Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Ways of Real Love

"May I never boast,
except in the Cross

of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me,
and I to the world"

(Galatians 6:14).

San Juan de la Cruz (a.k.a. "John of the Cross"). Wow, the water is really deep here. And I don't know how to swim!

Of course, it's all true. We won't reach the infinite, transcendent God until we have really endured something like these dark nights. I'm not even close. I've suffered a little and complained a lot.

I'm very small in the ways of real love, which as Father Zossima says in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov "is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams."

Jesus, I throw myself upon your infinite mercy.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Saint Lucy's Light

Traditionally St Lucy's Day was the shortest day of the year. Byzantine iconography has the 4th century Sicilian martyr holding a cross and a lamp, as "Lucia" means "light."

The ancient liturgical prayer shows her to be a young woman who gave herself radically and totally to Christ, loving him as the bride loves the bridegroom:

"O Jesus, your Lamb Lucia cries out to You with great love: 'O my Bridegroom, I long for You in great pain. I am crucified with You, and in baptism I am buried with You. I suffer for Your sake in order to reign with You, I die for You in order to live in You. Accept me as an immaculate victim, since I am immolated for Your love.' Through her intercession, O Merciful One, save our souls!" (Troparion for the Feast of St. Lucia, Byzantine Rite.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Go to Guadalupe!

The miraculous icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared on Juan Diego's tilma nearly five hundred years ago. I could speak of scientific studies that have only deepened the sense of amazement evoked by this singular image that is kept in the great basilica on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City.

Instead I will be very brief. I will say simply this: Go!


Go to Guadalupe! You will have to go to an enormous, chaotic city, to a large and often crowded basilica where you will be directed to a moving walkway beneath the image. You will see something like this (above) when you look up.

In less than a minute, you will pass it. The natural flow of traffic from here appears to lead to the gift shop.

But don't just go to the gift shop and then leave for another tourist spot. This is your time. Mary is here for you.

She won't force you to stay, or to notice her. But if you spend time with this mysterious image of the Mother of Jesus, if you recognize that you have been invited by her to a personal encounter, you will meet her and something new will be born in your life.

Spend time. Give her your attention. Find somewhere in this enormous church where you can sit for a while, and give some space for silence in your heart. Let the Lord enter into the silence that His Mother has specially prepared for you in her "house."

The miracle of Guadalupe is a gift, not just for Juan Diego or Mexico or "the Americas." It's a gift for you, personally. She is your mother, and you are more dear to her heart than you can possibly imagine. How could it be otherwise? Jesus is your brother.

He speaks to her from the Cross about you: "Woman, behold your son" (John 19:26). He also speaks to you: "Behold, your mother!" (John 19:27).

So go to Guadalupe. If you have been there already, go again! She will bring the tenderness of God's love close to you in all your sorrows and fears. She will begin to untie the knots. She will draw you closer to Jesus.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christina Grimmie's Gift of Herself



The live streamed Stageit concert that Christina Grimmie gave from her home on December 21, 2014 is still archived in several places on YouTube. My daughter Josefina and I were watching it again this afternoon.

Today happens to be 18 months—a year and a half—since the Lord called this outstanding young woman to Himself at the age of only 22.

If you love Christina Grimmie, you know how each one of these videos is precious. There is, above all, the collection of videos she made for her own channel (the famous "zeldaxlove64") but there are also other videos from television appearances, and then many taken and preserved by people who attended her concerts, or who recorded some of these originally live streamed audiovisual media events and subsequently shared them on YouTube.

This "Christmas Concert" from 2014 is a special gem. She spends an hour or so playing the keyboard and singing songs (some Christmas songs, others regular songs), while interacting with a global audience via a message feed. The sound quality is basic, and the video gets choppy or breaks off from time to time. Live streaming on internet platforms has been improving technically in recent years and will no doubt improve a great deal more. But the relatively primitive nature of the medium does not prevent her from shining through.

At the close of 2014, after an amazing year as a finalist on Season 6 of The Voice, a year in which she sang on television and on large, elaborate stages, she ends up—once again—in her room with her piano keyboard singing on the internet. But this was originally done "live," so there are no edits. The freshness and spontaneity of the original global Team Grimmie hangout with Christina remains vivid.

She expresses herself with an indescribable combination of courageous, unaffected confidence and a kind of (I don't know if this is the right word) "shyness" ...but not in a negative way. Rather it is a striking absence of guile and self-preoccupation, a sense of humor about herself, and a transparency in the way she responds to persons and things. She is genuine and full of goodness, with an innocence that is not naive but, on the contrary, intelligent and brave. The beauty and value of innocence and goodness radiate out from her and draw other people in the same direction.

It no longer surprises me that so many kids who interacted with her and followed her say things like, "she changed my life."

The truly remarkable quality of Christina Grimmie as a person, however, is a discreet and gentle thing. It's easy to "not notice it" (especially for us grownups). We could watch this or some other of her videos and say, "Oh what a sweet person" and then return to our life of complicated thoughts and ambitions and prejudices.

If we at least take time to listen to the music, we will recognize her extraordinary talent. Here she is, without the high tech of a studio or sophisticated equipment, without retakes, just dealing out one great song after another—fresh, creative interpretations of even her own songs, entirely carried by her actual voice, with all of its agile strength, stunning range, and breathtaking versatility.

But even if we notice the music, it's easy to miss the greatest thing: the way she loved, the way she gave of herself. It can take some time for us to notice the persistence and ardor of this self-giving, which takes shape in so many little things: in gestures, in the way she carries herself, in the way she speaks and in the generous effort to put herself forth.

Somehow, she uses this medium as a way to be present, insofar as is possible, to every person watching. But she is not invasive. She does not push, but rather creates a kind of relational dynamic of openness and welcome that is enthusiastic but not intrusive. She generates an environment, a space where you can feel at home "with" her, in some sense. It's a humble thing, which makes it easy to miss, but precious to discover. There is love invested in what she does, love that anticipates the encounter with people, that goes out to meet them.

And it's still possible for her love to reach us now, even though her life on earth was ended by an act of incomprehensible violence, 18 months ago.

Violence comes and goes in time, but love endures. Christina Grimmie's gift of herself (which includes her music and so much more) continues to be real just as she continues her real life as a person in and through the mystery of God's merciful love.

The joy that is visible in her life remains accessible, pointing to the promise of a fullness of joy that we are all called to share forever.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin

"In your strength, O Lord, the just one rejoices;
how greatly your salvation makes him glad!
You have granted him his soul's desire"
(Entrance Antiphon for December 9, cf. Psalm 21:1-2).


Friday, December 8, 2017

Full of Grace

"You shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord" (Isaiah 62:3).

Hail Mary, Full of Grace,
The Lord is with you....

"I am the Immaculate Conception" (the Blessed Virgin Mary to St Bernadette at Lourdes, 1858).

Grace can do anything. No one was more completely and profoundly "saved by Jesus" than Mary, whom he saved even from the "Fall" itself so that this daughter of Eve might be in every respect the New Eve, from whose flesh God would bring forth the New Adam.

It was totally, entirely the work of God's grace. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord," Mary says. "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46-47).

All generations call her "blessed" (Luke 1:48). Ever-Virgin and Mother, who--according to the Lord's plan and by the power of the grace of her Son's redemption that he won on the cross for all times and places--was preserved from sin from the first moment of her existence.

We take up the angel's greeting as we acknowledge the joy of Mary Immaculate, Panagia, All-Holy, Kecharitomene, Full of Grace.

But we don't adore Mary. We adore Jesus, the Eternal Word made flesh in her womb. We love Mary and we depend on her because she brings Jesus to us. So that we might especially trust in God's closeness, he has willed to touch our humanity through the tenderness of a woman's heart. Mary!

Thank you, Jesus, for the wonderful gift of your Mother Mary, for the love of her all-holy immaculate heart. She carries us all and keeps us close to you.

"Behold, your Mother..." (John 19:27).


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Grief, Sorrow, and Longing for Home

This is a time of year when people prepare for celebrations. But we must not forget that, for many people, this is also a time of year when loved ones are missed, when grief flows afresh in the wake of cherished and bittersweet memories of those who are no longer with them in this world.

As Christians we know that death is not the end. The One whose coming we await in this season is the One who gives eternal life. We are people of radical hope.

Yet we experience grief in all its poignant human and mysterious senses. And I don't think we ever overcome in this life the suffering of our deepest and most intimate griefs.

Rather, as we grieve the loss (from this earthly life) of those we love the most, we "grow into" our grief. Eventually, it takes shape as a kind of "peace," but not the quietude of forgetfulness or satisfaction. Rather, it is a peace in which sorrow grows into longing. We cannot help but continue, in the depths of ourselves, to live within that real connection with persons who have fundamentally shaped who we are, even when it stretches us "beyond" the limits of this world, beyond what we can perceive or imagine. Perhaps grief is one of the great struggles of life that leads us to the beginning of a deeper sense that eternity is our true home.

Thus we begin to recognize that even now we are invested in that eternity, that what we are living now only comes to fruition in eternity, in the resurrection, in Jesus where all of God's mysterious wisdom is revealed.

Eternity is the measure of His plan for us and for our loved ones. It has the whole of His unique love for each one of us as unique human persons, and it unveils how through this uniqueness we are brought together in a communion of love with God who is Love, who is Communion (Father, Son, Holy Spirit - One, but not "solitary," not alone). Thus also we are brought together in perfect communion with one another.

Eternal life is where the meaning of everything in this present life finally comes into focus. At most we get glimpses of it during our journey here, enough (I believe) to keep us going, to take the next step of this present moment in the journey with a more ardent awareness of our destiny.

Enough to press onward with longing and with hope that we will all finally come to our true home.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Earth Shall Be Filled with Knowledge of the Lord



"The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.

"The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra's den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.

"There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord,
as water covers the sea."

~Isaiah 11:6-9

Monday, December 4, 2017

Darkness in the Prison of My Mind

I feel like my mind is in prison. In a closed cell. In solitary confinement.

We lay it all out here on this blog. This is a place where people can see the utter poverty and personal brokenness of a man who "looks pretty good on paper," who speaks and writes in an articulate way about history, about the lives of heroic men and women, about God and conversion and faith, theology, philosophy, and literature and all that stuff.

For those new to the blog, I have chronic illness. I suffered a physical and mental breakdown ten years ago which led to my "retirement" from active teaching (you can read more about it in this BOOK from 2010). I am now a writer when I can be. I am just one wounded person trying to help others with what I can still give. If that frightens you away, I can't do anything to keep you from running. It can be a frightening thing.

I believe all the things I write, and I draw on my own experience with its more or less obscure indicators as well as its occasionally vivid signs. These things are at least in my memory, even if right now I find myself in the dark.

This year has just been so very, very hard.

I am oversensitive. I think too much. I am too often alone. Nevertheless, there are many times when I don't mind being alone, and I need to think and be sensitive. So I make the best of it.

But it's out of control. I'm trapped. Everything feels shattered and crippled and messed up in my life, but I do have this small strand of myself on which, if I am very careful, I can manage to live in a human way.

So I try to write and communicate with people, and read and think and pray. I try to love my family, though I feel useless and frustrated for being useless.

As I get older, the space gets smaller. Everything slowly gets harder. The paralysis of the rest of me seems to grow. Even when I wrote Never Give Up (the book) I didn't really see how the passage of time would affect me in this way.

But I am fighting against it, at least in some ways. I am trying to learn new things, and to be open to reality which has so much mysterious richness for me even after nearly five and a half decades. I am trying to live in empathy and solidarity with others who are suffering and to encourage and rejoice in the fresh energy of the coming generation (including my own children).

I'm fighting, except in those places where I'm still too proud to admit I'm poor and in need.

I'm fighting and I'm losing sometimes and maybe winning a little. Still, my "center cannot hold. Things fall apart." I know where this all leads, ultimately, and I am afraid.

I am scared of death.

Mostly, I am scared of death because of my weak faith. But also, death is a strange and incomprehensible and mysterious thing. It's a plunge into the dark. Even though it may yet be years away, I feel scared. I feel the darkness of it even now, as time slowly diminishes me.

I know Jesus is here in this darkness. He is here all the way to the end. He accompanies me and asks me to entrust myself to Him. It doesn't really comfort me right now, but that doesn't change the fact that He is still here

I need Him to hold onto me.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Friday, December 1, 2017

Fire in the Desert

Blessed Charles de Foucauld was a man of tremendous passion and energy. 

As a wealthy youth in France at the end of the 19th century, he poured his energy into a playboy lifestyle. He tried to saturate himself with the pleasures of life, but they left him empty.

When he tired of dissipation, he turned to more serious worldly pursuits: he joined the French foreign legion in Morocco, then returned on his own to explore the region extensively, draw up detailed maps, and publish an acclaimed book. 

None of this adventurous activity satisfied Charles. But then he returned to the Catholic faith of his childhood.

He met Jesus Christ, who set his life on fire.

Charles tried joining a monastery in France, but this did not prove to be his vocation. So he went to the Holy Land, and worked for a while as a gardener to a community of nuns. Then—drawn by the Holy Spirit and helped in his discernment by others in the Churchhe returned to Morocco as a new kind of "missionary," living a monastic life of prayer, presence, and service deep in the Islamic world, among those who knew nothing of Christ.

But even this was not enough. For the love of Jesus, Charles sought to live among the poorest and most forgotten people, and he made his hermitage deep in the Sahara desert among the Tuareg, a Muslim nomadic people who called him "marabout" (holy man). He did not preach. He spent his days in contemplation and caring for the people.

The French abandoned this "colonial frontier" to fight the Great War, but Charles remained. Finally, he found fulfillment on December 1, 1916 when he was shot and killed by a local militia group.

After his death, others were moved to follow his path. His inspiration led to the founding of the institute of the Little Brothers of Jesus (and soon after that, the Little Sisters of Jesus) who live today not only in the Sahara desert, but in many environments as "contemplatives on the roads of the world."

In simplicity and poverty, their life is devoted to worshipping God and loving the people around them, because in the heart of Jesus Christ they have discovered that every human person is worthy of love.


"We are all children of the Most High. All of us: the poorest, the most outcast, a newborn child, a decrepit old person, the least intelligent human being, the most abject, an idiot, a fool, a sometimes sinner, the greatest sinner, the most ignorant, the last of the last, the one most physically and morally repugnant - all children of God and sons and daughters of the Most High. We should hold all human beings in high esteem. We should love all humankind, for they are all children of God."
-- Blessed Charles de Foucauld 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Dorothy Day: Loving One Another in the "Here-and-Now"

Dorothy Day's long labors came to an end on November 29, 1980. After her conversion, she spent half a century bearing witness to Christ and serving Him in the poor.

Dorothy was a radical in every sense: she was rooted in prayer, penance, and fidelity to the Church, while also recognizing that a living faith has radical implications for the way human persons regard and interact with one another.

Her extensive writings are a dimension of her whole personal witness, and her voice was prophetic in that it pointed to a way of looking at the world—the demiurgic, tumultuous, explosive world of the twentieth century (that continues today). She endeavored to give a voice to the poor, to the dignity of the human person and the mysterious workings of God's grace, and to the deep passion and hard realism of loving our neighbor, of loving one another in the here-and-now.

Before she began her powerful apostolate and founded The Catholic Worker, however, Dorothy Day underwent her own long and often difficult conversion experience. The hand of the Lord was upon her from childhood, but she ran from Him in the days of her youth. She ran down desperate roads and into dark places only to encounter the love of God again and again, until she finally surrendered to Him.

Her story is, indeed, a "Great Conversion Story," and though I cannot do justice to this remarkable story in two small pages of a magazine article, I gave it my best shot in last month's MAGNIFICAT

I have been writing this monthly series called Great Conversion Stories for four years in this excellent magazine, and there's much more to come in 2018 and beyond. And my column is only one of many reasons to subscribe to MAGNIFICAT and benefit from it every month.

The Servant of God Dorothy Day died 37 years ago. In marking this anniversary today, I can only provide the most brief of introductions to the early years of this great and unique, holy and challenging woman of faith:

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Joy and Sorrow of Our Longing for the Infinite

All of our life is related to our destiny. This is what makes reality attractive. The more we become aware of this, however, the more vulnerable we often feel.

Why is this?


The "taste" of eternity that life awakens in us fascinates us and draws us on, but it also brings a kind of sorrow because the fulfillment is not yet here, because we must wait. We must endure.


Nothing we do in this world can take this sorrow away, because we long for the Infinite—we really do! 
There really is a relationship between every event in our lives and eternity, and it is the secret behind every true joy.  But even the joys of this life are permeated with the ache of longing, with the "not yet," as well as the apparently frustrating limits of our lives, which so often fall short of the mark of our destiny and bring us face to face with the obscurity of death.


In the end, only the Jesus on the Cross makes this bearable: Jesus who makes the way through the pain of sin and death into that unconquerable joy to which each one of us is called by our Father.

Thus, in this life, even our deepest joy still has a note of longing. We share in the mystery of the Cross, and sometimes this "sorrow-in-the-midst-of-joy" seems sweeter than any regular satisfaction.


Other times it is as dark and lonely as death. Still the joy remains, as a (perhaps) impalpable but firm trust in God's promise. It hopes in the Resurrection.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Kingdom of Christ

"Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those
who have fallen asleep. 
For since death came through man,
the resurrection of the dead came also
through man.
For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
but each one in proper order:
Christ the firstfruits;
then, at his coming,
those who belong to Christ;
then comes the end,
when he hands over the kingdom
to his God and Father,
when he has destroyed
every sovereignty
and every authority 
and power.

"For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
When everything is subjected to him,
then the Son himself will also be subjected
to the one who subjected everything to him,
so that God may be all in all"

(1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28).

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend

We had our Thanksgiving with "everybody," with all the kids home (there won't be too many more holidays like this--life is changing in many ways).

Indeed, we had a nice celebration together with some very good friends, another local family with a similar situation regarding the in-college-and-growing-up status of their kids. They've all been growing up together, friends since they were all little (which was not that long ago, really).

It was a lovely day.

I was tired, as usual for no "normal" reason. Writing keeps getting more difficult and more exhausting. I keep up the blog by revising old posts, finishing drafts (there's still a lot in the draft bin), and doing more with pictures.

Sometimes I'll just let the musings roll out and see what happens (like I'm doing tonight).

Yesterday was the famous Black Friday, which seems a bit more tame than it used to be. For one thing, the stores tend to stretch it all through the month (it's been Black "Friday" since Halloween in the retail business).

Also, internet shopping has changed the whole game. Bargain hunting is always in season. The global village has an ongoing global flea-market all day, all night, all year.

In any case, I'm too tired to shop.

Music and art (with my photography and digital graphics) and reading are still accessible. The energy to write comes and goes, so I'm not giving up.

And I'm truly full of gratitude. But it's not like some great emotional surge of good-feelings about life. Life is perplexing these days, and I am not very patient. But I have the desire to embrace it all, or at least to bear whatever comes with perseverance. I know I cannot do this without Christ's love, the Holy Spirit, the life of the Church.

I have much to be glad about in the here-and-now, too. My heart goes out to everyone suffering this Thanksgiving, especially those who are in pain and distress, and those who find grief reawakened or stirred up by the absence of loved ones who have died. May the Lord draw us all into the embrace of His steadfast love that endures forever.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thank God For MUSIC

Happy St Cecilia's Day! Thank God for MUSIC.πŸŽ΅πŸŽ΅πŸ’—

There are many kinds of music that stir within us, in different ways, a longing for inexhaustible Beauty. Sometimes it can be lucid, sublime, almost "direct." Take a few moments to listen to this small selection from the great Mass in B Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, "Dona Nobis Pacem."

Grant us peace, O Lord.


Music is such a blessing in my own life. I am so grateful for it.

Music can find pathways to the heart that are beyond words. There are various paths. Sometimes the artists themselves shape something beyond their intentions or comprehension, something that is created anew in the heart of the listener.

It's a very mysterious thing.

Finally, on the Feast of St Cecilia, I cannot forget that amazing young woman of our own day, who had such a great heart, so full of music and song and love that gave itself away to the end. I cannot forget the young woman who sang and poured her whole self out, and who died doing what she had done so many times after her concerts: welcoming a stranger with open arms....

She sang, she loved, and she didn't hide the reason why she did it all, the One to whom she belonged.

πŸŽ΅πŸ’šπŸ’šChristina Victoria Grimmie (1994-2016). Thank you.πŸ’šπŸ’šπŸŽ΅

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Power, Progress, and the Drama of Freedom

Today's world remains a world in search of progress. People insist on the imperative to build a more just and equitable society, in which the dignity of the human person is respected and diverse social and cultural contexts of human community are appreciated and fostered. Recent centuries, in all of their complexity and in spite of tragic setbacks and enormous evils, have also left us a magnificent legacy of material and human progress.

We are equipped with this outstanding power to manipulate the material world to serve human purposes and to access and exchange information in unprecedented ways. But though we have a sense that the human race is supposed to "move forward" by using wisely this legacy of power, we are increasingly perplexed as to how this movement should proceed.

There is a kind of "movement of history," but it isn't the simple playing out of some predetermined scientific laws of evolution. Human beings are far from being so easily explained or contained. In fact, the natural progress (the essential movement) of human history involves the unfolding of the potential for humans to interact with the world and one another.

Here there has indeed been "progress" which we must acknowledge. Our power to act has grown, but it remains in the hands of our freedom, which means that just as we have become capable of doing greater and more wide-reaching good in the world, we have also become capable of doing worse, more widespread, more devastating and more monstrous evil. The challenge for humans today is to use our power and understanding to serve the good, and this means perceiving and living our relationship to transcendence, to the destiny of the human heart, to infinite beauty, in a much more profound and intense way than we have in the past.

Christians must remember that the only way to meet this challenge is with a deeper integration of faith throughout the whole of life, a larger "opening up" to the transforming presence of Christ's love through our willingness to engage the vast array of circumstances and problems that human beings (i.e. all of us) face today. This, of course, can only happen if each of us is willing to grow in our relationship with Jesus. Following Jesus means seeking eternal life first, recognizing that our present life—with all of its purposes and hopes and good things—is the path we travel toward fulfillment in Him.

But Jesus also promises "a hundredfold in this life" to those who follow Him (not, however, without "persecutions"—see Mark 10:30). The journey to God entails an attention to the road (while not being reduced to only that), and this attention—rightly given—does endeavor to make the road of this world a better, more beautiful, more human place.

The unprecedented power we possess and the scope of the problems we face in the world today do not mean that we should ignore those who struggled to try to build Christian or religious-inspired civilizations in previous times. We can learn from their achievements and mistakes (carrying forth all that was true, good, and beautiful without nostalgia for a golden age that never existed). But because the Kingdom of God "is not of this world," human history, even historical progress, is always ambivalent. Evil and its "persecutions" continue to prey upon the good.

And as we have said, material progress and the gigantic development of the scope of human power means that our capacity for good or evil has become more dramatic. Christians need a deepening of the awareness of faith that faces the drama of freedom inherent in the challenges of our time and adheres with greater love to the mysterious working of God's grace in the world. The Second Vatican Council was a beginning of that deeper faith and adherence for the Catholic Church, but the Church's members, like everyone in the world and history, are weeds and wheat all growing together, so there is no neat "program" here either. There is no theory that can resolve and thus spare us from the drama of living the life given to us with trust in the mystery of God's love.

God will not fail us. His grace will be sufficient and abundant for us to attain our destiny, and also to inform our vast power in this world with the patience, kindness, and non-violence of Christian love (see 1 Corinthians 13). Let us not fail to adhere to Him in trust and perseverance.

Of course we will forget. We will make mistakes. But let us remember to get up again, and to return to the Lord whose love is always enough to heal us and empower us to give Him glory, build up the good, and cooperate with Him in the work He is already accomplishing, mysteriously, in the hearts of our neighbors, in the heart of every person. He is the Lord of history who draws all things to Himself.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Remaining in Him

Jesus said: "Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.

"I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

"Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.

"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples" (John 15:4-8).

Friday, November 17, 2017

Prayer for a Friday

Prayer for a Friday:

Jesus, on the Cross 
you wholly embraced every person.
You have given yourself 
with an infinite ineffable totality, 
and you alone understand 
the mystery of every person, 
because your emptying of yourself 
has made "room" for every person 
in your Heart.

Guide our steps, Lord. 
Draw us to yourself. 
Draw us by the inexhaustible beauty 
and goodness 
of this total gift of your love for us.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Great Woman Named Gertrude

Today the Roman calendar celebrates the remarkable Saint Gertrude of Helfta, a medieval woman who made a powerful impression on German Thuringia two centuries before the birth of Luther. She gave energy and warmth to the evangelical (i.e. "Gospel"-focused, Christ-centered) Catholic reform movement that spread through Western Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Known to history as St Gertrude the Great, she takes her place among those whose whose labor gave shape to the Christian ideal in the High Middle Ages, with Bernard and Hildegarde, Dominic, Francis, and Clare, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. As a 13th century Benedictine nun in a prominent monastery, Gertrude was a scholar and spiritual writer whose reputation for holiness drew many in the Church and the world to seek her counsel.

However, she was above all a child of God, a true Christian mystic enraptured by the merciful and loving heart of Jesus.
In one of the visions she recounted, Jesus said to her, "My Divine Heart, understanding human inconstancy and frailty, desires with incredible ardor continually to be invited, either by your words, or at least by some other sign, to operate and accomplish in you what you are not able to accomplish yourself. And as its omnipotence enables it to act without trouble, and its impenetrable wisdom enables it to act in the most perfect manner, so also its joyous and loving charity makes it ardently desire to accomplish this end."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Friends of God, at My Side

At my bedside I have an area that's a little bit like what the Byzantine tradition calls a "beautiful corner." It's not formal, and I don't have an icon lamp. It's just a help to remember the Lord and to pray.

Here in this picture are some of the things I see when I open my eyes in the morning, or when I am constrained in bed by my own sickness and turmoil of mind and body:

Right to left, a small Russian icon of the Trinity, icons of Jesus and Mary, and precious photo of my two "spiritual fathers" who still guide me from their place before God as I continue to journey with Jesus along the road they helped me to embark upon: Pope Saint John Paul II and the Servant of God Msgr Luigi Giussani.

Behind is a box that has relics in it (including the Blessed martyrs of Thailand!) and you can see above part of a Psalm verse that my wonderful wife wrote out for me in calligraphy.

Catholic Christianity is well-traveled path to our destiny, with many deeply trodden and tested places where we can put our foot for the next step.

We also have many companions from every time and place to inspire us and help us.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Francesca Cabrini: Mercy Fills the Earth

The first American citizen to be canonized (she was born in Italy) was Francesca Cabrini (1850-1917), and she was a boss! I mean, of course, to employ this colloquialism in the most profound and positive sense: she was awesome.

She was a real leader, with intelligence and determination, who inspired others and who didn't get pushed around by anyone. In the early days of active religious congregations of women, she embraced the apostolic life with heroic courage, global vision, and at the same time concrete focus on the people she served. All of this was due to her passionate adherence to the Person of Jesus Christ, a love that overflowed into a joy, a vigor, a humble and winning persistence in the face of a multitude of hindrances and desperate circumstances.

The love of Christ carried this great lady and her spiritual daughters as they dedicated themselves to the poor and especially those who came to the New World in such large numbers in the late 19th-early 20th centuries.

Immigrants of those days loved "Mother Cabrini," who took care of them with immense tenderness and showed them the face of Jesus.
"Prayer is powerful! It fills the earth with mercy, it makes the Divine clemency pass from generation to generation; right along the course of the centuries wonderful works have been achieved through prayer" (Saint Francesca ["Frances"] Cabrini, feast November 13).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Loving Sinners, Beginning With Myself

Here is a common maxim: "Love the sinner, hate the sin."

We do run up against certain limits with this way of speaking. If I say this, it would be so easy for me to implicitly (and perhaps subconsciously) mean to say something like, "love that person over there who, unlike me, is a 'sinner'!"

But what I really need is sorrow for my own sins, and sorrow for the suffering caused by sin in the world, in my own life and in the lives of others. And I need to turn to Jesus on the Cross, because crucified love is God's answer to sin and the hope of sinners.

Of course anger and aversion (i.e. "hate") are natural emotions that spontaneously arise in us as a response to evil and destructive things, as is fear. In human beings these emotions are out of whack. Even after baptism, Christians suffer emotional dysfunctionality because of the lingering range of effects of original sin. These involve not only difficulty in integrating the moral life but also the overall weakness of bodily humanity, which includes the whole misshapen neuropsychiatric "package" that we struggle with in various ways and to varying degrees.

To govern our own emotions so that they serve as a constructive energy within an integrated human response to life is a goal (in different ways) of psychological health and the cultivation of virtue (most proximately fortitude and temperance). Here perhaps we can learn some human wisdom from the discipline of nonviolence (which is anything but an escape from the struggle against evil).

We also need to recognize that "bad tempered" people (psychologically) are capable of real love (personal and moral), and that "nice" people (psychologically, again) can misuse the word and pretend the attitude of "tolerance" as a pretext for sinking into an isolated, loveless indifference.

In any case, the struggle always begins with myself. I can always reform, change, purify, and grow. I don't even know how to live from this awareness, but I know it's necessary for a real and fruitful engagement of life. It therefore brings me back to prayer, to begging for mercy.

Jesus have mercy on me, a sinner.

Friday, November 10, 2017

"We Conquer as He Conquered"




"By the Lord's example 
the faithful were called upon to believe
that—although there ought not to be any doubt 
about the promises of happiness
yet we should understand 
that amidst the trials of this life 
we must ask for the power of endurance...
because the joyousness of reigning 
cannot precede the times of suffering....

"Let all people's faith then be established, 
according to the preaching of the most holy gospel, 
and let no one be ashamed of Christ's cross, 
through which the world was redeemed. 
And let not any one fear to suffer for righteousness' sake, 
or doubt of the fulfillment of the promises, 
for this reason: that through toil we pass to rest 
and through death to life; 
since all the weakness of our humility was assumed 
by Him, in whom, if we abide 
in the acknowledgment and love of Him, 
we conquer as He conquered, 
and receive what He promised."

~ Saint Leo the Great, Sermon 51

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Hundred Years Ago: An "October" Revolution?

Meet the New Boss.
"To the citizens of Russia. The Provisional Government has been deposed.

"State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, the Military Revolutionary Committee, which heads the Petrograd proletariat and garrison.

"The cause for which the people have fought—namely, the immediate offer of a democratic peace, workers' control over production, and the establishment of Soviet power—has been secured.

"Long live the revolution of soldiers, workers, and peasants!"


(V. I. Lenin, November 7, 1917)

So declared a 47 year old recently returned expatriate during an important meeting of representatives of the revolutionary "unions" ("soviets") that were buttressing Russia's "provisional government" that had overthrown the Tsar back in March, a hundred years ago.

The statement that would shape the myth of "the October Revolution" for generations after, however, was something of a myth even as Lenin said it at around 3:00 in the afternoon on that famous day. Ministers of the provisional government remained holed up at the Winter Palace, which was not taken by Lenin's comrades until early the following morning.

The coup that would mark the official entry of Communism into political powera power that would be wielded despotically and murderously over millions of people within a generationwas still in progress. Nevertheless, Lenin calculated that a statement was necessary in order to seize the moment. He wasn't very picky about things like telling the truth.

In fact, it would take days, weeks, even months to consolidate this bold power grab, and then several years of bloody civil war to make it stick. But eventually Communism would have its Red October, even after Russia's adoption of the Western calendar changed the anniversary date from October 25 (the Julian calendar in use at the time) to November 7 (the date on the Gregorian calendar).

If you were English speaking (or reading) a hundred years ago, no one would have expected you to realize that on the morning of November 8, 1917 history was being made. Suppose you were in London: you would have picked up your copy of The Times or The Daily Telegraph, sipped your tea, and wondered how things were going with the War, what the Irish were up to, or who was going to perform at the Royal Albert Hall the coming weekend.

Except for the last of these, you wouldn't have found much information on the "front page." The newspaper, which was the main form (indeed the only form) of daily media distraction back then, was a blizzard of printed information:


Ten pages for a penny. Full of print. The meaty news of the doings on the continent was on page five:



Oh my, did we have lots going on in the Fall of 1917! This is a grisly page.

Italy was taking a beating from the Germans on its front (columns 1 and 7 are indicating that the Battle of Caporetto was in full swing). The British were making their move in Palestine (this would have been Ottoman territory—the borders of today's Middle East would be carved out from the defeated Turkish Empire after this war). Thus we see the middle column (i.e. column 4).

Meanwhile, column 2 points to the final days of the three month long British and Canadian offensive in Flanders, known to history as the Battle of Passchendaele. At the cost of some half a million casualties, the Western front got pushed back about five miles. Yes, it was more of the usual insanity, but Germany was bleeding faster at this stage of the war, and the Allies were trying to make the most of the sheer attrition factor.

Germany needed a break.

You couldn't be blamed for not realizing that the news in column 5 was the beginning of a big break for the Kaiser and his legions. Few people imagined that it was destined to have so much significance for the future. The headline says "Extremist Rising in Petrograd. State Buildings Seized" (I have added the red highlighter here, for people a hundred years later, to make sure it stands out from all the small print).

But to continue our imaginative supposition: by now you, the English newspaper reader of 1917, would have been used to hearing all sorts of crazy news from Russia since the downfall of the Tsar. How was anyone supposed to keep track of who was in charge and who was rioting? The only thing that seemed to matter was that Russia was still in the war, tying down 50 divisions of Germans (several hundred thousand men) in the East.

Mr. Lenin, however, had a plan to get your attention. Recall the line in his statement about "the immediate offer of a democratic peace." Germany had put Lenin on a train from Switzerland to Russia in April, probably thinking he was mad as a hatter but willing to take him up on his promises to stir up trouble.

Looks pretty "Maximal" to me.
Ultimately they got a lot more trouble than they bargained for, but in November 1917 it was looking like a great deal for the Germans. Being a good Brit, of course, you might have been perplexed by all of this as you chewed your biscuit and read about this faction that called itself the "Maximalists" (or at least this was the translation your paper used for the word Bolsheviks at the time).

On November 8, it wasn't even clear to the London press what the outcome of the "Extremist Rising" was going to be. Though Lenin had already declared the provisional government "deposed," the English press wasn't convinced yet. They may not have even been aware of his brash declaration.

Nevertheless, the special correspondent for the Telegraph had what would prove to be a frightfully accurate awareness of what Lenin and his Bolsheviks represented in those early days of the Communist Revolution. In retrospect, a lot of the horrors of the twentieth century are predicted in his words, not only for Russia but for every place where Communism took hold.

It's worth the effort of squinting a bit to read these paragraphs now, a hundred years later:

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Depth of Wisdom and Knowledge

"Oh, the depth of the riches
and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are His judgments
and how unsearchable His ways!
For from Him and through Him 
and for Him are all things.
To God be glory forever. Amen" 
(Romans 11:33, 36).



Saturday, November 4, 2017

Fall in Photos...So Far

It has been a warm and dry Autumn season until recently, with a disappointing lack of color. Now we're finally getting a bit of rain, and we may still see the "big maple tree show" that usually comes late in the season.

Some pictures that I have posted on Instagram:

The smaller maple leaves began to turn red early last month.
Because of dry conditions, Happy Creek almost disappeared.
Only a few leaves were changing down by the creek in mid October.
Meanwhile the October rose bush bloomed and soaked in the sun.
By October's end we began to see some variety of color.
More variety.
This leaf was good enough to "pose" on the ground.
At the beginning of November, more color but still lots of green.

And here are a couple of digital graphic pieces that I have teased out of what the season has had to offer:

Farms and rolling hills at sunset.
November "Hunter's Moon" rising at days end.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Music, Faith, and the Beauty of Reality

I appreciate a very wide range of music. As I have grown older, I feel like I have become more aware of the enormous variety in musical expression and the world of beauty it embodies. This magnificent art of creating from sound—with all its ways of projecting itself forth and interrelating in the diverse proportions of melody, harmony, and rhythm—has fascinated me all my life.

I hope to write more specifically about music and those who make it in the next couple of months. There are numerous musical artists whose work I value, and whose activity I wish to consider at greater length. Also, a happy feature of my own current research on broader cultural themes is that I continue to discover new artists and learn more about others. And I continue to make my own music.

One of the things that strikes me as important is how many people of faith are involved in musical creativity, using very diverse styles and formats with various purposes. While I have always loved and for many years studied classical music, my attention in writing will mostly be given to more modern musical forms (vocal and instrumental), especially as they have become interrelated with the gigantic expansion of technological power and communications media.

Christians have always made "sacred music" for use in public liturgical prayer. Today we see that Christian-themed songs and music have expanded far beyond the church choir into the large area of contemporary styles including extensive multimedia presentation formats. While the complexity and dynamics of some of this music can clash with formal liturgy and obscure the precise objective gestures of the liturgical rites, contemporary "Christian music" certainly can be helpful in fostering prayer and reflection in other contexts. When done in ways appropriate to the given environment, it can be quite inspiring in the diversely structured and more informal gatherings that come under the heading of "Praise and Worship."

I appreciate the work of Christians in making music on religious themes for prayer gatherings and even for wider listening. Here, of course, it is always important to remember that an inspirational theme cannot substitute for the inherent quality of the music itself. I have been glad to find many proficient creators and performers of contemporary styles of music using Christian themes in recent years.

Of course, I listen to music not only by Christians but also by people of other religions, cultures, and particular modes of grappling with basic human questions. One does not have to be Christian to make great music (obviously).

Not many of those who use contemporary idioms in mainstream ("secular") popular music are well known for their outstanding religious profile. It always seems surprising to find a "pop artist" with a serious faith, and yet there are more such people than we realize. It may not be something they articulate in the content of their music. They don't often (if ever) sing songs about Jesus. Nevertheless faith is what gives deeper shape to the appreciation for humanity that nurtures their creativity and commitment to excellence in their craft.

Faith in the Incarnation existentially affects every aspect of human life and activity, which means art and music too (even that which we consider "entertainment"). The freedom to make music and art of various kinds must be affirmed. True art of whatever kind must be free to aim for beauty, for the expression of the vast array of beauty and the making of beautiful things.

Beauty, moreover, is not the tame and obvious matter we often expect it to be.

Beauty is a transcendental, found in different ways and on different levels throughout the whole range of being. It is in the simple and immediately agreeable places, of course, but it also takes complex forms, searches out subtle correlations, lives within difficulties and paradox, and gives light to tragedy and suffering.

The witness to beauty, like the witness to truth and goodness, always embodies a profound empathy for reality, and thereby probes the depths of human experience. Beauty of any kind points toward the ultimate questions, the drama, the longing, and the fulfillment of all things. For precisely this reason it can often be unpredictable, and it is always mysterious.

There is much for Christians to consider about music and beauty and the surprising possibilities for creativity in our time—possibilities that we must discover and appreciate, and take up according to each one's particular artistic vocation. We need not fear to do this as long as we remain rooted in the love of Christ.

Indeed we must take risks to find and foster and build up the good that grows in so many places, at "the margins" too—all along the roads of the world where God has us travel, where we must trust in Him, take courage, and be creative. It's not easy and we will make mistakes, but if we pray and stay close to Jesus and if we support one another and reflect on these things together, we will have strong roots and our branches will grow in many ways.

We can help one another by finding ways to grow in fellowship, to share the experiences and challenges of a common vocation to follow Jesus Christ using our dispositions and talents as creative artists (even when our art varies widely in its forms, media, and/or themes and proximate purposes).

Along with poetry, music has a particular place in my own vocation both as an artist and as a philosopher. In particular, I perceive how music can awaken the soul to God. Music is such a very special way of making room for the love of God to work in the world—not only by explicitly Christian songs but also by every expression that is true and good and beautiful.

Our songs need to find many ways of addressing themselves to reality, including things that are vulnerable and fragile, unsettling and painful, flawed and seemingly irresolvable. God wants our art in all these places.