Saturday, May 19, 2018

Human Relationships: Getting Beyond the "Autonomous Self"

"Love, not hate!" Everybody talks about love today.

People agree that "loving others" is a fundamental attitude worth striving for. We are determined to be a loving, caring society. And this determination is earnest and sincere.

People try hard to love others. People do so many good things, make so many sacrifices, and dedicate themselves to programs of action for spreading love all through the world.

This results in some astonishing and inspiring achievements.

Still, the world we live in is full of hate. It is saturated with violence on every level of human interaction. Violence tinges all of us not only externally but also in our own hearts.

Who among us is not in some way affected by fear, selfishness, or resentment?

We inevitably face limitations in the world, in others, and within ourselves. Our aspirations to be loving people are frustrated and sometimes diverted down distorted paths that lead to new forms of violence and hatred.

Real love is a hard and dreadful thing compared to love in our dreams. Its relentless demands can so easily make cowards of us all.

It doesn't help when we try to become loving persons by the energy of our own freedom conceived as an autonomous, self-defining force—a demiurge of self-fulfillment that we expect to coalesce with everyone else's self-defined ideas and impulses, and thereby somehow produce a wonderful harmony of love and understanding among us all.

We want love to work like magic.

Such is the expectation of the easy "love in our dreams" that is inevitably overwhelmed by the stubbornness of real persons and the slow, difficult, inescapable path of life as it is truly given to us. Real personal life can only flourish interpersonally; persons are fulfilled only through being-in-relationship with other persons.

Though everybody talks about love today, our society is stuck within an ideological and interactive framework of individualism. Too often, the very ideal of "love" in our society is reduced to a kind of "plan" of necessary or mutually satisfying engagements with one another that entail a minimum of commitment and risk. This shriveled form of love consists in isolated acts of assistance or benevolence between essentially solitary people who are afraid to be coinvolved in one another's lives, as persons, in freedom and relationship.

We want to satisfy ourselves according to our own autonomous self-definition, and then "help others" insofar as we choose to do so. Certainly, we want to respond to the suffering of others that stirs up our feelings of sorrow, and we hope that overall we will be very generous in our choices to help others. Most of us, after all, feel that it's important to be "loving people."

But still we want our relationships with others to be radically controlled by us and subject to our autonomy. We are afraid of the "letting-go," and indeed even the unmanageable and sometimes seemingly chaotic "leaping-into-the-dark" that are involved in living wholehearted relationships. But we must face the reality that we are not autonomous. We are in fact made to be together and entrusted to one another.

We depend on one another in reality. That is why, no matter how much we want to be "free" (in the sense of "free-from-relationship-with-others-as-intrinsic-to-the-path-to-our-destiny"), those other persons who have been given to us (our "neighbors") never seem to fit into the schemes we want to impose on them. They remain involved with "who we are," and we cannot escape being open and vulnerable to one another.

Thus, we cannot seal ourselves off in a self-contained, fully adequate, autonomous "capsule" that we imagine might protect us from the risk of love. Insofar as we try to live this delusion, we will only succeed in hating and hurting real people: others and ourselves.

We are persons called ineradicably to live in communion with other persons. We are called to give and receive love, on a path of life that involves a lot of preference, initiative, and choosing on our part, but that also involves openness and responsiveness to what has been given to us.

We don't radically determine our own lives and identity. Our creativity and freedom belong not only to our initiatives, but also to our cooperation, our openness to the freedom of others, our courtesy and hospitality, our gratitude, our solidarity and compassion, our willingness to forgive, and even our suffering.

How can we move beyond the crippling, violence-engendering fear of living as fully human persons? How can we discover that the apparent limitations that challenge us in our being-together-with-others are in reality the great spaces that open us up to the fulfillment of our existence as persons, the fulfillment of real freedom?

...to be continued...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Worthy is the Lamb

As we prepare for the celebration of Pentecost, I will continue to use Paschal symbolism to engage in creative experiments with graphics.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.... He died and rose from the dead so that we might live a new life in the Spirit. Come Holy Spirit!


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Human Relationships: Are "Scraps From the Table" Enough?

The basis of human relationships is the fact of being persons and "being-together." When we forget or seek to evade this foundation, the things we try to do to help others remain shallow and don't reach their most crucial and essential needs.

Indeed, they don't do justice to their humanity.

Not that our "actions" and efforts to meet people's needs are not important, but their specific human value is founded on "presence" and expresses presence.

If we're not (in some way) trying to care for the whole scope and depth of people's needs, to enrich their lives, to help them grow as persons, to defend their rights, and to seek ways to rectify the injustice and oppression that hold them down, we are clearly not "present" with them in an appropriate, meaningful human relationship.

We are not "together-with-them" in solidarity if we don't do what we can to help them in an integral fashion. For Christians, it's always useful to refresh the memory on this point by revisiting epistle of James (see e.g. 2:14-16: "if you see a brother or sister in need, etc...")

External actions in service to our neighbor, when they are possible within the circumstances of a relationship, are a necessary expression of interpersonal communion. They are not, however, sufficient in their material and perceivable form for the constitution of the relationship itself.

Let us consider how this applies in broad terms of human societal relations, keeping in mind that the same dynamic applies analogously to relationships, responsibilities, and needs of every kind.

Thus we know that we can address the needs of hungry people by feeding them and housing them. But we must do so in a human way. Circumstances may require that emergency priority be given to addressing the most proximate physical needs of people in desperation, and at first it may only be possible to give them the basic care necessary for protection and sustenance.

But we must not allow our concern to drift after a crisis is met, lest the marginal and precarious status of people in need becomes a long term, diminished condition of life. We must feed them, but we cannot be satisfied with this alone, with the fact that the people at the gates of our cities are not dying of hunger. The immediate physical needs of human beings are inextricably bound up with more profound exigencies proper to their value as bodily and spiritual persons.

Consider that we can also "address the needs" of chickens by feeding them and providing appropriately spacious, safe, dry shelter. (And let us note that all God's creatures have a proper value and dignity and deserve the respect due to them.)

We do not, however, have interpersonal relationships with chickens.

There are fundamental differences between persons and non-personal creatures that are evident by the way societies throughout history have considered them.

Though there is clearly something that can be (and was meant to be in God's original plan for creation) beautiful and mysterious in the interaction and even collaboration between humans and animals, it does not constitute interpersonal communion (this is a truth that Genesis 2 teaches us).

The care we consider sufficient and benevolent for chickens and even pets would be considered criminal and dehumanizing as a standard of care for humans.

People from impoverished or war-ravaged countries, who are forced to prioritize their basic needs of physical survival, have said about first-worlders: "Their dogs live better than we do!"

This is a provocation and a cry against injustice. These people do not mean to imply that their lives would be adequate and their humanity respected if they were just treated like European or American dogs.

In Jesus's relevant parable on this point (Like 16:19-31), we see that the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the rich man's table. Lazarus longs just to be able to eat those scraps as he lies starving by the gate. And though the scraps would have been better than nothing, it would hardly have been sufficient if the rich man had decided to have his servants toss some scraps at Lazarus when the meal was over.

Lazarus was his neighbor. He was a person. Our needy neighbors are persons. They need more than food. They need "not to be alone." They need relationships and communion. They need love.

...to be continued...

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Father and Youngest Daughter, Spring 2018

Here is a current picture of Daddy and Jojo. These kinds of pictures are not so easy to get as they used to be. It's been a while since Jojo was the "camera ham" in the house.

If this picture looks "fancy," it's because I did a little work on the background.

Because of the way we were sitting, this picture might make Josefina look a bit taller than she is. She remains petite, but she's healthy and growing at her own pace. And there's no mistaking her for a "little kid"—she's got a keen look in her eyes and a bright and intelligent face. It shows how much she really is maturing!

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Day for Our Mothers

Yesterday we celebrated the mothers among us here in America, or we remembered them, missed them, mourned for them.

Mothers, in turn, enjoyed the special attention. Some also, no doubt, were surprised by a moment of reconciliation with estranged children, or contact with distant children. These moments are meaningful even if they don't last very long.

The strength, the persistence, and the paradoxical frailty of human nature: how vividly this drama plays out in the life of every family—with motherhood at the heart of it all. Mothers are the vital connecting links between generations. They have a fundamental, relational empathy that affects their experience of all the joys and burdens and accomplishments and suffering of family life.

Motherhood is essential. It is powerful. It is awesome. It is vulnerable.

My kids have an amazing mother. They know it, even though they often forget or take it for granted, as kids will do. Eileen is a person of tremendous gifts and capabilities, and right now she is using all of them in order to stay strong in the midst of complex difficulties and challenges in our family, and in her work as an educator at John XXIII Montessori who mentors and assists so many other families.

I love my wife, and I admire her. I am so grateful for her.

I also know another amazing mother. We spent yesterday afternoon with her. My own mother is a great woman—brilliant, profound, sympathetic, ardent, a lover of the truth—who has spent a large part of her life battling against her own health problems and has endured so much suffering. Now in her 80th year of life and 58th year of marriage, she is called to live new depths of vulnerability in front of my father's advanced dementia and physical breakdown.

She remains very lucid in her mind, but in a different way the core of her suffering is as hidden from me as what my father is going through. We continue to do everything we can for her, knowing that we can't take away all the pain. We have to accompany her in her sorrow.

Jesus did not come into the world to take the pain and suffering out of life. Indeed, real faith is the exact opposite of finding a facile solution for our problems. Jesus assured the disciples, "You will weep and mourn" with a grief that is real, that cannot be explained away, that finds its resolution only in the presence of His love which proves itself always greater: "But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you" (John 16:20, 22).

Friday, May 11, 2018

Spring Reawakening

This was originally a photograph I took a few days ago. I used it to make a work of "digital art," to convey some of the feeling of the reawakening of the trees, the grass, the whole ambient that emerges after the Spring rains.
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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie's Legacy Has Just Begun

There is an old tradition of marking the one month anniversary of a person's death with special remembrance and prayer. It is unusual, however, to continue marking every month for 23 months (and counting...).

Christina Grimmie is simply unforgettable.

There are many reasons for this, one of which is the pioneering role she played in helping to carve out a new space for artists to express their creativity. For her own part, she filled that space for seven years with the gratuitous gift of her enormous talent and her inspiring human presence and goodness.

In these past two years, the Grimmie family has continued to foster her musical legacy, and has opened new avenues for the movement of love that Christina initiated from within her own beautiful heart. Tomorrow, the Grimmie family will release another of Christina's original songs, and Team Grimmie "frands" from literally all over the world will continue to share their own creative tributes to her in a wide variety of forms and venues.

What is it about Christina Grimmie? Why is she still so important for so many people?
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She was a sweet, kind, fun-loving human being; she was an extraordinarily talented young person whose life was taken too soon; she was very much a normal girl beginning to become a lovely young woman; she had a bright future yet she was still accessible and authentic and grounded.

It was a tragedy that should cause us sorrow, even if we never knew her. There are too many tragedies like this in our poor, violent, and suffering world.

But with Christina there is something more; something that has cast a wide circle of impact, and that continues to resonate, to endure, and to grow.

In her 22 years in this world, Christina Grimmie took up the popular music idiom and the means of communication of our time and changed them, not only by her singular, spectacular voice, but above all by investing them with her own person, through her courage to take risks, her persistent desire to give of herself, and the deep gratitude that she expressed for life and other people.

It has become impossible for an old cynic (like me) to say, "There's no way anything good can come from pop culture today" or "there's nothing good that can come from all this crazy new media."

...Because...there is Christina Grimmie!

Something good has already happened in the midst of our deeply ambivalent culture, a space for love has opened up, and that space can grow.

No one knows what the future holds, but insofar as music and communications media increase in their capacity to bring people together in authentic human ways, Christina Grimmie will be remembered as one of the protagonists who took the first steps and opened the doors to new possibilities.

She will be remembered, and honored and loved.

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Original photo credit to owner (please notify me for any appropriate citation). Text and layout are by John Janaro. Credit to Christina Grimmie for being an inspiration to us all...and to Jesus Christ her Lord who gave her the gift of her voice, whom she loved and for whom she sang.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Vulnerability: We Cannot Escape It

These days I fumble around searching for "where-to-put-my-feet-on-the-ground" when it comes to having a meaningful relationship with my Dad. He speaks incoherently, drawing out—from what he can still picture in the advanced dementia of his failing brain—fragments of impressions and experiences of a lifetime, making them into a puzzle that neither he nor any of us can solve.

He is being called to endure a strange sorrow, and though I don't know how to understand what he's going through or even enter into it, I know that I must accompany him through it, somehow, in whatever way I can, to the very end.

He will never get "better," at least not in this world, not in any sense that I can yet grasp or relate to experientially.

We humans have all this stuff in our amazing 21st century, all this power... but in the end, does it really matter for our lives? Sooner or later, we become helpless, or our loved ones are powerless and we can't help them, we can't "restore" them.

Vulnerability is inescapable. We all must pass through it, and the passage is unfathomable and can seem unbearable. But we must not give up.

The reasons why life is worth living, suffering worth enduring, and compassion worth giving haven't changed.

It is all the more necessary to hold onto these essential reasons, to remember them, to return to them when everything else fails us. In those moments, we see the demands of reality stripped of false sentimentality, stark but vivid.

No matter what their condition, appearance, or capacities may be, the existence of every human person is good. The human person, as such, deserves to be loved.

The awesome dignity of each human being is beyond anything we can construct or even define.

Now more than ever, as we vacillate between the illusion that we have the power to do anything and the fear that nothing we do has any value, we must be true to the mysterious gift and the ineradicable worthiness of every single human person.

This truth will take us through dark places. Don't give up.

We are left with the cry for help. We reach up for a hand in the dark, hoping to be grasped even when we don't know it, even when the waters envelop us and we feel ourselves to be drowning.

We hope beyond consciousness to be buoyed up and carried to the distant shore.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"Teacher Appreciation Day"

So today, apparently, was "Teacher Appreciation Day." Good teachers deserve appreciation, certainly more than they usually get.

Therefore, I salute all my colleagues who work in classrooms and labs, on faculties, in schools and universities, and who struggle to do their best even in the most difficult circumstances.

They have dedicated their lives to helping people who seek wisdom and trying to wake up those who don't.

They apply their learning, experience, and creativity to guide others on the journey to understanding.

On that journey they carry the best maps and tools they can find, point at things that are important, sometimes clear cluttered paths or find new ones, and try to warn the others about wrong turns and dead ends, and especially about intellectual cliffs and intellectual snake pits.

Nothing makes them happier than when those who followed their guidance for a time in the classroom graduate with the readiness to put their feet firmly on the ground of life, take up their vocations as adults, and become companions and even friends.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Christ Our Passover has been Sacrificed

The celebration of the Sacred Liturgy takes us "inside" the miracle of that central event that defines all of history and is the beginning of the New Creation.

In the Roman Rite, the Preface that leads into the Eucharistic Prayer during the Easter Season is particularly rich in content and beautiful imagery. There are five options during Easter, which differ primarily in the middle, where several lines highlight different aspects of the Paschal Mystery.

We hear these words so often that we could easily get used to them and think that we have comprehended their meaning. However, the truth is that the text of the Mass provides a wealth of material for prayer and meditation, and there is value even in "spending time alone" with the Missal, letting ourselves be formed by the words used in the Church's public worship.

Below I have take the distinct sections from each of the five Prefaces and put them together. The priest publicly addresses these words to the Father, which I have indicated in brackets where the word "You" appears in the liturgical text.

Putting these brief passages together provides an opportunity to pray and ponder and contemplate the various facets of the "Immortal Diamond" that is the mystery of Salvation:

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.

[1] He is the true Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world;
by dying he has destroyed our death,
and by rising, restored our life.

[2] Through him the children of light rise to eternal life
and the halls of the heavenly Kingdom are thrown open to the faithful;
for his Death is our ransom from death,
and in his rising the life of all has risen.

[3] He never ceases to offer himself for us
but defends us and ever pleads our cause before [the Father]:
he is the sacrificial Victim who dies no more,
the Lamb, once slain, who lives for ever.

[4] With the old order destroyed,
a universe cast down is renewed,
and integrity of life is restored to us in Christ.

[5] By the oblation of his Body,
he brought the sacrifices of old to fulfillment in the reality of the Cross and,
by commending himself to [the Father] for our salvation,
showed himself the Priest, the Altar,
and the Lamb of sacrifice.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Rome Students: Welcome Back!



Dear STUDENTS who have just returned from your Semester in ROME: Welcome Back! I thought you might like a few tips that will help you to readjust to life in the United States of America (the USA, which the Italians call "ooozaa"😜).

You've been living "la dolce vita" for some time, so things might feel strange for a couple of days after your return to America. No need to see your doctor; this is perfectly normal and it will (mostly) wear off pretty quickly.

Helpful hints:

(1) Do NOT try to cross a street by walking into the middle of moving traffic.πŸ˜‰

(2) You get ONE HOUR for lunch, tops. No more "riposino"😴 in the afternoon. Eat fast, and get back to work.

(3) MONEY: When you first got to Italy you joked around about the "monopoly money" but by now you've gotten kinda used to Euros with their different colors and designs. Don't worry when you suddenly find all green stuff in your wallet. You may have the brief shock of: "What is this? Dollars? They're all green and the same size! How am I supposed to tell them apart? This money is...boring!" You'll get used to it again. Meanwhile, make sure you know the difference between a "Ben Franklin" and a "George Washington" and everything will be fine.

(4) You'll be DAZZLED by the Wi-Fi here for a few days. Like, "it WORKS!!! Why did I ever complain?" That too will wear off and you'll soon be back to complaining like you always did.

(5) When you ride a bus, remember that you actually have to pay the fare.

(6) Don't buy gelato in America. Now that you've had the real thing, it's just... not... the same.πŸ˜‘πŸ˜’

(7) Coffee ☕ -- if you want a cappuccino here, order a "latte." If you want a cup of hot overly frothed skim milk, order an American cappuccino. [*This may vary from place to place.]

(8) Driving: Traffic at 65 or 70 miles an hour is going to seem like crawling. You've just come from a country where the old ladies drive 90. Watch your speedometer, especially on open roads. Not only can you get a ticket; you'll actually have to pay it! Slow. Down.

(9) No parking on the sidewalk.

(10) When you see a group of Americans in orderly formation at a store or fast food or pizza place, that's a "line." You may have gotten used to the "Italian scrum" where service is rendered to whoever jostles and elbows their way to the front. But remember, you're back in America now. You must wait in line again.

(11) Notice how HUGE America is. It's like even the sky is bigger. And there's space everywhere. Wow! And all different kinds of people. And oh how you've missed your home... it will all seem to shine with glitter for a few days. Take time during those days to be grateful for all of it.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Human Relationships: Loving Our Enemies...Really?

In human life we so often emphasize "doing" and "having," and tend to lose sight of the most basic value of being. The dignity of the human person, however, is rooted in who he or she is - first and fundamentally.

In a similar way, human relationships have real depth insofar as they are constituted first by "presence," by "being-with" one another in a personal sense. Personal presence is especially expressed in sharing experience, dialogue, intersubjectivity, mutual understanding, suffering-with one another, staying with and accompanying one another.

Underlying even these features of the vitality of human relationships, however, is a more fundamental reality: the reality of "being-together." We are made "for one another" and entrusted to one another in real life. We are called to "love our neighbor"—which indicates the person who is "near" to us, who is in some way "given to us" within the circumstances of our lives.

There is a particularly difficult aspect of this vocation to love that we cannot avoid: we are called to love even our enemies. What does this actually mean?

Authentic love, first of all, is founded on realism. "Being-together" is radical to our humanity, and it has an impetus to be expressed and lived in interactive relationships within nurturing and vital communities of mutual trust and solidarity. But there are real circumstances that block these normal modes of expression.

Alas, there are all too many of these "blocks." How can we "love" in such situations?

We may need to avoid proximity to a person because they are dangerous to us or those who depend on us. We may need to find space to tend and manage deep and complex wounds inflicted upon us by people who are precisely "enemies" because they have done violence to us in the interpersonal realm. This is most difficult when the "enemy" is someone who has betrayed our trust.

Anyone in such a situation must remember that love is founded on realism. It needs to become clear that love is hard in reality, which means it's tough. This is no time for a false sentimentality about love being able to fix things like magic; it's no time to confuse real love with a dependence based on fear or lack of self-worth.

If a person you think loves you is actually hurting you and abusing you, GET AWAY FROM THAT PERSON and get help!!

Sadly, this abuse and violence happens in various but all-too-real ways in interpersonal relationships, in family relationships, in community relationships. When we "go away" from such people, it shouldn't be said that we are "creating a conflict" by "distancing ourselves" from the "togetherness" of a relationship.

Rather, we are merely recognizing that the other or others have made themselves our "enemies." They have created this interpersonal "distance" by doing violence to us as persons; they have wounded the relationship by establishing our need to live a physical and emotional "space-apart" or even a position of vigorous self-defense if the other refuses to respect this space.

We can (and must, in ordinary circumstances) make and protect a physical and psychological "space-apart" from those who have made themselves our enemies. But we can never choose to hate these persons.

Here it is very important to distinguish the choice of our freedom from the normal psychological experience of feelings of aversion, or the more complex distortions of emotion induced or aggravated by trauma or other factors. This can be a confusing and conflicted experience, and we must not "face the enemy" alone but with the help of others who recognize the danger that threatens us.

The crucial aspect of "loving our enemies" is a matter of freedom. If we choose to hate our enemies, then we become people who hate, people who set our hearts against the dignity of certain human persons and begin to attack the very foundations of the basic human bond we share. Thus violence begets more violence.

If we choose not-to-hate, however, then in a radical sense we are "together with" our enemies, respecting their dignity as persons even when we must defend ourselves against them or remove ourselves from the reach of their aggression.

to be continued...

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Athanasius: "Death Has Lost It's Power..."

On May 2 we celebrate the great Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 293-373).

Athanasius was the courageous preacher and defender of the One God as a Trinity of persons, and the true incarnation of the Son—homoousios with the Father and the Spirit in His Divinity, fully united with us in His humanity born of the Virgin Mary.


Monday, April 30, 2018

Saint Catherine of Siena and My Roman Days

As the end of this month was approaching, I had a vague feeling that something was missing. It was like... "Something happens around this time, something special, what the heck is it?"

Then along comes April 29th.

SUNDAY, April 29, 2018.

Oh geepers, this is usually one of my favorite days.

Ah, but Sunday takes precedence over most of the saints' days in the current Roman Rite. That's why it's missing from my calendar.

Why it was missing from my brain I cannot say. How could I forget Kate? ...Kate my homie, from Romie!

April 29th is usually the day we honor the great Saint Catherine of Siena. Definitely one of the Captains of God's Girl Squad. Her remains are under the high altar of the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome. (Well, most of her remains are there, but that's a long story.)

She is a great "presence" in Rome. Indeed, I believe she helped me a lot.

A quarter of a century ago, I lived in Rome. And when I say "lived in Rome" I mean literally in Rome, in a small palazzo on the Via Liberiana across the street from Santa Maria Maggiore. The bells of the great 1500 year old Basilica rang every quarter hour from early morning to around 21:00 in the evening (my fellow Americans, that means 9 PM). I can still hear them in my head.

I was working on a research project and living with some Italian friends in an 18th century building that would have been a museum if it were in the U.S.A., whereas in Rome it was just a building. I had lots of time flexibility, and I used it to explore the ancient neighborhoods.

Rome is a great city to walk in. And after a while you get used to things in a way you never would have thought possible: "Oh yeah, Trajan's column that's cool,...another Borromini church,...hey there Pantheon, ...hmm Colosseum, Colosseum, lots of cats and pickpockets over there..." But you don't get bored.

Rome is a great place to visit, and to live (if you're willing to put up with certain things). It's a great place to study. It's a great place to goof around. It's a great place to eat! It's even a great place to have an epic psychological meltdown (insofar as any place can be).

On all these things I speak from personal experience.😜

I lived in Rome for a very significant year of my life. I was there long enough to have "all the feels" (which in my case was/is way too many "feels" but, hey, I've learned to manage things since then). I knew very little about mental illness back then, or about my own depression and OCD and all the neurological knots in my brain. It was all just raw.

But Catherine was there. Obviously, I had a lot of other kinds of help, and continued to get help. But I will always be grateful to her for what she taught me about how God's love is beyond all calculation.

I think I'm not unlike some of the people she wrote to in her amazing letters. She would have written something like these words to me:

"Rise up, open your eyes,
and take as your model the boundless goodness
and the love God has shown to His creatures...

"Be engulfed and set on fire in Him,
constantly gazing into the gentle eye of His charity,
for then you will love perfectly what he loves...
Imitate that dear [Saint] Paul, who was so in love,
and be a vessel of affection that bears and proclaims
the name of Jesus.
It seems to me that Paul gazed into this eye
and lost himself in it.

"And he was granted such a great soul
that he was willing and even desired 
to be separated from God, an outcast, 
for the sake of his brothers and sisters.
Paul was in love with whatever God was in love with.

"He saw that charity is never scandalized, is never confounded."

Sunday, April 29, 2018

My Morning Offering (Slightly "Modified"πŸ˜‰)

Praying, sleeping, or posing... Hey, I needed a picture, ok?
God's ways are mysterious and vast, beyond our understanding. He is an awesome God, even in (especially in) His love.

And He is transforming us by drawing us into a participation in that love.

Who knows the deep connections of love that wind through the Mystical Body of Christ and reach out to all humanity?

When we say to God each day, “I offer you everything…” He gives over the energy of our small love in union with the Cross of Christ so that its power might sustain others.

When we give ourselves to God, He does with us what He wants.

I know that I must grow in the trust that really enables me to let go and give over everything to God.

When I offer my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings to God, it is usually accompanied by an unspoken list of preferences:

“O Lord, take my sufferings
and use them according to your will,
but (if it is your will, of course)
please don’t make them any worse;
in fact, take away these sorrows and pains,
enable me to use my talents,
make me (just a little bit) successful,
and—why not?—give me a few goodies,
like maybe some more money
(if it is your will, of course).”

We could call this "John Janaro's Modified Morning Offering."😜

But seriously, I am not embarrassed to admit that this is what is in my heart when I pray. I am weak. (I don't think I'm the only person who prays like this either.)

But I am beginning to learn what it is to trust in God. God knows I am weak. He knows I am a child. He is my Father. He is not just fooling around with my life.

He knows what I need to be sustained, and the ways in which—here and now, today—I need to give.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Finally, a Fine Flowering of Spring

The tulips are blooming. So the world goes on. The flowers of the field are clothed in a brief burst of glory.
                                                                                           



Spring in Virginia is heralded by the flowering of the "state tree," the dogwood. It took a little longer than usual this year, but it was worth the wait.
                                                                                               



And we always have these blush cherry blossoms on the parish grounds. I look forward to seeing these every year during the Easter season.


Friday, April 27, 2018

How Much Do We Really Love God?

How much do we really love God?

That sounds like a large and mystical question. Trying to answer it by scrutinizing our "religious feelings" could easily lead us to confusion or self-deception, or just make us go round and round in circles.

I find it helpful to ask another question: How do I act in relation to the people who are closest to me in my life every day?

There is plenty of material right here for an examination of conscience: one that brings humility, and sorrow, and a memory that commits me again to the vocation of love and the work that it requires.

If I were alone in my own being, however, this would be a fruitless commitment. I would despair of ever being able to find the bridge between my limited self and the lives of other limited persons. My solitude would be an impenetrable shell.

But I am not alone.

The God who gives me my very being is "present-with-me" as the Source of who I am—the God who, as Saint Augustine says, is "nearer to me than I am to myself." And Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified and risen from the dead, has taken hold of my life, and He is at work drawing me beyond myself by the power of His Spirit.

I fail again and again; I fall short in the limits of my love, and I am easily tempted to fall back into a sense of desperate isolation.

But I am not alone. Jesus is here.

The Risen Jesus has conquered my weakness. I must never be discouraged. I must keep going to Him, seeking Him, and asking for Him in prayer.

I must let Him build me up through the instruments of His grace in the Church, and enable me to recognize Him more and more in other persons, in every circumstance, especially in the ordinary circumstances of every day and in the apparently "ordinary people" that He has especially entrusted to me.

We will learn to love God according to His measure, by following the path He opens up in front of us. And we can trust Jesus who accompanies us, and the Holy Spirit who leads us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Four Guys in Suits and Ties, Making Amazing Music!

A screenshot collage. Been spending some "quality time" listening to (and watching old videos of) the DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET. They are one of the best bands...in history!! πŸŽ΅πŸŽ·πŸŽΉπŸŽΆπŸ’₯

Four guys in suits and ties. Zero electronic gadgets. Don't worry. You'll hear more about them from me, soon!







Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Time For War: The Spring of '18

Even when humans are busy making a mess of the world, the flowers still bloom in Springtime.

Well, who knows what the future holds? But in any case, they bloomed in the Spring of the year 1918.

A hundred years ago, it almost looked like someone might win the impossible, insane European war. In some sense, it was already "half-won," thanks to the surprising turn of events the previous year. But it remained necessary to deliver the decisive blow, and it needed to be done quickly.

One year earlier, Germany had been hopelessly deadlocked on two fronts. Then, like strange magic, the Russian front evaporated. That bizarre little man, Lenin, whom they had transported through their country with the wild hope that he might cause some trouble, had succeeded beyond all imagination (or nightmare).

Russia was in chaos, and there remained three years of brutal civil war before Lenin and his clique would consolidate power. But in early 1918, while the world was still not sure whether to take the Bolsheviks seriously, Lenin was busy negotiating a peace treaty with the Germans.

It wasn't easy. Lenin had to convince members of his own party that it was worth it to formalize a complete capitulation to the Kaiser's forces. But at this point in time (so it seems), Vlad-the-Bad was (still?) enough of an "orthodox Marxist" to believe that the inevitable forces of history were about to push through the proletarian revolution in the industrial world, beginning very, very soon in Germany.

That didn't actually happen, as it turned out. So much for the inevitable-forces-of-history-blablabla, but by the time that was clear, Lenin was in his over-celebrated tomb and Stalin was working hard to make the ideology more "practical" (as an instrument of raw power, despotism, and mass murder).

But we're getting too far ahead. It's 1918 and Lenin is bold enough to play head of state. So, why not sign a treaty? Who cares? Treaty schmeety, no worries. Give them what they want on paper. The tide of the revolution will sweep everything away.

Well, the Germans wanted a lot. And in the Treaty of Brest-Livosk on March 3, 1918, they got it. But let's just look at a map from March 1918 (versions of this map are basically all over the Internet). Oh my!😟


Now, permit me to oversimplify to convey the gist of what we are seeing here (and also to indulge in a little more snark—which you guys know I don't do very often).

By 1918 the Ottoman Empire was not much to talk about. And ever since the accession of the Emperor Karl in the Fall of '16, the Austro-Hungarian multinational Empire had been a particularly unreliable ally for the "simpler" ambitions of the German Reich. Young Karl probably struck the Germans as a bit of a romantic with too many "medieval and Catholic notions" of government: silly things like justice, peace, and what was actually good for the various peoples he governed, not to mention the rest of Europe.

Sadly, no one paid any attention to Karl von Habsburg.

In this light, it would be an understatement to say that Germany felt very much in charge of matters in the East. Though they did not simply absorb the Baltics, Poland, and Ukraine, they were in place to dominate the entire region.

It appeared to be a smashing victory. It looked to some like a sketch of the future, of a "Greater Germany" with plenty of "living space" for Germans and with the pesky Slavs under foot.

But they had to win in the West and they had to win fast. Because the allied naval blockade and overall war weariness were on the verge of bringing down the economy at home. And the Americans were finally mobilized and due to arrive in Europe. The German high command knew they needed a daring plan to break through the Western Front in the Spring of 1918.

By now everyone knew that the old rules of war were out the window. The horrible new game of modern warfare called for new ways of fighting. The Germans decided to launch a major offensive led by small, light, fast-traveling units making quick hits on vulnerable points of their enemy's lines. Soldiers returning from the Eastern Front were retrained for these special units. They were trained to be smart, focused, and fast—to combine the most portable technological weaponry with intelligence and speed.

These units were supposed to strike like lightning. They were called Sturmabteilung. 1918 marked the appearance on center stage of the German "Stormtroopers."

And the strategy appeared to work. Indeed, led by the storm troop units, German forces broke through the lines in unprecedented ways, and for a few weeks of that Spring they dreamed of rolling back the Western Front. From April to July they had various successful advances; at one point they even approached Paris once again (the closest they had come since September 1914).

But the Germans were vastly overextended and the gains turned out to be more apparent than real. They were trying to occupy their new acquisitions in the East while also conquering in the West. Meanwhile the Americans joined the British and the French with vast numbers of fresh troops. The German economy began to tank. And the "Spanish Flu" hit everybody.

By November the Reich was exhausted. Their pride and their ambitions were bigger than their reach. After so much ugliness in Europe since 1914, it was the greater hubris that led to the greater fall.

The map of the Spring of 1918 above was more of a dream than a reality. Almost everyone was awake by November. But some continued to dream. They dreamed angry dreams of vengeance and wild dreams of conquest.

One enlisted man was determined to restore the victory of the Treaty of Brest-Livosk and more. For Corporal Adolf Hitler, the dream was just beginning, and it was destined to become the world's next nightmare.

Whoa! Where is My Hair?

Wait... what??!! WHY??!!!
πŸ˜‰
No, I'm not entering a monastery (obviously). I'm not trying to look like Kojak (though March 18 was the 40th anniversary of the last episode). Not like Yul Brynner either. Nor like... whatever bald guy is popular with all you young people today.

So WHAT HAPPENED?

Take it easy... I simply decided to give myself a haircut. No big deal.
.
It turned out a bit shorter than I planned, so I "evened it out" with a blade razor.

AND PEOPLE THINK I'M NOT PRACTICAL??😜 Heh... [it'll grow back, it'll grow back!☺]

Friday, April 20, 2018

Giving Our Weakness to Him

Lately I sound like I have been beating up on myself a bit. Maybe I have. (That's not good.) But by writing, I'm trying to work through it and get to the root of things.

This is a mood going around in me, for diverse reasons including the recent sufferings and health-and-living-situation needs of my beloved parents, and of course my own physical and mental health problems, which are always ready to hijack any stressful situation.

I am aware of all of this, and I am coping as best as I can. I am not discouraged.

The bottom line, of course, remains the same: I am a sinner.

I can't deny it. But I also must never be satisfied with it. There is no time for complacency or presumption. God is moving my life and changing me, and He wants me to cooperate with Him.

Easter means that Jesus has come into the midst of all my mess. Jesus is here with me, and I want to follow Him.

I'm on His mysterious journey, and it has plenty of dark valleys and sorrows on many levels. It's about healing me and raising me up to a supernatural life, making me a new creation, an adopted son of the Father.

I feel so small and superfluous, like an aimless floating piece of dust in this vast material universe. Yet at the same time I aspire to a beauty and greatness beyond the whole universe.

And in fact, I am drawn by the Mystery who creates all things, and I am called in all my smallness and empowered to take up this unimaginable journey of transformation so that I might live forever in the glory of the God who has revealed Himself as Love.

The journey, with all its depths, is also about sharing in the mysterious solidarity of the whole human race. We are all called to journey together as brothers and sisters, helping to carry one another's burdens, and allowing ourselves to be plunged into the great love of the heart of Jesus, which is always going out to the margins....

Sentimentalism won't get us very far. This is a difficult journey on a narrow road with gigantic obstacles and constant struggles. Again and again, I discover that I am weak and broken.

But God wants to carry us through all of that. He wants our crying out in pain–spiritual, emotional, or physical–to be a cry that begs for Him.

Where else can we bring these pains?

Jesus has already borne all of it, my weakness, my brokenness, all of it right down to the core of me… He has endured it all and wants me to open up that vulnerability so He can transform me. That doesn’t mean he’ll make me “feel better” (at least, not in the way I think He should), but He will deepen my trust in Him, and it is through trust that I am changed.

It is through trust that I begin to taste joy.

A priest once suggested to me a kind of "spiritual/mental exercise" that makes sense both on the level of faith and on the psychological level.

He told me to imagine I had a basket. I should take the anger, the fear, whatever, and (in my mind) put it in the basket, and then (again in my imagination) put the basket on the altar before the Blessed Sacrament and say “Jesus I give this to you.”

If I find more stuff still there inside me, I put it in the basket again. Bring it to the altar again. Give it to Jesus.

And again.

And again.

And again. Give it to Jesus.

"But I can't do this..." Grab that feeling right there, and put it in the basket. Bring it to the altar. Give it to Jesus.

"I feel so helpless..." Basket.

"My head hurts, I can't think, I'm exhausted..." Basket.

"But I don't want to change. I love myself. I want to keep my life. I don't want to give myself away!..." BASKET!

Okay, that’s a “technique” — it might be helpful, or it might not. If all we can do is groan in pain, let’s groan to the Father and let the Spirit groan in us. I am convinced that He works deeply this way. Just “give” it to Him.

God is not surprised by our pain. He has made it His own.

Somehow, we have to open up to Him and let Him "have it." He takes it to Himself, and transforms it even as He allows us to continue to "share it with Him."

This sounds mysterious because it is mysterious. But it touches faith and flows into hope and love. Whatever we may "feel" in the present moment, there is a deep level of encouragement that sustains us (somehow) and enables us to grow in the Spirit.

Feelings of discouragement? Put them in the basket. Jesus, have mercy on me. I trust in You!

On the other side of it all is an indestructible joy. A spark of this fire has already begun in our hearts, and sometimes others can see it even when we can't.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Speaking" My Mind...Literally

Today's blog post is being written [or at least "drafted"] by the use of a "speech-to-text" app.

Some days I just don't have enough energy to sit at the keyboard and write. So I want to see how well I can compose written text by speaking my mind directly to the little red blinking microphone.

Hmm... I can already see that I'm going to have to make some typographical and punctuation corrections [e.g. "typographical" originally came out as "type of graphical," but these corrections are easy enough to make].

Here's the thing: I am determined to continue to be a writer in whatever way I can by whatever means are available to me.

I wonder how well the speech-to-text function would work for putting down reflections of a more serious nature. Let me test it with some deep thoughts:
What always strikes me as the central focus of attention for all of my considerations--at least insofar as they're on the philosophical, social, and cultural level--is the centrality of the person
The practical, living awareness of the intrinsic dignity of each and every human person without exception is a crucial necessity for our time. We must give conscious attention to the human person in every circumstance and every context we consider, in individual and social problems, in relationships, in our philosophy, in our approach to every human problem.
This is the focus that I must continually remember whenever I'm reading, whenever I'm studying, researching, or thinking about any of the vast array of issues in the realm of our society today. 
If we are to move beyond the present crisis of the development of material power on a massive scale and the confusion regarding what it means to use this power in a responsible way--and if we want to find constructive and effective ways to respond to the new forms of violence and trauma that this "New Epoch" of colossal power is generating among individual persons and communities in society--we must discover anew, with greater depth and more ardent commitment, the reality of the person, of relationships, and of love.
Well that didn't work too badly although it requires a certain amount of cleaning up [and some later editorial adjustment and augmentation to make it somewhat clearer]. I'm not sure this is easier than just writing it down or typing it out. But it does give me an option that frees me from having to fumble with a keyboard.

Maybe I should just make videos or podcasts instead. Maybe I will do more of that sort of thing. Interactive forms of audiovisual media are becoming easier and more accessible for everyone.

But I do think that writing is a mode of communication that has its own inherent value. Even if I'm "speaking the words" (as in this exercize) I'm still in the "writing mode" in my process of pondering my thoughts and expressing them.

Anyway, having said that, I'll sign off for now. Tune in next time for more exciting episodes of The Never Give Up Blog!πŸ˜‰

Monday, April 16, 2018

Virginia Tech Remembrance Day 2018

April 16 marks the 11th anniversary of the excruciating ordeal of Virginia Tech, when a mentally ill gunman armed with multiple weapons went on a horrific shooting spree on the campus, killing 32 students and faculty before taking his own life.

Remembering those who died, those who survived, and all their loved ones, and all my Hokie peeps on this day.πŸ’š


Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Hope that Holds On and Refuses to Let Go

We are still in the Easter Season.

The light of that Day continues to fill these days and the days to come. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. This is the Day that fills all days, all history, all of creation.

Jesus Christ is Risen today, Alleluia!

Through His death and resurrection, Jesus defines and gives measure to every moment of our lives, directly, personally, by the power of His love for each one of us.

But it's hard to "rejoice" in the midst of tribulations and sorrows. I don't want to even pretend that I can "do it," or that I know how it corresponds to my present psychological state. It seems like a kind of miracle whenever I encounter a person who is filled with an authentic and even palpable joy in the midst of affliction. Indeed, it is a beautiful and encouraging witness. And these persons are always full of compassion and understanding. They open up new "spaces of hope" within us. 

The truth is that every step, even the tiniest step, toward Easter joy is a miracle. But it happens. We can take these steps.

The Risen Jesus is Lord of our real life: the aspirations and successes, the compassion and courage and works of love we do, and the disappointment, the suffering, the sins, the failures, the weakness, the most appalling afflictions and all the incomprehensible, banal, repetitive, small, and apparently meaningless moments we endure and live day after day.

Christ is Risen! Rejoice.

And maybe sometimes that "joy" feels like nothing but the bare grip by which we hold on to Him in the dark with wild hope and refuse to let go of Him even when everything seems crazy or lost.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

What is Certain...

"If anyone should ask: 'What is certain in life and death--so certain that everything else may be anchored in it? The answer is: The love of Christ."

~Romano Guardini

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie's "Simple Words" Can Still Help Us

Here we are at 22 months since Christina Grimmie completed her brief beautiful journey through this present life. It's a wonderful thing that her YouTube channel remains active and all her social media accounts are still accessible.

And 99% of what we can find there are her lovely and unique arrangements of popular songs, or a large variety of fun, endearing, often goofy and always sincere expressions of herself and her amazing capacity to interact with people and draw them into the joyful, hopeful environment she generated.

Along the way, she would just say things to her frands that would "go deeper." Sometimes she was responding to a particular person or issue; other times it was just a kind of organic expression of the whole integrating foundation and form of her life. From time to time, she would just gratuitously articulate something fundamentally important.

And it seemed to come as "naturally" to her as singing or talking about pizza.


It_used to strike me as really good how she would witness her faith like this "to kids," and how her words were all the more meaningful because she was just so normal. Expressions that might sound like tired overused phrases from a preacher (or—😏sheesh—a theology professor) had a freshness and a seriousness for her young frands when they occasionally popped up on her Twitter feed.

In this season of my life, however, I find real encouragement for myself in revisiting these simple words. These words mean a lot, and her assurance about them holds more weight than ever for me: "Trust me on this one."

Okay. I will.

I really needed to hear this, today. Thanks again, Grimmie.πŸ’š

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Miracle

"When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: 'Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better.'"

~Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate 15

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Trust

"God is good. All the time."
"All the time. God is good."

Jesus, I trust in you.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

I Am a Poor, Weak, Powerless Human Being

I am a poor man. A sinner. Weak. Afraid. Worth nothing.

The smallest things break me. Bigger things shatter me. Truly, I am a poor man and I can't do anything.

I try to hide this.

I hide behind my intellectual and literary skills. I hide behind my illness. I hide behind pious statements. I hide behind humor.

These things are real enough in themselves. My interests and passions and abilities and health limitations are real enough. But I use them to hide the poverty of my inmost self, my emptiness, my desperate neediness and hunger that I don't understand. There is this awful cavernous hole in me and I'm terrified of it.

I'm afraid because I can't satisfy my own hunger.

I know (mostly intellectually) that Jesus can feed me. But I don't know how he does it, and I can't "see" him.

It's Easter week. Jesus, where are you!? ...

My father is 83 years old as of yesterday. He is ill and suffering much as he rapidly loses physical and mental capacities.

I'm his son, and I'm useless in front of him. My brother and my wife have been doing so much to see to his care. Thank God for them.

Given his current condition, the material circumstances surrounding him and the quality of his physicians and caregivers are the best we can hope for. That is a great relief. But he is confused and sad. Everything he has had in life is slipping out of his reach.

I don't know what to do. What can I give to him?

I spend time with him and he can't communicate (though he tries, and I feel the human anguish coming out). I can't give him what he seems to be asking for. I can't "make it get better." I don't "have" what he really wants.

I myself have been gut-punched by this sudden upheaval of life. My own long-afflicted body has very little capacity for handling stress; I survive by pacing things and stretching out small portions of energy. I am grateful for so many others who have helped in the chaos of these days.

But I am exhausted and overwhelmed and cut to the heart, because this is my father.

He suffers. I'm powerless.

Ultimately what can any of us do? What a gap there is between our desire to change things and the actual control we have over the situations of life!

Here we are, surrounded by all the technological power and the material resources and the gadgetry of the 21st century, and at the center of it all we are just poor frail human beings, whose brief lives pass in a blink (or two) of an eye.

Jesus, have mercy on my Dad. Have mercy on our family. Have mercy on me, a weak and sinful man.

Lord, here is the poverty and the pain and the hunger that looks to you and cries out to you.

We need you! I need you!