a vicious anti-religious anti-Catholic agenda.  Some critique was absurdly psychoanalytic. or, worse yet, laden with hilariously pretentious and inaccurate new age psychobabble.  

It seems that, despite appearances to the contrary, she was a woman who struggled with doubt for decades,  a perceived saint whose prayer life was often arid.  It appears that much of Mother Teresa’s life was one of frequent wailing and grinding of teeth; of working with an underlying dissatisfaction.  For many of us her letters enhanced, rather than detracted from, her reputation for holiness because they demonstrated  that though she struggled with doubt she never rejected Jesus.  

Many have struggled with doubt, with dryness, with a sense of God that existed onlybecause of His perceived absence.  Recall that Psalm  22 includes Jesus’ last words:  “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”  

People will come from East and West, North and South, to take their place at the banquet of the Lord.  We are invited to that same banquet.  What matters more to each one of us?  That we are first, last, or somewhere in the middle; or is it more important that we partake of the banquet? 

The chapel in which I will give this homily at 8 AM Sunday (at this point in 9 hours).  It is the Jesuit community chapel in St. Mary's Hall, the Jesuit residence at BC.  No commute, just a short walk.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Feast of the Assumption

Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16
1 Cor 15:20-27
Lk 1:39-56
Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; one of three Marian feasts that are holy days obliging the faithful to attend Mass. The other two are: The Immaculate Conception on December 8 and The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on New Year’s Day. This particular feast raises questions, both relevant and irrelevant, for many of the faithful. The Feast of the Assumption raises even more questions in the less-than-faithful and the terminally sophisticated. 
The first question is why? Why do we celebrate the Feast of Mary's Assumption. 
Though decreed as dogma by Pius XII in 1950, this feast has been observed in both the Western and Eastern Churches since around the 6th Century. However, despite the early observance, there is no scriptural basis for it, solid or otherwise. A few passages of scripture are sometimes cited as indicating the Assumption. But the explanations of how they suggest the Assumption involve intricate mental and scriptural gymnastics. A second question is how? What were the biology and physics of Mary’s Assumption? As tantalizing as it might be the question is completely irrelevant. The relevant question is what does this feast mean for us today? What should Mary's assumption teach us? 
The Feast of the Assumption points the way for all followers of Jesus who imitate Mary’s fidelity to God’s will. The Assumption points the way, the destination, the arrival point, for all who can utter the same yes that Mary did at the Annunciation: 
"Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum" 
“May it be done unto me according to your word.” 
The Feast of the Assumption tells us that where Mary is—we are meant to be. 
The reading from the Book of Revelation is full of fantastical, strange, and bizarre images. The interpretation of the image of the woman is a subject of considerable debate and disagreement in scriptural and theological literature. Interpretations of this passage range from those who say that these images absolutely indicate Mary, the Mother of God, to readings suggesting that the image of the woman refers to Israel, or the Church, or Eve, or Mary; perhaps all of the above at the same time. 
Many artists have painted and sculpted these verses with very mixed results. One can clearly see the influence of this passage, for example, in paintings of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the only other feast on which we hear this reading. The best interpretative suggestion is that of scripture scholar Adele Collins who notes that it is more important to see the woman’s destiny than it is to identify her. 
Paul’s words comfort and instruct us. “Just as in Adam all die so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.” Mary’s obedience stands in sharp contrast to Eve’s disobedience. Eve’s infidelity to God’s will is trumped by Mary’s fidelity. Mary is the antithesis of Eve. We heard from Luke’s Gospel. 
Magnificat anima meo Dominum
Et exsultavit spiritus meus
in Deo salutaris meo.
"My soul proclaims
the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices
in God my savior." 
Every evening members of religious orders, priests, and those who say the breviary, recite Mary’s Magnificat toward the end of vespers. The prayer does not need elaboration. It does not need explanation from the pulpit. There are lilies that should never be gilded. The Magnificat is one of them. Mary’s prayer calls for quiet contemplation in the depths of our souls; it calls for silent meditation in the stillness of our rooms. As we magnify the Lord, as we rejoice in God our savior, we will recall that God has remembered—that He will remember—His promise of mercy. 
And, as we will remind ourselves in a few moments with the Creed, Mary is where we are meant to be. 


All of the photos are from the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere in Lyon.  The outside has the appearance of a wedding cake.  The lower level chapel and the Marian chapel (with the gold Immaculate Conception on top) are lovely.  The main church was a little too blue and too many lights.  It also had a strange layout in that it was much taller than it was wide and very long.  It overlooks the entire city and is visible from almost everywhere.  

Taken from one of the bridges on the way home from class. 

Serious telephoto action

Main altar.

Bank of candles

Lighting a candle in the chapel directly underneath the gold representation of the Immaculate Conception

The view of Lyon from the ground of the Basilique

Mary the Queen.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, August 9, 2019

Memorial St. Edith Stein (Sr. Teresia Benedicta à Cruce, OCD)

She disembarked from the train on August 6, 1942.  It had been a long, hot, dusty trip from Holland. Brushing the dust from the brown habit identifying her as a Carmelite nun she straightened her veil as best she could. Unlike some of the passengers, she knew it wasn't going to matter for long.  The woman was Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. Born Edith Stein in Breslau, Poland on October 12, 1891 she was now back in the country of her birth.  The station was Auschwitz. 

Stein was the youngest of eleven children born into an observant Jewish family.  Her academic brilliance was obvious at a young age. At 14 she became a teenage atheist.  Reflecting back on that period she wrote, "I consciously and deliberately stopped praying so as to rely exclusively on myself; so as to make all decisions about my life in freedom."  It would take almost seventeen years for her to discover the true meaning of freedom. 

She received a PhD in philosophy from the University of Frieburg, studying under Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology.  Two episodes during her studies moved her from the illusory freedom of atheistic self-dependence to the radical freedom possible only for those who live under the Cross of Christ. The first episode occurred when she visited the young widow of a colleague and friend killed in WW I. Though bereaved, the young widow's faith was such that she was consoling those who came to console her. This left a deep mark on Stein.  She wrote: "It was my first encounter with the cross and the divine power that it bestows on those who carry it. For the first time I was seeing with my own eyes the Church born from its redeemer's sufferings triumphant over the sting of death. That was the moment my unbelief collapsed and Christ shone forth---in the mystery of the Cross."

Shortly afterwards she was visiting friends who had a social obligation in which she could not be included.  While browsing through their library she stumbled upon the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. She read it that night in one sitting.  Upon closing it she said, "This is the truth." She was baptized at age 31 on New Year's Day 1922.

She had difficulty gaining admission to the Carmelites.  However, as the rumbling of the Nazi menace became louder, she was allowed to enter in Cologne in 1933, at age 42.  As the persecution of Jews continued to increase she was secretly moved to the Carmel in Echt, Holland in 1938 where she wrote her last work. Fittingly it was titled "The Science of the Cross. 

She dismissed plans to evacuate her to England explaining, "Do not do it.  Why should I be spared?   Is it not right that I should gain no advantage from my Baptism? If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters; my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed."  She, and her sister Rosa, who had become a Catholic though not a Carmelite, were taken from Echt.  She ascended Calvary in the chambers of Auschwitz 77 years ago today.

She left behind an enormous amount of writing of which her letters are the most accessible. Released from the self-imposed shackles of atheistic pseudo-freedom she found radical freedom in the science and shadow of the cross. 

St. John Paul, II, pope, quoted her in his homily at her canonization: 

"Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. 
And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth!"

St. Edith Stein, pray for us. 

My devotion to Stein is too deep, and too personal to describe in detail here.  I'm not sure I can always understand it.  However, I have celebrated Mass every August 9 since I was ordained in 2007.  She is a saint for our time.  The healing miracle ascribed to her intervention formed the basis of my master's thesis.  

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Feast of the Transfiguration

Dn 7:9-10, 13-14
Ps 97:1-2, 5-6,99
2 Pt 1:16-19
Lk 9:28-36

The Transfiguration draws us into 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 to the meaning of this feast. The Transfiguration represents the fulfillment of scripture, the fulfillment of a promise, and the beginning of mankind's in the reading from Daniel: 

"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 Moses and Elijah, 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 chosen Son, 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.  

We recall another event 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 sin 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.  

Over two thousand years since Jesus' incarnation, birth, passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and seventy-four 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.  If we adhere to the teaching of the Gospel, we can move from the apocalyptic destruction of the nuclear bomb, the mass-murders of the various genocides, and the concerted, systematic, and government approved attacks on morality and human life--the child and the womb and the ill elderly--that tell us that human life is ultimately without value.

The psalm reminds us as it proclaims.

"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."

Today was a major feast at the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Vermont.  Arrived there on Saturday for some of my usual work and stayed until after Mass this AM.  Thee was a hint of autumn at the 3500 ft elevation.  Football season is on the way!!!!  Penn State opens in less than a month.  

The weather was glorious.  All of the photos below are from this weekend.  I was quite busy but there was time to wander on Sunday.  Long drive back today as I left later than usual.  

The "blue hour" in the early AM.  The blue hour is a period of time--generally less than an hour--when the sun is below the horizon either before it rises or after it sets.  The physics of light result in a blue tint to everything.  This is about halfway up Equinox.  The view on this side is the valley.  shooting in the other direction is the Charterhouse.  

Lake Bardo (I think that is the name) near the guest house in which I stay when I am there.  The light fog was lifting from the lake.  Alas, there was no big fog to shoot in the early AM but it was lovely nonetheless.

That red dock is a challenge.  It is very unlevel and there is no handrail.  Always feel a little unsteady when on it. 

The irregularity of the dock is a little more apparent. 

There are wildflowers everywhere up there. 

The rowboat was on Lake Madeleine last year.  

A profusion of wildflowers

A hint of Christmas without the obese dude or anthropomorphized reindeer.

I rarely manage to capture a butterfly.  

The sun was hitting the berries just so.  Thus . . . . 

A spider web at the gift shot with mini-spectrums

Liturgical books in choir. 

Refectory set for the Sunday meal.

Sacristy being hit by the sun in just the right way. 

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD