Change of Seasons

It seems to me that there are two “seasons” in my years. One could be called the Symphony Season or the Concert Season or the Boston Season. The other is the Race Committee Season or the Yacht Club Season or the Sailboat Season. The former includes roughly the months of October through April, and the latter, May through September. In Symphony Season, I go to Boston one or more evenings most weeks, while in Sailboat Season, I only go to Boston for once-a-month daytime meetings with my spiritual director.

In fact, the official opening of the Corinthian Yacht Club’s season each year is the last Saturday of April, but my work helping run sailboat races doesn’t begin until around the beginning of June. On the other hand, the Symphony Season activities usually end around the beginning of May, so I’ve decided to put May in Yacht Club Season. The Club stays open through October, but I’m not involved in running sailboat races, but the activities of Symphony Season are in full swing, so October clearly belongs in that season.

Over the next seven months, I’ll go to 19 or 20 Thursday evening concerts of the Boston Symphony, 11 Friday evening chamber music concerts at the Harvard Musical Association, 4 or more concerts of the Handel and Haydn Society, and 4 Friday evening chamber music concerts of the Boston Artists Ensemble (at Hamilton Hall in Salem). There will also be plays, but I haven’t made firm plans. I might go to 4 or 5 given by the Huntington Theatre [sic] Company and up to 6 at Arts Emerson. Of course this is all “weather permitting.” I’m also looking at other music groups’ offerings, including opera, and so I reserve the right to add events to those listed above.

To get to Boston, I drive to Wonderland and take the Blue Line into the city. It’s much less expensive and more comfortable than driving into the city and parking there, especially with the senior discount. For the HMA, which is on Beacon Hill, I go to Bowdoin. Usually I have dinner at Scollay Square restaurant and then walk to the HMA’s house. For other events, I go to State. In nice weather I might walk to a play. Otherwise I take the Orange Line to the nearest stop — Massachusetts Avenue for Symphony Hall. I used to take the Green Line to the Symphony stop, but that became impracticable when Government Center was closed a couple of years ago for major renovations. I tried the Orange Line and found it was actually better, so I’ll probably stick with it even when Gov’t Ctr reopens.

Then there’s baseball. The only television I watch is the Red Sox (and the Pope in America). Their season doesn’t fit neatly into my personal system of seasons. They begin in April and continue at least through September — through October in good years. I watch most of their games, which gives me something to do with my evenings during the Race Committee Season.

My first concert was the BAE in Salem on September 18, and my last Race Committee activity was on September 19. (I had been scheduled for the 26th, but I had to officiate at a funeral that day.) The BSO season opener is October 1. So Symphony Season 2015-2016 is beginning.

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Sunday Scriptures — OT B 26, Sept. 27, 2015

Our readings for this Sunday remind us that God is free to give his gifts where he wishes, and we should be glad whenever people receive them. They also remind us of the importance of not leading others to sin or letting us be led into it, with a specific warning about seeking riches.

The first reading — Numbers 11:25-29 — tells of an episode when the Israelites were wandering in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land. It was a year and two months since they had left Egypt, and Moses asked the Lord for help in governing the people. The Lord told him to choose seventy people to assist him and bring them to the tent where Moses would meet with the Lord, and that the Lord would give some of Moses’ spirit on them so they could help Moses. Today’s passage tells what happened next.

Receiving the share of Moses’ spirit caused the elders to prophesy, that is to engage in enthusiastic utterances, probably like charismatics speaking in tongues, not delivering normal speech like biblical prophets. What is remarkable, of course, is that the elders had been assembled with Moses at the meeting tent for the event. But Eldad and Medad, who had been chosen but missed the gathering, received the spirit too. Joshua thought that their presence with Moses was some sort of requirement, but God was not limited by the presence of Moses.

Similarly, the gospel reading — Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 — begins with a case of “unauthorized” people using Jesus’ name to drive out demons. Joshua-like, the disciples wanted to stop them, and hold for themselves the share of divine power they enjoyed. But God is not limited to the institutions that he has created. God owns the Church, not vice-versa; and if God has given the sacraments to the Church as “guaranteed encounters with God” and the ordinary channels of his grace, he can give his grace in other ways as well. We must be pleased whenever we see God at work in people’s lives.

The rest of the passage gives a warning, first against leading others into sin (called giving scandal), which is particularly diabolical, then against giving in to our own temptations. Clearly the advice to amputate a bodily part which causes us to sin is not to be taken literally. After all, as Jesus says elsewhere (e.g., Mark 7:20-23, read on the 22nd Sunday), sin comes from within, from our heart. But it does underscore the necessity of not giving in to temptation. This must also be taken in conjunction with all that scripture says about God’s mercy. It is not failure to overcome temptation that leads to Gehenna, but failure to repent of sin. It is becoming content to continue in sin, with the consequence that we do not repent and seek God’s mercy, that leads one away from the kingdom of God and, ultimately to the separation from God to which Jesus gives the image of fiery Gehenna.

The second reading — James 5:1-6 — is a powerful, even shocking, condemnation of the rich, whose avarice leads them to injustice and murder. St. Paul says that the love of money is the root of all evils (1 Timothy 6:10). While there are verses which tie the sin of the rich to injustice and murder, I think we shouldn’t be too quick to say, “There’s nothing wrong with being rich in itself.” Even though that is literally true, one has to consider, first, how the riches are acquired. Does one become rich through a position in a business which pays employees less than a living wage — which is de facto withholding the wages of the workers — or through destroying competitors through unfair competition, or through other wrongful ways of getting more than one is entitled to? Secondly, one must ask how one uses even legitimately gained riches. If it’s just for one’s own enjoyment, that is wrong.

As the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) tells us, the rich are obliged to share with the poor. To keep what one does not need when others are in need is wrong. There is an obligation to share with the poor. Here is a link to a very powerful sermon addressed to the rich by St. Basil the Great. https://bekkos.wordpress.com/st-basils-sermon-to-the-rich/ The needy are entitled to our surplus, he says, and if we hold on to it, we are thieves who oppress those we could help, but refuse to. This is a real challenge for all of us. To what extent are we justified in enjoying more than the necessities of life when there are others who lack them and whom we could help? Of course, in the West, programs and institutions exist, so nobody has to starve. Poverty of the sort that existed in Basil’s time (late 4th Century) isn’t present in the West. But it does still exist in other parts of the world. What is our obligation to those poor, and what is our obligation to those considered poor in our own country?
Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14 leads the congregation to meditate on the goodness of God’s ordinances and to pray that God will cleanse our hearts from evil inclinations.

Sunday Scriptures — OT B 25, Sept. 20, 2015

Sorry I got distracted last Sunday. I had something prepared but never got around to posting it. For what it’s worth, if anything, here it is now.

Jesus gives his second prediction of his passion. All good people can expect opposition, but we must remain good-hearted.
Last Sunday’s gospel passage included a profession of faith, a prediction of Jesus’ Passion, and a teaching that all Christians must bear their cross. The lectionary passes over the accounts of the Transfiguration and the exorcism of a boy with a demon to get to today’s pericope: Mark 9:30-37. There are two parts to this passage. First, Jesus once more predicts his suffering, death, and resurrection. Once more, the disciples are puzzled, but they don’t dare ask questions. Next, the disciples discuss who is the greatest. Jesus says greatness lies in service to all, even to people of no status such as children.
The passion of Jesus, which he predicts, fulfills the words of the first reading — Wisdom 2:12, 17-20. But Jesus isn’t the only just one persecuted by the wicked. Good behavior is always a silent rebuke to those who are behaving badly. They resort to mockery, pressure to conform, and bullying. In Western nations, the pressure to conform usually does not go beyond that, but it takes courage to stand up to what may be popular but wrong. Note that the just one is characterized by gentleness and patience. Note also that the words of the wicked in verse 18 echo Psalm 22:9, which Jesus prayed on the cross, and both find their echo in the mockery of Jesus by the chief priests, scribes, and elders at Matthew 27:43.
Psalm 53:3-6, 8 has the congregation pray as those persecuted by the wicked do, with confidence in God.
The second reading — James 3:16-4:23 — warns us to avoid against jealousy, ambition, and covetousness. They are bad in themselves, but they lead to further evils: disorder and all sorts of “foul practice,” as well as conflicts both within oneself and with others. The mention of wars and killings don’t imply that the hearers are literally engaged in those thing. Commentators point that those were standard themes in contemporary writings against jealousy and self-seeking. At any rate, the Holy Spirit, wisdom from above, brings purity, peace, gentleness, compliance, mercy, and good deeds. Jesus exhibited those while remaining forthright in his teaching and courageous in the face of opposition. We should have the same childlike qualities, not letting ourselves be provoked to evil.

Anniversary of Ordination

On September 14, 1996 (a Saturday that year), I was one of 16 men ordained as deacons for the Archdiocese of Boston. Since I was not married, I had to vow celibacy.

It was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and the ordinations took place in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, which makes this day even a bit more special for me somehow.

Sunday Scriptures — OT B 24, Sept. 13, 2015

Many years ago, a colleague said he found Mass boring. I suggested he needed to think about the message and started writing an analysis of each Sunday’s readings. If I could do that while holding down a job, I should be able to do something similar in retirement. So here, somewhat belatedly this week, is a post about the readings assigned to this day in the Catholic lectionary. I hope to be more timely in future. The heading designates the Sunday: the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B Cycle (the second of three years). Toward the end, I veer off into the “faith vs. works” question.

Jesus is the Messiah, but, as such, he must suffer and die. As his disciples, as his followers, we must give up our lives too, if not in martyrdom then in active charity.
The first reading — Isaiah 50:5-9a — is the third of four Songs of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. We might wonder exactly whom Isaiah had in mind. There doesn’t seem to be any history that he personally had to endure the sufferings of which he speaks. At any rate Christians have always understood this prophecy as pointing to the sufferings and glorification of Jesus. Various elements of the servant’s sufferings are found in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion; and although Isaiah seems to speak of a defense that saves the life of the servant (in terms reminiscent of Paul’s assertion that no power can condemn us when God acquits us — Romans 8:31-39), with Jesus, the vindication came with his resurrection.

This passage is also read on Palm Sunday, at the beginning of Holy Week.
Verses of Psalm 116 put expressions of confidence in God— even in the face of death — in the mouths, and hopefully the hearts, of the congregation, as they were for the servant. With the Psalm, we make his mindset our own.
In the gospel — Mark 8:27-35 — we first hear Jesus pose the question which is of such central importance: who is he? Peter answers that he is the Christ, the Messiah. But then we see the messianic secret. Jesus tells the disciples not to tell people that he is the Messiah because of how different his Messiahship will be from people’s expectations — even from the disciples’. He will suffer, like the servant in Isaiah, and he will die. But then he will rise. This must have been very difficult to comprehend — not only will he suffer and die, contrary to their expectations and sense of what is right and God’s will — but then he says he will rise from the dead — whereas they didn’t expect any resurrection before the end of time.

The conclusion challenges us all. Somehow we have to follow Jesus to his crucifixion. We too must accept crucifixion and death, and in that way, our lives will be saved, as his was. Clearly, we cannot hold onto our lives so as to avoid death. Clearly, also, we don’t all have to undergo a literal death on a cross. But we cannot consider our lives, our persons to be simply our own. We belong to God, our lives belong to God. That is the attitude we have to cultivate as we go through life with whatever we may have or not have. It is the attitude that will give reality to the love of God and neighbor which is the greatest commandment.
When we come to the second reading — James 2:14-18 — the point is reinforced. Our faith, our attachment to God, isn’t real unless it leads us to act lovingly.

St. Paul tells those who think that keeping the Law, like some kind of checklist, saves us, that Jesus is the savior, and we rely on him in faith, not on our works. (Romans 3:28, 5:1; Galatians 3:15-21) James says that if we have genuine faith we will live as Jesus taught us, performing good works. The apparent contradiction between Paul and James is because they mean different things by “works” as well as because they are talking about them in different ways. Paul is talking about “works of the law,” that is the specific prescriptions of Judaism: most notably circumcision, but also keeping kosher, observing the Jewish feasts, etc. He makes it clear that he is not talking about avoiding sin and acting rightly when he talks about the works of the law that do not justify us by themselves. (Romans 6-8) The works James is talking about are the works of love, which Paul also calls us to as “fruits of the Spirit.” James is not saying that the good works by themselves are sufficient to save us. He says they are an inevitable corollary of true faith.

While I’m at it, I’d add that James doesn’t give us a quota of works to perform. There is no reason to think, as many seem to, that “If the good you do outweighs the bad,” you go to heaven. After all, there are conversions late in life. More importantly, that idea in effect makes us earn our own salvation, rather than basing it on faith in Jesus, whose saving action outweighs all our sins.

“Senior Salute”

Recently the story of a 2015 graduate of a prep school in New Hampshire has received extensive coverage in the Boston press. While details are not clear, he was charged with what is often called “statutory rape.” There existed at the school a tradition (apparently of fairly recent vintage) called the Senior Salute, in which seniors would ask underclassmen to date them. This particular 18 year old senior at the school cajoled a 15 year old freshman into meeting with him as his “senior salute.” According to news reports from the trial, the two ended up in a darkened room on campus, where some sexual activity took place. To what extent it went was disputed. He was acquitted of the most serious charges, but convicted of others.

Commentators generally seemed to assume that the only real question was one of consent, and if there had been consent, there would have been nothing wrong. They suggested that in one way or another we need to teach boys to refrain from any sexual activity to which girls have not clearly consented. Some wondered what has gone wrong that we have failed to convey that message.

It seems to me that the problem lies not so much in failing to convey that message as in the message which we do convey loud and clear. It is, “Have sex. Have all the sex you can. Enjoy.” We used to tell young people, “Don’t have sex until you’re married.” People didn’t always live up to that standard, but we knew it was the standard.

Theoretically, perhaps, the standards of consent and no sex between adults and minors could be sufficient if the basic rule of having sex whenever you want with whomever you want were valid and those were the boundaries and we could just present them effectively enough. But, as we see, it’s not working. The encouragement to have sex — it’s actually presented as an expectation in contemporary culture — overwhelms the cautions.

Not only is our contemporary standard not working; I believe it’s wrong. Instead of encouraging a “hook-up” culture of meaningless sex between strangers where the only purpose is physical pleasure, we should realize once more that sex should be an expression of loving self-giving within marriage. We should realize that the standard of “Have sex. Have all the consensual sex you can as adults. Enjoy,” is the wrong standard. We should affirm the right one.

Getting Started

I recently decided that I should have a blog to share my pearls of wisdom with friends and family and anybody else lucky enough to happen on this blog. There will be a number of topics, possibly including, but not limited to

  • current events and politics,
  • faith and religion,
  • concerts and plays,
  • Western civilization and contemporary culture, and
  • my fascinating doings.

This is my first experience trying to do something on WordPress, and I hope it will be enjoyable for all.

For those who don’t know me but have happily stumbled on this blog, here’s some background information about me. Please don’t jump to conclusions; as long as you’re here you might as well read a couple of posts (once I’ve made some) before deciding that I’m the best thing since sliced bread, or not.

  • I was born in 1943, and have called Marblehead (Mass.) my home all my life, so far.
  • Educated at parochial grammar and Marblehead High schools, I earned an A.B. from Georgetown, with a major in Government, and an M.A. from Duke, with a major in Political Science. At both universities, my concentration was political philosophy.
  • I worked for the IRS for 30 years and was a Selectman for Marblehead for 16 years. For the past 26 years, I have been a member of the town’s Task Force Against Discrimination.
  • In 1996 I was ordained a deacon and assigned to my hometown parish, where I still serve.
  • In the younger days, I crewed in sailboat races on family members’ boats, but for many years now, my time on the water has been as a member of the Corinthian Yacht Club Race Committee, helping to run the races in which I formerly participated.
  • I enjoy classical music and opera (and traditional folk music and some popular music of my youth), and I regularly attend concerts of the Boston Symphony and other organizations. I also am an occasional playgoer.
  • Over the past 40 years I have enjoyed sporadic travel abroad.
  • I’m a Boston Red Sox fan.