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Posts Tagged ‘Jaume Serra’

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John the Baptist:  Eloquent to the Last Word

John the Baptist’s last hours are grist for one of the most bizarre stories in the Bible.  Here you have a man who once preached in a literal desert, but in his final days he sat in the middle of a moral desert.  From his prison cell he pondered what God might ask of him next.  Meanwhile revelers in a banquet hall treated John as some sort of a side-show, and his head on a platter became the ultimate in party favors.

There’s an irony that redeems this story, and it’s this.  John may have been absent from the banquet hall physically, but he was very much on the minds of many in that room.  And if they thought they were about to have the last word, they were mistaken.  They were powerful and ruthless people, but from the platter John preached to them — and to us — for one last time.

89F454E5-887E-46CA-81A3-2579ED274E1EDespite appearances John did not end up as some sort of hunting trophy.  His death in fact convicted everyone in that room, and in death John spoke even more eloquently than he had in life.

You and I — I hope — are certainly not the sort of people who would have somebody beheaded for our entertainment.  All the same, however, we do share temptations similar to what Herod and his guests experienced.  We do hold grudges, as did Herodias. We do care about saving face, as did Herod.  We do take lightly or even celebrate the misfortunes of others, as did Herod’s guests.

To Herod’s guests John appeared to be very dead and his life erased.  But all the same John’s last hours were not devoid of meaning or purpose.  In fact, on that evening he was the most eloquent person in the room.  Ironically, John had the last word, and he’s had it for twenty centuries and running.

Life has its tawdry moments, as Herod’s banquet hall suggests.  But in spite of it all our lives can have profoundly beautiful meaning, as did John’s.  So today we celebrate John’s passing in ways that are very different from those of the revelers in Herod’s palace.  Then in the spirit of John let us pray that his words will take root in our hearts.  May we prepare a way for the Lord, and like John may we too find welcome in the arms of the Lord.

60D55471-1670-4698-BBE9-E9AB83E03412NOTES

+On 29 August I presided at the abbey Mass, which happened to be the feast of the Passing of Saint John the Baptist.  Today’s post, based on Mark 6:17-29, is the sermon that I delivered that day.

+From August 27 through 30 Saint John’s Abbey welcomed twenty-four pilgrims, most of whom were visiting Saint John’s for the first time.  On the evening of the 29th I and several of the monks hosted them for dinner in the Great Hall, at the end of which our confrere Fr. Bob Koopmann played several selections on the piano.  Among the guests was a long-time friend of mine, Lin, who came from Ann Arbor, MI.  Fr. Geoffrey had planned this pilgrimage, the first of what we hope will be a series of such events.

+On August 30th one of my very first students at Saint John’s flew in from Luxembourg and stayed overnight with his family in the guesthouse.  John, his wife and two children live in Luxembourg, where their children have enjoyed a polyglot childhood that includes English, Mandarin, Luxembourgish, German and French.

+We were delighted to learn that Saint John’s University alumnus Fr. Anthony Yao was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of Jining in Inner Mongolia last week.  Along with Bishop Martin Wu, Bishop Anthony is now the second alumnus of our School of Theology/Seminary who now serve as bishops in China.

+In the Middle Ages John the Baptist was popular as a subject of religious art, and the images in today’s post suggest the different approaches that artists took.  All are now housed in the National Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.  The topmost originally was the frontal of an altar in Gésara, and dates from the 13th century.  Second is the baptism of Jesus, by Jaume Serra, c. 1390.  The portrait of Herod’s banquet is by Pere Garcia de Benavarri, ca. 1470.  At bottom in a panel from a retable made in ca. 1385, with John the Baptist at the left.

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No Need for an Appointment with God

I know it’s not a good idea to attribute human qualities to an iPad.  For one thing, it’s not human.  Nor does it share in the effects of original sin.  And  to my knowledge it’s entirely devoid of human emotions like joy, sadness or depression.  And despite the fact that I really do love my iPad, I know it’s not a healthy relationship for the simple fact that the love is not mutual.  My iPad will always remain entirely aloof from me.

On the other hand my iPad does seem to share a few human traits, and that’s what makes me nervous sometimes.  Every now and again, for instance, I get a notice that my iPad has a bug.  It’s news I ignore at my peril, because that can lead to something far worse.  I also know that my iPad can come down with its version of the flu, just like people.  That seems to be its latest problem, and that’s what has me worried right now.  Lately, it will not charge up unless it feels like it — leaving me to wonder if it will be comatose by the end of the day.  On top of that, it ignores the keyboard at really inconvenient times.  That means I can get a message but can’t respond.  And finally, there are times lately when it’s a challenge to wake it from its sleeping mode.  If it were a teenager, that would be okay.  But it’s not.

F3BFFD73-7D34-4D54-A8EC-F702E3940384Anyway, I took my iPad to see the iPad doctor at the Apple Store in Naples, FL, last week, and my experience there was akin to using the National Health in the UK.  It was spring break, and thousands of kids had flown south to Florida for the chance to visit an Apple Store in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops.  It was exhilarating for them, but it was a nightmare for me.  I was desperate as I got in line to speak to someone about making an appointment to speak with someone about my sick iPad.  But the minimum wait to see the iPad doctor was two hours.  So I left mad — mad at the tech world, and mad especially at my iPad for putting me through all this.

I don’t mean to belabor the point, but my experience with the iPad does have the potential for allegorical interpretation.  No doubt about it, my iPad does wonderful things, when it feels like it.  But it also comes with bugs and illnesses that are particular to its talents.  In this case its primary talent is the access it gives me to connect with people all over the world.  But conversely it comes with the ability to deny that access, and that’s when it hurts.  That’s when I feel especially helpless.

084E680C-92A9-4C1F-9CEF-5FA128F6E162Therein might be the angle that Jesus might exploit to turn this into a parable.  As is the case with computers, you and I are blessed with an abundance of apps and capacities and other gifts.  We have the ability to do amazing things.  But we also have bugs that need tending to, lest they grow and get out of control.  We can also have issues with reliability, and our friends and colleagues can share stories of how we have let them down in the course of their lives.  That’s the effect of sin.

No computer is ever perfect, nor will we ever be perfect.  We, like the machines we rely upon, need maintenance;  we need updates;  we need rebooting; and sometimes we need a major overhaul.  All of that requires self-awareness, and it’s better to be self-aware long before the bugs get out of control.

Of course I can’t discuss any of this with my iPad.  But I’m privileged to have other options.  So when I feel the effects of bugs in my life, and when I sense that I’m about to crash, it’s important to seize the opportunity to talk with friends and colleagues, and especially with God.  That’s what they’re there for.  And in the case of God, there’s never a need for an appointment.  And as busy as God might seem to be, there’s never a two-hour wait.

FBC76FD1-ED8A-44B9-8326-A776FB63BFB5NOTES

+On March 5th I flew from Minneapolis to Fort Myers, FL.  I was fortunate to get away, just as a major winter storm was about to hit the airport in Minneapolis.  At Saint John’s we had nearly ten inches of snow, and I was sorry to miss the vision of that — but not sorry enough to turn around and try and get back to see it before it melts.

+On March 6th I attended a reception in Naples, FL, that served to introduce our Immokalee Scholarship Program to potential supporters.  Present were Alex and Osbaldo, two of our students from Immokalee.  They each gave fine presentations to the assembled friends of Saint John’s.

+On March 10th I gave a day of reflection to members of the Seattle Area of the Order of Malta.  I’ve been privileged to give this retreat day for several years running, and it takes place at the Catholic student center at the University of Washington.

+The photos in today’s post show scenes from the life of Jesus, from an altar retable now housed in the Museum of Catalán Art in Barcelona.  It was made by Jaume Serra for the Monastery of Santa Maria de Sixena, ca. 1370.  From the top the panels depict The Last Supper, The Child Jesus Teaching in the Temple, The Baptism of Jesus, The Crufixion, and The Dormition of Mary.

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What Else Have I Got to Learn?

I thought I had extracted every scrap of meaning from the parable of the sower, but the preparation of a homily on Saturday yielded one unexpected nugget.  Like most people, I’ve been pretty satisfied with the explanation of the parable that Jesus had to offer.  Seed fell on rocky soil, among thorns, on a busy path and on good soil.  The seed is the word of God, and people respond differently.  How they respond determines whether they yield any or a lot of fruit.

Not surprisingly, I have always considered myself to be good soil for the seed, and I suspect the majority of people think the same way about themselves.  However, there’s an inherent disconnect in my reasoning, because there are times when I fall into the temptation to think that most of these people have overrated themselves.  Certainly they are doing the best they can, but many are only fooling themselves when they rate themselves as prime seedbed.

IMG_4994There definitely is a problem when everybody thinks they deserve a pat on the back for being good soil.  After all, this is not children’s sports, where everyone is a winner and there is a trophy for each and every participant.  No, it can’t be that way.  If there are going to be good guys — and I am going to be one of them — then there has to be a surplus of bad guys.  Otherwise, how can we ever feel really good about ourselves?

Last Saturday I noticed something in the words of Jesus that I’d missed before.  Jesus speaks about those who are receptive to the seed, but the distractions of life eventually choke out any fruitful response.  That’s when it dawned on me.  This portion of the parable is not about a select category of poeple — the bad guys.  It’s about everybody.  The riches and pleasures of life distract everyone — even me.

The fact is, in the course of a day we can find ourselves to be any one of the four types of seedbed that Jesus describes.  In my own case it’s not at all difficult to point to the good-soil/bad-soil moments as the day unfolds.  For example, I am a very early-morning person.  I flourish between 4 am and 7 am, and I will complete with enthusiasm anything at the top of my to-do list.  By mid-morning I’m still receptive to opportunities, but they have to jockey for priority among the realities of a busy life.  By late afternoon I usually have become stony ground.  By then I may accept a challenge, but in the next breath I will forget entirely what I had just agreed to do.

IMG_4996I now realize that the trend line of my receptivity to Christ runs counter to the scheduled appearances of Christ in my life.  As a monk and a Christian I believe that I see Jesus in the faces of my neighbors.  However, I’ve also begun to notice that none of my neighbors ever come knocking at my door at 4 am.  Absolutely zero; which is too bad, because I’m all enthusiasm at that hour.  Ironically, however, at 4 pm, when I am at my stoniest, that’s when Jesus comes knocking more frequently, and more forcefully.

The harsh reality is this.  I move through all four of the categories of soil that Jesus mentions, and it’s made me aware that I have a lot more soil preparation to do.  As much as I would prefer to see Christ when I’m full of energy and in the best of moods, then, it doesn’t always work that way.  As often as not Christ prefers to come calling at inconvenient times and in the worst of situations.  He comes when I’m really busy or just after my energy has drained away.  But he comes less frequently when I’m waiting for him impatiently, fully rested.

That brings up an important take-away.  Before Saturday I thought I knew all there was to know about this parable.  Not so, it turns out.  And now I have to wonder what else I have to learn.  What more does Jesus want me to know?  That’s a good question, and I’m willing to give it full consideration — especially if I can tend to it early in the morning.  It also means that, once again, Jesus is not entirely done with me.

IMG_4998Notes

+On 21 September I and several of my colleagues visited the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis.  Saint John’s alumnus Jeb Myers, president of the school, toured us around; and it was inspiring to see the extraordinary work they are doing there.

+On the evening of the 21st Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida spoke at Saint John’s University, as part of the program of the McCarthy Center.

+On 23 September I gave a day of reflection to the area members of the Order of Malta in Seattle, WA.  I had scheduled this for last February, but my back injury last winter forced the rescheduling to this fall.

+On Saturday September 23rd Saint John’s played St. Thomas in football at Target Field in Minneapolis.  I did not attend, and so I missed being part of the gathering of 37,000 people.  It was a record crowd for a Division III sporting event.  It beat the old record by 20,000, and unfortunately the good guys lost by three points.

+The photos in today’s post show a retable of Mary the Mother of God, by Jaume Serra.  He created this ca. 1370, and today it resides in the Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.

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