Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

I wait each year for my sister Mary's always-original and creative card.  This year a bird tilts its head and looks curiously through a window. Its eyes focus on some seasonal scene made visible by the lighted candle.   This image invites us to contemplate the mystery of this season in which God reveals the divine self.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Mister, it's Christmas"

The creche at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville



Some years ago just a few days before Christmas I was doing the grocery shopping for my small Jesuit community. I went to my accustomed supermarket at an Aramingo Ave shopping center.  The Avenue serves the needs of the working class neighborhoods in the River Wards of Philadelphia.   

I came out of the store with my cart filled with grocery bags and had the cart pulled up close to the trunk of my car.  A boy of about thirteen instantly appeared offering to help me put the bags in the trunk.   Between my usual preoccupation and thinking to myself that this was just too easy a task, I brushed him off.  I needed no help.  

The boy looked at me convinced that I had violated the basic spirit of the season and he said with an incredulous tone in his voice, “Mister, it’s Christmas.”  Having considered the possibilities of being respectful of my ignorance, he left out the understood “what the hell is the matter with you?”  Of course, he had me and I let him take care of the bags.  I gave him a couple of bucks convinced that he had used with great success that same line, that same innocent-kid tone, all afternoon and evening.  He probably owns the shopping center by now.

For my part in this season I try to remember this boy's line whenever I am feeling less than merry.   I also remember the joy of my own mom and dad on December 24, 193x, the very day they brought their first baby for the first time back from the hospital of her birth ten days before.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Visitation, the Fourth Sunday of Advent

This image of the Visitation created by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, Bee Still Studio.

A picture is worth a thousand words.   The Visitation of these two pregnant women, Mary and Elizabeth, is a favorite topic for religious artists throughout the Renaissance and even down to our own time.  

You can find on the Internet a variety of Visitation images, a few where the artist took the liberty of depicting some kind of x-ray imaging of the mothers’ wombs.   Clearly pictured the wombs contain the boys almost as if they are ready to play with one another.   Elizabeth’s boy should be leaping for joy; one image, however, has him bowing across the stomachs in adoration to his yet-to-be-born kin and Lord.

Brother Mickey McGrath, Oblate of Saint Francis de Sales, has a wonderful painting he calls the Windsock Visitation.  He depicts two African women in full colorful dress, one older and one younger, as appropriate, joyfully greeting one another.  He often includes a text in his paintings and the margin of this painting includes the words “This is the place of our delight and rest.” 

The McGrath image has a subtle treatment of the x-ray motif.   He agrees with the concept that these holy  pregnancies require more than the usual rounded stomach and overlays some colored spirals of cloth that come together as the women embrace one another.    

Friday, December 18, 2015

Micah 6:8


Here is another item that hangs on my wall.    My sister, Mary, crafted  this lovely needlework and gave it to me years ago.
I want her to know that I still have it hanging in my room!

I also have a collection of her Christmas cards.   She produces an original each year.    Part of Advent each year is waiting to see what her talent will produce.   Just six more mail deliveries!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Venus has been with us as the morning star for months and now in the weeks of Advent before Christmas, the planet is a symbol of those who prepared the way of the Lord, especially John the Baptist.   The Morning Star title also refers to the Blessed Mother.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Jesuit Center in Wernersville

Looking across the valley from the Jesuit Center in Wernersville

            Looking toward the retreat house at Loyola in Spain                                                   with the mountains in the  background that Ignatius                                                     could see from his sick bed.

Advent and Christmas, 2015 and the New Year of 2016

Dear Friend of the Jesuit Center,

I write at the beginning of this winter season consoled by the first born of all creation, the Lord Jesus who shares the dignity of humanity with all of us.    This season offers us challenges to health and to travel but also the pleasure of holiday gatherings of family and friends.   Here at the Jesuit Center we traditionally honor the Advent season with a staff party and with a music celebration organized by a member of our Spiritual Center staff, David Gross.   There are sacred music events also in the local churches of our ecumenical organization.

Through Advent our Jesuit Center meeting rooms host men and women of all ages from high school to senior citizen practically every day, some for overnight retreats and training programs, some for single-day events.    I often hear general reports from retreat leaders about the meaningful quality of prayer and private conversations.    This fills me with confidence that God’s Spirit is leading our visitors to growth in peace, joy, justice and the works of charity.    We might be isolated from some of the chaos in this world.  But the quiet here prepares us for the commitment that we need to reach out to the stranger and to search with the stranger for the common source of our different beliefs.     

We eighteen Jesuits on site fulfill sacramental duties here and also in nearby parishes and institutions.    Early in December, as part of his one-on-one Advent conversation, one young and joyful fourth grader told me, in response to a question about his prayer, that he prays on Sunday.    “What about the other days of the week?” I asked.    “On Sunday,” he told me, “I thank God for the whole week.”   I encouraged him to a daily practice of prayer well aware that God was watching over him every hour.   This innocent boy might be able to get through a week without prayer; for most of us elders such a practice would make us hard to live with!

Another good daily practice for many of us here at the Center: an outdoor walk or light jog.   The outdoor setting here reminds me of the setting of St. Ignatius’s birthplace at Loyola in Spain.   As a youth he enjoyed the fresh mountain air of the Basque country, its hills and streams and foot paths, in the present day all very much like those in and around Wernersville.   Later in this environment Ignatius recovered from his battle wound and came to know God’s call.   He was during this time unable to hike through the nearby hills or along the stream that flowed by his home but he prayed by looking out the window of his sick room and across the valley to the site of a Marian shrine, Our Lady of Olatz.   Our own Jesuit Center windows open to similar views of a valley and hills and even a Marian grotto.    Come and see.  Take a walk or simply look out a window.

Happy Leap Year, 2016!    An extra day, February 29, 2016, a Monday, too!   A perfect day for us to join in a weekday prayer with that lad mentioned above!

George W. Bur, S.J.


Our Lady of Olatz, overlooking the Valley where Ignatius grew up.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Our Lady of Guadalupe

On his aerial image of the city of Tucson, Arizona, the artist Dennis McNally, S.J. superimposed digital images of Our Lady of Guadalupe at many sites, just as she is revered in every space in the Mexican community.

Our Lady of Guadalupe   December 2015

……From her first appearance to Juan Diego the Mother of Jesus as Our Lady of Guadalupe gave confidence to the Mexican peasant that their lives of difficulty were worth something.  She blessed their culture by accompanying her appearance to Juan Diego with signs well-known in his culture of song and flowers…..   

Many of us, of course, are blessed with women who have taken on Our Lady’s roles in our lives and in the lives of many we know.  The list is long in my middle-class upbringing and in my Jesuit life…..  Let me suggest that, absent her direct appearance to us, the presence of these women in our lives can be seen as a gift from Our Lady under her many titles.  

·       Many of our own mothers, or grandmothers taught us our prayers and told us about the saints.  They stand in for Our Mother of Good Counsel. 

·        I know a working woman in North Phila whose husband died suddenly in awkward circumstances having abandoned her and her family a few years before his death.   She made sure that her Catholic husband had a proper Catholic burial.  She stands in for Our Mother of Mercy.

·       How about the mother who watched her daughter descend into drug addiction and homelessness.  She fed her daughter a good meal whenever she showed her face and even took care of her several children.  Slowly with help she cajoled and prayed her daughter back into being clean of drugs.   She stands in for Our Lady, Untier of Knots.

·       And the women who take care of parents or children with severe health issues.  One I know did this for her son for 20 years and shed tears of sorrowful relief at his death, tears mixed with a joy that she could be with him over the years until his time finally came.   She and so many others stand in for Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

·       And how about the women in our parishes who take care of organizing the food for parish celebrations and for funeral repasts.   They stand in for Our Lady of the Feast at Cana.

·       For farmworkers and for immigrants from the South, Our Lady of Guadalupe herself shines on them as the Mirror of Justice.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is all of these women and many more.   

Monday, November 30, 2015

Christ the King, Take Two

Christ the King:  “He came to reconcile all things, he came not to be ministered unto but to minister.  He, though Lord of all, gave himself to us as a model of humility and with his principal law united the precept of charity.”  (Papal documentation)

Humility, charity, peace.   These are the hallmarks of the kingship of Jesus and the principles that claimed the hearts of the disciples.   
Out of the blue some months ago while walking along the Schuylkill River Trail, I came across some letters of graffiti,  a foot tall scrawled on a bridge abutment, reading “Tired of being humble.”   Tired of being humble!   I discovered soon enough that the phrase is well-known in the rap world.   To be sure if we think of humble as diffident, timid, bashful, lacking in self-confidence, then it is good for us to be tired of that and to search for a path to grow in a proper sense of humble discipleship in imitation of Jesus.  
Nothing diffident in Jesus who knows the high stakes in the risks he takes to challenge the Sabbath rules of the Pharisees.
Nothing timid about the Jesus who steps up to prevent the stoning of the Woman caught in adultery.
No lack of confidence in the Jesus who tells his disciples about his Father’s promises of happiness in this world and in the world to come.

At the same time no arrogance related to courage, or privileged knowledge or over-confidence takes root in the heart of Jesus.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

First Sunday of Advent

Advent homily   First Sunday Luke 21: signs of the times  2015

We begin our season of Advent this early pre-December morning, a season during which we prepare ourselves, in heart, mind and body, to welcome our Lord God in the Flesh.   None of us have ever seen Jesus in the Flesh but we look forward to his return to us on some day yet to come.   In this  time, an in-between time, between the first coming of Jesus as a baby and His return to us as the resurrected humble king of the Universe, in this in-between time we reenact his first coming by celebrating him as we celebrate the birthdays of those we love.   We prepare songs and celebrations, cards and messages, and gifts and decorations. 

Right for us to do this for this is the major birthday of the Universe.   But we ponder in the winter darkness of morning and evening what this birth must mean.......

The presence of Christ's Kingdom is mysterious.   If the Kingdom is already here among us, why is it not more evident?  How do we make it stand out among us?   What in addition is to come?   We best approach an answer to these questions not by trying to wordsmith answers.   

Theologians encourage us to learn from our experience.  For example: get to know a pregnant mother close to term.   Get to know her and her  new born baby entirely dependent on loving parents.  The parents’ decision of love within the physical realities of their lives and the baby’s complete dependence on them helps open the door for us into God’s Kingdom.  No wordsmith necessary; no photo record necessary.   

This universal presence of parents with child leads us in our efforts to triumph over evil.  They console, strengthen, encourage, inspire and fill us with promise.   But we come to know the grounds for this triumph only in our God who sends Himself in Jesus to be dependent like any other baby and to be born and loved by Mary and Joseph.   This family leads us in our triumph.  Without Jesus, humanity falls short of a mystery and becomes a hollow question without an answer.

In this season, then, mind you take an interest in some parents and their newborns.    Rejoice with those parents who watch their babies grow; weep with those parents who lose their young ones.  But always, then, let it cross your heart and mind that these touchstones with new life prepare you to welcome Jesus every day in those who are in need.   And are we not all in need?   These touchstones, too, prepare you to welcome him again among us in the flesh on the last day.

Postscript:   On Wednesday morning, December 2, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, left their 6-month-old daughter with Mr. Farook's mother.   By nightfall the reason became clear.   The couple went on a rampage at a social services center in San Bernardino, killing at least 14 people.   (synopsis from the News York Times)

Mother, father and child.   Because the scenario created by this family is too appalling to imagine, it is an exception that proves the rule: parents with a child inspire us and call us to greater good.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Today: Christ the King at Gallery Eleven One

When I stepped down from my work at St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia, I left a community supportive of the school's mission in so many ways, teachers, coaches, administrators, alumni, parents and others, too.   The sacrifices that parents make to send their sons to the Prep are considerable.   In addition, many of them reach out to share different facets of their own lives with faculty and staff.   

One couple, the Butlers, William and Ronja, parents of two students, Kaden and Carson, told me how the Spirit had led them to a ministry in Camden, New Jersey.  They opened an art studio and gallery, Gallery Eleven One, with the goal of sharing with the diverse and often under-served people of Camden the beauty of art.

The first time I met William and Ronja they came to the Prep with their sons in tow in the summer before their freshman year.   The boys were already, despite a summer morning, in full dress code. Surprised, I praised the careful way in which they had tied their ties, a skill that some boys fail to learn even through freshman year. Sheepishly they looked at me and told the truth: "Father, they're clip-ons."  Sometimes Father is clueless!

I visited  Gallery Eleven One on a June day to say goodbye to the family.   William's paintings fill the walls with every color and shape, pleasing to the eye and stirring to the spirit.    They gave me the gift pictured above, a print called "Sent."   The print is now hanging in my office and I use it to illustrate today's feast, Christ the King.   I thank all four of them for their kindness to me.  To be sure this piece of art is a reminder of  the promise that I experienced in their company.

Friday, November 20, 2015

St. Joseph's Prep Kairos Leadership Team

Thanks to these young student retreat leaders, over fifty of their St. Joseph's Prep classmates had a great experience at the Kairos Retreat this week.   We at the Jesuit Center are happy to welcome these Kairos groups from several different schools many times during each year.

More of the morning stars

The morning stars of Venus and Jupiter are still with us.   But Mars now sits between them.   Imagine this with a better photo: Mars appears dimly "on a line" about midway between Venus and Jupiter.    Get a look tomorrow at about 6 AM!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Dad and Pope John XXIII

As long as I can remember my dad had an interest in the history of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.  He read all the books that he could find on the subject and enjoyed attending Mass at Old St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia and at Most Blessed Sacrament in Bally, the earliest sites of churches in the area.   We have notes that he took while he read and we always imagined that he was working on his own historical text.   

A quite different Catholic subject also commanded dad's attention: the papacy of John XXIII (1958-1963) and his call for the renewal of Vatican II.   In 1968 during Vatican II some years after the Pope’s death, an accomplished Philadelphia artist and sculptor by the name of Charles L. Madden drew a wonderful likeness of the Pope.  My father saw it years later, liked it so much and secured a copy of it from Mr. Madden in 1977.    

My parents were faithful Catholics who knew that the Church was ready for the “aggiornamento”, the spirit of change and open-mindedness of the Second Vatican Council that sparked especially the new liturgy and the Church’s outreach to the world.    They were excited when Pope John Paul II came to Philadelphia.   And I am sorry that they are not alive to see the day of Pope Francis.   But I am happy to have this portrait of John, a reminder of my dad's open-hearted faith, hanging in my office at the Jesuit Center.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

In many a recent winter these two trees would not be holding their color this late in November.  Today's clear sky brought out the best in them.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


My HTC phone camera has its limits but sometimes reality provides the proper stresses for a spectacle!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Eucharistic Chapel in Richard's hermitage.

I had an opportunity on Saturday to drive to Coatesville and to visit the only hermit whom I know,  Richard Withers (pictured here at the front door of his hermitage).   Joe Bradley (left), Francesco Zampetti and I enjoyed lunch with Richard.  

His hermitic life is different from those who live in an official religious community like the Carmelites.   That is, any bishop can officially accept a person as a "hermit" provided he or she fulfills certain criteria.  Richard is a hermit under the direction of the Archbishop of Philadelphia.

The criteria require Richard to sacrifice earning income, to live simply and to pray for the rest of us.   Richard has only a modest part-time job.  But there is more to his life than prayer.  He is very handy and has restored the modest house he lives in.  It had been destined for demolition.

Sometimes such individual hermits, while still living alone each in a separate dwelling, join together in a small group called a Laura.   Richard has a hope that at least one other hermit will take up residence in the duplex that is his dwelling.   But each of them will have his own small house with individual chapel and kitchen, etc.

Richard was an urban hermit for some years in a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia.   He found the small community that surrounds his present dwelling to offer opportunities for more quiet and prayer.  

Thank you, Richard, for giving us witness that God blesses your life and thank you for praying for us to give our own witness, too.

Thursday, November 05, 2015





THE GORILLA FLASHED A SIGN ASKING "Why don't gorillas still play poker in the jungle?"   AND WHEN EVEN THE KNIGHT WAS STUMPED, THE GORILLA UNVEILED A SECOND SIGN: "Because there are too many cheetahs in the jungle."

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


More unpacking.  Why would I keep these two blue glass vases that could not pass a collector's test?   Years ago I said to my mother who kept them in a relatively prominent place as long as I could remember, "why are you keeping these simple vases?"   And she responded, "Our neighbor, Mrs. Cross, bought them for me as a gift when you were born."   That is reason enough for me to keep them and, of course, we know how old they are.

   The children of many cultures wear good luck charms of different kinds.  We wore medals of the Virgin Mary, or of St. Christopher or a crucifix hanging around our necks.   These vases, of course, are not true charms.   But knickknacks are said, too, to have a place in the culture of a household.    I am not sure what these vases might have meant to my mother.   I remember that they were in a window and maybe they were there to help me find my way home!

Sunday, November 01, 2015

(photo: Ed DeBaney, S.J.)

All Saints Day Nov 1, 2015   Retreat Mass at Wernersville


(Homily for Mass, shortened for the blog!)

… lists of words spoken by Jesus include the Beatitudes, the promises that Jesus makes to the disciples of blessedness or, as some translate, happiness.   I do admit, of course, that the beatitudes are very stylized and have a rhetorical character.   One wonders if Jesus worked out the balance and poetry.   But I think of these sayings as expressions of Jesus’ experience.  Let me make that the first and main point this morning….

These promises of blessedness and happiness are made first of all by the Father to the humanity of Jesus.   Jesus responds in obedience to the Father in order to bring about these promises for others but His Father first of all so relates to Jesus’ human spirit as to fill it with these promised blessings, with a happiness that cannot be described in earthly terms alone, with a host of consolations related to his obedience to the Father’s call.  

It is the blessed (and can we say happy?).  It is the blessed Jesus who is able to welcome the disciples to a celebration of the Kingdom of God now at hand.   It is the blessed Jesus (and can we say confident in the future of peace, and mercy and justice?).  It is the blessed Jesus that attracted the disciples and the great crowds that followed him.  It is the blessed Jesus (and can we say the Jesus having  a pure vision of God in everything and everyone around him?).  It is the blessed Jesus that encouraged and strengthened his friends.   Jesus stated these promises or blessings not merely as poetic turns of phrase for an auspicious occasion.  Rather these promises pour out of Jesus own heart.   He owns them.  They signify both his constant demeanor and his consoled frame of mind. 
God places Jesus in his humanity as the model of the blessed. Blessed or happy is Jesus poor, meek, mourning, merciful, pure of heart, thirsting for peace and justice, taking insults as a result of his challenging character

All of these promises enumerate, as one scholar states “the results of the characteristics Jesus expected of the citizens of (God’s) Kingdom.”  Jesus is the first born of such citizens.  The promise of blessedness or happiness belongs first to Jesus who longs to share it with us…. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015










Thursday, October 29, 2015




Our two short readings today lead us to a consideration of what it means to be disciples of the Lord Jesus.   Our first reading clearly addresses the nature of discipleship:

“You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones.”  (Ephesians)

When we think of St. Ignatius we know that his discovery of himself during his conversion is precisely a discovery that his sojourning, his pilgrimage, so to speak, leads him step by step to become a citizen in the company of Jesus and his disciples.

Ignatius and the early Jesuits who sought God in all things and practiced contemplation in action came to imagine themselves as following in the footsteps of the first disciples in their preaching of the gospel.    As disciples they knew themselves called to preaching and teaching God’s love and mercy in the public square.  They found their call to be the same as the one that Jesus addressed to his disciples.

Those who wish to adopt a model of discipleship no matter their state in life can learn from the characteristics of the Ignatian follower of Jesus.  The Ignatian path to finding our place among the friends of Jesus must be a road conscious of the four traits outlined in Chris Lowney’s book about Ignatian leadership titled “Heroic Leadership.”

1.      Know thyself.   A directive known to any humanist but particularly important for one who is ready to offer his or her services to the work of God.   And the key to a start in this is the instruction given to Peter who when confessing his sinfulness, hears Jesus say “Do not be Afraid.”
2.    Develop your talent.  You have a knack for catching fish…Jesus will make you a fisher of people.   You have a knack for managing resources.  Jesus needs someone like the apostle Matthew to help plan for the future.
3.    Reach out in love to everyone.   As the Pope tells us in so many words like these: “you Jesuits are to go out and find God, the God who is in everyone but especially the God who is so often hidden.”  So Jesus led his disciples to the pagan region of the Decapolis and to the lost souls.
4.    Finally Jesus always asks for ambition from the disciples:  “Go out and preach and come back and tell me how you are doing.   And remember that prayer will unleash powers of healing and mercy.”  At the end when all seems lost, Jesus instructs them:   “Even if you think your efforts have been futile, I will meet you in Galilee.  There I will send the Spirit to lead you.”

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Jesuit Center Sky October 22 at about 7:10 AM

The morning stars this month and last have been brilliant.    Here is the bright Venus with Jupiter beneath her.

 From Marylynne Robinson's "Housekeeping"

(Teenage sisters, Lucille and Ruthie, have unexpectedly spent over night on the shore of the lake near Fingerbone.  Ruthie narrates.)

"When the light began to come Lucille began to walk toward Fingerbone.  She did not speak to me or look back.  The absolute black of the sky dulled and dimmed and blanched slowly away, and finally half a dozen daubs of cloud, dull powder pink, sailed high in the pale-green sky, rust-red at the horizon.  Venus shone a heatless planetary white among these parrot colors, and earth lay unregenerate so long that it seemed to me for once all these blandishments might fail.  The birds of our world were black motes in that tropic."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015



"JUST UP THE STREET': fishing, boating , swimmng, hiking

Founders’ Day, October 19, 2015     Feast of the North American Martyrs
Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf and Companions

The great desire to practice and preach the love of Christ in differing cultures still moves many a Christian to great sacrifices.  Among the Jesuits that we have known personally we have had friends working not just in different countries such as Chile, Bolivia, Japan, India, Phillipines, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Russia.   I am sure that you can think of other countries that I am missing.   But also whatever the country we remember today those working on the margins of society with the homeless, the imprisoned, the sick who are abandoned, the disabled, the refugee.   And do not forget the thinkers on the margins of issues such as faith and justice or the meaning of Jesus for the various religions.    This is our Jesuit work to reach out to the margins and to plant Christ there.  For me to be able to count among our friends and acquaintances not just Jesuits but also men and women who have done these things and done so in the name of Christ and his love makes me feel blessed even if my own ministries have been more conventional.

Today we celebrate a particular example of a mission on the margins, a mission of great sacrifices made by young French Jesuits who gave themselves entirely to the evangelization of the native peoples in the North American French colony.   They studied the native language and culture.  They studied the native religious beliefs and customs.   They patiently offered salvation to their new friends.  
Here I quote from a Wikipedia article:  
Jesuit missionaries learned Indian languages, and accepted Indian ways, to the point of conforming to them, especially when living among them. According to Jérôme Lalemant, a missionary must first have "penetrated their thoughts... adapted himself to their manner of living and, when necessary, been a Barbarian with them."[3]:42–43 To gain the Indians' confidence, the Jesuits drew parallels between Catholicism and Indian practices, making connections to the mystical dimension and symbolism of Catholicism (pictures, bells, incense, candlelight), giving out religious medals as amulets, and promoting the benefits of the cult of relics.[3]:43

But even historians who recount the ambiguity of their efforts, pointing out the sins of the colonizers and the European sicknesses that devastated the tribes, even they know that these men brought their convictions about God’s love to the people with whom they interacted.   These Jesuits gave their lives because they knew that Jesus loved these tribal people and they desired to love them as well.

Addressing our ministry and the ministry especially to the young today, Father General Nicolas speaks with the same penetrating language that inspired our North American martyrs:
“So in the Jesuit vision of reality there is a high esteem for God’s creation, and there is no situation, no human situation..that is alien to us.   So our challenge is how to find God in the hearts of those who don’t come to Church and even those who don’t even believe in Christ.   This is the challenge that we carry with us, and I like very much that the pope calls us to go out and find God.”

We at the Center here are called to go out at least figuratively and find God among the alien.  And we have so many resources at our disposal.  We have opportunities for that silence that assists us in addressing our own margins of doubt and sin.   We have opportunities in our prayer to reimagine Christ’s love for those on the margins.  We have opportunities for study and reflection to find the language that best speaks to them and to all those who are searching at least to understand themselves if not also to understand their world and the God who walks with them.

Jogues and his companions would urge us on.  They would see the growth in the hearts of the young and old whose lives pass through here.   Many actually serve those on the margins and all hear that call.   Let us consider ways to respond.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Clueless Disciples in Mark 10

Sunday morning.    Use your imagination to make up for the limitations of the camera!

The Clueless Disciples in the 10th Chapter of Mark

Once when preaching before a group of religious women, I asked which of the four gospels was their favorite.   Practically to a person, they chose the gospel of John.   My own preference is the more primitive gospel of Mark.   I find it certainly more direct, and perhaps more urgent and honest.  Today and on recent Sundays we have been reading a section of Mark’ gospel that underlines what difficulties Jesus has with his chosen friends.   Later in this gospel story, in the time of crisis we know that his disciples sleep when he asks them to pray but worse yet they absolutely abandon him and let him get arrested alone.  Even their leader in the person of Peter denies in public that he even knows Jesus.

But Mark gives plenty of evidence early on that this abandonment will happen.   In this section of the gospel that we read today we sense a disconnect with Jesus, a lack of courage and even loyalty.   This section is probably months before the time of crisis.   In deed Jesus astounds the disciples with his manifestations of power over physical sickness and what the gospel sees as diabolical possession.  But, on the other hand, Jesus seems powerless in his struggle to get even his friends to understand him.

In these chapters eight, nine and ten, bracketed by his healing of the blind, Jesus three times tells virtually the same story revealing that he is not some worldly hero. He tells his disciples directly that he will be humiliated and executed.  Indeed he tells them that his Father in heaven will raise him from the dead.  But the disciples three times are blind to his plan and witless.  They embarrass him with their ignorant, hard-headed responses.   With Jesus first revelation of his death, Peter recklessly tells Jesus how they will prevent it.  The second time they do not know what to say and wind up bickering among themselves about who is the greatest among them.  

And today we read about the third time.    Here James and John (who much later turn out to be leaders) sidle up to Jesus and quietly propose that they be the ones chosen to get the best seats at Jesus’ right and left in the coming Kingdom.   Oh, they know about the best seats and they are willing to say that they will drink from the same cup as the one from which Jesus drinks.   But later the argument among all the disciples is about the arrogance of these two who seem to think that they have special rights of friendship with Jesus.

The disciples in these responses to Jesus’ honest and even shocking revelations show themselves as shameless.   No wonder, then, that later in the time of crisis they all refuse to drink the cup that Jesus drinks.   Later the places at the crucified Jesus’ right and left are taken by two thieves.  Even Peter who vowed allegiance completely loses his professed nerve.  Mark notes that a few of Jesus’s female disciples stand by from a distance and are present at the crucifixion.  But the men are absent.

It is not difficult to imagine these young men, and they are even some of them what we would call teenagers, totally perplexed.  They are like so many young people today filled with desire to be courageous, and loyal and honest but struggling to understand the price of practicing these things in a world filled with tragedy and sin.

To their credit, these young men do what I have seen other groups of young men do, when they are angry or perplexed or greatly disappointed.   They stick together…maybe, yes, out of fear for themselves, or out of sorrow, or out of an inability to discover any other path.   Yes, maybe out of desperation.  But the disciples stuck together and waited in hope that the promises made to them might be fulfilled. 

I have seen this sticking together among the young, a gathering in response to tragic deaths of their young friends.  Once at the funeral of a popular young man killed on the streets of North Philadelphia the teenage boys and girls were keening with grief and clinging to one another to keep from collapsing.    I also saw a different kind of gathering no less emotional more recently among football team members of Ryan Gillyard, the St. Joseph’s Prep player who died suddenly on the field last April.  The team dedicated this season to him and they will play their hearts out in his memory.

We in the Church in recent years have had reason to be embarrassed and perplexed, reason simply to abandon one another in our shame.  To our credit, though, we have come together in so many ways and pledged ourselves to greater vigilance and care for our children.   Hundreds of thousands of teachers and youth club leaders decided not to turn away from their callings but have strengthened themselves and one another in their ability to care for the young.  

Just as the disciples stuck together in their time of confusion and looked even blindly at first for the promises of Jesus’ kingdom, so, too, let’s stick together despite some inability to see what God is doing among us.   Mark’s gospel is clear.   The power of the risen Jesus is more than enough to restore those who are disciples to those youthful virtues of courage, loyalty and integrity.  We, too, have every reason to expect the risen Jesus to bless us with the graces that we desire.

Church of my Childhood

Yesterday the church of my childhood, Immaculate Conception in Jenkintown, PA., began its sesquicentennial jubilee celebration.   As I had been in the Church recently for a funeral, the pastor, Msgr. David Diamond, found out about my connection and invited me to the opening Mass of the jubilee year.   At that altar (in the old configuration) I learned the Latin responses of the altar server and I remember early Christmas day Mass kneeling with other kids at that altar rail.   Yesterday, of course, the servers were both boys and girls and all was in English.  

The windows along the nave are all of this pattern.  Lighting in this church as in many is much improved and even the stain glass windows looked more brilliant than they were seventy years ago.

I thought someone in the crowded congregation might come up to me and remember my parents or our name.   Nobody did but some recent acquaintances of mine from the Prep.   I, of course, remembered my parents and siblings always there on Sunday.    After Mass we bought the breakfast cinnamon buns at the bakery across the street (now something else).   And I remembered names of our classmates: Hentz and Fox and Bailey and so forth.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Morning, October 14, 2015. Jesuit Center, Wernersville, PA.

The colors in these photos are a digital adaptation of the true colors but I like their view of what I saw this morning! 

October 14, 2015

From me, the new guy at the Jesuit Center:

Dear Friends,

This autumn of 2015 is the second time in my life that I have been the “new kid on the block” here at what is now the Jesuit Center.  My first years as a Jesuit were spent here at what was then our Jesuit Novitiate.  I remember especially the winters when we novices had plenty of snow to shovel.    This year I look forward to the winter since I am happily free at my age of that duty!  

God has been constant in so many ways but just as I have changed over fifty years, so, too, this treasured Jesuit site in Wernersville is marked most clearly by a change from Novitiate to a Center for Spiritual Growth for men and women of all ages and callings, a facility for retreats and spiritual programming of varying types, no one size fits all.

The elements of the Jesuit retreat experience known as the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius are essential to every Jesuit enterprise.   In Jesuit schools throughout the world we seek for our students the grace of self-knowledge, especially the knowledge of God’s personal love, and the grace of self-reflection as one called to respond to this love.   In that way at least my last thirty years of service in schools, a time long enough to have been amazed to watch pre-K toddlers mature even to Ignatian educators, prepares me for service at the Jesuit Center.  

The Jesuit Center continues to enrich the growth and mature commitments of thousands each year.   The health and vigor of our staff and resources allow us to plan for Ignatian retreat ministries far into the future.   Even now, for example, we already have retreats and programming in the planning stages through the next three years.  As our skills and resources flourish over these years, so, too, they will offer seamless service to the future of Christ and His people

I ask you to pray for our resident Jesuits, for our lay men and women colleagues, and for all those whom God will invite to join us in an experience of divine grace in the coming months.