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.