Sunday, December 30, 2007

I love the colors in this nativity scene (Piero della Francesca, c. 1470); they reminded me of a day along the Wissahickon.
This nativity depicts Joseph with his legs crossed! You can see the sole of his foot. The image is among many available on the site of the National Gallery, London.

This is Holy Family Sunday!

Feast of the Holy Family Dec 30 University Chapel
The great story teller, Tolstoy, opens one of his novels with this sentence: “All happy families resemble one another but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Because we celebrate today the feast of the Holy Family, this sentence can help us understand our readings. How wise it is for us to place this feast of family between Christmas and New Year’s .... In this season families are on our minds and hearts…..

I believe that Jesus’ family was a happy one and, taking a cue from Tolstoy, his family resembles other happy families.
We judge happy families, and Jesus’ family as well, not by the absence of sorrow, dysfunction or suffering but by the capacity of the members of the family to become stronger and more supportive of one another through the joys and sorrows that they experience.

I know quite well a happy family that has suffered much: multiple divorces; a mother's death, Janet's, brought on by alcoholism; Michael's death, a young father, in a traffic accident before the birth of his one child; the collapse of a young woman, Lisa, into a persistent vegetative state by reason of a heart attack, the loss of a baby girl just days after her birth. Some of these crises were instantaneous, others endured over a long period; some are not yet resolved. This family now numbers 33 and not one member wants to miss the annual Christmas party. I know about this family because I belong to it. The laughter and sharing of life at one of these annual parties helps carry me through the rest of the year. This is a happy family.

But it is clear that the happiness of my family is closely related to the suffering that we have shared…. when Tolstoy spoke of the resemblance in all happy families, he must have meant at least this: happy families have the ability to survive as families no matter what the threat.

Today, our reading details a threat to Jesus’ family and tells the story about his family as political refugees… The vicious King Herod, a ruler over Bethlehem where Jesus’ birth takes place, emerges as a bitter enemy of this child because he hears by rumor that the child will become a king. He fears that this child threatens his grip on power. He plans to kill Jesus. In a dream an angel warns Joseph about this danger and he flees with Mary and the baby outside of Herod’s territory into the land of Egypt…

What must it have been like for this family to be refugees and to share a fate like so many of today’s families? Did Joseph wait on some dusty byway in Egypt in order to be hired as a day-laborer? Was he given a status as a political refugee or did he simply hide out under cover? The next time you see a foreign-looking cabbie or gardener or bus boy, think that Joseph must have been something like him, sticking out like a stranger in a strange land not knowing the language but determined to protect and provide for his wife and child.

This kind of fear and anxiety can so stress a young couple that they might not hold together but I believe that Joseph and Mary's fear and refugee status actually strengthen them for what is to come. The family survives this time of uncertainty and eventually returns quietly to settle in Nazareth. This is Jesus’ home and as a human being he needs to have a home. In the bosom of this family Jesus learns the centrality of the community meal and the importance of service to others. In the bosom of this family he gains the capacity to understand the power of suffering to overcome evil. The ability of his family to thrive after the stress of exile provides one small proof that the family of Jesus is one of Tolstoy’s happy families.

This feast celebrates not only the happiness of biological families but also any of the human support structures we build out of our faith, our hope and our love: the family of the church to which we all belong, the elements of the family created by so many of you in your service to young people, the family of friends when we are far away from our biological families by geography or by other circumstances, the new families that welcome us when we are in exile in any way. God comes in the flesh and needs a home and finds it even in exile, even in the dirt-poor town of Nazareth, and even in the community he starts with a few fishermen. If we know any family at all, it makes us happy to know that Jesus lived in such wonderful ones.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas 2007 (Manresa Hall Mass at Midday)
I join my personal greeting to greetings from all those who have known and loved you through the years. Celebrating what we have seen and heard I say again: Merry Christmas. The Christ Child comes again into this world of ours to bring us a joy symbolized in the songs and the sweet treats of the season.
Two one liners simply to free our spirits: When did the baby Jesus first get on a airplane? On the flight into Egypt. What nationality is Santa Claus? North Polish.
This year Tim Brown sent me some Christmas writings composed by Joseph Ratzinger years ago when Ratzinger was the Archbishop of Munich. They are beautifully re-presented in this book “The Blessing of Christmas” illustrated with two dozen color plates of classical Christian art.
Ratzinger calls the first of his sermons: An Advent Dialogue with the Sick. I enjoyed the whole text. Yet let me simply give a brief outline and read something from its introduction and each of its three parts.
[During the Christmas season], Ratzinger writes, “the burden of sickness prevents us from truly sharing in the joy others feel….but perhaps Advent [and Christmas] can help us discover the unobtrusive grace that can lie in the very fact of being sick.” (p.15). He goes on to speak of visitation, of waiting and of joy.
His writings suggest that the sick place themselves in the position of Elizabeth whose confinement and immobility have allowed her to be the subject of a visit. This visitation could have been from negative powers. But, on the contrary, the mother of her savior comes to see her in her confinement; her visitation is a joyful one.
Ratzinger writes: “perhaps we should try an experiment. Let us understand the individual events of the day as little signs that God sends us…To keep an inner diary of good things would be a beautiful and a healing task…--[a diary of visits of all kinds, for example. This diary would be]--… one way that God can come to us and be close to us.”
About waiting in this season, Ratzinger writes: “In his life here on earth, man is one who waits. As a child he wants to be an adult; as an adult he wants to forge ahead and be successful; and finally he yearns for rest. At last there comes a time when he realizes that he has hoped for too little.”
A Christian waits for that Jesus who will bring all of us together into his kingdom. But if the present moment remains completely empty, to wait becomes, Ratzinger says, “completely intolerable.” “But when time itself is meaningful and each moment contains something valuable of its own, the joyful anticipation of something greater, something still to come, makes even more precious that which we already experience. And it gives us a kind of invisible force that bears us across the individual moments.”
Jesus Christ penetrates our time of waiting and hears our prayer, our lamentations, our questions, our praise.
Finally about joy, Ratzinger quotes the psalms that speak of nature expressing the joy of the Christmas season: of the trees breaking into songs of praise and of the rivers that flow with milk and honey. So we sing and eat sweet treats.
“It may be difficult for us,” he says, “to accept this joyful music… when we are afflicted both by bodily illness and psychological problems…but this child is a sign of hope precisely for those who are oppressed…his consoling power can touch the hearts even of unbelievers.”
May the Christ child today fill us with quiet visitations so that we wait with a joyful hope.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

At the Jesuit house at the University of Central America; the garden where the Jesuits were killed in 1989; the roses were planted in their memory and in the memory of their cook and her daughter who were brutally killed with them.
In downtown San Salvador the tomb of Bishop Oscar Romero on a Sunday in November.
Here a delegation of rural people visit the altar where Bishop Romero was murdered.
En este altar Monsegnor Oscar A. Romero ofrendo su vida a Dios por su pueblo.
It was very early in the dark hours of November 16, 1989 after nine years of the brutal war in El Salvador that the six Jesuits and their cook and her daughter were pulled from their beds and shot point blank at the Jesuit residence at the University of Central America in San Salvador. The army officers responsible later told the story of that night in all its grim details. The Jesuits were their target, Jesuits who had pleaded all along with both sides to seek some agreeable cease-fire but the elites and the army viewed even neutrality in the war as yielding to a communist-influenced treason.
El Salvador is a country no bigger than New Jersey with about the same population. Since the war ended in 1992 with a UN brokered peace agreement, the situation for the poor has not changed much. Still the bottom 40% of the population barely sustain themselves while the top 20% live very comfortable lives. Because of the lack of jobs at home, over a quarter of working age El Salvadorans, some 2.2 million men and women live and work outside the country, nearly a million in California alone.

During the war 75,000 men, women and children died in the brutality. About 80% at the hands of the army and the right-wing death squads. Imagine 5 or 6,000 citizens of New Jersey killed every year for twelve years at the hands of government forces, some tortured and you get the idea of the extent of the chaos. The Jesuits were only a tiny part of the bloodshed that embraced so many families.

Briefly let me say this: I spent many years working and preaching in the African American community. The leading image of salvation in that community is the image of the Exodus, the biblical journey of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the promised land. This image still sustains AA Christians as they make their pilgrimage of faith into freedom.
But for the people of El Salvador the memory of blood running in the streets is still fresh. For them the leading image of salvation is the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the cross, his torture and his death that leads to life. An AA leader is often compared with Moses who leads the people into freedom. The diocesan priests, the Jesuits, Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero gunned down even at the altar, and all those innocents who suffered death in the war in El Salvador rather are pictured as suffering with Christ on the cross.
It is with the sufferings of the people of El Salvador and with the sufferings of others like them that we, too, can come to know this Jesus who suffered for us, the Jesus whom his Father raised up to new life.

Jon Sobrino, the Jesuit theologian who today carries on the work of the martyred Jesuits at the UCA, has this to say about the Jesus that led his brothers to death: “Jesus’ cross is an expression of God’s love…and God chose this way of showing himself, because he could not find any clearer way of telling us human beings that he really wills our salvation.” Let this encourage us to embrace our own salvation in our relationships with those who are suffering. And let us labor to build an image of this life of salvation by alleviating in all that we do the sorrow and the frustration that faces so many of our brothers and sisters.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

On Saturday evening, November 3, Peter and Rosalee were altar servers for Mass at the historic Old Saint Thomas Church in Chester Springs, Chester County. The parish, St Thomas the Apostle, is the first in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Usually the parish celebrates Mass in their new modern church building but on this evening we celebrated in the 1852 church building. Since Jesuits first said Mass in the area in the 1720's, they invited a Jesuit, me, to celebrate in the historic church.

Luke 19: 1-10 Zacchaeus
Life challenges all of us in some way: perhaps physically or emotionally or intellectually. Our gospel story is about Zacchaeus who is vertically-challenged. He climbs a tree and in this way attracts the attention of Jesus. You have heard it said that the last shall be first and the first last. The Zacchaeus story suggests this phrase: The short shall be tall and the tall shall be short. Or, perhaps as this story develops, a more fitting characterization is this: though the poor are blessed by God and promised a place in God’s kingdom, the rich can also have a place in God’s kingdom.

Luke’s gospel is generally hard on the rich. There is the rich young man who wants to inherit eternal life but walks away when Jesus invites him to sell what he has and give to the poor and come follow me. There is Dives who ignores the poor Lazarus and winds up in Hell. There is the expression: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Zacchaeus distinguishes himself from the rich, however, by his generosity. Even though he is one of the hated class in his community, a tax collector for the Romans, Zacchaeus concerns himself more about what we now call social capital, healthy resources of all kinds that people share in community, than about preserving his own capital.

Jesus recognizes his initiative and calls up to him: “Zacchaeus come down quickly, for today I must stay in your home.” Jesus is direct and forward with him; words that anyone of us long to hear. I like how it happens in an instant.

Not only is Jesus quick to recognize Zacchaeus’s initiative, he also engages in a life-saving situation for the man. Often people in Luke’s gospel are saved by their faith or by their gratitude toward Jesus. Zacchaeus relationship to Jesus seems much more ordinary. Jesus is his guest but Zacchaeus makes no particular expression of faith in Jesus, no special thanks, no special honor. He simply announces his own ethical behavior: “Half my possessions I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” Jesus applauds him for his generous spirit and announces that salvation has come to this house.

There is the curious story of a real estate speculator I once knew. I was part of a community group that challenged him over his practices, practices that became illegal when people saw their ruinous results. Zacchaeus makes me think of him now because he also came around and realized the damage he had done. His money now sits in a $100,000,000 foundation benefiting the very communities that he defrauded. I suppose that God gave him a place in the kingdom.

Jesus confirms salvation even for a lost tax collector. So, too, Jesus is always reaching out to the lost. And when the lost are found, Jesus asks us to rejoice with his Father God who wishes to lead all souls to heaven.

So even if our initiatives with God are not answered the way we would like, even if our talents or possessions weigh heavy on us, let us take the time today to join in the party at the house of Zacchaeus for salvation has come to it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tim Russert visits Gesu School and receives the Jesuit Magis Spirit Award. Pictured here greeting the school president, Christine Beck
See local news article about Tim's appearance to students:

Presentation of Magis Spirit Award

Every day I pass the desk of Father Berret, a Jesuit, an English professor at Saint Joseph’s University. On the desktop now are the books he is reading with his freshman class this fall. Among them is “Big Russ and Me,” an example of biography. The students are learning about history, family, celebrity, generosity and the integrity of life.

Father Berret told me what surprised him most about the book: the book is clearly the story of the Timothy Russert that we honor today with the Magis Spirit award. But, unlike most autobiographies, the whole first chapter is not about the author at all. Rather it is about his father; the book begins in the same way as Jesuit prayers always begin with the placing of oneself in context, with the exercise of giving thanks for all that has been. In paying homage to his father in that first chapter and throughout the book, Tim acknowledges that his own life began long before his birth, and that the millennial work of family and church and community creates a rich fabric. This is a great lesson for college students to learn in an age preoccupied with crises that pressure us always to respond to the now.

The stories of the author’s generous interchanges with nuns in his grade school, of his admiration for the Jesuit priests in his high school, and of his high school job as a receptionist in the Jesuit community house, rang true. Reading these stories, I almost forgot where the book was leading and I expected a chapter after high school or college about entry into the novitiate, the full formation program for a Jesuit.

If he had become a Jesuit, though, he would have missed out on so many of the wonderful formative experiences of his life: his son, for example. But I mention a simple, surprising one. As a young novice, I was frequently assigned to what we called the swill house, taking care of the garbage. But Tim’s whole summer job to help pay his way through college was as a garbage collector, the one who heaved the cans of refuse into the truck. Tim wrote about this job in homage to his father who worked in sanitation his whole life. In reading it I thought that maybe we are not doing the right thing at Saint Joseph’s finding intern jobs for our kids in the fancy offices of finance managers and lawyers. But perhaps Tim’s point is different: Big Russ taught him that there was something wonderful to be learned everywhere; and he himself found something wonderful in this work, another confirmation of a Jesuit phrase: “finding God in all things.”

Tim Russert’s life experience grounds him in this world and in the struggles that we all go through for faith, for justice, for integrity and for the love that is shown in deeds. We look to him as a man who has won victories on all these fronts. Now with our contemporary media, people everywhere in the world can come to know this man and these victories. A true contemporary blessing.

In addition to his highlighting the father-son relationship, let me name his generosity to a new generation of Catholic school kids and his genuine openheartedness towards us here at Gesu from the most seasoned supporter to the kids in the kindergarten. For all these traits and for more we Jesuits and our colleagues honor Tim Russert with the Magis Spirit Award.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

LUKE 17: 18
"Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"
More than thirty years ago when I was first a priest, the husband of my mother’s cousin died. I had met him only rarely. But I knew his brother, a Jesuit priest like me, ordained about fifteen years ahead of me. I heard from my mother about Edward’s death but then was surprised to get a call from Edward's Jesuit priest brother asking me if I would celebrate the funeral Mass. I thought it odd but this Jesuit simply knew that he could not make it through his brother’s funeral without breaking emotionally.
I honestly felt the request to be an imposition. Even today I don't quite understand his unwillingness to undertake this pious task for a family member. But I must admit, too, that I still have my siblings. In any case I carried out his request as best I could. When the service was over, he and other family members expressed their gratitude to me.

Just two weeks ago today I met this priest in passing, now 85 years old and still healthy. (His hobby is taking care of hundreds of trees on the Jesuit property at Wernersville; some you see pictured above). I see him only occasionally and we had not referred to Edward for the last thirty years. But this time he said to me, “I am working on thanksgiving these days and I want to thank you again for saying Edward’s funeral Mass.” It was as if I had done him this favor some time in that past week.

We talk about love as the glue that holds social structures together and allows cultures and institutions to flourish. I submit that gratitude is an essential expression of the love that is such a glue. Back at the time of the funeral, I needed to hear the thanks that my Jesuit friend extended to me. I did not need to hear it recently.
Nevertheless there was something more genuine about the thanks thirty years later. It was a reminder that deeds create life-long relationships. It was a reminder that the stuff of life is the deeds that we do for one another whether we know why we must do them or not. Expressions of thanksgiving are the reminder that keeps the spirit of our good works enkindled and alert. They encourage us to good works even for those who won’t or can’t give thanks, the poor, the sick, the dying whom we do not know but for whom our deeds are matters of justice.
And we give thanks to our God in imitation of the prayers of Jesus.
He speaks words of thanksgiving to his Father. In giving thanks he reminds the Father of the relationship that they share, a relationship that generates the Spirit. In giving thanks he reminds the Father that their life is the deeds that they are doing and will do for one another and for this world.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Missionaries of Charity host these small children in a storefront "school" in Jamshedpur, Bihar, India. These children have nowhere else to go to school and, without some education, little prospects but the street.
A meeting with Poor Lazarus on the streets of Calcutta
Sunday, September 30 Luke 16
If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” Luke 16: 31

Here is the story of an unlikely voice, taking the place of that poor Lazarus whom the richman Dives wants to send as a messenger to us, warning us against the security that we place in our possessions.

In 2003 I traveled with a group of lay colleagues to India in the IIIE (Ignatian International Immersion Experience) program to see the Jesuit works there. We visited Calcutta, a perplexing place where the trappings of contemporary life meet teeming crowds of the poor. One afternoon our group took a cab to a craft shop that catered to tourists; some of us wanted to purchase gifts to take home. I finished my shopping first and decided to wait for the others outside on the crowded street hoping to find some rhyme or reason to the riddle of Calcutta. I found something that surprised me. A beggar boy of about ten, no doubt carefully trained and rewarded for his skill, began to pester me for a handout. I resisted and decided to go back into the store knowing that the guard would prevent him from coming in. The plate glass doors, I knew, would become, in Abraham’s phrase, “a great chasm” to prevent that boy from crossing.

But as I sat inside waiting for my companions the boy kept up a vigil within sight of me through these same plate glass doors. He kept staring at me and every once in a while our eyes would meet. No doubt his handlers trained him in this stare knowing that it would finally shame the target into making a donation.

It worked. But in this unexpected way. Sitting there I heard the eyes of that beggar boy telling me that I was no better off than he. In the great scheme of things, his eyes said, we are both beggars lacking the means to a secure destiny. And I heard Jesus’ question from the scripture: “Which of you by worrying can add even a cubit to your stature?” His stare said to me: “you are poor like me; we are all poor; and the poor always share what little they have.” The boy crossed the chasm. He had nothing to lose and it was clear who was the vulnerable one.
I forget faces of people I met last Thursday but I know I can pick this boy out of a lineup now four years later. The boy takes the place of Lazarus, a messenger sent from another world to warn us.

Myself and my companions as well, we all gave him some money as we left that fancy shop and it was all we could do to tumble into a cab before other beggars came to besiege us. I have no illusions about that boy…. His only future was the hardness of the street. But I am praying that I have something positive to tell him when we meet in the world to come.

Friday, September 21, 2007

These triplet boys are members of Saint Malachy Parish.
About a year ago their father, Scott, sent this message to his friends:
Earlier shortly after their baptism I got this message:
"I did say [at the baptism] that Sean, Matthew and Luke
have many mothers and fathers [who helped out greatly when the boys were born and not all three could go home from the hospital at the same time].
The three boys have already worn little baby [Saint Joseph's] Hawk socks. The class of 2027
sounds great."
These boys are blessed with Barbara and Scott. Don't the three now look like angels?
Those of us raising or working with kids and young people of all ages can take heart from last Sunday's gospel.
Sunday, September 16. Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father
The power of this parable of love and forgiveness seems never more needed than it is needed today.

And without any doubt in this gospel Jesus speaks of this power as a divine power, a power exercised by the God whom he calls Father, the God whom he invites us to know. This God in the divine wisdom reaches out in love and forgiveness especially to the young, to sons and daughters, to those who have not yet come to an understanding of themselves. Not that God neglects us who are older or us who have stopped doing very much searching. But young people face particular challenges and the evidence of this parable shows us that our God is the kind who longs to help the young meet their challenges.

And why is the story consoling? Indeed the young may find consolation in this story. Especially the ones who have run away from their families and seek a way back. Especially the dutiful children who are not sure of the love of their families. But those of us who are older, we, too, can find consolation.

Those who labor on college campuses can find the image of God depicted here to be particularly consoling. Engaging the young in the pursuit of truth, helping the young realize their potential, fostering in the young the tools to bring about a better world of peace and justice, forgiving the young for their youthful excesses or resentments, and drawing them always closer to the sources of true love and service, all these actions make those older people who conduct them colleagues with this God whose image we read about today, the image here in this loving Father of the prodigal son and the dutiful son.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The tree stands in front of the house that Kay lived in all her life. Across the street is the Church of the Holy Family.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Those who do not carry their own crosses and come after me cannot be my disciples. Luke 14.

When we were growing up, lots of grownups encouraged my siblings and me Among our favorites was my godmother, Kay, (my mother’s friend from her childhood). She was a witty woman, unmarried, with a career as an office manager. Kay lived her entire life in the same small house across the street from Holy Family Church in Manayunk. After her retirement and after her parents had died peacefully in their beds, she lived alone. Her life was her church, her house, her siblings and their families, her friends and a stray godchild like me. Her life was an easy one, her house immaculate, (we joked that everything in her basement could pass the white glove test), her routines her own.

But she told me about her doubts. She knew this gospel. She knew that the Lord was asking us to take up our cross and follow him. And she never had any crosses. She asked herself: Will I get to heaven without carrying any cross? So she did a very courageous thing-an initiative that the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, might recommend, but an initiative that I, and perhaps most of us, would shrink from doing. She prayed for a cross.

Not long after she began this prayer, the Lord answered her. Her favorite niece went through a divorce and found herself and her two teenage children without a place to live. Aunt Kay responded generously. The three of them descended on her and transformed her happy home. Her cross was giving up control of her space, giving up her privacy and peace, giving up the calmness of her prayer. She told me later to be careful about what I pray for!

All things worked out eventually for the good. Aunt Kay became the Lord’s disciple. And best of all, of course, Aunt Kay, dead now a number of years, is reaping her reward.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

LUKE 13:22-30 21st Sun Ord Time MMS IMMIGRATION POLICY

“And people will come from the east and from the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. Some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

Luke opens this section of his gospel, as he does in other sections, with a question or a request. Sometimes these questions or requests are sincere, related to enthusiasm or curiosity: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Lord, teach us to pray.” “What is the kingdom of God like?” “Lord, increase our faith.” But today’s questioner asks, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” No enthusiasm here or even curiosity. A pessimist poses today’s question.

This is a bean-counter’s question, a question from a person more worried about himself than attracted to Jesus. Jesus begins his answer to the question in the spirit with which it is asked. He does not know if few or many will be saved but he senses that the questioner has reason to worry. He seizes an opportunity. He explains clearly that those who are complacent will lose their seats at the table of the Lord.

The setting becomes once again a place where Jesus repeats what he has said over and over again: some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.

Some mornings early before the heat of the day, I take a walk through my neighborhood in Merion, just across City Ave from the Philadelphia neighborhoods of Overbrook and Wynnewood. In all but the darkest winter mornings, I observe trucks of landscaping equipment drive across the city boundary making their way from some urban staging area to the green lawns of the suburbs. The men in the trucks invariably are of Latin American origin. Without these workers the estates of the Main Line would look like tropical forests by this time of year.

Some of these men, perhaps, have families in the city. Most of them probably left their families, parents and wives and children, back home in Mexico or Central America. Who knows if they have documents or not?

Many of you have images of outsiders like this in your hearts and minds, images of women and children on the move out of harm’s way, images of whole families who without help cannot sustain themselves in times of food shortages, images of scrappy people in informal economies that make something out of nothing, all of them outside the mainstream of status, power or the economy.

Jesus, of course, speaks of a religious reality here when he speaks of the outsiders sitting at table in the Kingdom of God; he speaks of a God rejecting the complacent who thought they would have a good seat; he speaks of a God offering the seats at the best tables to those whom the world rejects. There are, of course, a thousand ways in which we can act to assist God in his effort to seat this great multitude, a thousand ways that we can prepare for the kingdom by promoting a more just society.

But let me speak for a moment about the outsiders who are keeping our Main Line lawns cut, about our own nation and about what our Church is proposing in the area of immigration reform.

Cardinal Mahoney spoke about these men in May in a great speech he gave at the Constitution Center here in Philadelphia entitled “Immigration, the American Economy and the Constitution.”
I learned from this speech that 90% of the 500,000 unauthorized immigrants who enter the country each year find jobs within six months, but only 5,000 immigrant visas are available each year.

Despite the title of his talk the background of his recommendations regarding immigration reform focused neither on the Constitution nor on the American Economy. He spoke rather of economy in its original sense and of the notion of the alien and the stranger in the scriptures

The root meaning of economy, he said, is the arrangement of the household, in religious terms the just and peaceful arrangement of the household of God. He asked, “Is God’s good household roomy enough for all? And followed that question with this reference to the Constitution: “Who precisely is the we in we the people?”

From Deuteronmy he quoted the sentence: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

This notion of economy and the moral guidance of scripture provide, he said, the underpinnings of the position of the Catholic Church on immigration reform legislation. As many of you know, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration worked diligently in Congress in the spring for the passage of a just immigration bill.

The key points in our Catholic position are these:
(a) family unity for all workers; (b) a fair and realistic path to citizenship for current workers; and (c) a new worker program leading to permanent residency
No bill passed and I do not know when legislation will come before Congress again.

But the nation will call us again to work for a just and open immigration policy. We cannot equate in any way a just and open society to the kingdom that Jesus will usher in when he comes again. But it is a human beginning, a prelude, a recognition that we want to labor with our God who creates and restores human dignity.

From Luke’s gospel we know what Jesus foresees: some will neglect the call to the kingdom though there is “plenty good room.” And others will come from all directions. Not simply the queen of the south or the merchants of Corinth, or the classical learned. Joining them and taking some of the front seats will be those who run the dishwashers in the Central City restaurants and those who pick up after us and those who cut our grass.

“And people will come from the east and from the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. Some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13: 29-30

Monday, July 30, 2007

“PRAYER” (My warning from Mary Greene!)

Luke 11:1-13 (Sunday, July 29)

The diagnosis once known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is now called AD/HD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominantly Inattentive Type. I give thanks that God has spared me this tongue-twister disorder. It often has very serious consequences for those who suffer with it. But at the same time when I pray I sometimes feel as though I fit into the “predominantly inattentive type.”

How difficult to learn to pray. Even so, what Jesus says is simple and clear: just say this “Our Father, who art in heaven….

You may have heard about the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. As Saint Ignatius Loyola did in the past, the Jesuits offer these prayerful exercises in a variety of formats: the thirty day retreat; an eight-day format; at the University level we offer a retreat in everyday life to fit the academic calendar of 24 weeks. My favorite retreat is the 12-minute one that we Jesuits are to make twice a day called the Examen of Consciousness. It is a flexible format of five or six prayerful attitudes that enrich the routine of everyday life.

Those like me who are “predominantly inattentive types” can do this prayer moving the fingers on the rosary beads to help focus attention. During the first decade I repeat a prayer of request for the spirit…And I have similar short prayers to say for each of the five decades. I told Mary Greene, one of my pious older friends about this way of saying the rosary, about reciting prayers different from the Hail Mary on the beads. She scolded me: “The Blessed Mother wouldn’t like that.”

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Nirmal Hriday (hospice of the dying)
Mother Teresa founded her first hospice for the destitute and dying in a neighborhood of Calcutta, Kalighat. Here pictured is the women's ward. Many young volunteers were serving there on this November day in 2003. They sat with those who were close to death and comforted them.

ANOTHER MEMORY OF INDIA (thanks to Elizabeth Eck, one of my companions, who gave me this picture)

November, 2003: We scarcely arrived for our one visit at Kalighat in Calcutta, Mother Teresa's first hospice for the poor and dying, when a cab drove up to the door carrying two sisters, Missionaries of Charity, and a sickly man whom they had picked up from the streets. Two burly young volunteers from South Korea without hesitating hurried to the cab and carried this dirty and redolent man into the hospice. They placed him on a stretcher and took him to the shower area so that they could bathe him. Painted on the wall over the bathing area, was a reminder placed there at the request of Mother Teresa herself: “The Body of Christ.”
These young volunteers, surely, acted as they did because they shared her faith.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Photo taken during my retreat at Wernersville, PA July, 2007
(Is this the sort of sky that Michelangelo saw?)
Father Frank Bourbon and the Theological Virtues
Luke: 10 The Good Samaritan (University Chapel July 15, 07)

“You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength and will, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

When some in the Protestant tradition comment on the story of the Good Samaritan, they point out that good works done in a neighborly way do not merit salvation; rather we are saved by faith alone.

Catholic catechism has it this way: “The Theological virtues of faith, hope and love are those virtues that relate directly to God. These are not acquired through human effort but, beginning with Baptism, they are infused within us as gifts from God.….[They] influence human virtues by increasing their stability and strength for our lives.”

When the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius, proclaimed that love is shown in deeds, he might also have said that faith, hope and love are shown in deeds. Faith, hope and love, as we read in the catechism, give stability and strength to all the human virtues, to all our practices of compassion, responsibility, friendship, courage and so forth. Not just love, but faith and hope as well, support acts of love of neighbor.

Recently a story told by a eulogist revealed to me the meaning of the relations among faith, hope and love. At the funeral of Jesuit Father Frank Bourbon who died in June his brother recalled going to one of Father Bourbon’s Masses and listening to him preaching. The delivery and content of his preaching was so winning that Father Bourbon got a round of applause from the congregation as he sat down at the end of his homily.
After this Mass the two men discussed this business of the applause and Father Bourbon described to his brother the meaning of applause during a homily: applause at the beginning of the homily is faith; applause in the middle of the homily is hope and applause at the end of the homily is charity. In these three moments of applause, Frank illustrated the unity of his own life lived in faith, hope and charity.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John - Image

Feast of the Birthday of John the Baptist

We celebrate the importance of the Baptist with two feasts during the year. Today we celebrate his birthday. In August we remember his death when we celebrate the Beheading of John the Baptist. We also preach about the Baptist in Advent when we prepare for Christmas. Then it is the Baptist who cries out “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Then it is the same Baptist who is remembered by the writer Flannery O’Connor in the phrase she puts into the mouth of a young southern preacher and healer in her story The River. He chastises those among the congregation who come only for healing: “If you ain’t come for Jesus, you ain’t come for me.”

We are familiar with the artists of the renaissance whose paintings of the Madonna and Christ Child help us see the Incarnation of God in the little child. But a third favorite character in their paintings is John the Baptist. They paint him at different points in his life and death.
But today is a birthday party and we recall fittingly the many paintings of him as the little boy who is the playful companion of Jesus.

Always the two boys are looking and gesturing towards one another somehow conscious at their young age of their common destiny: itinerant preachers both announcing and bringing about a new world order; but both brutally executed by powers beyond their control.

Scholars tell us that paintings and marble busts of these two boys, so prominent in fifteenth century Italy, were actually a concrete representation for families of the hope that they had for their own children to grow in virtue. A treatise of the time on raising children encourages parents to decorate their homes with paintings of the men and women saints as children so as to inspire their own girls and boys. There were even childlike dolls in those days depicting the saints as children…something foreign in our own culture of Barbie and Ken.

Viewing the paintings of John and Jesus in their childhood puts me in a good mood. I dispel from my heart some of the playpen conflicts of my youth. I am thinking of the time that my friend Michael and I had a brawl in the playpen and I lost. But with scenes in our hearts and minds of Jesus and John the Baptist, we understand this feast as a feast of peace and of hope in the household, as a family birthday party. It is a feast, too, for those of us adults who take care of children in any way and who can help fulfill the hopes and dreams of children.

Happy Birthday, John.

Saturday, June 16, 2007



Saint Joseph's University is receiving remarkable help in its efforts to recruit students from Gesu School, a Jesuit and IHM sponsored elementary school in North Philadelphia. H.F. "Gerry" and Marguerite Lenfest contributed $2 million to the University scholarship endowment specifically for scholarships for Gesu School graduates. Father Timothy Lannon, SJ, University President, made the proceeds of the scholarship endowment in memory of his parents, James and Eileen Lannon, also available as an incentive for students like those pictured here. These seventh graders are the first members of the Lenfest Scholars Program. They will graduate from Gesu School in 2009 and go on to attend area high schools of their choice. Each year from seventh grade through high school these students can accumulate tuition credits toward their college education at Saint Joseph's. Each year they must continue to succeed academically, engage in school or community service and grow in their leadership skills. For these students the future just started to look brighter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pentecost Table at the Medical Missions in Fox Chase, PA May 28, 2007

Saint Luke's Catholic Church in McLean, Va decorated for Pentecost. Balloons are part of Easter decorations in some congregations on Bright Sunday, the Sunday after Easter.

Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 2007

At Easter I am accustomed to quoting John Chrysostom’s Easter homily when he speaks of the angels being “wild with delight” at Jesus’ Resurrection. I believe that there is also in that sermon the thought that “God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.” The early theologians used this phrase “risus paschalis,” Easter laugh or Easter joke to name that practical joke.

Some churches celebrate this idea with what they call “Bright Sunday” on the Sunday after Easter. The congregation decorates the Church with balloons; they arrive dressed in funny costumes; and the pastor invites stand-up comedy to the sanctuary. So if anyone of you has a joke to tell, this is the last day in the Easter season. Tell it now or hold your peace until next Easter!

(As a matter of fact, a woman did get up to tell this joke: "A man and wife from the United States were vacationing in Jerusalem when the woman suddenly died. The undertaker told the man that he could bury his wife right near Jerusalem for $500 or have the body flown home for $5,000. Without thinking the man said that he would prefer to fly the body home. The undertaker was a little perplexed at the choice since it was so expensive and he asked the man why he made the choice. And the man said, 'I heard that Jerusalem is the place where a man died and in three days rose from the dead. I don't want to take any chances!'" Not the best joke for the several married couples present but she got a good laugh anyway..... I am saving my joke for next year!)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mother's Day afternoon in Philly: On a Clear Day you can see Forever. The tents in the middle distance housed the morning's activity, a regular Mother's Day Event: the Race for the Cure of Breast Cancer. My own mother loved this area of the city and grew up just a stone's throw from this beautiful setting.
Blessings today on all those of you who are mothers, including all of you women who love or support children in any way. The world should belong to you. To so many children the world is a threatening and dangerous place; but you mothers and those like you would make a different world where such children would flourish.

When I consider how I became a Jesuit and a priest, I can always point to my mother and father, both of whom were close to the church and considered, even if in a passing way, priesthood and religious life as life commitments for themselves. This Mothers’ Day I remind myself of some of the pastoral qualities of my mother. She was a woman who when she died at age 73 left ten best female friends behind. Her children always had an abundance of women that we called our aunts. My mother did not have a career as such but served for many years as a secretary in a parish church and she often told us stories of the pastoral advice that she gave to the pastor. She claimed to have kept him from making blunders with his congregation. Even today I pray for her saintly advice when facing difficult pastoral duties.

Allow me to tell my favorite story about her. My mother was born on the fourth of July in 1909. She was a Yankee Doodle Dandy. When a young mother she met another woman who was a mother of one of my sister’s playmates. In conversation these two women discovered that they were both Yankee Doodle Dandys, both born on the fourth of July. And this woman asked my mother her age. My mother thinking the other woman attractive and young looking, yielded to vanity, lied to her and trimmed three years off her age. And the other woman responded giving her own correct birth date: July 4, 1909, the exact true date of my mother’s birth. Days later my mother, wracked with guilt, admitted the truth to her new acquaintance and the two women became friends for life. My mother would tell this story to us and to her grandchildren as a lesson about the dangers of vanity and telling lies.

Our relationships with our mothers and fathers are not always perfect. We children sometimes do stupid things, rebellious things and we clash with our parents. And parents can be difficult, too. For the most part mothers are forgiving and will defend their children no matter what. And, if for some of us, the relationship with mom was or is strained, remember that God is more generous to mothers than we can ever be. And sometimes we need to rely on God’s kindly judgment on them as well as on ourselves.....

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Evening sets on the campus at Saint Joseph's Unviersity on this Saturday, May 5, the last day of exams for the undergraduates. Graduation is next weekend; the underclass students will return in fifteen weeks. Pray for their growth and safety during the summer. And that they all get jobs, both the graduates and those with nothing to do until August 24.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

This flamenco dancer entertained our faculty-and-staff Spanish class at Amada, a popular Spanish restaurant in downtown Philadelphia. We enjoyed tapas and paella to celebrate the end of the semester.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


(In the poetry form called "villanelle")

by the Gesu School students of Room 16

No one could have imagined what would happen that day
It was a day unlike any other
No one knew students would become like prey

It is hard to say
Why someone would kill all those sisters and brothers
No one could have imagined what would happen that day

Thirty-two people lay
Taken from their fathers and mothers
No one knew students would become like prey

Their souls went away
In tragedy they were smothered
No one could have imagined what would happen that day

They died in a painful way
Now they sleep under white covers
No one knew students would become like prey

Their memories will forever stay
All different faces, all different colors
No one could have imagined what would happen that day
No one knew students would become like prey.

We are grieved by what happened at Virginia Tech and deeply troubled by the inhumanity of the gunman. His own family bears so much anguish as do the families of all those killed.

Those of us with distance from the tragedy must begin to search through the story of what happened to find something to get us through the confusion and doubt about our future. We let the sacrificial death of Professor Liviu Librescu inform our grief. He protected his students from the gunman in the corridor by blocking the door of his classroom and urging them to climb out the windows. There is little doubt that this professor saved many of his students from certain death.

When Professor Librescu was a young boy, his family suffered brutally in the Holocaust and later he refused membership in the Communist party in Romania at great cost to his professional career. He knew about crisis and suffering. Finally he found in Virginia a hopeful place to pursue his life and his career. For these reasons he knew how to answer when the ultimate call came to his classroom. I imagine him being the first to understand the triumph of his sacrifice as he succumbed to one of the gunman's bullets.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

These photos show even more uses of our chapel space. The two artists above, Soprano Elizabeth Weigle and Guitarist Daniel Lippel, enthralled us with their talent.
And above James Stormes, SJ, preached on the first Sunday after Easter.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Models (above) in Matteo's Performance Piece

Matteo at left welcoming his audience.
Matteo above congratualting his
Above are photos from the final project of Matthew Quinones, senior art major at Saint Joseph's University. His performance piece , using the model of a fashion show, celebrated the presence of the youthful human figure in the urban environment and the clothes that they wear.
Matthew has a burning desire to bring the love of God to the young people of the urban streets. So he was happy to stage this performance piece in the Chapel of Saint Joseph's University.
As an upper classman this young man came to a gathering of incoming freshmen students of color and gave a short presentation. He startled me by proclaiming this: "People call me a spic and a faggot; but I know who I am. Jesus calls me by different names: priest, prophet and king!" People do not fail to notice this young man!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Conversation that this niece Maura (above at First Communion and at Easter Dinner) has with her mother and father:

"Can women be presidents?"

"Of course they can, Maura. Why do you ask?"

Rolling her eyes: "Mom, all the presidents were men!"

"Well, can women be priests."

"No, Maura, women can't be priests"

"Is that a Catholic rule?"


Well, if a woman becomes president, can she tell the Catholics to make women priests?"

Friday, April 06, 2007

Holy Thursday 2007
We bring our own life stories to any table when we sit and dine with others. And tonight we bring our stories, our joys and sorrows, our lights and darknesses, to this particular table of the Eucharistic Supper. This night we sit and dine with Jesus and his disciples. This night, this meal is different from every other night, every other meal.

Around the table of this Eucharistic Supper are meanings complex and challenging. The power of Jesus as Priest and Prophetic Liberator overwhelms us. The power of Jesus as the King, the royal dinner host, breaks down our reluctance. By the washing of the feet he challenges us to love our brothers and sisters. By the offering of his body and blood for us, food for our long journey, he challenges us to a new relationship with him.

We, for our part, present little evidence to him that we are up to these challenges. But our dinner host, the Lord Jesus, counts on the repetition, the remembrance, the reincarnation among us of the complaints of the Israelites in their time slavery, of the weeping of the exiles in Babylon who remembered their home in Jerusalem, of the longing of sinners for redemption from sin.

Brothers and sisters, this annual celebration of the Last Supper must enkindle in us the complaints of those in slavery, the weeping of those in exile, and the lamentations of those who fear the God who can mark our sins. By remembering these stories we can begin to recite around this table a true narration of our own stories. Our stories will reach the ear of God and God will take compassion on us just as God has taken compassion on the slaves, exiles and sinners of our long history.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Members of the Ignatian College Connection meet Dr. Benjamin Carson and
his wife, Candy. Stephanie Neal discusses with Dr. Carson her desire to study pre-med in college and go on to a medical career.

Dr. Lesly D'Ambola presents the Shaffrey award to Dr. Benjamin Carson.

High school students, some preparing for medical careers, were present at an award ceremony at Saint Joseph's University to honor Doctor Benjamin Carson, Director of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Carson honored Saint Joseph's by coming to accept the Schaffrey Award for outstanding service in the medical profession, an award made by members of the Medical Alumni.
Dr. Carson, as accomplished surgeon and author, provides countless young students with mentoring and encouragement. Some of the students had read his books: "THINK BIG" and "GIFTED HANDS."
In his acceptance speech, Dr. Carson discussed how he struggled through the first year of medical school. His advisor wanted him to quit. But from an early age he wanted to be a doctor and his determination helped him find a way to succeed. He allowed that he has been the subject of several "fifteen minutes of fame." But the most important thing in life is "walking with the will of God. " His experience with surgery and healing has convinced him that God is at work among us.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

"HAVE FAITH IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS," a symposium presented on March 30 at Saint Joseph's University.
The women in these photos are remarkable leaders of Catholic schools in Philadelphia. Their schools provide an alternative for families of limited means who live in troubled neighborhoods. Their schools are among the many in Philadelphia and surrounding communities meriting the commitment of all of us. The women took part in a panel highlighting the efforts of the Gesu Institute calling us all to sustain, support and strengthen our struggling schools.
Welcoming the presenters to Saint Joseph's University were Timothy Lannon, SJ, President, shown here with Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia.
Cardinal Rigali and John DiIulio (pictured above with Sister Contance Touey, IHM of Saint Francis de Sales School) of the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania discussed the work of such Catholic schools. Rigali noted that among the young the love for the poor is one of the most appealing aspects of the Catholic Church. He quoted Paul's Letter to the Galatians where Paul reports his instructions from the Council of Jerusalem: "Be mindful of the poor." (Gal 2:10).

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Community Scholars Sophomores at Camden Catholic High School...College Class of 2013
Academic Protege Group at Saint Joseph's University....College Class of 2010
Young Scholars at Gesu School....College Class of 2017

Board Members of Summerbridge of Philadelphia, A Breakthrough Collaborative
(preparing middle and high school students for college. This group finds all the resources to energize the academic interests of over 200 students every year.)

Leadership and volunteers at Gesu School planning session. These men and women plan the future of a school for 450 undeserved children in North Philadelphia.
Whenever I am feeling a little blue, I look at these faces and they encourage me and fill me with a hope for a better world. I am blessed to know these young people and the adults that reach out to them.