Saturday, September 28, 2019

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Am 6:1a, 4-7
Ps 146
1 Tm 6:11-16
Lk 16:19-31

The ancient warning in the first reading from Amos is harsh while the description of the people is contemporary. “Woe to the complacent of Zion . . . Lying upon beds of ivory, they eat lamb taken from the flock, they anoint themselves with the best oils." Today Amos would write,  “Woe to the self-obsessed taking selfies with their phones, they eat fast food taken from a bag, wear too much perfume, and inject Botox.”  The Book of Amos repeatedly stresses social and political ills in general terms.  Thus, it can be read in the context of today.  There are social and political ills in every country that cause and contribute to a variety of personal ills.  There are social and political sins that contribute to and even drive the human propensity to sin.  In the end individual sin drives social sin and social sin allows individuals more creative opportunities for individual sin. 

Amos’ warning is a stark contrast to Paul’s letter.  Given the context of Amos’ message and the Gospel it is a pity that the second reading didn’t begin  with verse 10 rather than verse 11.  Verse 10 is well-known: “For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through their craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.”  Then we hear Paul’s charge to Timothy in the proper context, “BUT as for you . . . .pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.”  It is fascinating that the line "For the love of money is the root of all evils," is generally misquoted as "money is the root of all evil."  The two phrases are not identical.  They do not mean the same thing.  Money itself is not evil; it is not the root of all evil.  Money is a necessity. The root of all evil is the emotional attachment to it or the insatiable drive to obtain even more no matter what.  The root of all evil is loving, adoring, and worshipping money and its perks. 

This evil may be at a corporate level.  A few years ago the immaculately coifed and impeccably dressed Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals and the daughter Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, had to defend herself for increasing the price of the Epi Pen, used for anaphylactic shock from $100 for two to $600 for two; a 535% increase over seven years.  Her annual compensation was over $8,700,000 per year.  The cost of epinephrine, the active drug in the pen, is pennies per dose.  The rest is delivery system, advertising, costs, and of course, her obscene salary.

We are now seeing a similar crisis of greed with the cost of insulin.  Banting and Best, the discoverers of insulin, wanted it to be free.  But the price for one vial of Eli Lilly's Humalog rocketed from $35 in 2001 to $234 in 2015.  It is higher now.  

However, before one becomes to self-satisfied while clucking about the sins of big pharma, it is critical to know that the love of money the craving for it is not limited to big corporations.

One reads far too many stories about the church secretary or the treasurer of the Little League, who diverted thousands of dollars to his or her personal use. In January 2004, Barbara Bullock, former president of the Washington, D.C. Teacher's Union, pleaded guilty to embezzling 2.5 million from union funds.  She blew it on the usual: furs, jewelry, trips, and gifts. Be it Eli Lilly, Mylan, or a local union president, the love of and desire for money, drove the sin.

The parable sometimes referred to as Dives and Lazarus is unique to Luke's Gospel.  The names are important though only one of them appears in the narrative.  Lazarus is derived from the Hebrew El azar, which means “God has helped.”  Obviously the name is no accident. “When the poor man died he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.”  God had indeed helped him.  Tradition, and only tradition, gave the rich man his name.  Dives is a Latin adjective for rich.  Thus Dives and Lazarus;  The Rich Man and the One God has helped. 

The first part of the parable describes a reversal of fortune. Upon his death Lazarus, the beggar, was carried to Abraham’s bosom.  Upon his death, Dives, the man who had it all, was tormented in the netherworld. The second half of the parable is a conversation between the rich man and Abraham.  It is instructive. 

Dives is not portrayed as a bad man.  He is not wicked or malevolent along the lines of Herod or others.  True, he dressed well.  He ate a rich diet.  He lived in comfortable surroundings. He enjoyed the rewards of hard work.  The rich man was not necessarily evil.  He was blind.  He was oblivious.  He was oblivious to the suffering around him.  He didn’t notice it.  Lazarus—like the poor in the streets today—had melted into the landscape. He was passed by, stepped over,  and avoided. 

Dives, the wealthy man, bore him no ill-will.  He was not hostile.  He didn't notice him.  Lazarus was there but was invisible.  Dives was not without merit.  He accepted that Lazarus could not cross the chasm to ease his thirst.  He didn't protest.  He didn't whine.  He didn't argue.  He didn't plead.  But he wanted to prevent his equally oblivious brothers from suffering the same fate. It couldn't be done. If his brothers wouldn't listen to Moses and the prophets, they would not be persuaded even if someone should rise from the dead.   Just like Dives and his brothers we have Moses and the Prophets.  Unlike Dives and his brothers we also have Jesus; who suffered, died and rose from the dead to save us from sin. 

Why do we not listen to him either? 
The photos take you on a guided tour of my favorite real estate on earth: The University Park Campus of Penn State University.  No place has influenced my life, where it went, where it is, and where what is left will go.  

Old Main.  The administrative building.  It was torn down around 1928, the year after my dad graduated, and rebuilt with the same stones (that would not happen today).  The columns were added after the reconstruction.  

 Another perspective.
 The HUB: Hetzel Union Building.  Radically changed since I was a student .  Many times larger. 
 Formerly the president's house, it is now the alumni center.  The president was moved off campus.  Good thing.
 The back of Pattee Library, the main library on campus.  This and the next one were taken on a Saturday night.  Thus, it is almost empty. 

Whitmore Lab.  Organic Chemistry.  My second favorite course.  
 A new view.  The walk was a road in an earlier incarnation.  Took this from a bridge connecting two life sciences buildings.  Much improved. 
The lobby of the Natatorium:  Three indoor pools and a huge outdoor one with diving towers. 
 I lived in the third room from the left one floor from the top as a sophomore.  My roommate Chris and I had a great time.  The sorrow in the photo is that my first funeral eleven months after ordination was for Chris.  
 The Skellar.  If you know the place no explanation is necessary, if not no explanation will capture the meaning of the words:  The Skellar and A Box of Rocks. 
 We did not have light beer when I was a student.  
 The new Creamery.  Penn State has some of the world's best ice-cream.  
 Pumpkins on display at the rather new (under ten years) arboretum.   It will be magnificent in a cople of decades. 
 This replaces the infamous Parking Lot 80 in part. 
 The pergola (not in these photos) is already booked for weddings into the next century. 
 Getting a little arty. 

 +Fr. Jack SJ, MD

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Requiem aeternam . . . .

Eighteen years ago today was the day before the morning of. But we didn't know it. The only ones who knew were the Islamic fundamentalists who were making the final checks on their coordinated plan.
Eighteen years ago tonight we went to bed most likely in the usual fashion. Some drifted off into deep slumber while others tossed and turned with worry. The Church ended her day in the usual way with the chanting of the Salve Regina at the end of compline. How well did the killers sleep on what would be their last night alive? Were they feeling any anticipatory guilt? I hesitate to inquire about the content of their night prayers. 
Eighteen years ago tomorrow morning we went to work, or to school, or for a run on a day off. The daily tasks had to be done. Perhaps it was garbage day. Perhaps it was the first day on a new job. 
And then our lives changed. 
Eighteen years ago tomorrow night few of us slept. 
Today, eighteen years later, we continue to pray for the murdered:
Requiem aeternam 
dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Requiescant in pace. 
Eternal rest
grant unto them O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.

Side altar in the crypt church at Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France

Massed candles at Žale Cemetery in Ljubljana, Slovenia the day before All Souls Day 2016. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, September 1, 2019

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Lk 14:1,7-11

Today's gospel narrative is subtitled "Teaching on Humility."   It is unique to Luke's Gospel.  The first reading from Sirach resembles a teaching on humility that could have been lifted directly from the rule for a religious order.  St. Benedict defined twelve steps of humility across three chapters of the Rule. The first sentence of Chapter Seven of the Rule quotes today's Gospel as an introduction to those steps: "Scriptures cry out to us and say: 'Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and every one who humbles himself will be exalted.'”  The advice in all three sources is sound and worthy of meditation. 

Humility is an interesting virtue and a misunderstood one. It is one we can try to fake.  Sometimes we are successful in those efforts. However, as easy as it is to fake it is difficult to live, particularly in this day of relentless self-promotion and ubiquitous selfies--this last being one of the ugliest neologisms in English, in its sound, its execution, and its implications.

Temptations to glory, fame, and being renown for great deeds dogged Ignatius of Loyola throughout his life.  The early pages of his autobiography are fascinating and revealing.  Much of the rest of the autobiography reveals how he fought against those temptations.  Jesus' caution against self-exaltation is well-known even to many who are unaware that it comes from scripture. The banquet image is an excellent illustration of the danger of excessively high self-regard, a danger that is at epidemic levels in U.S. society today.  

While arrogating a place of honor without being asked is a blatant example of excessive self-regard, there are times when egotism  may be mistaken for humility.  True humility is not persistent self-abasement. It does, however, demand honestly admitting one's mistakes and trying to correct them. True humility does not mean deflecting or denying compliments. It means accepting them with modest gratitude and then moving on to more pressing matters. 

Compliments are an interesting phenomenon.  We learn a lot about ourselves and others by observing how we, or they, respond to them.  A compliment is an expression of regard from the speaker to the recipient of the compliment. A compliment is a verbal gift from one to another.  It is a manifestation of affection.

"That dress looks very good on you."  

"You mean this old rag?  You need to see your eye doctor."  

"That is a beautiful painting."  

"Oh, a twelve year-old could have done as well.  Better in fact."  

This kind of response is not humility.  It may seem so on the surface.  But, in reality, this kind of compliment deflection is an example of pride wearing a badly applied mask of humility. The compliment deflection is meant to encourage more reassurance and praise, ideally accompanied by a cascade of words.  "Oh no, you are soooooooo wrong. That painting is exceptionally well done.  The composition, the color, the brushstrokes . . . .'

Responding to a compliment or reacting to praise with fake humility is an attempt to manipulate others into piling on even more accolades, a few superlatives, and lots of adverbs.  More significantly, it is a rejection of the other, of the one giving the gift, on par with refusing a proffered handshake.  There is only one possible response to a compliment:  A slight smile, perhaps a nod, and  words to the effect, "Thank you, it is kind of you to say so."   

The opposite of humility is hubris, an ancient Greek word defined as: extreme pride, especially pride and ambition so great that they offend the gods and lead to one's downfall. It was hubris, rather than hunger, a desire to chomp on an apple, or the need to increase dietary fiber intake, that led to Adam and Eve being exiled from the garden. Indeed, it took very little persuasion for Satan to ignite their pride and ambition with disastrous results.  It is pride that drives one to assume a prime seat at a banquet without having been asked to take it.  Pride is the driving force behind many of the sins we commit on a regular basis.  

The distinct Carthusian Rite for the Mass uses different wording for some of the prayers of the Roman Rite.  Their admission of sin, their version of the confiteor,is stripped down and simple.  It begins: "I confess that I have sinned through pride . . . "   There is no mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. There is just a simple admission of pride. Pride is perhaps the most lethal of all sins and the driver behind many other sins. 

As I was applying to the Society, about a year before I entered, George B. Murray, SJ, MD, a psychiatrist at Mass General who was my fellowship director, among other facets of our relationship, sent me a letter I've kept with my passport and other important papers for twenty-three years.  George's description of humility is an important corrective to the humility that fishes for more praise.  He wrote: "The only thing you need in novitiate is a true vocation and humility. Humility is not kow-towing, proclaiming yer' lowness, and taking self-abasement.  Humility is based on truth, ergo the real. . . if you erred admit it to yourself (you don't have to advertise it). If you did good admit it to yourself (you don't have to advertise it)."  He dropped me off at the novitiate on August 24,1997, twenty-two years ago last week, and vested me as a priest ten years later.  Six years after that I celebrated his funeral Mass.  A brilliant man, his definition of humility determined how he lived his extraordinarily accomplished life.

True humility is realizing our pride, admitting it to ourselves, and then acting against it (agere contra) without making that contrary action obvious or making a big deal out of it. 
True humility is to follow Jesus' advice, "Take my yoke upon you,and learn from me."
Down at the Abbey of Regina Laudis for a few days to help out with Masses and benediction.  Always enjoy coming here.  Alas, the drive was a nightmare of backups and accidents.  

Summer is over (and football season has BEGUN!!!!!).  Some flower photos taken over the years. 

A formal boquet on the altar at Campion.

One of my very few successful efforts at capturing fauna in nature.  Butterflies hear me coming and they are flitting all over. 

 Gorgeous colors playing off each other. 
Small mums in a planter. 

Yeah, shooting raindrops on roses is trite.  It is.  I do it all the time. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD