Thursday, July 30, 2009

My nearly daily walks in the Prep neighborhood sometimes include passing 864 North 25th Street, less than a mile away, where my mother grew up with her brother and sister and where her father died in the 1940's. Many a time in my first years of life, I visited my grandparents there. On our visits we would take walks to nearby Fairmount Park and around the Art Museum grounds. And I remember being in the second floor back room of the house with its bay window. There it was that I recall my last meeting with my grandfather who was sick and close to death. I can still picture him sitting in that room with the afternoon sun coming in the bay window.

I did not return to that room until one Sunday about fifty years later. My sister and I happened to be driving on the block and noticed a real estate sign on the house: Open House, Sunday 1 to 4 PM. We took advantage of the real estate agent who was kind enough to let us walk through the house. And what did we find in the back bedroom under the bay window in place of the bed and chair where my grandfather had died? A Jacuzzi! What would my Irish grandfather born in 1859 think of that?

Fast forward to just a month ago: I walked by the house and saw the owner tending to her flower box. I told her how I knew the house and asked about the Jacuzzi. “I knew about that but it didn’t belong there,” she said. And when she bought the house, it was already gone.

There is something fundamentally lovely about those rows of houses and the closeness of one’s neighbors. Parking a car is a headache but then the bus ride to City Hall is only ten minutes. And kids can walk to good schools. Even the young professionals realize that there is no need for a Jacuzzi..

Monday, July 20, 2009

Steve Oldham, Prep teacher, and I accompanied seven rising seniors from Saint Joseph's Prep on a service trip to Camden. The students were willing and generous and spent the week visiting with the homeless, the disabled, the elderly and people with HIV. They learned a lot about the poverty and lack of opportunity that are a plague in Camden.

Below is my recent reflection on discipleship when preaching on the sixth chapter of Mark where Jesus encourages his disciples to take some time in prayer and reflection away from the crowds of people that seem always to impose themselves:

"My last year of work with a variety of young men of high school age, many of them talented and privileged, underlined what has been my general experience in the past. Young people want to show off their goodness. But many have been sheltered and need to be shepherded in other directions, especially into relationships with those in need. They will respond to these relationships with more compassion than cynicism. They will respond to these relationships with more love than indifference.

In the last century we did much that calls for repentance. But we had celebrated leaders that told us the truth in their preaching and in their lives. The list of great saints, in civil and in church society, often in both, is a litany that leads me to look on the last century as a time of great prophetic work. But we need to ask the question about their heritage in the present century and about their disciples: where are the disciples of Dr. King and Dorothy Day today? Where are the disciples of Mother Theresa and John the XXIII today? Where are the disciples of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi today?

I think that they are everywhere; whether their work is ecumenical or environmental, whether their work is peacemaking or social economics, we pray that they will hear an invitation from the Lord to take a break and to learn from him about compassion for people and trust in the Father."

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Here I am with my Prep classmate, Ed Trainer, and his wife, Marilyn. Ed went on to Saint Joseph's University and, after graduation, took part in the leadership of alumni organizations for many years. He received the Hogan Award from the Alumni Association at SJU in the presence of many admirers including his four children and his grandchildren. Ed spoke about Father Hogan, the orator, who used to preach the Seven Last Words of Good Friday at the Church of the Gesu. It was SRO with speakers in the street.

Ed also said that he learned from his parents to always say "Yes, Father" whenever a Jesuit asks for help. I told him that the present generation of Prep boys has a variation on this: "No problem, Father."
Day by day in downtown Philadelphia it is difficult to pay any attention to the sky. But while on retreat in Wernersville I do not tire of the sunrises and sunsets, some of them spectacular. This month of June,2009, Venus was the brilliant morning star with Mars as a steady sidekick.

While going through the retreat I read some of Karl Rahner's anthropology. He speaks of human nature as essentially open to the mystery of God. This openness allows God to assume human nature and perfect it in the life of the Lord Jesus. We humans all have such natures and the possibility of allowing something similar to happen to us, of giving ourselves in love; the beatific vision is our final state.

Our mission at the Prep is surely not chiefly academic and social. We must first find the strategies to help our young men understand the meaning and the end of their human natures.
Jeanne and Ed Watko celebrated their 60th anniversary this June. Their daughter Jeanne Marie (Patrick) arranged for me to have Mass in her home for the whole family, five children with their spouses and the grandchildren. The family filled the occasion with joy.

Michael Gomez, Stubbs and I enjoy a Citizens' Bank gift, a private suite to watch the Phillies play the Toronto Jays. We had the pleasant duty of being there with some of the Prep baseball players. Unfortunately neither of our star pitchers was eligible to help out on the field and the Phils lost.

I saw a blunder that I never saw before. Toronto player gets a walk and realizes that noone is paying attention to him...he steals second without any difficulty!