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.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Faithful Departed of Every Time and Place, United in Christ

Saints and holy souls come from every time and place and all manner of circumstances. Indeed, the embrace of God's love in Jesus Christ has an amplitude and generosity beyond anything we can imagine. As November begins, I find myself thinking about those who attain salvation who may never have seen the inside of a Catholic church during their life on earth.

People who do not know about Christ are still loved by God and led by His grace, and if they search for Him and follow what their conscience shows them to be His will, He leads them (in some mysterious way) to say "yes" to the Person of Christ present in their lives, and thus they can be saved by Christ and joined to the Church even if they have never heard of either. This must also be true of people who have "heard" of Christ and the Church, but do not understand them properly through no fault of their own.

Jesus, by becoming man, has united himself in a certain way with every human being. The secret drama of every person's real life is their decision to say "yes" or "no" to Jesus Christ as He makes Himself present in their circumstances and draws them to Himself during the course of their life's journey. Since Christ’s coming, there have been many people who have never heard of Him, but they have sought God's will, and have sought through the knowledge that was available to them to do what they thought God wanted of them. They love the good, and in that love God's grace is at work so that they can somehow encounter and accept the person of Christ through love even if they do not know His name. 

If a person truly wants "God's will," then they want Christ even if they aren't conceptually aware of it, because Christ is God's will, and Christ places that desire in them. Jesus Christ is what every human person is really searching for. He is the only answer to the longing of the human heart. 

And so all those who truly search for the Mystery of life, who persevere in seeking and begging for that Mystery which alone corresponds to their hearts, will be led in a vital way to respond to God's revelation of that Mystery: Jesus Himself. Thus many who do not know "about" Jesus in a way that they can express or articulate, can still say "yes" to Jesus in their lives through love, through fidelity to the grace that God gives them, and through mysterious ways that we don't understand.

There are various theological theories about how this can happen, and I am not proposing any of them here. Nor am I saying that someone who actually comes to recognize the truth about Christ and the Church can reject it in favor of some other path that he or she prefers. If I am truly searching for the One who loves me, and then He shows Himself to me in Person and reveals His Name, how can I not accept Him, let myself be embraced by Him, and embrace Him in return? If fear or my own preferences were to prevail at this point, it would mean the failure of my search rather than its fulfilment.

What I want to point out is the simple fact that God’s grace is central to the life of every human person, and it has ways of working even in those whose connection to the Church cannot be seen by us. It is something to remember on the day in which we celebrate all the saints, and during the month in which we pray for all the "faithful departed." God’s mercy is a mystery, and its greatness will one day surely surprise us all.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The "Pharisee in the Church Today" is Me

Pope Francis says there are Pharisees in the Church today.

Some people say, "When he refers to 'Pharisees' he's talking about the conservatives!" Others have noted that it was precisely the Pharisees who favored things like divorce and were therefore confronted by Jesus's radical Gospel teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

These are typical ways of "interpreting" Francis. But I find them frustrating. I already know this debate well enough. I'm interested in something else, namely, what do the Pope's words mean for me, right now?

This theme about Pharisees in the Church today is part of a consistent message of Pope Francis. What guidance for my own life do I find here? Is it even relevant to me? I don't think political terms like "conservative" and "liberal" are helpful when looking at the Church. I also oppose "divorce and remarriage," and the way it has developed into a kind of "normal" accepted lifestyle choice in the post-Christian West. I know that real consummated Christian marriage cannot be dissolved, and that this clear teaching of Christ cannot be changed: "They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate" (Matthew 19:6).

Yet I recognize myself in the Pharisee. Pope Francis's challenge, to me personally, has always been to provoke me to look beyond my narrow way of loving people.

Yes, we really do need to witness to the truth in love. But it's so much easier, for me, to cosy up in a comfortable corner with the truth, and to say to (or at least think about) others: "This is the truth of what you should be like. Now take your messy life and go away. You bother me. Go fix yourself and maybe come back when you fit into my comfortable coherent little world."

That's the Pharisee that I am!

I thank God for the mirror that He has put up to my face these past five years through the witness of the Pope. The problem for me is my own self-love, my own satisfaction, my fear of risking my comfort in order to grow closer to God. And I so easily disguise my own laziness and love of comfort in the garb of a "prudent, balanced judgment," or a pious detachment from "worldly" things.

Woe unto me...the Scribe, the Pharisee, the hypocrite!

I am the "Pharisee" because I fail to trust in the grace of Jesus to change my heart. I am so timid! I am afraid to allow Jesus to empower me to really go beyond myself, to find the margins beyond my own self-sufficiency and the real people who are waiting there, desperately in need of my love.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Spirit Blows Like Wind in the Trees

"Those who are led by the Spirit of God
are sons of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery
to fall back into fear,
but you received a spirit of adoption,
through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!'
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him."

~Romans 8:14-17

(image above: The Spirit Blows Like Wind in the Trees, my digital graphic design)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Young Heroism of Blessed Chiara "Luce" Badano

October 29th commemorates Blessed Chiara "Luce" Badano, an Italian girl who died of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in 1990, a few weeks short of her 19th birthday. 

Chiara Luce was a young person of our own time. She had aspirations and plans for her life. She loved to sing, to play tennis, and to swim. She had a hard time with math in school. She cherished her family and friends. When she fell ill, it was very hard for her. She wanted to live. In the long odyssey of her cancer treatments, she knew the force of her own human hopes that she might be cured. 

But Chiara Luce was also a girl of great faith. Shaped since childhood by the charism of the Focolare movement, she recognized in her illness a deeper calling from her suffering Lord. She accepted and even embraced this new, arduous, painful path, and offered her life in union with Jesus's cry of abandonment on the Cross. She said:
"I offer everything, my failures, my pains and joys to Him, starting again every time the Cross makes me feel all its weight. The important thing is to do God’s will. I might have had plans about myself but God came up with this. The sickness came to me at the right time... [and] now I feel like I am wrapped into a wonderful design that is slowly unfolding itself to me."
She was able to endure beyond her own capacity for endurance, because she trusted in Jesus, because deeper than all the very real pain was the mystery of relationship with Him.
"What a free and immense gift life is and how important it is to live every instant in the fullness of God. I feel so little and the road ahead is so arduous that I often feel overwhelmed with pain! But that’s the Spouse coming to meet me. Yes, I repeat it: 'If you want it Jesus, so do I!'"
I have mentioned before about Chiara Luce Badano and the very special friendship that (I can't help putting it this way) she initiated with me in Christ, in the "communion of saints" several years ago. I rely on her help, and I believe she has opened my eyes to recognize the extraordinary courage that the grace of God has engendered in some apparently "ordinary" young people in the present time.
Even in the tumult and complexity of today, the young generation remains a reason for hope. Youth are made for heroism, and if we try to love them, guide them, and prepare the ground for them, we should not be surprised by what God can accomplish in their hearts. It is encouraging to realize that Christ can bring them so far beyond our poor, flawed efforts as parents and educators. 

But it is not only for this that Chiara Luce is my friend. She also shows me the truth about my own destiny. But I am no longer young. I have grown old and complicated. I have woven badly many threads of my life and there are lots of knots. 

Chiara Luce amazes me, and, quite frankly, scares me in some sense. I find myself dizzy and powerless, gasping for air in the atmosphere she inhabits. But I am also drawn in my heart, fascinated and filled with longing even in front of these things that seem frightening and incomprehensible.

I acknowledge that I am far from God, broken, and above all proud. Only the humility that trusts in the transforming presence of Christ in my life can change me. I don't know how to "imitate" a saint like this. I can only beg for the grace of Christ to awaken and deepen in me the awareness that the circumstances of my own life are His gift through which He draws me to Himself. 

Blessed Chiara, pray for me. Pray for us.


This is an unofficial (i.e. non-liturgical) English translation of the Collect for her feast day. My hope is that God's grace will indeed "transform deeply my soul" -- beginning with an attraction to this light of love, a desire to live with this serene trust.

Father of infinite goodness,
who through the merits of your Son
and the gift of the Spirit
have set alight with love Blessed Chiara Badano,
transform deeply our soul
so that, following her example,
we too become capable
of always doing Your holy will
with serene trust.
Through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever,

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Josefina Turns 11 Years Old

When I started this blog she was 4 years old. The other kids were 13, 12, 10, and 8.

Here we are, some seven years later. A lot has happened, or is in the process of happening. Two kids are in college. Another is a senior in high school who spent the first half of this year living in France. Another rides horses and is one test away from a black belt in karate.

Josefina, nevertheless, is not overshadowed by her older siblings. In some ways she's the only "child" left in the house, and she's certainly the smallest person around here. But she can fill a whole room with her personality.

That has always been true.

We're still having the "extended Birthday celebration." Tomorrow, she's going to bake her own birthday cake, and (I hope) we will gather everybody plus "Uncle Walter" for a family party. She's had some fun the past few days with her friends, doing this and that.

Jojo has basically grown up with me always being the one around the house. Though she is certainly a "youngest child" and a "Daddy's girl," she has also been a bright light to me on very dark days.

And she makes a perfect cheese omelet.

We are so proud of her, and so grateful for her.😊

She doesn't often fall asleep cradling the Bible, so I made sure to get a picture of this when it happened earlier this year.

She's still small in size, but she's becoming quite the young lady!

And here's our "comparison picture" of Daddy and Jojo: on the left, in NICU in November 2006. On the right, a recent pic.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Standing With Those Who Grieve

This is not an actual note written to any specific person. Rather, this is a draft of some basic considerations expressed in words by a writer who usually uses far too many words. 

What I would actually say to a friend who is grieving would depend on so many incalculable and utterly particular circumstances. But these words outline something of what I have tried, in different ways, to express before and what I would hope in the future to communicate to someone going through this pain.

"I'm so sorry for your loss.

"What you're going through right now is beyond anything I can imagine. Still I want to be with you, somehow, in your sorrow.

"I don't know how I can help. I wish I could explain the ways of God, but years and years of studying theology have taught me mostly that I do not understand God, but still I must stay and trust in Him. Grief is a long road. I just want to reach out to you and be a brother in the Lord.

"I believe with all my heart in the mystery of God's love in Jesus Christ. All of us are inside this mystery, and while we journey together we try to bear one another's burdens—even when we can't do or say much, we try, and I believe His love is somehow even in that 'trying.'

"That is my hope as I offer my heart to help, however I can, or else just to stand with you in your suffering, to stay together in Jesus."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Happy John Paul II Day!

Happy John Paul II Day! 

Eileen and I are grateful for this moment, and for all the moments of the monumental witness of his life.😊

Friday, October 20, 2017

People in History Who Suffered From Depression, Episode 1

I think I could write a whole book on People in History Who Suffered From Depression. Obviously I cannot make any kind of clinical diagnosis of people from the past (or from the present, because—as I frequently emphasize—I am not qualified as a health care professional; I am merely experienced as a health care patient).

Nevertheless I find again and again descriptions people give of their own experience (often in diaries or personal correspondence) of an affliction that hinders them to varying degrees and has a variety of symptoms that we associate with clinical depression. It debilitates people in many periods of history and many different cultures.

I'm not surprised.

Recently, one line of my research has taken me to English history in the era of James I (if you read a certain very fine publication, you'll see why in...oh, hmm...about seven monthsπŸ˜‰πŸ˜Š). We have this English gentleman Sir Tobias Matthew—that fellow in the picture, who looks "fine," does he not? In a letter to a friend written in the year 1609, he describes this complaint:

"I have sometimes such fits of melancholy, and to speak truly, I have seldom any other thing, that when they take me, I become as if I had been bitten with the torpedo [i.e. the stingray], and my wits fall withall into such restive tricks, as no spurring can get them on, to make one pace in the right way.... it is but a very dreaming away of my time, for I do nothing in it like a man awake, and this is that which of all other things doth most afflict me."

Tobie, dude, I feel your pain. It "doth most afflict me" too, sometimes.

The analogy to being bitten by a stingray was brilliant! (Haha, a "torpedo"—I had to google that but he obviously wasn't talking about what we mean by torpedo...although there are days more aptly described as being torpedoed in the modern sense.😝)

I find it very interesting that his "fits of melancholy" are not described in a moody, introspective way (that can happen too, of course, but Depression is a wider phenomenon than "feeling" in the sense of an emotional mood). He speaks of symptoms that indicate a continuity between physical and "mental" states. His "wits" are paralyzed in a way that can only be described with a physical analogy, a kind of numbness. He "does nothing like a man awake"—again, sleep is a physiological state of the brain. His description here is also accurate.

I'll have to keep a running series on this blog of Depressed People Throughout History. Our forebears may have more to teach us that we realize by their simple analogies. At least we'll feel a little less alone in the great human story.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

October Frozen (A Poetic Fragment)

October frozen 
in pieces of still, silent time, 
in a dozen days of cool breeze
and warm sun 
and the shock 
of finding that beneath the surface 
of my skin 
I am ill-healed.

Below the clear bright skies,
hurricanes of torrential rains
wash and wash
over my eyes.

     (~in memory of a friend...)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Long Love of Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur died on October 14 at the age of 96. He will be remembered as one of America's truly great poets. I will always be grateful to my wife Eileen for introducing me to his verses years ago. 

Writing with simplicity and elegance but also drawing on an attentive perception of the luminosity of reality, Wilbur leaves a poetic legacy that glows like a hearth. It is the warmth and light of a disciplined, concentrated, intense fire.

I devoted some time to a graphic presentation of an excerpt from his poem "For C." which is dedicated to his wife Charlotte. They were married for 64 years, until her death in 2007.

"...there’s a certain scope in that long love
Which constant spirits are the keepers of,
And which, though taken to be tame and staid,
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Which has the quality of something made,
Like a good fiddle, like the rose’s scent,
Like a rose window or the firmament."

~from "For C." by Richard Wilbur (March 1, 1921 - October 14, 2017).

May the Lord grant eternal rest to his great and good soul.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"...What Prayer Does Not Dare to Ask"

I love the Collect from the Roman Church's Liturgy for the 27th week of Ordinary Time. It's a radical cry for the grace and mercy of God. He is such a Mystery of Love that His power to change our hearts, to forgive us, heal us, and transform us is beyond anything we can conceive, and His Tenderness is beyond all our hopes and anything we would even dare to ask for.

God loves us. Jesus has gone all the way for us in the mystery of His death on the Cross, far deeper than we can fathom. And He is risen, so that we might live forever in a joy beyond all telling.

Therefore let us take up the journey of life anew each day without being afraid, but rather with hope, with trust. And let us PRAY:

"Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you,
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
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.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Christina Grimmie: Humble, Free, True to Herself

As we Americans still try to process the horrible violence and destruction that exploded last week in Las Vegas, and that continues to haunt our society, my thoughts go back to the awful event that took the life of Christina Grimmie on this night 16 months ago.πŸ’š

Christina once said, "Humility isn't 'getting squashed lower than we deserve.' It's seeing ourselves accurately before God."

I am struck by the fact that humility, as Christina defined it here, is an expression of how she lived her life. It was this struggle to see herself accurately before God—to recognize and be true to her real self—that made her so free.

When people saw Christina Grimmie on YouTube, or The Voice, or in concert, it was not only her incredible talent that struck them. It was also her passion, her readiness to take risks, her zest for life, her freedom. People loved her because of it.

Even more, Christina gave us hope that we too could be free. We don't have to be musicians or celebrities to discover the unique, infinitely precious value that each one of us has as a person made by God and called to share His joy.

Christina showed us how to stand before God and let Him reveal to us who we really are. She sang and made music because she loved it; it was her talent and it was a special way that the fire of God's love touched her heart. She was trying to make it in the music business, but only by being herself, by remaining true before God.

It wasn't easy. But she stayed true. She stayed humble. She stayed free.

Because she lived in the light of that fire, we were able to recognize the flame in ourselves: the love that shapes us, that empowers us to live freely, that roots us in God and gives us worth.

Humility means seeing ourselves accurately before God. God is the source of our value. He created us. He redeemed us. We are precious to Him beyond anything we can imagine, and we can be confident that He will bring us to the fulfillment of our humanity and the freedom He gives to us.

Christina Grimmie made tremendous, beautiful music and enjoyed some success in her brief career (though not nearly in proportion to her creativity and immense talent). Her great hope was to be an inspiration to others in her art and in her way of living, by being true to herself before God, by putting God first and recognizing that without Him "all is vanity."

This was what made her so outstandingly free, so human, so joyful, so genuine, so hilariously funny, and so dedicated to the struggle to keep her integrity as a person and fulfill her vocation. She wanted to inspire us also to take the risk of being humble and experience the joy of being free. She wanted us to learn that our value as persons is not determined by other people's whims, narrowness, or caprice. She showed us that we are not defined by the dominant mentality with its ruthless ambitions, or by what other people say, whether they like us or not, whether we fit in with the trends, how we look, whether we are young or old, rich or poor, whether we succeed or fail...whether we live or die....

This final promise of freedom is not something we expected to learn from her so suddenly and so soon. It is a hard and painful thing, and it will take time to learn through the pain and the strangeness of her absence from ordinary everyday life. It is an absence that many people all over the world experience to some degree, because of her powerful capacity to sustain connections through audiovisual and social media. But it is distinctly intense and immediate for her family and loved ones. The anguish of grief is itself a sign of the inexhaustible preciousness of a human person.

Moreover, after 16 months we continue to be reminded of the awful fragility of this present life with all the looming dangers and ferocious powers bent on destroying it. These powers would have us live in terror and desperation, as slaves to whatever claims to offer temporary security.

But evil cannot overcome the one who is humble. In a world full of violence, the inspiration of Christina as a person continues to reach us and help us. For her life has not "ended" in nothingness. She lives as a person; her life has been completed and accomplished, and she stands, ultimately, as her true self, with complete accuracy before God.

She is with God, and has not been squashed or defeated. We are confronted with this mysterious reality, and we must learn to place our hope there for ourselves too, so that we might live here in freedom. She does not want any of us to give up.

Today more than ever, Christina Grimmie's witness encourages us all to remember—even in the midst of our sorrow—that evil and death do not have the last word on human existence.

Monday, October 9, 2017

October Heat Has Been Hard on Us

I'm sure lots of folks are having a hard time with this weird, persistent heat and humidity in the mid-Atlantic States so far this Autumn.

Sure, it could be worse. It's not hurricanes or wildfires.

But even the weather we're having can be hard on some people. We've had temperatures in the 80s for days on end, then it cools off, then it gets hot again.

The Janaro home is having a particularly hard time, because our central air conditioning and heating control system has broken down, and requires major and expensive repair. Sounds like a "first world problem," I know, but first world homes get very hot when their controlling gadgets don't work.

And to put it simply, there's no money to fix it. I don't know what we're going to do. The Lord has always provided for us in one way or another (often in unconventional and even wacky ways). I know that. I'm just sick and this is overwhelming to me.

I've been sick a lot this year. The heat, however, is making it very hard. I feel like my brains are being cooked.

In a couple of days the temperatures will go down to the 60s, but then they go up again over the weekend. The house never cools down really.

It will be cold soon enough, though.