Friday, May 12, 2017

Bambi along a Jesuit Center walk

At the Jesuit Center we are used to seeing does and bucks fleeing us as we approach them in or along a hiking path.   This little one was left behind by the mother who fled my approach.  Bambi dutifully posed for a photo op.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

One Sunny Day in the middle of spring rains!

Sunday Morning, April 23, 2017
in the middle of a series of rainy dreary days:

Lilacs to smell!

Lilacs to touch!

Lilacs to see!

Views across the spring lawns!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Former Rectors Fathers Panuska and Currie

J. Allan Panuska, S.J.

(Both served as rectors of Jesuit Community in Wernersville)

   Joseph A. Currie, S.J.    

Rev. J. Allan Panuska, S.J.    Rev. Joseph A. Currie, S.J.

These two Jesuits shared the initials J.A., the one J. Allan, simply Al, the other Joseph A., simply Joe.   Born less than ten years apart, ordained eight years apart, Al before the Second Vatican Council and Joe in 1968 just a few years after the Council closed.   They died within days of one another, Al on Feb 28 and Joe on Mar 3.

As young priests, Al did serious research as a biologist and Joe was a missionary to India, each one following traditions of Jesuit excellence.   Only our best young Jesuits went off to India.   And Al joined one of the best Jesuit science departments at Georgetown University.  Later leadership in the Society and in education awaited Al.  I remember him as a young and generous Provincial, ’76 to ’82, supporting Province efforts to minister within the black community.  

And we remember Joe for the work he did in formation and retreat programs for young Asian Indian Catholics.  His brother Rob spoke at his funeral of his tireless efforts crisscrossing India to interact with youth and young Jesuits.  Rob said he knew every rail and bus station.  After 22 years in India, 15 of them as a priest, Joe returned to the United States to continue his chaplaincy work at various colleges, notably thirteen years at Fordham University as associate vice president for mission and ministry.

Al, after his service as Provincial devoted many years to college leadership, sixteen as president of Scranton University.  There he made himself so present to the students that they named him “Papa Bear”.   (A Fordham print article about Joe used a similar expression:  “Papa Joe”.)   Scranton University grew in both size and academic reputation over these years.   Al is known as a second founder.

These were men of uncommon devotion to youth and young adults.  While the Church into which they were born changed radically, they read the signs of the times and continued steadily to attract the young to Christian life and service, over a hundred years of ministry between them. 

Both had important roles to play at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Al as rector from 1998 until 2004 and Joe as rector from 2010 until 2015.   In every age, God has been our refuge and sends us men and women of outstanding character and commitment.   These two were models for our age and God will inspire those who follow them to build on their heritage.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Lisa Martin, 1959-2017

Lisa Martin 1959-2017
(In 1996 my niece was at Santa Anita Park enjoying her work showing off thoroughbreds to prospective buyers when she had a severe heart attack that left her in a persistent vegetative state for the last twenty-one years.   She loved horses from the time when she was a little girl and spent some twenty years caring for horses and working with some great trainers.  She was with some family members when her body quietly stopped functioning on April 2, 2017   All along we knew that God was taking care of her in ways that we cannot understand.)

(Homily at her Funeral Mass, April 6, 2017)
God’s Spirit was with Lisa all these twenty-one years that her body lingered with us.  I believe she came to know that she was completely in God’s hands but still she looked for release knowing that we who loved her were groaning and waiting.
She found herself in those states of heart and mind that Jesus aligns with God’s blessings: blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor, blessed the patiently single-hearted and more.  God prepared blessings for her: an inheritance, abundant consolations, and the sight of the divine.
We ask this morning that the Spirit help our hearts connect with the consoling images that Jesus presents of the heavenly kingdom.  The Spirit of God inspires Jesus to express our future presence with his Father by using images of what it will be like.   These images express the experience that the deceased among our loved ones have after death.  The heavenly kingdom is like a wedding feast, like sons and daughters finding their way home, like a threshing floor where the goodness in every human heart is preserved in the harvest.   Jesus speaks, too, of the chasms now existing that will endure in the world to come between the greedy and the poor.   But still God’s mercy rules even over these splits in the kingdom.   Jesus tells us all this and then in his death he goes to prepare a place for us.

Our mourning over Lisa has lasted twenty-one years.  She had wonderful care at Pine Run; she stayed there long enough to get upgrades in her accommodations.  Ron and Eileen were attentive to her care in every respect.    From her birth and then from the very moment of her heart attack, God surrounded Lisa with love, a love that will last in our eternity, that love now a sign of God’s transcendent love. 
Our gift of faith gives us this language but still we yearn to have Lisa tell us what it was like all those years.  Perhaps these long years were for her only a short journey to her new home.  Even among us from time to time our mourning was eased by the consolations that the Spirit encouraged among us, her family and friends.   Lisa shared in that same Spirit of God.  We can say for her that eternity itself replaced the manmade structure of time.  Lisa measured her experience with the memory of so many joys in family and friendships and with the memory of her career caring for her prized horses.   If she had dreams they always were leading to a place of discovery and peace even if in our eyes these dreams only got there on Saturday.
And wondering about the position of mind and body in which she found herself, Lisa might have heard some of the words that the biblical Job heard in his own distress, having lost his health and all his family and possessions to boot.  In the book of Job he hears God talk about some of the natural wonders of the world….He hears God’s voice talk with him about the part of God’s creation that Lisa knew through and through, the horse….   So God spoke to her in words like those that Job wrote down:
“Are you the one who gives the horse its strength
or clothes its neck with a flowing mane?
Do you make it leap like a locust,….
with its proud snorting?
The horse paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,…
It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing.
God gradually convinces Job that God knows how to care for all creation and in due time will take care of Job himself answering all his questions.    Lisa found herself placed fully in the same love that created all of life, in the same love that saved Job.
While the rest of us pursued our futures in conventional classrooms and careers and styles of family life, Lisa always danced to a different tune.  Her love for the world of horses led her to find satisfaction in courageous things…living on her own in distant places, finding friendship not only in those surrounding the stables but also in the horses themselves.    Without a doubt some of those horses loved her.  Some rewarded her courage and her confidence in them.  They showed off just for her on those early mornings when they carried her at breakneck speeds around the practice track.  They always kept her safe.
We all have a prized memory and this is mine: I visited her in Saratoga in the summer of 1985.   I remember arriving with her at the stables just as the sun was coming up on a perfect setting of stately trees and brilliant light.  I peeked into the stables fit for the sport of kings; I watched her and her horse enjoy their exercise.   I sat quietly drinking my morning coffee in the peace and beauty of the place.   The truth was evident.   I and the rest of the family who visited there knew that Lisa had found a place that blessed her.   A place, yes, with the roar of the crowd at the track and the adrenalin of competition but it was surely the horses themselves that captured her focus, their welfare, their beauty, the wonder of their relationships with her and the others in their community.
Let us end with another Biblical image of horses, this one in the New Testament.  There are four horses in the visionary Book of Revelation.  In that vision the horses will gallop into our world announcing the Day of Judgment.   To us ordinary men and women the riders on these horses and even the horses themselves will appear frightening but riders and horses, too, will be performing the purposes of God.   God bless you, Lisa.   You are not afraid.  You now know all about the four horses of the apocalypse.  I imagine you now befriending them and keeping them healthy and content as they await their day of service.  That is what you loved to do.   Whisper to them, Lisa.  Whisper to them.  And put in a good word for us.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Spring with the Jesuits at Wernersville

Short walks from the house

A network of cherry blossoms

Parenting at Lake Goupil; a sharp caw and a stretch of the neck will keep him away from our nest.

One blue hue mimics the other.

And finally the sun is out and so are we!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Prodigal Son, Prodigal Daughter


Intro: Here is a picture of the Merciful Mother!   Below is the story of the return of her daughter Latrel.  (picture credit to Christine Beck who listened to Katie and compiled Katie's story in book form).

The Prodigal Son, The Merciful Father, The Angry Brother.  

Such a powerful story recalls our wounds and our hopes, if not personal ones, at least ones that we have seen in others with our own eyes.  Sometimes the story recalls hypocrisy, too, our own or that of others. Such stories were part of parish life when I served at the parish of the Church of the Gesu in North Philadelphia.   Surely such stories are part of parish life everywhere.   But during my ministry I got to know only this one parish, an African American congregation that had a series of wonderful lay and Jesuit leaders over the one hundred and twenty years before my pastorate.  The lay leaders were extraordinary men and women who exemplified mercy.   A few of the elders among them had been turned away when the parish was still all white.   Their African American Roman Catholic parish was not so far away and that’s where the Gesu ushers told them they belonged.   But the walk to Gesu was far easier.  They kept showing up and finally got some welcoming encouragement.  They integrated the parish and never harbored any bitterness.   I will return to the parish to tell its story of the prodigal daughter.   

But first for his insight on the story of the prodigal,   I consulted Jose Pagola’s book about Jesus subtitled “An Historical Appreciation”.  Pagola’s comments about the story of the prodigal son include an element that was new to me.  That is, the relationship of the father with his two sons takes place publicly within a community of broader blood and communal ties.   Pagola describes how the community reacted to this son who dishonors the family by carrying out his scheme.    His demand that the father surrender his share of the inheritance before the usual acceptable time certainly became known and condemned in their community.   No son should be allowed to abandon his family and claim his inheritance before the death of the father.   And no father should be so permissive.    But the father must have known something about this son of his.    Years later when the son returns he is waiting for him.   The community hears within hours of the father’s merciful welcome.   Indeed many of them attend the welcome home party organized by the father.  To this celebration the father invites everyone in the community so all can take a role in restoring the dignity of his son.    One imagines that some of these guests reject this role and are secretly thinking like the older son or the Pharisees to whom Jesus addresses the story.   How can this father forget the dishonor that this young man brought on him and his household?    

At the Gesu parish I saw some of the elements of this story repeated more than once.   In one series of events, the place of the merciful father was taken by Katie Robinson, mother and grandmother known to all in the neighborhood.   One of Katie’s daughters, Latrel, found herself trapped in drug abuse.   Latrel never went far from home over her long period of active drug use.  Over those years she bore children, all of them troubled by the lack of a mother’s love.   We in the parish got well acquainted with four of the children because Latrel gave over the care of these four to their grandmother, Katie.   Latrel would visit her mother and the children in her mother’s care from time to time.   Katie, a master of tough love, (I heard her, when speaking of her children paraphrase the Marine drill sergeant’s proclamation: “their souls belong to God but their behinds belong to me”) would not allow her daughter Latrel to stay in the house even overnight but would always allow her a visit.     Latrel could come in the backdoor anytime and enjoy a meal in the kitchen.  Latrel, spotted on the street coming and going, would always greet neighbors with a smile as if everything were alright.  

The return of the prodigal daughter begins at a North Philly rehab center.  By this time the children are teenagers.  Latrel’s time of staying clean extends into months and months.   She writes notes to her children expressing her sorrow at not being a mother to them.   Katie, Latrel’s children and her brothers and sister are all able to greet her in person during her time of rehab.   There are tears and hugs.   All are hopeful even after Latrel’s health deteriorates and she is admitted to the hospital.  But the years of abuse have so damaged her body that she grows weaker and dies.  

To celebrate the funeral Katie, her grieving mother, leads the whole family to the Church.   Friends, neighbors, parishioners, those whom Latrel greeted with a smile show up to mourn her.    This is more than a family event; the whole neighborhood joins in prayers for Latrel and her family.    Latrel’s sister gives the eulogy with tears of joy.   And her message is clear.  Amazed at God who saved her poor sister surviving so long without a home, the sister praised and thanked God with words like this.    “All these many years Latrel could have died alone and abandoned in the streets.   But God took pity on her.   Latrel in her trouble left us her family.  But she died surrounded and loved by us.   She was lost but she was found.  Latrel came back to us and now lives in her true home.”  Family and friends, neighbors and parishioners shared tears of joy in that congregation of mourners.  It was a funeral celebration unlike any I have ever attended.   At this return of the prodigal no one took the place of that older brother.  In that church there were no Pharisees.

Events like this at Gesu parish help us grasp the stories that Jesus tells us about God’s mercy.   Yes, the broader world might think of Latrel and her life as a great loss.  And her life surely had that element of talent wasted and love lost.   Not everything could be restored.   But we community members in the Church that day praised God, the God who confirmed our hope that Latrell
 went home to meet the divine face with that same smile she showed when meeting us on our streets.

Merciful Mother, Prodigal Daughter.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Wind Storm, Feb 25, 2017


Storm rumbles in from the west.

Over the years great care has been taken of the trees on the property.    Though there was a grove behind the house at its construction,  the building was basically set in a barren field forward and right to left    The property was a benefaction of the Bradys.   Mrs. Brady especially spent many years considering how to design, construct and furnish the building.   But once the structure was in place she also focused on the property. 
Mrs. Brady had many a tree planted to accommodate vistas and to complement the structure.  Over the years trees have been a constant interest of some Jesuits and others who have managed and maintained the grounds.   The stately elms have come and gone.   Many a tree has been lost to storms.   And many a tree replaced.   Still each year a number of dead or ailing trees are removed and replaced

On Saturday in a matter of about five minutes a wicked microburst of wind or a straight-line wind and rain storm landed right at the gate of the property, ripped across it southwest to north east and destroyed about thirty trees.  

The wind rushed up the main drive and ripped this 80-foot spruce out of the ground.  Several nearby trees were severely damaged.

On a hill overlooking the drive the wind ripped off half of this tree and exposed its heart.

This great tree was about 130 yards in front of the house.

This trunk was so twisted by the wind that it simply severed from its tap root.   No root ball at all.   This might have happened because the chapel wall faced the tree in the opposite direction from that in which it fell.   This could have trapped the wind and created a whirlwind.   Our tree surgeon was familiar with other examples of such a twisted severed trunk.