Thursday, September 6, 2018

My Artist Statement

My name is Jack and I like to paint. I like to be called John too. I like colors, especially orange and blue. I like long shadows and dark values. I like bright colors, pencils, paints, chunks, snow, water, dogs, even cats, my Dutch heritage, family, friends, food, my Italian heritage, chocolate cake, torrone, pizzelles,  frost, a warm breezes, praying, the smell of roasting coffee, reflecting, textured surfaces, choral singing, biking, hiking, camping, listening, cooking, baking, spices, crumpets, cheeses, fresh vegetables, poetry, fashionable hats, shadows, writing, blogging, blowing bubbles, writing poems, cutting grass all day, pushing snow, crunching fall leaves, frolicking in it too, creating most anything, moonlight, stars, dawn, dusk, the setting sun, clouds, the rising sun, praying, and everything in between, glitter, laughter, piano, trumpets, small birds, sleeping, waking, the sound of the ocean, holidays, walking, tropical fruit, oranges, dark chocolate, flying, music, kayaking, photographing, diving boards, a good pencil sharpener, a smooth pen, painting, teaching, learning, helping, listening, boating, contemplating, getting older, sledding, the boardwalk, the beach, the seasons, snow, mountains, deep forests, clowning, museums, herbs, antiques, gardens, sending cards, elbow room, the quiet, silence, meditation, jigsaw puzzles, monasteries, traveling, seeing new things, seeing things news, floating, tools, stretching, gazing, trees, tumbling leaves, rocks, fireplaces, decorating, making you laugh, stained-glass windows, holding your attention, creating wonder, old dictionaries, losing oneself in a book, rain, warmth, my stole, a very large swing attached to an even larger tree, a deep breath, an even deeper breath, a long sustained breath.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Jury Duty; Religious Life


As some of you know, I am serving on a jury trial in Boston this week. The trial will continue next week and possibly even longer. To my dismay, I was called when I was to be on vacation so for the third year in a row, I will not get a break that I need.

I’m also not in a position to preside at two funerals this week. One funeral is for a colleague’s mother and the other is for a childhood friend’s husband. I watch him die last night as he labored to breathe. I kept seeing Christ suspended on the cross unable to gasp for air. Fortunately, for my friend, palliative medicine helped him become comfortable.

I am instructed not to discuss the trial in any way, but I will provide some reflections on the process.

The Call

First of all, I was surprised to be called to jury service. This was my first time ever receiving notice of jury duty. I had been told I would never be called as a priest and I made sure that I spoke about being a Roman Catholic Religious Order priest. Still, prosecution and defense accepted me.

I will write further on the entire process because it is astounding and awe-inspiring.

Nevertheless, I was stunned when I heard that I was accepted. I really was disbelieving. We did hear about the case before we were interviewed as potential jurors and I was relieved because I realized I would not be called. I was wrong.

The Role of the Judge

The judge’s role is fascinating. He is the law. It is his or her job to maintain a respectful, pleasant atmosphere. His job is not to judge the case. His job is to apply the law. The prosecutor has the entire burden to prove the State’s case beyond reasonable doubt, and the defense’s case is easier because the defendant is declared innocent until the jury may decide otherwise.

The Jury is the Judge

The jury’s role is to be fair and impartial and to listen to the two sides of the argument. The jury is to be convinced of the prosecutor’s facts or not be convinced. When it comes time to deliberate, four of the sixteen jurors will be randomly dismissed. Certain points of law will be applied, and the jury will be given instructions.

The function of the jury is not to do research, seek, search for the truth. It is not necessarily to assess guilt. It is to determine if the prosecutor’s proved the case beyond reasonable doubt. The jury is instructed to not include hearsay; we have to suspend our desire to draw conclusions or do additional research. Our job is to hear the case.

A Hearing

The trial is called a hearing because this is the primary role of the jury. The jury does not ask questions or interact with anyone. The jury maintains confidentiality throughout the whole process. We do not talk with each other, except about the weather, break times, or looking forward to the weekend. The jury’s job is merely “to hear” until it is time to deliberate.

Jury Selection

In many ways, jury selection is like discipleship. We are called. We don’t know why. We don’t know why the person next to us was called. We sometimes cannot see any similarities or draw conclusions about the type of persons that we selected. The selection is a mystery.

It is just like religious life. Sometimes we wonder why a certain person was selected. We come from so many diverse backgrounds and yet Christ calls us to the same way of life. Somehow it works.

Equality and Dignity

Every juror has the same dignity. No hierarchy exists. If someone is repeatedly late to service, no one can ask why, and no one can ask that someone try harder to arrive on time. Service depends upon the goodwill of people to honor and respect each other and the common good. We are equal. We take the role seriously. We know it is our honored constitutional civic duty.

Good Table Manners

Just as, in a very basic sense, the Catholic mass is a set of good table manners, the courtroom has a particular set of table manners that is upheld. The presider is respected by the court. Everyone rises when the judge enters or exits the courtroom. Prosecuting and defense attorneys have a particular decorum in the court, always asking permission of the judge to perform certain tasks, such as, “May I approach the witness?,” “May I show the jury this evidence?,” “May I enter this as evidence?” Objections are done according to the discretion of the judge. Good manners are a necessity. It is always kind to use good manners.

As the jury is the judge, the entire courtroom rises when the jurors exit or enter the courtroom. You never see this on television or in the movies.

Biblical Role of the Courtroom

I keep seeing parallels between the Old Testament imagery of legal proceedings and today’s courtroom. God, the just judge, presides over the dispute, and Satan is the adversarial prosecutor that is trying to trip up plaintiff. God is also the jury. Christ, the Advocate, is the defense witness, who declares his defendant’s innocence. This imagery begins with the Book of Job, throughout Hebrew Scripture and Wisdom literature, right up through the Gospel accounts. Christ’s representation will see us through the trial and he has won us eternal life.

The Law versus Mercy

While the legal system has the duty to apply the law and be judged by it, God’s judgment is mercy. Mercy always wins out. It is the defining aspect of Christian life, which is a reason it needs to be given ascendancy. Christians work within the law, but the law of Christ has its primacy. We are freed from the law so we can promote works of mercy.

Onto the Next Week

Monday, September 3, 2018

Changes on Morrissey Boulevard

On Sunday night, I walked by the new UMass Boston dormitories. They appear to be a well-constructed, contemporary set of buildings, and it is terrific to see the Columbia Point area have neighbors. Almost overnight, the character of this part of Dorchester has changed. One thousand and seventy-seven students have been added to the area and they will create a new type of energy. The campus is looking beautiful and I'm sure these students will spend many hours walking the nearby Boulevard that fronts the Atlantic Ocean.

Parents dropped off their children with both pride and concern. It is a big step for many parents who are sending many first-generation students to college. Many students stood in the landing of their floor and waved goodbye to their parents as they left them to get settled before classes begin.

The dormitories complement the work that is done on the boulevard making it a long string of housing from the JFK MBTA stop to the ocean. The land borders what used to be called Columbia Point, but is now called Harborview Apartments, which is a mixed-residential development area. While Columbia Point used to be fenced off, it is now open to the UMass area providing an exchange of pedestrian access.

It leads up to the Ted Kennedy Institute and the JFK Library, plus the new parking area for the Commonwealth Museum, which is a must-see museum because it contains a Massachusetts copy of the U.S. Constitution, plus other foundational documents, and a brief history of rotation topics.

The JFK Library was hopping last night for a wedding that forms a romantic setting overlooking the ocean.

Nearby is a great parcel of land that is soon to be developed. One can sense that it is going to be a large-scaled residential, commercial, and retail development. The Point will not know what hit them.

Across the way from BC High is the former Boston Globe that is being gutted and retrofitted for new light industrial workspace and restaurants. Work is fairly constant, as is change. Each day the area is looking more desirable, and what energy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Appreciation for Public Transportation

For the past two weeks, I've had to take the subway system into Boston each morning and home during the late afternoon. I am impressed. During rush hour, I've been able to board a train within three to five minutes of my arrival. The trains are standing room only and the passengers are accommodating. The ride along the Red Line for six stops has been efficient and smooth.

The ride home has been equally smooth and efficient. Even in the midst of hot, humid weather, the trains are well air-conditioned and on-time. The city moves people well and the transit system is well-used. A diversity of people ride the subways trains, which are reliable. I am edified to know how well the city works to move people efficiently. Questions remain about how much more growth it can handle, but for the time being, I give the city high marks.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Good Morning

The other day, I boarded Boston's MBTA Red line on my way into the city. The woman announcer starts to speak on the Public Address System. She says something like this:

"Good morning, friends. I hope you are having a good day. It is quite a good day and I wish you blessings, peace, and much happiness. I hope good things come your way today and that you are able to turn to your neighbor and wish them a good morning as well."

People giggled and shook their heads, not in disgust, but in disbelief.

"She continued. We are neighbors and it is always better when we see each other as fellow travelers that we can wish well. Enjoy your day, and greet your neighbor."

She signed off and people laughed. They turned to their neighbors to check their expression and within seconds everyone was talking with each other and laughing.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Month in Omaha

A month in Omaha has passed so quickly, and I'm amazed at how much I fit into a short period of time. My time teaching in the Spirituality program at Creighton continues to be rewarding. The class on "Prayer and Christian Spirituality" keeps getting better. Of course, having excellent students makes it that much more enjoyable.

Omaha is a city on the move. The Old Market is expanding northward and westward. Hotels are now lining the blocks near the stadia and performance centers, and the Capitol District is setting itself up to become a prime entertainment destination. The Farmer's Markets in the Old Market have really gained steamed and many patrons visit regularly.

I'm amazed at the amount of construction and renovation that is moving from the Old Market to Mid-Town. The Thursday night music festivals regularly attracts thousands of fans. I would imagine the corridor connecting the two sections of town will be a major boulevard of high-end shops in two to three years. Creighton, likewise, is expanding and filling in the property leading from the school down to the ballparks.

The city has about 400,000 residents with 8 Fortune 500 companies. A lot of money resides in this town, and of course, Warren Buffett continues to live in his modest once-suburban house. Many sections of town are highly desirable: Dundee, Benson, and the western edges of town. Creighton continues to be the big university in the town, though University of Nebraska has a large student enrollment.

St. John Church, a diocesan church run by the Jesuits, is the place to worship. Omaha is a big blue dot in the red state.

I stay with the Jesuits who live in Creighton Hall, the main residence, and Ignatius House, a smaller community of two townhouses. The space is well-designed and it is quite easy to interact with the guys in the community. They are very welcoming and hospitable and I just enjoy my time with them.
I like worshiping with them and having nice meals together.

The Dean of the program where I teach is a good friend, Eileen Burke-Sullivan. She is a good administrator and a wealth of ideas and counsel. She has assembled a good team of teachers and we work diligently at forming a community while we are present.

The students are a nice mixture of priests, sisters, and lay men and women. They are dedicated to the church and they travel internationally to participate in this program. While the CSP is forming hearts and minds, another group called the Institute for Priestly Formation runs a month-long program.

I met many friends in the city and we enjoyed some time together: from visiting a friend's home, to seeing the location of the Cloisters on the Platte and the Holy Family shrine, to eating at famed ice cream places, like Zesto's, Dolci, and Ted and Wally's, to eating burgers at local haunts, visiting artist galleries and museums, to seeing films at Film Streams, and of course, going to the zoo. There's much to do in town, and it is walkable, which I like to do.

I thoroughly enjoyed my students and I was very pleased they were moved by the prayer class. I returned home to Boston today, but there are many people for whom I will pray during this next year. I feel blessed to have run into so many neat people.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Porpoises, Horseshoe Crabs, and the Setting Sun

Life is good. Silence. Stillness. Warm breezes.

For the past two nights, I've gone to sunset beach at the close of day. Mind you, my motives were not pure. The first night, I went because I heard a small store sold Soft Serve Ice Cream with Chocolate Sprinkles on them, but the consequences of the trip were worth it.

Thousands of Horseshoe Crabs line the beach because they go to the shore for feeding and reproduction. They are the most fascinating creatures because of the hard, but not impermeable shell. It is fun to see the waves flip them over and thereby exposing their underbellies, which make them vulnerable to the flocking seagulls. To some, they look beastly and fierce and they will not even hold their non-living skeleton because of fear.

People come to watch the sunset, but they leave far too early. Once the sun disappears over the horizon, people scatter in their cars back to their homes, but they miss the best part. Once the sun sinks below the horizon, it begins to reflect its rays up into the clouds for at least an hour longer. The most brilliant colors appear at this time, but only a small remnant stays to see it. Patience pays off.

Once the sun sets, porpoises begin to crest in the waves. They are large animals and their fins bring excitement to those who are not expecting to see them. Once the sky darkens, the lights of the ferries and other ships make it seem like there is a grand party happening in the ocean. It makes for great photography.

All the while, the seaside cafe churns out dozens of ice creams, hamburgers, Philly Cheesesteaks, and other temptations.

Life is good.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

John the Baptist

After all these years I have a great affinity for John the Baptist. The image I like best is that he calls himself "the friend of the Bridegroom" and is able to share in the happiness and mission of Jesus. The line from Scripture that is always powerful for me who bears his name is "He will be called John."

I remember the summer when I was entering the Society of Jesus, I closed on my sold condo on this date and was without a place to stay for a couple of months. It reminded me that John must decrease so Christ must increase.

The sadness about this date is that it is the summer solstice when the daylight gets shorter as the light fades away until Christmas. I get duped. I want to be happy that the fullness of summer has arrived and as soon as it comes, it begins to point towards the fall and the change of seasons.

However, my plans are to spend this week with the Bridegroom and to enjoy the day in front of me. This week is all around restoring a work-life balance that has been out of whack. This 2018 has been one that consumed much time and energy from me and I need to rest and disconnect for a while.

While I'm here at the retreat house in Cape May, I'm amazed at the industriousness of the Sisters of St. Joseph. After a whole lifetime of generous service to the church, these woman volunteer their time caring for a large retreat house. They cook, clean, give direction, provide maintenance and groundskeeping, acts of sacristans and music directors, and every other imaginable household chore. They do it all - cheerfully, simply, with elegance and grace, and frugally. Their community of faith is amazing to watch.

I've been happy that it has been overcast the past few days. First, I cover every part of my body so that sun does not warm my body, and second, it has kept me indoors to nap, to rest, and to pray. All is good.

Today, I may even paint!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Happy Father's Day

Many blessings on this Father's Day!

Prayers and blessings on all Dads. Thanks for all the effort you give in raising and nurturing our young ones, or children of any age. Thanks for looking our for our safety, giving us shelter, food, and life's necessities. Thanks for your advice and counsel. Thanks for your friendship and words of encouragement.

Blessings to all men whether they be biological dads, uncles, grandfathers, brothers, priests, or mentors. We know not all men are called to be or can be biological fathers, but you still contribute greatly to the care of others. Thanks for the stepdads, the steady voices, the stable partners, or the inspiring teachers of life. Thanks for all who lend a hand.

Thanks for the many women who are single-parents for the maternal and paternal voice you are to children. Thanks for all who make life bearable because you care for us.

Thanks for anyone who increased the charity in this world by your care and concern. Today is our day to honor you. Enjoy.

Completion

On Tuesday, my mother's ashes were laid to rest in the National Cemetery in Bourne, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Alongside her, my sister's ashes were also buried. A remarkable sense of completion and closure washed over me as these two women could now enjoy eternal rest.

It made sense for us to select a June date when family could be present for the ceremony. We prayed the words of committal and witnessed the honor guard to pay tribute to my mother's stateside military service during the Korean Conflict.

We were pleased that most family members and some cousins came down for the service. We found a little cafe at the nearby rotary for breakfast afterwards.

I was very pleased that my sister's ashes were finally laid to rest 19 years after her death. I mourned the fact that I could not pay her respects at a cemetery all these years. I've wanted to visit her on her birthday and her memorial day and lay flowers on her gave. I can now do so.

The whole funeral and burial business becomes complicated recently when families experience different places of religious beliefs. Wakes and funerals have changed dramatically over the years. In the old days, families were of one faith traditions and funerals were made easy, but it is not so these days. Some families today are of mixed faith traditions, non-believers, non-practicing believers, and other situations. It makes conversations very difficult to maneuver where everyone is respected.

Death brings to the foreground both our commonalities and our differences. None of us will escape death, and the death of a family member makes us consider our own mortality and how our funerals will be celebrated.

Many people say, "Don't make a fuss over me. Don't have a wake for me," or words to express a similar sentiment. "I don't want an open casket." "Let's just have a celebration of life."

The words of the soon-to-be deceased are important and have to be considered, but the wakes are for the living. People come to pay respects to the deceased, but they are showing up for the loved ones who are alive and are mourning. The support that people receive from wakes are enduring.

If you are ever conflicted about attending a wake, Show up. You will not regret it. Even if you did not know the deceased well, show up. If you knew the deceased, but not the family, show up.

Wakes are often enjoyable, filled with laughter, full of storytelling and remembrances, and promises to reconnect and get together soon. Wakes are filled with people who will just sit with you in solidarity with your sorrow. Just show up.

Wakes are often filled with ambiguous feelings because of conflicted feelings with the deceased. That is O.K.  That is natural and everyone has those feelings.

We have a saying that we will never speak ill of the dead. That is a very good protocol, but we also want to speak the truth - kindly. People are saints because of the way they lead their lives. We cannot forget the challenges the deceased have sometimes given us, and we don't want to only speak to their good side without acknowledging our frustrations. The trick is to learn to speak about it positively. It is easy to say, "So and so held a dear spot in my life and it was not always easy." This acknowledges the truth of your experience of the relationship and it honors the we, though saints, are far from perfect.

After a loved one's death, we can still talk to the person and hold together the relationship, which continues into eternity. We can still achieve reconciliation or forgive ourselves or one another. We are forever marked by the relationships we have in life and we will deal with our issues until our own death. Our entire work is reconciliation and the restoration of relationships to its loving origins.

If we have not planned our burial plans yet, do so now. Why wait? Some people are deathly afraid that they will not be honored in death. Some people fear that no one will come to their funeral or the wake, so we become self-effacing and say, "No wake. Don't make a fuss." It is not all about you. Get over it. We will honor and celebrate you and share in your sufferings.

Funerals are expensive and the most basic funeral will not cost less that $10,000.00, and that does not include a burial plot, and some people will not put aside any money for funerals and burials. Be thoughtful of where you and your family will be buried. It is scary because it brings up many questions of self-worth, but it is necessary to discuss openly.

Funerals reflect upon the way we live. It calls to mind the ultimate choices we make in life, and the manner by which we value ourselves. They are tough questions. Some people don't think about funerals because they are afraid of death, but it is because they are afraid of living or afraid of the manner in which they are living.

And we are all laid to rest, and rest we shall have. Our loving Creating God will make sure of that. Our job is to live and to show up for one another. We are never going to get all things right but we have a chance to make life better today. I find that consoling. Let's live in the present for the future will settle all matters for us.

Death continues to inform life. Today is a gift that we are to use well. Death is not far off - ever.

Back to my mother and my sister. Rest well, Connie. Rest well, Dawn Mari. Until we meet again...

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Celebration of Mothers

Today is the first Mother's Day I will celebrate without my mother. She loved lilacs and I used to try to get her greeting cards with lilacs or soft flowers. She loved the flower buds and tree blossoms and watching chipmunks frolic on the lawn.

I'm not sure how much grieving I have done, but my overall feeling is one of gratitude. Life always comes to an end and it is sad and yet it is what is supposed to happen. I'm thankful that I've had my parents as long as I have. Sometimes death gives way for new life to be developed.

I walked outside after the warm rains and admired all the fragrances around campus. I gave thanks to God for this life and for its many blessings, my mother included among them. I simply felt light and grateful for life is pretty good. Each fragrance soaked by the drying rain contributed nicely to the memories. Ignatius of Loyola favored the sense of smell as a way of bringing us to God.

As I reflect upon what my mother has meant to our family, I cannot help but see the abundant care of many other mothers with their families as well. I can see the face of an 84 year old friend who adopted two children. His son married and had two children; his daughter who was born in Columbia did not marry, but she just adopted a child born in the Bronx. He is so proud. Each week he shows me a picture of his new grandson who grows a fraction of an inch each week, but he is so proud. At church I see many grandparents with their grandchildren.

Grief is mysterious and there is no set plan for how one mourns. I have a great deal of compassion for those who have recently lost their mothers and I can recognize their sadness, and yet I have the feeling that everything is O.K. and much will still unfold in due time. I trust the process.

Whatever the question is, I know the answer is to love as fully as we can. To give mercy, to give compassion, to hold someone's hand in their time of need in order to show them God's love through us is quite a blessing. We are all pilgrims on a journey. Our birth is one of love, our death is one of love. We need an increase of love, a love that reconciles, a love that heals, a love that gives freedom. I'm sure this is the gift our mothers want for us. May our celebrations today make each one of us grateful for those who are in our lives.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Les Miserables: Mercy and the Law


I just finished watching the student production of “Les Misérables,” and I was deeply touched by the message of the production. The professionalism of actor’s performances and singing were also deeply moving.

I cannot help but reflect upon the timeless struggle between mercy and the law. In 1830, the July Revolution that was the basis for the play projected a rebellion by liberals and revolutionaries against the French monarchy. King Charles X limited freedom of the press as he sought to consolidate his power, especially after the upheavals of the French Revolution of 1789. Revolutionaries wants to establish a republic where the voice of the common person would be heard and honored.

The protagonist, Jean Valjean, at his lowest point of humanity, experiences the mercy of God through the local bishop who bought his soul for God. He then devoted his life to paying it forward as often as possible. His devotion to mercy pits him squarely against his antagonist, Javert, who is a police detective obsessed with the fulfilment of the law and the metering out of punishment in accordance with the legal system.

Often throughout this story, mercy and the law clash. The law provides comfort and is designed to assist in the freedom of individuals and the proper functioning of society, but it can be made into a god as well. Mercy is the law of God written into human hearts and it cannot be squashed. Mercy is the divine act in which we enter into the chaos of another person’s life and give them a glimpse of the divine. The story of every person must be heard.

Valjean was fearful of telling his story and he could not see his saintliness, which was based on always doing what was right. It is helpful to us to really listen to another person’s story and learn about the humble, insignificant ways that God has touched each person’s life. When Valjean’s story becomes known, we weep in gratitude. When we learn another person’s story, we weep and celebrate as well. This is mercy. It is entering into the chaos of another person.

Pope Francis is a champion of mercy within the church that can at times become laden with legalism, rigorism, and clericalism. His two most recent official teachings, “Amoris Laetitia,” (2016) and last month’s “Gaudete et Exsultate,” are his calls to holiness based upon the development of one’s valuesbased on mercy.

I invite you to read at the very least the latest one, “Rejoice and Be Glad” because it bases one’s daily holiness on the pursuit of the Beatitudes found in the Sermon on the Mount.

As Javert experienced, mercy can upend the teachings we hold as true, eternal, and changeless. As Valjean experienced, mercy saves lives and makes sense out of senseless situations.

The Pope is doing his best to advance the practice of mercy among the faithful lest we become mini-Javerts who hold onto church teachings merely because they have served an earlier time well enough. A law that is not based on mercy or does not engender mercy is no law at all. It is our responsibility to honor the law, to wrestle with it, to uphold it, and to change if it is necessary. The Pope is asking up to become Valjeans who are always forming and informing our consciences and choosing to do what is right.

Who are the Javerts in your life, your church, and what do they need? Who are the Valjeans in your world, your church, and what do they value? Valjeans walk the hallways and are found in the classroom and playing fields of BC High.

This is not a spoiler, but at the end of Les Misérables, as in everyday life, mercy has the last word over the law. Valjean’s life and all the misérables whose lives were killed by the law ends in glory while we pray for Javert’s life that was taken from him by the law. Few will forget the touching ending when the heavenly choruses acclaim, “and remember, the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God.”

We are fortunate to see God’s face every day.