Saturday, February 24, 2024

We Adore Thee O Christ and We Bless Thee: Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent

 

Gen 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18

Rom 8:31b-34

Mk 9:2-10

 

We adore Thee O Christ and we bless Thee

Because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

 

The first reading from Genesis described Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Unfortunately, the passage was edited and thus we hear a discontinuous reading. Thus the details of the journey to the place of sacrifice were omitted,  as was the image of Isaac carrying the wood for his sacrifice. We are left with two things: Abraham's obedience and the confirmation of God's promise that he would be the father of a great nation.

 

This is a rich narrative.  It should not be abbreviated. The parallels between Isaac carrying the wood on which he was to be sacrificed and Jesus carrying the wood on which He was crucified are obvious. If they are proclaimed in the first place. Isaac's confusion was mirrored by Jesus' confusion in Gethsemane. 

 

To those with a Freudian mindset or those hostile to faith, the narrative is disturbing.   God orders a man to sacrifice his only son.  The man prepares to carry out the sacrifice without question. 

 

Many people whine, whimper, and emote about this narrative along the lines of "I could never believe in a God who could be so cruel, sadistic, irrational, or . . . ."(fill in the blank with a favorite pejorative).  There is no sadism here. There is no cruelty in the narrative. There is only faith.

 

The Jewish Study Bible describes this as Abraham's greatest test, and as "A magnificent story, that is one of the gems of biblical narrative."  It also notes a translation problem. "There is no good English equivalent for the Hebrew 'hineni' that is translated as 'Here I am.'  Hineni indicates readiness, alertness, attentiveness, receptivity, and responsiveness to instructions."  It indicates unquestioning obedience to the will of God. 

 

In the reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans we heard that, God "did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all."  God asked Abraham to give him all, to give him everything, to give him his only son, to give him his future, and the existence of a people yet to come into existence. 

 

Once Abraham demonstrated his obedience God returned everything to him.  Because of Jesus' obedience everything was returned to us.

 

One of the first prayers a Jesuit novice learns is the Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It begins,

 

"Take Lord, and receive,

all my liberty, my memory, my understanding,

my entire will,

all I have and call my own." 

 

Take all.  Not that which I am willing to give, not that which is left over, not that which is easy. Take all.  That is what Abraham was willing to give. That is what God the Father gave us.  All.

 

The narrative of Jesus' Transfiguration both points us towards and draws us into

a mystery that is beyond historical reconstruction, scientific explanation, or geographic specificity.  None of these factors matter.  When, how, and where are unnecessary distractions.  It is sufficient to know that Jesus was transfigured in front of three of the apostles. 

 

Imagine the scene. Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets standing with Jesus.  Place yourself in that scene.  Where are you standing?  What do you see?  What do you feel? What are you thinking?  How are you acting? The apostles were confused and frightened.  As he became more anxious Peter began to speak without thinking what he was saying.  Despite today's vogue for apostle bashing none of us would have acted any better.  Most likely, we would have acted worse and pulled out an Ancient Near East smart phone,

snapped pictures, texted them to the rest of the apostles, and tried to get a selfie with Moses.

 

As the tension increased the voice of God the Father declared, "This is my beloved Son."  This is the beloved Son who was like us in all things but sin. This is the beloved Son who took on the human condition to redeem us from our sins and save us from death. This is the beloved Son, God incarnate, who, like Isaac, carried the wood for the sacrifice on his own back.

 

This is the beloved son, who, like Abraham, acted in perfect obedience to the will of the Father.  Then, the apostles, and by extension, each one of us, received a mission from the Father: "Listen to him." 

 

Listen to his teaching, the teaching of His words and the teaching of His actions.  As we listen to Jesus words and imitate his actions, as we take His teaching to heart, and allow that teaching to transform us, we move that much closer to experiencing the glory of His Transfiguration in our own lives.

 

We adore Thee O Christ and we bless Thee

Because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

 

_________________________________________________________

 

Almost fully recovered from the adventure with covid.  A bit of fatigue and a degree of cough which is baseline for me for other reasons.  Will give the homily at Mass tomorrow AM at 8. 

 

The photos are from the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Ljuljana.  It was not large but absolutely exquisite.  





Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, February 18, 2024

No Homily This Week

No homily this week. 

Halfway through giving a  homily on Ash Wednesday I became unable to finish it.  Was transported to hospital by ambulance with covid, pneumonia, and dehydration, all of sudden onset.  Because I am immunosuppressed things went fast and furious.  Spent three days in hospital and was then “discharged” to “home hospital” In which the hospital comes to me.  Nurses visit twice daily to administer the several IV medications, pass out the daily doses of oral medications, check the usual, and transmit the information back to hospital.  There is, in my case, a facetime-like meeting with the doc who examined me in the hospital with the option of a home visit by doc if needed (not in my case).  Medications that have to be infused are done so here using a portable infusion kit.  

 

Recovery is going well.  Tomorrow will probably mark discharge once the last of the IV treatments is done. 

 

It has been a little rocky but am planning to take some time before going back to full speed, which these days ain’t very speedy. 

 

Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Friday, February 2, 2024

Handel’s Messiah and Being Old: Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

 

Mal 3:1-4

Ps 24

Heb 2:14-18

Lk 2:22-40

 

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas, was the day on which the Church blessed the beeswax candles to be used in the coming year. I’m not certain there is a proper blessing for cans of liquid paraffin or propane cannisters. But, on the other hand, it is difficult to tell what can and should be blessed in the Church today.

 

Throughout the ages, the first reading, psalm, and gospel have been the inspiration for some of the most beautiful music imaginable.  Much of the first reading from Malachi is sung in part I of Handel’s Messiah including

 

“The Lord whom ye seek,”

“But who may abide,”

and the chorus, “And He shall purify.”

 

Psalm 24, today’s responsorial psalm appears in Part II of Messiah as the chorus: “Lift Up Your Heads O Ye Gates.”

 

And then there is the gospel.

 

With just a bit of effort at making a composition of place and applications of senses, the gospel for the Feast of the Presentation, is a snapshot of the life of the Holy Family that is relevant even today as a family brings a child into the church to be baptized. The parents are committing the child to a specific life and they are committing themselves to bring the child up in the faith.  Of course, either or both commitments can be rejected or broken once made but that rejection is a matter of free choice.

 

The gospel includes Luke’s exquisite Canticle of Simeon or the Nunc Dimittis the chant at the end of compline or night prayer, that serve as the Church’s lullaby. Simeon’s canticle has been set to music for centuries  in versions ranging from ancient Gregorian chant, to Gustav Holst, Taizé and contemporary Estonian Composer Arvo Pärt, a convert from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy.

 

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine,

secundum verbum tuum in pace:

 

"Lord, now you let your servant go in peace

Your word has been fulfilled . . . "

 

Each of the readings chosen for this Feast illuminates a dimension of it.

 

Malachi’s prophecy "And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek." was fulfilled in concrete fashion in today’s gospel.

 

In commenting  on the reading from Hebrews, the late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner pointed out that (Jesus)  “came into the world the same way we did in order to come to terms  with the given facts of human existence,  . . . and to begin to die”

What Rahner calls the facts of human existence are not easy to accept.  We rage against the fact that we must become old, suffer, and die. And we rage, even more violently, against the fact that those whom we love must also die, some before they are old. Here we can turn to Mary. to whom Simeon foretold the pain to come with his cryptic words; “and you yourself, a sword will pierce.”

 

What did Mary feel when she heard these words?  Did she recall them as she stood at the foot of the cross? No other sword pierces as deeply as that going through the heart

of a parent who buries a child. The wound never heals. There is no such thing as the vaunted “Closure.”  The pain may ease with time but it never goes away.

 

Today’s gospel is the only time we hear the distinct voices of the elderly in the New Testament.  It is the only time we hear the voices of accrued wisdom, the voices of those who are old.  Though Simeon’s age is not specified, his prayer suggests that he was aware that death was near. Thus his gratitude that he saw and held the one who would bring salvation to all the world.  Anna was 84 years old. Note: she was 84 years old she was NOT 84 years young, as the popular insult routinely hurled at the elderly today would have it.

 

Nunc dimittis servum tuum . . .

 

Jesus was not recognized by the crowds milling about in the Temple. He was recognized by an old man and an old woman who had been awaiting the Lord.  He was recognized only by two old people who had prayed for His coming.

 

Simeon and Anna are examples to those of us who are old because, with the wisdom granted only to the elderly, they recognized Jesus, the Messiah, the promised one, and the source of our salvation in the infant brought into the Temple.  They alone were aware that in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, the Lord whom they sought and prayed for had come into the temple. They alone recognized that the prophecy had been fulfilled in the infant cradled in his parents’ arms..

 

Lent begins on February 14, a mere twelve days from today. The Lenten readings and gospels will remind us that Jesus was like us in temptation, pain, suffering, and death.

We will be reminded that  he was like us in all things but sin.  And during Holy Week

we will commemorate his saving act.

 

But today, as we recall His presentation in the Temple, we celebrate and rejoice that Jesus is the light of the world, the light that will never die even after the universe itself

has been extinguished.

 

Nunc dimittis servum tuum

 

“Lord now you let your servant go in peace.”

 

___________________________________________________________

 

The Feast of the Presentation is my favorite feast of the Holy Family, a feast such as the Nativity of the Lord, The Baptism of the Lord, Jesus Lost in the Temple, and even the Wedding at Cana, in which we see a snapshot of the relationships and interactions among the Holy Family.  It is easy to be distracted by the big picture and thus miss those little vignettes of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph interacting as family.  


The photos are from an early morning walk in Old City Lyon, France in June 2014.


The perfect way to start of day in June.

Had it not been 7 AM the temptation would have been strong.

I very much like the flower painting. But a bit large for my carry-on

And all those years I didn't think knowing the difference among Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian wasn't important.  One of the court buildings

Had the fantasy of moving into the top floor of this building over looking the river.

Old City Lyon was a short walk.  Our community was about thirty yards to the right of the edge of this photo  The bridge was for pedestrians only which made it a great place to shoot.

Fr. Jack, SJ, MD


 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Harden Not Your Hearts: Homily for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

Dt 18:15-20

Ps 95

1 Cor 7:32-35

Mk 1:21-28

 

"A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen."

 

The first reading from chapter 18 of Deuteronomy establishes the role of the prophet and foretells Jesus coming. Christianity came to understand these verses as promising a single prophet to come at the end of time, a Messiah, the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus,  And so, in John’s gospel, we hear Philip say to Nathaniel "We have found him of whom Moses spoke in the law, Jesus of Nazareth . . . "  Acts of the Apostles quotes this passage from Deuteronomy

directly in referring to Jesus. It is an important reading.

 

The first reading ends with God giving two harsh warnings:

 

The first warning is to the people: Whoever will not listen to my word which the prophet speaks in my name will answer to Me for it

 

The second warning is to the prophet himself: If a prophet presumes to speak in my name a prophecy that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.

 

The psalm is the 95th of the 150 psalms that comprise the Church’s prayer book.

It is recited daily as invitatory psalm that begins the liturgy of the hours. It reminds us of the proper disposition for prayer:

 

"Come let us sing joyfully to the Lord . . . "

 

"He is our God, and we are his people the flock he shepherds, . . ."

 

"Harden not your hearts."

 

The short second reading is fascinating. It frequently arises in discussions of vowed chastity for men and women who belong to religious orders or congregations as well as discussions of celibacy for secular priests.

 

A person is more available for the things of God if not also preoccupied with concerns for a family and all that goes with being a husband or wife

as well as a parent. The vocation to vowed chastity is no more or less honorable than the vocation to marriage and family life.  But, the two are different in their demands, graces, opportunities, and challenges.  The two states of life  are not interchangeable. Paul is not suggesting that vowed chastity or celibacy is a superior state; far from it. However, he is pointing out the differences between the two states of life.  

 

The last verse is significant. There is clearly no question of trying to deceive anyone by encouraging or forcing him or her to enter into  a way of life for which he or she is unsuited, or by which he or she is repelled, because it is misperceived as better.  This is true not only for the life of the spirit but also for the life of the mind.  Entering a profession because one is being forced to by the expectations of one's parents or friends or because the person sees it as prestigious or high-income is always a bad idea that may result in profound unhappiness for the one acting against his or her will.  Indeed,  it may be disastrous. 

 

Because the Gospel of Mark will be proclaimed throughout the entire liturgical year, we are going to hear the words, amazed, astonished, astounded,

frightened, awed, and other synonyms around 35 times.  Astonishment is the frequent reaction to Jesus teaching in Mark.  Part of the astonishment was driven by the sense that He was teaching with authority rather than in the manner of the scribes. This particular Gospel from the first chapter of Mark describes the beginning of Jesus public ministry. It is difficult to know exactly what  Mark meant

when he describes that Jesus taught "not as the scribes."  But, this marks the beginning of the scribes opposition to Him.

 

The scribes were not necessarily a single group. Rather they fulfilled multiple functions, mostly in government and in the synagogue as teachers, interpreters of scripture, and even as lawyers. They quickly became enemies of Jesus.

One commentator notes that the scribes' opposition to Jesus was far greater and more dangerous than that of the Pharisees.  It was the Jerusalem scribes,

along with the elders and high priests who were the chief instigators of Jesus trial.

 

What exactly did the people recognize in Jesus' teaching that was absent from the teaching of the scribes? Part of it was in what Jesus said and how He said it.

I suspect one of the things was that Jesus did not use euphemisms to cover up reality, particularly the reality of sin.  He called sin for what it was, a violation of God’s law but not necessarily the laws established by man.

 

Confucius lived and died 500 years before Jesus.  One of his well-known sayings is: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”  Jesus did that.  He called sin for what it was. Euphemisms for sin for sin are much too common today as are redefinitions of what is or is not sin.  Some of some of the vocabulary in use today seems to be an attempt to deny that sin even exists. But physician assisted suicide or the mutilation of gender-affirming therapy, is not less a sin and sinful, because of the antiseptic-sounding descriptions.  That Jesus called things things by their right name is one of the factors that drove the scribes to seek his death.

 

After Jesus cast out the unclean spirit we hear again that all were amazed. What is this?  What is going on? Who is this man? He even has authority over unclean spirits?  One can imagine how quickly the word spread throughout the region.

 

Jesus taught with authority.  He cast out evil spirits with authority. That same teaching, that same authority guides us today, if we allow it to rather than, like the false prophet of the first reading, saying something along the lines of “But that isn’t what Jesus meant.”

 

We can only respond to Jesus

by following the instruction of the psalmist:

 

“Sing joyfully to the Lord”

“Bow down in worship”

"Harden not your hearts."

 

____________________________________________

Monte Lussari or sv. Višarje, is a place of pilgrimage in the Italian Alps very close to the borders with both Austria and Slovenia.  The summit on which stands the church is accessible only via ski lift-cable car.  Spent ten days there one summer doing some work with kiddos who were learning English.  I was the only native speaker there.  The photo opportunities were such that the camera never left my should except when concelebrating Mass.  I'm not much of a seashore or beach guy.  Give me the mountains.  

 

Pilgrims at Mass.  Daily Masses were celebrated in Italian, German, and Slovenian, the language switching throughout.  The retired bishop with whom I concelebrated paced the language switches so that when my part came it was in Slovenian.  With practice I could have made a reasonable attempt at Italian but German is well-beyond my ability.

The pilgrims' luggage jammed into the back of the church.

Potica (pronounced po teet sa) a Slovenian version of nut roll that is baked in a bread pan rather than the free-form pointed oblong I grew up with (the Polish version I assume).  Potica is glorious.  As it nut roll.

There was a bicycle race happening.  I don't think there were ten feet of level ground on Višarje.  Great vantage points for photography. 

The summit with the cross surveying everything.  




 Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, January 20, 2024

To Life, To Life, L’Chayim: Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

This past Friday the 51st annual March for Life stepped off in Washington, D.C. at 1:00 PM after a noon rally on the National Mall. Tomorrow, 22 January, is designated the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.  It is the date on which in 1973 Roe v Wade was passed.

 

Despite the victory in the 2022 Dobb’s decision that overturned the tragic Roe decision 49 years later,  returning the decision to states rather than national blanket approval, there is still much to be done in efforts to protect vulnerable life.  Abortion has already had,  disastrous consequences for the individual, the family, society, and the world at large, that will take generations to undo.

 

On April 18, 2018  the Washington Post published an article that began:  "Nothing like this has happened in human history. A combination of cultural preferences, government decree, and modern medical technology in the world’s two largest countries has created a gender imbalance on a continental scale. Men outnumber women by 70 million in China and India."  These imbalances are having and will have devastating effects on society,

 

However, inequality in the womb extends beyond the simple question of preference for a child's sex, to questions of health status, projected cognitive abilities, and overall potential of the child in utero.

 

Iceland has almost exterminated Down syndrome.  Abortion is the usual and expected course if pre-natal tests reveal evidence of trisomy 21.  As Icelandic Geneticist Kari Stefansson “. . . we have basically eradicated Down syndrome from our society – (such that) there is hardly ever a child born with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore."  When asked what a 100% termination rate indicates about Icelandic society, Steffanson replied that  "It reflects relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling,” that he doesn’t see as desirable because “You’re having an impact on decisions that are not entirely medical.  Here at home over 63% of children with three copies of chromosome 21 are aborted. Margaret Sanger, the virulently racist, a proponent of eugenics, and foundress of Planned Parenthood, would be thrilled by those statistics.

 

Pre-natal screening has become a lucrative business in the U.S.  But there is a problem.  An article in the N.Y. Times Magazine a few years ago began by noting that some of the tests looking for missing parts of chromosomes in an effort to make a prenatal diagnosis of congenital disease are wrong 85% of the time. An eighty-five percent incorrect rate is an appalling statistic on which to base life and death decisions.  When you consider that Tom Brady's career pass completion rate is 64.3% it appears that he is four times more accurate than some prenatal tests. 

 

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, (“The Gospel of Life”) St. John Paul II described how eugenic abortion is justified in public opinion through a mentality

which accepts life only under certain conditions and rejects it when it is affected--or might be affected--by any limitation, handicap, or illness.  He went on to condemn

masking the horror of crimes against life by describing them in euphemistic terms.

Unfortunately, the devaluation of vulnerable human lives has been extended to include the elderly, many of whose lives are seen as of little or no value simply as a result of the changes associated with aging and the diseases which afflict those of us who are old.

 

This devaluation drives the increasing trend to legislate the intentional killing of the sick elderly, and sometimes not so elderly, through what is euphemistically called "physician prescribed death.”  As of May 2, 2023, unlike other states, Vermont, our neighbor to the north,  chose to permit out-of-staters to be brought to the state so as to be put down there.

 

One must ask exactly when illness in the elderly or trisomy 21 in an unborn child became capital offenses.  As Dr. Cicely Saunders, foundress of London’s St. Christopher’s Hospice explained: "Impending death is no excuse for ending life.  Rather than rushing to kill the dying in the name of ending their suffering we should focus on practical measures for alleviating their pain and spiritual means to make their final moments worth living."

 

Opposition to the intentional killing of the sick is not just "a Catholic thing."  The Joint Declaration on End-of-Life Issues of the Abrahamic Monotheistic Religions represents the combined opinion of  Christians, Jews, and Muslims.  It was signed at the Vatican on October 28, 2019. It includes the following:

 

“Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are inherently, morally, and religiously wrong and should be forbidden with no exceptions. Any pressure upon dying patients

to end their lives by active and deliberate actions is categorically rejected.”

 

Humankind has struggled for millennia to discern the meaning and value of life to understand the fundamental equality of all human lives.  Are some lives more important than others?  Should some lives not be allowed to be born?

 

How long before we exterminate the ill and dying for economic reasons once they are no longer productive?  Do we truly realize that while cure is rare, care and healing are always possible? 

 

Pope John Paul II of happy memory was prophetic in pointing out  the danger in the tendency to disguise crimes against life in its early and final stages by using innocuous medical terms that  distract attention from the fact that what is involved is the right to life

of a human person.

 

An ideal world wouldn't need an annual March for Life, but it will remain a necessity

for the foreseeable future.  That is one of the tragedies of our time.

 

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." 

 

___________________________________________

 

Among one of the big surprises of my life was finding myself in Vietnam after tertianship in Australia.  It was an impulsive choice when the provincial asked if I wanted to stop in Hawaii on the way home.  As I've never wanted to stop in Hawaii I blurted out, "May I go to Vietnam instead?" 

 

The photos below were all taken in or around My Tho in Mekong Delta.  How I got to spend three days with a group of religious sisters is a long story that involves a Vietnamese tertian classmate who took me there.  

 

All of the shots are of kids.  

 

As soon as they saw me with the camera, initially on a balcony, crowds of kids gathered.

Looking down at the clusters of children who attended the kindergarten that the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres conducted.  The church is forbidden to be involved in education beyond the level of kindergarten. 

A very rare sighting of me with children.  A few hours later the sister in the photo took John and Me to visit her priest uncle and then to visit her family.  She did not tell her mother we were coming.  Wonderful scene of pure joy when we got out of the VW Bus.

At Go Cong Beach.  This boy saw the camera and mugged shamelessly. 

A little wary of the camera.  He was the last kid at the daycare, helping to straighten up while waiting to be picked-up.  


Fr. Jack, SJ, MD
 

Saturday, January 13, 2024

You Called and I Answered: Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

1 Sam 3:3b-10, 19

Ps 40 2,4, 7-8, 8-9,10

1 Cor 6:13-15, 17-20

John 1:35-42

 

Voco, vocare, vocatus. 

To call.  To name.  To summon. 

To call upon.  To invite.  To challenge. 

 

The various translations for the root of the word ‘vocation’ overlap in meaning   but each contains unique undertones and subtleties as well.  The first reading, the psalm, and the gospel all consider vocation. Samuel’s vocation. The apostles’ vocations.  And our vocations. 

 

Voco, vocare, vocatus. 

 

She heard a faint call the first time she visited. It became more insistent with time. The voice of God advanced the challenge more clearly. The urgency in the summons became more palpable. There could be no answer other than ‘yes’.Reflecting on it in her autobiography published over 40 years later she wrote, “Many people don't understand the difference between a vocation and your own idea about something.  A vocation is a call – one you don't necessarily want.  The only thing I ever wanted to be was an actress. But I was called by God.”

 

The woman is Mother Dolores Hart, of the Order of St. Benedict who was a rising star in Hollywood and on Broadway until 1963 when, at age 25, she entered the cloistered Benedictine nuns at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT. She remains there today, having lived her vocation for 60 years.

 

A vocation can be defined as: "A regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited. An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a particular career."  A vocation may bea call to a particular way of living that is independent of one’s job, or it may definewhat other's might call one’s job.  The vocations to which we may be called are multi-faceted including the vocation to marriage, to parenthood,  to medicine,  to the creative life, to teaching, or the vocation to religious life in one of the many orders and congregations. 

 

We are all graced with a vocation.  We all receive a call from God.  The first challenge is to hear and discern God’s voice over the clamor of daily life. The second, and greater challenge, is to accept and live out that vocation, even when it periodically becomes difficult. 

 

The first reading illustrates the challenge of recognizing one's vocation.  It took more than one call for Samuel and Eli to realize that God was summoning Samuel.   Poor Eli.  There he was sound asleep when the kid wakes him up and says, “You called.  I’m here.”    Eli eventually understood what was happening and instructed young Samuel to reply “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  

 

Samuel was obviously rattled when God called him the third time.  He replied,

“Speak, your servant is listening,” completely forgetting to address God as Lord as per Jewish custom.  Samuel’s vocation was to be a prophet, to proclaim the Word of the Lord fearlessly, even when he knew that those who heard him were not going to like what he said.  The vocation to which we are all called as Catholics is to proclaim the Word of God even if it makes us unpopular.  Unpopular is the price of being a prophet, unpopular is the price of proclaiming the truth.

 

We are approaching one of the annual unpopular days for the Catholic Church here in the U.S.  The 51st Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. will step off this coming Friday, January 19.  Those who are opposed to abortion, who decry killing the inconveniently ill elderly, or who state opposition to a government

that attempts to force physicians, nurses, hospitals and pharmacists to act immorally by participating in these and other acts of death—nowadays including the bizarre and immoral  use of puberty blockers in confused children, completely changing their possibilities for  normal cognitive development—are derided, called names, spat upon, and may face job loss. 

 

It is amusing in a very sick way that the people who, when young liberals, hurled epithets of “baby killer” and threw dirty diapers at soldiers returning from Vietnam are now campaigning for and legislating baby killing, in the form of abortion, even after the point of viability outside the womb.  Ohio has deemed killing one’s child

a state constitutional right. 

 

Voco, vocare, vocatus. 

 

John’s Gospel describes the call of the first apostles.  Jesus gave Simon a new name Cephas—or Peter.  His life changed at that moment, just as our lives change the moment we realize and accept our vocations.

 

Hearing the call to one's vocation and acting on it is a funny thing.  There you are

going about your daily life, working, playing, relaxing, or praying, and something changes.  The realization sometimes hits with the suddenness associated with the word epiphany, This is the one I am called to marry.  This is the work I am called to do.  This is the path I am called to follow.  It may be a disturbing experience.   Recall Mother Dolores' words, "A vocation is a call—one you don't necessarily want."

 

Like Samuel we may need to be called more than once.  But, God’s voice is insistent.  The call to our vocation does not, and will not, go away easily, no matter how much we wish we could simply continue with things as usual.

 

We heard in the first reading, “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him” When we accept the vocation to which the Lord has called us, be it to marriage and parenthood, to the single life, to teaching or life in a religious order, the Lord will be with us.

 

He will be with us and give us the necessary strength to live out  that vocation. 


_______________________________

The photos are from an early  AM walk one morning in May in Ljubljana.









Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Saturday, January 6, 2024

They Weren’t Kings: Homily for The Epiphany of the Lord

 

Is 60:1-6

Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13

Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6

Mt 2:1-12

 

One of the challenges of the Christmas season is coping with the sickly sweet images imposed on the narrative of Jesus' birth:  the toddler-sized newborn, Mary clad in blue and white watered silk encrusted with pearls and rhinestones, and winged angels reflect nothing of the reality. Morbidly obese Santa, reindeer with glowing noses, and elf cards are beneath contempt. Many are embarrassing and some approach the sacrilegious.   Christmas is not a holiday “for children.”  It is a holy day for all peoples of the world. There is no magic of  Christmas. It is not a panacea for sorrow.  Epiphany, marking the end of the Church’s Christmas season is not exempt from the treacly goo. 

 

The word epiphany derives from the Greek meaning to show forth.  Among the dictionary definitions one finds, "a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something, . . .a sudden intuitive realization."  One can say that it is a gut feeling that is difficult to explain when it occurs, when all the pieces of the puzzle suddenly come together.  The intuitive realization of Jesus as Messiah is the perfect description of this feast.  But then there is the problem of the “kings." 

 

The word "kings" does not appear in Matthew's Gospel.  The description of the gentiles who brought gifts as ‘kings’ did not begin until the sixth century. Matthew used the word magi or wise men.  They were not monarchs.  Matthew used the plural but did not give a specific number. There could have been as few as two or many more than three.   Because the gifts were described as gold, frankincense, and myrrh,  tradition holds that there were three magi.  Despite the custom of calling them Kasper, Melchior, and Balthazar their names are not included in scripture.  They remain anonymous.

 

In the end their number, names, and royal or non-royal status are irrelevant distractions.  The true significance of the magi is their journey, their meaning is found in their pilgrimage in search of Jesus as a result of an intuitive realization, the result of an epiphany. 

 

Pope Benedict XVI of happy memory described the importance of that journey: “The journey of the wise men…is just the beginning of a great procession that continues throughout history. With the Magi, humanity’s pilgrimage to Jesus Christ begins. It is a journey toward God who was born in a stable, who died on the Cross and who, having risen from the dead, remains with us always,

until the end of the world.”

 

The Magi are important not because they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They are important because they were the first Gentiles to worship Jesus.  They were the first Gentiles to experience the intuitive realization of Jesus as Messiah.  That epiphany was not exclusive then nor is it exclusive now.

 

We will hear of more epiphanies in the cycle of readings throughout the year. There will be many epiphanies scattered throughout our lives, if we are willing to notice them.

 

The true reality of Jesus’ incarnation and birth is apparent in today's Gospel. "When King Herod heard of this he was greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him."  Herod's jealousy and the duplicity in his conversation with the magi is closer to the reality of Jesus’ birth than the interminable song  “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”

 

Herod's  jealousy and evil desires revealed the first shadow of the cross.  His malevolence traced the path from Bethlehem to Calvary  "Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."  This, from a crazed and cruel megalomaniac.

Yeah, right.  If that is true  I know this bridge for sale . . . .

 

In the first reading Isaiah assured Jerusalem that the glory of the Lord would shine upon her.  With that prophecy in the background the reading from Ephesians is consoling because it assures the Gentiles that they are included in the promise and are part of the new covenant.  Once we wash away the treacle, once the sloppy sentimentality is discarded, once the word magic is forever disassociated from Christmas, we can begin to understand its true meaning.  When we get rid of all the gooey stuff we can begin to understand that the  "Christmas story" did not end when the magi returned home. 

 

Christmas does not end when the tree is kicked to the curb or popped back into the box on December 26 or January 2.  Christmas is only the beginning of the journey that led to Calvary and our salvation from sin and death. The full commemoration of that journey requires an entire liturgical year.

 

A small volume of random thoughts published as Markings was discovered after Dag Hammarskjöld’s death,  It includes a number of haiku.  One of them captures the true meaning of Christmas in the twelve words totaling seventeen syllables spread over the three lines that constitute a haiku.

 

There is nothing gooey, sticky, or treacly about Christmas.  It is not magical.  It does not need a celebration of food, booze, ugly sweaters, and consumer insanity.  It has nothing to do with a holiday. It has everything to do with a holy day.

 

"On Christmas Eve Good Friday

was foretold them

in a trumpet fanfare."

 

We cannot and must not separate the wood of the manger from the wood of the cross.  Neither event was magical. 

_____________________________________________________

 

Photos are from Lyon, France

 

The altar to Mary illuminated by sun streaming through stained glass.

Main altar in the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon.

Woman lighting candle in the crypt church in Fourvière

Altar dedicated to St. Joseph.  I like the simplicity.

Walking through the Jesuit novitiate with camera over shoulder.  Could never have captured this otherwise.

 Fr. Jack, SJ, MD