Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Day of Prayer for Unborn Children, their Mothers, & Our Society

The Catholic Church in the United States of America marks January 22 on the liturgical calendar as a "Day of Prayer and Penance for Legal Protection of the Unborn." This corresponds to the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that effectively struck down all laws against abortion in the USA. This removal of legal protection, or even the possibility of establishing laws, was an act of colossal social irresponsibility.

Let us be honest to the testimony of our consciences, and call these things by their proper names, not shirking from what we know is really going on.

Abortion is the direct killing of an innocent human being, the child in the womb of his or her mother. It is an act of violence against the mother, who is severed permanently (in this world) from the person of her child. Regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception, the child is a person created by God and entrusted to another person, a woman who is given the precious, intimate, irreplaceable relationship of being mother to that child.

Very often a "crisis pregnancy" occurs in the context of a dysfunctional family situation or outside of any stable family connections. The immediate organic community of father, mother, and children is broken or never existed in the first place. Nevertheless, the conception of a new human being still engenders the primal and essential human relationship of "mother-and-child." A pregnant mother in a crisis is, simply, two people who need help. Depending on the circumstances, they may both continue to need help long after the child is born, and they will certainly need connection to human community and the experience of solidarity with others.

We must not push away, banish, or marginalize the mother and child. Instead, we should spare no effort in this society to create environments where this fundamental interpersonal relationship is supported and permitted to grow. This is a task that makes claims on the mother's wider family and friends, local communities, constructive institutions on various levels, and, if necessary, government assistance. This also includes incorporating (in ways permitted by circumstances and the personal safety of mother and child) the relational responsibilities of the child's father.

But this is not what we do.

Instead, we have retrenched more deeply into the malaise of our own social isolation, and -- in a stunning perversion of the language of personal freedom -- we absolve ourselves of responsibility, solidarity, and real compassion for the mother and her unborn child and replace it with the ideological assertion of "a woman's freedom to choose."

She has "the right to choose..." we say in this society. She is "free to choose..."? What? What are her choices? Here is a strange silence, an awkward pause, a lack of articulation among our people, who are otherwise so easily given to voluminous speech about everything. But the object of this allegedly "autonomous" (but in fact terribly lonely) choice is left dangling in our social discourse. It's an awful sign of our desire to evade the fact that we are presenting mothers with the option to have their children killed in the womb. They are "free to choose" this option; indeed it is facilitated and encouraged by our social environment. In fact, more and more, it seems that mothers facing difficulties are expected to make this choice.

And so the mothers go to the killing centers, whether burdened by great fear or psychological pressure, acting with varying degrees of reluctance and/or indifference, or deluded by a false sense of empowerment. Their choices here are irrevocable, and they have to live with them (forever...if it were not for the presence of a Greater Love, and the possibility of forgiveness).

Do we even care about these women, these mothers and their disappeared children?

Certainly. That's why some of us want legal protection for the unborn and for their mothers. Right?

In order for laws to endure in a stable manner, however, they need at least a chance of taking root in a society. What would have to change about the way we live in order for this to be possible?

I do not think that legal protection of the unborn (and the equity and compassion their mothers need) can be a lasting achievement for this society unless we all change our way of viewing our own lives and our relationships with persons, as well as our assessment of the relative purposes of material things, and our appreciation for the common good of our society.

The "normalization" of abortion has been a monstrous catastrophe. Let us remember, every abortion kills an innocent and defenseless human being made in the image of God. Presently, the "first world" is virtually unanimous in proclaiming that the freedom to choose abortion is a basic human right. Today we remember with great sorrow the role the USA has played in helping to spread this delusion.

We pray and do penance for all these things, and for our own complicity in this ugly culture of death. Legal abortion has been a catalyst in the proliferation and expansion of the death culture, but it also emerged from a long existing and broader malaise and continues as a brutal symptomatic expression of a violent society in which we all participate, dragging one another down in various ways, making war against one another in deeds, in speech, in the thoughts of our hearts. This is no way to foster a culture of life.

Reform always begins with myself. I need to change, to be converted, to see reality and respond more truly in the way I live my life. I am a selfish, sinful man. Lord, have mercy on me.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Saint Agnes Day

Statue at St Agnes Parish, Arlington, Virginia
Today we celebrate one of the greatest of "God's Girls," who suffered martyrdom on this day over 1700 years ago. 

Agnes of Rome (c. year 304) chose Jesus as her only love. She put Jesus first in everything, and neither the allurements nor the violence of the powers of this world could take Him away from her.

This girl and all her sisters still bring light to the depths of darkness; they bring defenseless goodness face to face with all the weapons of evil. Century after century their stories inspire us. In the most diverse places and cultures, they give themselves with burning ardor, with great and pure devotion. 

All these loves that, to the eyes of this passing world, seem to end with early and brutal deaths: how is it anything more than a long series of unbearable tragedies?

Because the One they loved died to destroy death forever. He lives. They live in Him.

And so their love has not ended. Their love endures, through the years, and the centuries. They become our friends through the communion of saints, and sometimes they "find us" in the course of our own particular lives and engage us in profound and personal ways.

Thank you, dear Saint Agnes. You have always been a great friend to our family.

"What I longed for, I now see; what I hoped for, I now possess; in heaven I am espoused to Him whom on earth I loved with all my heart" (antiphon for Saint Agnes, January 21).

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Keeping My "Balance"...Sort Of...

Somewhere, it's Summer!
I'm trying to endure this strange weather (and my strange mind and body) by working a lot with digital art software and applications, along with a touchscreen-sensitive stylus, maybe some texts like the one below, and my own peculiar imagination.

Using brain and hands to engage in creative work helps balance out the "overthinker" in me. Sure, it's not quite the same as painting on canvas or even sketching on paper. Still, notwithstanding the technological medium, hands and fingers are very necessary for many aspects of this detailed work (with or without the stylus). And I can do it even in my bed. The "tools" are all in one "place" and are easily accessible. 

It's a very scaled-down form of pictorial art, but it's a different kind of "mental exercise" than reading or writing (my primary work) and it seems to help ward off the less felicitous preoccupations that my brain can easily fall into. It uses different mental resources and a different kind of energy.

"Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:15).  .


Friday, January 18, 2019

God's Love Seeks Every Human Person

What would our lives be like if we really believed and recognized that the grace of God is at work, mysteriously, in the heart of each and every human person we meet?

What if we could look at each human person we meet with some sense of the way Jesus is looking at them in that moment?

We would see the world differently, and have a different attitude toward others and ourselves. We would be bolder in the ways of love.

We know it's true that the Lord is always working in hidden, inscrutable ways to open the hearts of people to receive his love, or to grow in that love.

We know that the most wretched, horrible, morally ugly, disgraceful, malicious, violent, evil human beings on this earth at this moment are loved by Jesus with an inexhaustible passion.

We know that he seeks each of them, that he is under the weight of all their horror, that he has borne it all and is in himself the source of a transforming grace that can, in the flash of a millisecond of freedom that permits it, wipe away all the guilt of every imaginable sin and engender a response of love that utterly changes the person.

Mercy does not eliminate justice, because every sin has been atoned for by Jesus. Every sin.

Never give up on Jesus!

God is in everyone’s life.
Even if the life of a person has been a disaster,
even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else,
God is in this person’s life.
You can, you must try to seek God
in every human life.
Although the life of a person
is a land full of thorns and weeds,
there is always a space
in which the good seed can grow.
You have to trust God.

~Pope Francis

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Ten-Year "Challenge"?

Oh well... since everyone else is doing it, I might as well join in. Here's the "then" and the "now," comparing 2009(ish) and 2019.  .
.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"Father Benedict": The 'Thirst for the Infinite' Continues

I recently came across this text (see below) from Benedict XVI among notes taken some time ago. Gosh, it's nearly six years since those earth-shaking days of early 2013 when Benedict resigned the papacy and entered into the secluded life of prayer that he continues to this day.

Josef Ratzinger has lived a vast life of service to Christ and the Church, as priest and theologian, bishop, cardinal, pope, and now as the nonagenarian hermit who remains in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Vatican City.   .

His long thirst for God still burns in silence and hiddenness, and still participates (in ways beyond our imagining) in the inner vitality of the Church's life, and in the often anguished search of human beings for the face of the Mystery who gives meaning and purpose to their existence. Though "Father Benedict" (as he prefers to be called today) rarely communicates publicly and no longer exercises an active teaching mission in the world, he has left us many profound words from his years as Pope. They remain as a precious legacy within the Church, still offering nourishment for meditation on our faith and for living our relationship with God through an encounter with Jesus that enables us to pray with all the depths of our humanity.

As our current Pope Francis continues to carry the burden of the Petrine ministry in his 83rd year of life—with all its responsibilities and its many sufferings—he is no doubt encouraged by the fraternal presence of his predecessor. It is a unique situation, which I don't think anyone expected to last this long, and which is so idiosyncratic that it's not likely to become a custom in the Church.

In these tumultuous times, however, it continues to serve purposes ultimately known only to God.

Here is the text from a homily in 2011, when the decade now drawing to a close was still young. But the truth they express is not bound by time, and speaks the very heart of the person:

"Man bears within himself a thirst for the infinite, a nostalgia for eternity, a search for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and truth, which drive him toward the Absolute; man bears within himself the desire for God. And man knows, in some way, that he can address himself to God, that he can pray to him. Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of history, defines prayer as the 'expression of man's desire for God.' This attraction toward God, which God himself has placed in man, is the soul of prayer, which is cloaked in many forms and modalities according to the history, time, moment, grace and finally the sin of each one of those who pray" (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience of May 11, 2011).

Monday, January 14, 2019

Together

"It is essential to the weakest members of our community that those who care for them do so together. These members say to us, 'For me to live, you must love not just me, but each other, too.'"
~Henri Nouwen

Friday, January 11, 2019

Christmas Ornaments and Stuff, Part 2

As the official liturgical season of Christmas draws to a close on Sunday, we will finish up the ornaments show here with this photo-dumping post.  .

The tree, of course, will stay up because we are too lazy because we like to keep the decorations around for the "forty days" until the Feast of the Presentation and the traditional day of blessing candles ("Candlemas") on February 2. More importantly, we will keep the Nativity scene in place just like they do in Saint Peter's Square in Rome.  .

This time is also usually the pre-Lenten season of Carnevale in Mediterranean and Latino cultures (perhaps best known in the USA as the season leading up to Mardi Gras in New Orleans). In 2019, however, "Fat Tuesday" is not until March 5 ... so, (who knows?) the tree's artificial life might be extended even further.  .

Before you know it, "Daylight Savings Time" will be back.๐Ÿ˜‰ But anyway... here's more cool stuff from and around the tree:
.














And FINALLY this genuine piece of Peruvian folk art: About the size of your hand, with doors that open and close, this dyptich has a Nativity scene on the upper level and... I'm thinking shepherds and sheep and stuff on the lower level. Bright colors from a place where it's Christmas in the Summer!
.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie's Great Love is a Sign for Us

Credit to original, in Philippines, 2014
Another Christmas season has been "different" this year, because it has sent us to the Internet to listen to the spectacular voice of Christina Grimmie.

How often I find myself thinking that I know what I'm going to hear, only to listen and get blown away all over again. What character, nuance, power, drive, tenacity, softness, sweetness, and fluidity are in that voice! And what ardor, what soul....

It amazes me, and breaks my heart.

In so many ways, it breaks. my. human. heart. 

It breaks my heart... as someone who hates violence, cares about young people, and mourns over the sheer catastrophe of this senseless murder of a beautiful human being...

As a trained musician of nearly 50 years who follows the ambivalent and too often corrupt trends of popular culture, who remains astounded by this singular musical talent, this unparalleled voice, this powerful creative energy of musical arrangement and composition, with all the immense possibilities for further maturity and development that will never be realized (sometimes the artist in me, inescapably aware of what 'might have been,' wants to bang my head against the wall!!!)...

As a professional scholar and philosopher of communications media who even now scarcely believes that today's barrage of endless fleeting images and words can carry the weight of an authentic human encounter and the serious self-gift of a person (and yet she accomplished this and continues to do so, and I cannot deny it even if the only explanation is that it's a kind of miracle)...

As a father of teenage and young adult children, with a father's heart and hopes, who can only empathize as best I can with the overwhelming sorrow of another father (and now also a widower) who has borne it all with such quiet dignity... And as a fellow Christian who knows that the merciful and saving love of Jesus is not a cheap escape from tragedy and suffering and death but the reality that gives meaning to our own mysterious and awful passage through every darkness.

I am filled with sorrow.

But even within that sorrow there is a light that grows brighter, a great beauty... though it's a kind of "unbearable beauty," at least for our weak human nature.

Recently I saw these words again in another one of Christina's tweets: "I would reach out and hug every one of you." She said things like this so often, and really meant them. What might sound clichรฉ coming from someone else has an ardor and genuineness when she says it.

I do not think she was a naive person. She knew that this kind of unconditional love carried a risk, that this level of openness entailed a readiness for utter vulnerability.

But she lived this openness as a vocation from God, for Jesus and "for His glory." She spent her life to bear witness to the love of Christ: not by being a preacher or a theologian, but by living within her own human circumstances, letting Him suffuse her talents and aspirations and then being a shining light of His love in a secular environment that so often seems hostile to Him.

Her vocation was not cultural criticism, however; it was the living out of a human-yet-transformed existence right in the midst of the contemporary popular music scene. Christina did so many things "just like other people" while somehow being "different" in a way that woke up people's hearts. She didn't do everything perfectly. She made mistakes. But she sought to remain faithful to her relationship with Jesus, and to let His beauty shine through the gestures of her music and her openness to the people given to her through that music.

"I would reach out and hug every one of you," she said to her frands. She was powerful in kindness and gratitude, and the fact that it was all for the glory of Christ did not diminish its specific focus: she loved her frands, the people given to her. She valued them, celebrated them, cherished them, expressed wonder over them, and made sacrifices for them. She didn't always articulate her own deep awareness of the bond between Jesus and the least of His brothers and sisters. She spoke of it from time to time, simply, gently, and discreetly. But it was an awareness that formed her way of seeing everyone and everything.

She followed Jesus in this humble but radical way of loving, and she died on June 10, 2016 "reaching out to hug" someone "with love."

This is a very remarkable fact, and I do not think it is a coincidence.

The God who died on the cross for us calls us to follow Him, but He does not play games with the our lives. As Christina once noted in another tweet, God "allows terrible things to happen" and He wants us to "trust Him" even when we don't understand how He can possibly bring good out of these things. But trust needs something to grab hold of, and so God gives us various kinds of help: His Spirit moves in our hearts, and He leads us to recognize that He is at work in this world. He empowers us to continue on life's path with Him, renewing our confidence in Him and letting us glimpse -- within this life -- many different signs that His love triumphs over evil.

Christina's love "all the way to the end" is a sign, I am convinced. "I won't be diminished, eclipsed, or hidden. You're gonna see my light blaze back to life like the Phoenix rise," she sings in the posthumously released song "Invisible." The Phoenix, for Christians, is a symbol of the Resurrection.

I'm not making any of this up. I'm not even trying with any great effort to notice it. It just keeps striking me over and over, even as I am preoccupied with so many other concerns. It strikes me too when I remember, and will not leave me alone within the boundaries of my own sorrow.

It keeps surprising me, it moves me... and I think the reason is because it's there, it's real, as real as her irreducibly unique face. She is a sign of God's love for us in Christ that is greater than death.

A sign is not an explanation, nor does it necessariy make us feel better. The point of the sign is for us to follow it - and I want to point out that one doesn't have to be a Christian to be struck by it. The concrete sign, accessible to anyone through her music and the images and videos on the Internet, is the gift she has given of herself, which even now becomes vital and personal--gently and over the course of time--to anyone who takes her unique legacy seriously. It is her great love, that "somehow" endures...

The tenderness of this face can speak to any person and we can all let our hearts be drawn by it.




Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Christmas Ornaments and Stuff, Part 1

It's time for me to just post some photos here that have already gone up on other social media platforms.

Included here are some of Eileen's old hand-crafted wooden ornaments from her high school days living in Germany, some views of our Nativity Scene, pictures of our unusually tidy and decorated living room, and other curiosities.

We love to take full advantage of this season of light!










Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Wine Study Number 1 (2019 edition)

Let's see what kind of art we might be able to fashion digitally from glasses of wine on our table during the holiday season.๐Ÿ˜‰ .


Monday, January 7, 2019

The Light that Shines is HIS LOVE

God has come into the world to give Himself to us. He who is Love created us, who are nothing without Him, because He wanted to raise us up to a share in His life, into a relationship of communion with Him who is eternally inexhaustible love, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God loves me. What does this mean?

It means He gives me my life, my self, everything. He is the Source of everything. I am "His-gift-of-me-to-myself" in every moment, as it is He who sustains me in being, because He loves me.

But this is only the beginning. His love means so much more!

God loves me. In creating and sustaining me, He gives me myself. But in Jesus, He gives me Himself. God is the Great Lover. In Jesus He comes to win my heart for Himself!

My dear friends, in knowing this truth we are so blessed! Yes, our lives are very hard. But we have hope in Him. This world is full of people who do not know Him. This world is full of people who are just "lost"—who have seen nothing but violence and darkness, and know nothing of the beauty of life.

They know nothing of how or why they exist.

Still, God has created them out of Love and for Love. He has come for them as much as for us, and He seeks them.

Look how much we have been given! Why us? By faith, we know that the Infinite Mystery beyond all human searching has revealed Himself and wants to draw us into a new life. We know that He is our Father and that He loves each one of us. But we are unruly children who don't seem very grateful. Indeed, we barely show Him any attention at all. Yet God has given us the gift of believing in His Son Jesus and living by His Spirit so that we can participate in His love for the whole world, so that we can witness to His love and be instruments through whom He reaches others, especially the most broken and helpless of people (and there are always such people in our lives, within our reach).

God wants us to share His love by our witness, which is above all embodied in our gift of ourselves to others in Him and by the power He bestows upon us in the Holy Spirit. He who is the Great Lover wants to make us lovers. He wants to transform all of human history into a love story where the glory of His love prevails, shining His light into every darkness.

And so in this Christmas season and beyond, let us be grateful for the amazing gift of God's love, but let us also look for ways to witness to Him by giving ourselves.

We have been made for love. We're all aching to give ourselves away. Let us help one another to cultivate a passion to give more, to love more.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany: God Reveals Himself



The Epiphany is the culmination of the Christmas holiday season. Liturgically, it is a specific feast day that comes on January 6, which has diverse reference points in different liturgical traditions. What is common to all, however, is the celebration of the Incarnation as God's manifestation of Himself to the world.

Jesus in the flesh, in His concrete, visible, audible, tangible presence, is the definitive revelation of God wherein He "speaks" (and gives) the fullness of Himself in the Person of the Son, the Word made flesh. January 6 celebrates the "public" appearance of Christ, the "beginning" of the communication of Himself to others beyond the immediate circle of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds (the prior presence of the shepherds makes Christmas itself a kind of "epiphany" which is a special gift to the poor and lowly).

In the Latin Western tradition, the Epiphany is linked to the specific event of the arrival of the Magi. These kings or sages (or perhaps both) "from the East" represent the Gentiles, the peoples of the earth beyond Israel and "outside" the particularity of the historical Covenant of Abraham and Moses, whom God has destined to be united with the fulfillment of Israel in His Son.

From the beginning, Jesus is acknowledged as God revealing His glory for the whole human race, and the center of all creation.

COLLECT for Epiphany, Roman Rite:

O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Currently, the Sunday following the Epiphany is a distinct feast day in the West, the "Baptism of the Lord," which marks Jesus's baptism in the Jordan by John. This manifestation event is Trinitarian, with the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the appearance of a dove.

For the Byzantine tradition, and most of the ancient liturgical traditions of the East, January 6 celebrates this baptismal event. This is the Theophany in a very special sense, not simply as the beginning of Jesus's public ministry, but as the first public manifestation of the mystery of the Trinity. It is also full of an abundant symbolic resonance for the history of salvation, the humanity of Christ, and the whole of creation.

The Byzantine liturgy for the Theophany is rich in the joyful acknowledgment and praise of the glory of God revealed in Jesus, and the celebration continues for eight days.

TROPARION: At Your baptism in the Jordan River, O Christ, the worship due to the Holy Trinity was made manifest, for the voice of the Father bore You witness by calling You "Beloved Son," and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a Dove, confirmed the immutability of this declaration. O Christ God who came forth and filled the world with light, glory to You!

KONTAKION: Today You have appeared to the world, O Lord, and Your light has shone upon us who, realizing who You are, sing to You a hymn of praise. Inaccessible light, You have come and made yourself known!

O Creator of the world, You appeared in the world in order to shine upon those who live in darkness. O Merciful One, glory to You!

O our Saviour, through the greatness of Your mercy, You cleansed the sinners and the publicans, and now Your light shines upon those who live in darkness. Glory to You!

The many Christmas seasonal traditions have as one of their common themes Christ as the true light who has come into the world, the light who dispels the darkness of sin and death, the light of the nations, that light that awakens faith and leads us to our destiny.

Friday, January 4, 2019

2018/2019 Transition Collage

I have been having a little fun with cheap graphic design applications, and the precision capabilities of my new touchscreen stylus:  .


One result is this "collage" which celebrates the change to the New Year of 2019.

I'm at a loss to explain the "symbolism" here (twinkling stars as goals or aspirations for the year...maybe?). I just basically played around with whatever digital "stickers" were available. Then working over the colors (and "overworking" them) using the stylus and digital drawing and "paint" applications.

But this is enough! I am posting it so that I won't fiddle with it anymore. I wish you all a "starry 2019"!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Happy Birthday to Me? I am Grateful...

Yesterday, I turned 56 years old.

It's good to be alive... as I was reminded by family around the table, and - of course - yummy FOOD.๐Ÿ˜‰

I'm still here. Still alive. Indeed, still astonished by this whole wild mysterious reality of existing.

I have lamented some sorrows and groaned through some pains and burned away too much time with impatience. I have grumbled too often when I have had no reason to complain. By any standard, I have received so much that is wonderful and beautiful and good in all my years on this earth.

Yet there are so many things that are beyond my power to dominate and control, that have been given to me for a season of life only; and there is so much that remains frail and limited.

But I am grateful for my life ... so grateful, beyond all else.

Sometimes I actually feel grateful, even when I'm perplexed or troubled. But this is not about sentimentality. It can be helpful to "count our blessings" as a reflection on the value of trust, but not as a science that might somehow take away the restlessness and the riddle of life. Real gratitude can only embrace the whole of life without resolving its mystery and strangeness and longings.

Certainly, I'm grateful for many things, many experiences and accomplishments, and above all for my loved ones, my precious family: these special people who have been entrusted to me, as a help and as a responsibility, that give a particular and intimate focus to my life. But even these relationships appear on the horizon of my freedom, which is awakened and provoked by them only to discover a further summons that echoes through the silence of my own solitude.

I'm old enough to know that the deep-down-solitude of myself is not "solved" or "filled" by anything in this world: not marriage and family, not comfort, not study and intellectual achievements, not music, not even food! (believe me, I've tried it all!๐Ÿ˜ฎ)

I'm grateful for all these signs in life, some of which are beautiful even in the ways they change. Still they change, they pass on through time and space, they are signs because - whatever very real value they bring to life - they ultimately lead beyond themselves, they launch new questions and open up deeper dimensions of hope within me, and they are not enough for that aching search in the depths of what can seem like my inexplicably lonely self.

But they are a promise, they remind me that human persons are not destined for ultimate loneliness, that my soul cries out because it is made to be heard, and that its cries are being heard in this moment, on the other side of my strange solitude.

And so I am grateful even for my poor, needy, unsatisfied, seemingly insignificant, indeed "accidental" self. Nothing is clearer to me than the fact that my own existence is not necessary to the essential structures of this universe.

And yet, here I am, begging, hoping, expecting that my life matters, that it has meaning and value. The only thing that explains my longing for an all-encompassing fulfillment is the fact that I have been given to myself and called, freely, to a destiny beyond myself and beyond this universe.

I am "here" because I am loved.

I am grateful for this gift, this love beyond the stars that whispers in the depths of my heart and hears my cries. And in this world, I am grateful especially to the people who are with me, who also live by this love and hope in it.

In the end, gratitude wins! We just need to make space in our hearts for it. Even a tiny bit of space at the bottom of all our bitterness is enough for a new beginning.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

"O Marvelous Exchange..."

"O marvelous exchange! 
Man’s Creator has become man, born of a virgin. 
We have been made sharers 
in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself 
to share in our humanity"
(Antiphon, Octave of Christmas / Mary Mother of God).


Monday, December 31, 2018

In the Coming Year, We Can Be Sure of One Thing...

Happy New Year 2019.๐ŸŒŸ

There is one thing we can be CERTAIN about in this coming year: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).
.
May Jesus born of Mary--Jesus who is the light of the world--guide your steps and draw you onward as you journey through the coming days, weeks, and months.
.
In joy and sorrow, success and failure, adventure and disaster, understanding and perplexity - STAY WITH HIM!

Never give up on Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, our Creator, Redeemer, and Lord, ... and our brotherHe has come to dwell with us and save us because He loves us. 
.
He wants to be with us.
.
He comes to where we are, and draws our lives into the mystery of His love for the Father in the Holy Spirit. He seeks us and finds us wherever we are, in whatever condition, and He stays with us. If we open our hearts to make room for Him, He will transform our hearts and draw all the circumstances of our lives toward the good.

This is the truth, for the new year of 2019, for every year, every month, every day, every hour, every moment. Whatever may come, He is here. Stay with Him.

Happy New Year! God bless you all.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Walking Together "in the Ambit of a Greater Love"

On the Feast of the Holy Family, I was led by the entry in Magnificat to meditate on some observations from chapter 13 of Father Julian Carron's book Disarming Beauty.

The current leader of the "Communion and Liberation" movement expresses some points about human love (such as it is experienced even in the unique relationship of marriage) that correspond to what I continue to see in my own life, and shed light upon it. Carron states: "In the loving encounter between man and woman, at the very moment in which the boundless dimensions of our desire are revealed to us, the possibility of fulfillment appears. Or, more precisely, as we perceive in the person we love the promise of fulfillment, the whole infinite potential of our desire for happiness is enkindled. This is why nothing makes us understand the mystery of our humanity better than the man-woman relationship."

At the same time he notes that in the reality of such love between human beings "two infinite needs to be loved meet two fragile and limited capacities to love. Only in the ambit of a greater love do they not consume themselves in pretension and not resign themselves, but walk together, each towards a fullness of which the other is sign. Only in the ambit of a greater love can people avoid being consumed with the claim, laden with violence, that the other, who is limited, must answer to the infinite desire he awakens, making impossible both the fulfillment of the person whose desire has been awakened and that of the person he loves."

Through the ecstasy of our love, we awaken and deepen in each other a transcendence that is beyond ourselves, toward which we must journey together.

The Infinite One, who alone corresponds to the origin and destiny of our personal being, is the One toward whom the interpersonal experience of love points, the One who fulfills its promise.

And in Jesus Christ, the Infinite One dwells among us and proposes himself as the truth and fulfillment of the limitless desire sparked by human love. Jesus is the source, sustenance, and destiny of the relationship between man and woman, and all human interpersonal relationships. He is the One through whom and for whom we have been created. He is at the core of our existence, our affectivity, and our freedom. He is the One who establishes us in relation to one another, and draws us to himself.

As Father Carron states, "Jesus reveals the importance of the promise his person constitutes for those who let him in. It is not an interference on Jesus’ part in the most intimate level of human feelings, but rather the greatest promise ever made to man: the fulfillment of all his human desire, which is Jesus’ very person. 

"Therefore, if you do not love Christ, Beauty made flesh, more than the person you love, the latter relationship withers, because Christ is the truth of this relationship, the fullness to which both partners point, and in whom their relationship is fulfilled. Only by letting him in is it possible for the most beautiful relationship that can happen in life not to be corrupted and die in time. This is the audacity of his claim."

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Family Time at Christmas

Let's catch up on some Christmas family things.

I'm overdue with posting about "The Christmas Day Food." I actually don't have a lot of food pictures, just because... well, I just didn't take many pictures.

Nevertheless, I am a true foodie at heart. I can't just let a place setting like this go undocumented. Some of the dishes and plates are from my parents:


Side dish spinach salad was even better than it looks here:


Then there's the feature which, of course, is a lovely pasta and beef dish. Not the best picture, but I was in a hurry to EAT!


The wine was excellent, from our own local friends at Rappahannock Cellars. It must have been a Christmas present from somebody. It was a perfect companion for the food.


The best companions, of course, were the family sitting around the table. For years it was too easy to take those full chairs for granted. It's been great having everyone around. [Shhhh ... these "kids" were secretly photographed, so don't tell them ... this seems desperate, but I don't mind sneaking a few candid shots, because no matter how old they get, they'll always be our kids.]



After all, it wasn't that long ago (well, 2003 is maybe a bit "long ago") when the four oldest kids looked like this at Christmas time (see below). It's something you never really forget as a parent, even though it's great to see them grow up.


Really, family is precious in all its "seasons," even in the midst of its many challenges, and even with the sorrows that cannot be avoided in this present life because we are humanly connected to other changing, fragile, suffering people.

The day after Christmas we all went to see my Dad (a.k.a. "Papa"). The grandchildren have been to see him various times before, but this was the first time we were all there together (all seven of us plus my brother).

It was a lot for Dad to take in, but he had some degree of recognition at different moments. He knew he was with family. With his shifting moods came also some smiles and laughter. I'm grateful that for now my Dad's face can still light up with a smile.

Tomorrow we will travel to see my homebound Mom, and we will celebrate not only Christmas with her but also her 80th birthday (a day she is observing gratefully but also discreetly, without fanfare).

Mom has had such a difficult and bewildering year, the beginning of which saw the rapid erosion of Dad's physical and mental health. Now she is—by these strange circumstances of life—separated by 70 miles from him.

She has not been able to see him since his big breakdown last March. She misses him and suffers because of this, and from many other things too. Dad misses her a lot, though less and less in a conscious way (as far as we can tell) since he often seems to think she's in the next room, or that he's back at the condo.

Diverse health problems and the whimsical bureaucracy of the 21st Century "First-World" Healthcare "system" have resulted in this distance between them that, for now at least, can't be resolved. I'm glad their physical needs are being met. Our society is good at doing that. But with human persons, relationships, and community, we're "lost at sea" and don't know how to find one another. It breaks my heart.

I guess for now we (their children and grandchildren) remain the living bond between my parents as we continue being a meaningful presence in both their lives. What unites our family above all, however, is Jesus who accompanies us through all of this. I pray that, through Him, we can have some joy and even "cheer" with Mom ("Grandma") tomorrow. There is no longer any way to ignore reality here, so we have to live with it. That's a good thing, even if it's hard.

I want to hold on tight to Jesus in His humanity right now. He is human, really. How easily we forget that fact, and yet it's so important. It's everything.

Simple things can help us remember. The kids being home, great food, my wife who brings so much class to everything she does -- I'm thankful for these very concrete human blessings at Christmas. Life can be hard, but it also finds ways to surprise us with touches of beauty, things that make us rediscover familiar and "ordinary" realities in new ways.

We are sustained by the life of Christ in the Church, by His sacraments, and by these commemorations in the liturgical year. His humanity touches us and extends the presence of His love to all the features, problems, and sufferings of life, enabling us to continue the journey.