Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A view looking toward Reading, PA from my new home, the Jesuit Center at Wernersville, PA.   A sight very different from North Philadelphia!

I will see a lot of sunrises over those distant mountains in the years ahead.   I will be working with about eighteen Jesuits in various on-site retreat ministries and in the area with Church and community groups.   Philadelphia groups make the 70 mile trip  and enjoy the retreat atmosphere here and I look forward to seeing many of them.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mass on Spring Garden Street

Photo of crowd from behind jumbotron (see figures in left second story window.)   All about a mile plus from the Parkway with no other connection to the Parkway crowd.

The Pope's picture on jumbotron in his reverent liturgical posture.

The main public event in Philly during the Papal visit took place with Mass in the presence of 850,000 people on the Parkway,  The back of the altar looked out at the Rocky steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.   And the front faced the Parkway with a view blocks away of Philadelphia's City Hall.    I was in the crowd with a group of young men and women, high school students in Jesuit schools from across North America .   We were stretched along the roadside barrier about midpoint in that view.   Before the Mass when the Popemobile moved past us, the Pope saw our signage and heard the chant "Colegio de Jesuitas" and he gave a clear shout out with a smile and a blessing.

Before the Mass started, I began walking the mile home into North Philly and to the Prep.    A few blocks away I passed a jumbotron in the middle of Spring Garden Street.   As I approached I heard the music of the Gloria and when I got within site saw a couple of thousand people attentive to the Papal Mass.   Two children sat with an adult on a balcony overlooking the street scene dominated by this giant screen.   (And the Eagles game had not yet ended!).

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sculpture dedicated at Saint Joseph's University at the jubilee of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document laying the groundwork for dialogue between Jews and Christians.

Earlier European depictions are of females,  the Jewish figure diminished and saddened while the Christian figure exults.   Here are two female figures each exploring  and in dialogue about their covenants with a common God.

Both Pope Francis and his friend, Rabbi Skorka (center of photo) of Buenos Aires, blessed the sculpture this weekend.

The first prayer and unveiling of the sculpture took place on Friday before the Papal visit but the Pope himself on Sunday prayed at the sculpture and blessed it.    A surprise visit to the SJU campus but word leaked out some two hours before he arrived and a few hundred students gathered nearby and watched from the dorm windows.   See the SJU web site for more.  I missed the Papal blessing.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

These two photos represent my Saturday morning of the Papal visit to Philadelphia.   About ten clerics stand between me and the Pope in the Cathedral.  Pope Francis came to celebrate Mass for local clergy, religious and lay people.    He looked a little tired and did not seem to have the lightness of spirit that he displayed earlier in his visit to the United States.  (At Independence Hall he seemed to have recovered some of the spirit that he had shown elsewhere.)  Later I found out that the Pope is very reverent at liturgies and does not entertain spontaneity or lightness of spirit in the liturgical forum.

The Mass was partially in Latin and the ceremonies were elaborate.

I tried to go in person to see the Gesu School children perform at Logan Circle very near the Cathedral but security issues were daunting.   So after Mass I made my way home on foot.   But lo, when I got to 16th and Spring Garden, the Gesu dancers were being announced on the jumbotron.  So I got to see them up close if not personal.   They danced the Argentinian tango and then broke out into the Philly jitterbug well known through American Bandstand.   A crowd going by broke into cheers when the dancing boys did their leap frog over one another.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Two volunteers for Habitat for Humanity are working on the construction of these units just five blocks from the Prep at 19th and Tucker in North Philadelphia.    The funding for this project came in part from those who are honoring the Papal visit with gifts to Habitat, gifts of time, talent and treasure.  Prep boys have worked on the project on several occasions in the last two months.

Such individual projects of so many kinds and in so many parts of Philadelphia will make the papal visit much more than a two-day event.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015 is supporting the World Meeting of Families and the Papal visit with these posters mounted in the Locust-Walnut Subway Station.   There are two more versions;  one announcing that every family has someone who wants to come home and the other proclaiming that every family has prayed for the impossible.

This kind of "outside" support astonished me with its elegance.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

These eight Jesuits form the present community at Arrupe House, 1226 18th St. across from St. Joseph's Prep and Gesu Church.   I am seated on the far right and will be leaving the other seven next week to take up my new mission at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA.   All seven of these men have been doing great work for the Society and I will miss living with them.

seated:  Richard McCouch (superior and Provincial Assistant for Secondary and Pre-secondary Education),  Jeff Puttoff (founding director of Hopeworks and now student at U of Penn), Chijioke Azuawusiete (from Nigeria and a student at U of Penn)

standing:  John Swope (president of St. Joseph's Prep),  Adam Rosinski (Prep faculty member and on staff of Mission and Ministry), Steve Surovick (Prep faculty member and on staff of Mission and Ministry), Neil Ver'Schneider (Gesu School administrator and counselor)

"Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name?"

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Medical Mission Sisters of Fox Chase tastefully prepare the Sunday Eucharistic table.   I celebrated the Mass with them on Sunday August 9.   The scripture readings spoke of Jesus' reactions to his followers who wanted at least another miracle of loaves and fish.    He instructed them: "Eat my Flesh; Drink my Blood."

Nineteenth Sunday of the Year   John 6 on The Bread of Life
Food and all of the rituals surrounding food play a big part in our lives.   For some of us, granted, food is a pedestrian matter and meals are simply a necessary fueling station as we go about our busy lives.   But for most of us the rituals of food all the way from shopping to relaxing with friends after a meal are part of a program to sustain a meaningful life.   This even despite our anxiety about so many local and international food needs,

To signal that religion is not something outside human life, then, it should come as no surprise that the inspired authors of the Bible give food and our eating a key role in the Bible, all the way from the forbidden apple in Genesis to the scorn that Paul in First Corinthians heaps on those who exclude the less fortunate from the Christian table.  In between such symbolic frames to Scripture, Yahweh is busy rescuing his people in times of famine and Christ is proving our Father’s generosity of spirit in events like the miraculous catch of fish and the miraculous multiplication of  loaves and fish.

The Eucharist itself that we celebrate at this table gives us a simple mnemonic key to understanding all of our interactions with food: bless, break, take, eat.  Bless, break, take, eat.  It will be well for us to integrate these four simple words not only into our eating together and even into snack time but also into every daily routine.  These four simple directions imitate the simple directions of a recipe book, words like shop, chop, boil, savor in their various forms.   But “bless, break, take, eat” are written in the recipe book for our lives.  These four words are not only about food; they are about every resource God gives us to carry out our mission in life.   

We read today in the Book of Kings about the prophet Elijah suffering from a bout of depression, meditating on his failure to bring about any sustained change to the paganism of Israel.   He has tried to change the culture of paganism, even by arranging the deaths of false prophets and now he is running for his life from the regime.   He has no appetite; would prefer even to die.  But God has not finished with him and insists that he eat for the journey and the work ahead.    His journey will take him to Horeb, that is, Mount Sinai, to meet God in his prayers and hear instructions that will sustain the prophetic mission in Israel.  

In this instance God summons Elijah from his depression with a blessing of food.  Elijah must break from his own desire for death and take and eat.   The food that he finds as a blessing before him has no source but in the God who has been miraculously accompanying him all of his prophetic life.   Without an understanding of this food as blessing, Elijah would have ignored what was set before him and remained confirmed in his desire for death.   But he is obedient to God’s call: Bless, break from your self-pity, take and eat.   Whether we recognize it or not, God is always putting resources in front of us for our mission.  Bless, break, take and eat.

This message is underlined in the gospel reading from John.   You are following me, Jesus says to the crowd, because you ate at the multiplication of the loaves and fish.   As if that was not enough of a sign, you want more from me.   You want more of the food that will sate your physical appetites.   But now I ask you to bless, break, take and eat of my very life and its gifts.    Eat my flesh; drink my blood.   

This invitation is as startling to us as it was to the disciples, some of whom were always trying to define Jesus in their own terms.  I think of this invitation as stunning material imagery but one with literal meaning.   It is an invitation to grasp all of the Incarnation as a gift for our own wholeness of body and spirit.  Like the best of hosts, Jesus conscious of his mission from his father, sets a full table for us in the Eucharistic celebration and offers for our sustenance everything that he is and has. 

When it comes to meals in the gospel stories, Jesus is more often a guest of someone else than the host.   But, nevertheless, even as guest he brings gifts to the table: for example, forgiveness to the host Zacchaeus and to that unusual guest, the woman who bathes his feet with her tears, healing to Peter’s wife, miraculous wine to the wedding feast, a powerful revelation at the Inn in Emmaus.   He never comes to a meal empty handed.     But he most startles us with the meals in which he is host: the Last Supper, the enduring Eucharist, in which he offers himself to us, and, in today’s gospel, the feeding of the five thousand. 

Yes, eat my flesh, drink my blood is a crude expression.  But I believe Jesus uses it to stun us into the knowledge that, whether we are a guest at his table or he comes as a guest at our table, he will share himself with us and give us every gift we need to bring about a wholeness of body and spirit, and this even when one or another part of us, as in the case of Elijah, seems to be failing us.

He calls the knowledge, the trust that he will give us himself in the Eucharist and whatever sustenance we need by the simple word “belief.” 
May we remember the words of the Eucharist, bless, break, take and eat. Like Elijah may we have the willingness to take what God offers us.   Like Peter and the disciples may we come to know that there are no other tables that will truly sustain us.  And may we recall the words “bless, break, take and eat three, four, five times a day.


Monday, September 07, 2015

On a walk near Conowingo I saw this bird posing for me.   I assume it to be a Great Blue Heron.  I would have liked a selfie with this bird.