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….