Thursday, July 28, 2016

Francis at World Youth Day 2016

"The water that became wine at the wedding banquet
is a great sign,
for it reveals to us the spousal face of God,
a God who sits at table with us,
who dreams and holds communion with us.
It tells us that the Lord does not keep his distance,
but is near and real.
He is in our midst and he takes care of us,
without making decisions in our place
and without troubling himself with issues of power.
He prefers to let himself be contained in little things,
unlike ourselves,
who always want to possess something greater.
To be attracted by power,
by grandeur, by appearances,
is tragically human.
It is a great temptation
that tries to insinuate itself everywhere.
But to give oneself to others,
eliminating distances,
dwelling in littleness
and living the reality of one’s everyday life:
this is exquisitely divine."

~Pope Francis

This morning Pope Francis visited the monastery of Jasna Gora and the great shrine to the Blessed Mother in Czestochowa, Poland. The text above is an excerpt from his homily on John 2:1-11.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

World Youth Day 2016: Why Do They Come?

Millions of youth from all over the world are gathering together in an ancient city in Poland with a man from Argentina who is nearly 80 years old. They gather together in love, peace, and solidarity.

A phenomenon like this should cause any reasonable 21st century person to think and ask serious questions. The fact that we have grown accustomed to these gatherings doesn't make them any less amazing if we pay attention to what is actually happening.

What moves young people to do something like this? What in the world could possibly generate such a gathering?

An ideology?

A political faction?

An abstract story and a set of rules? A collection of sentiments? A general benevolence and vague hope for a humanitarian future?

Remember, we're talking about kids here. Actual young people with the energy and enthusiasm and possibilities to do all kinds of things. Why do young people get together? Why would a million young people get together? They gather because they expect something to happen.

It's not an ideology, or an institution constructed by our own power, or a nostalgia for the past.

That's not why they have come.

They have come together because of an event that really happened in history and that lives right now, an event that generates an encounter, that even today takes hold of human lives and changes them and makes them free.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Daisy in the Sun

This was a pretty popular picture I posted on Instagram and other social media accounts, so I might as well put it up here too.

It's quite simple, a daisy in the summer sun.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Still Alive On This Earth

Blue Ridge mountains of my home.
There are some mornings when I wake up surprised that I'm still alive. It can be a wonderful surprise or an anxious preoccupation, or (most often) something in between.

In any case, I have reached the age where I no longer simply take for granted that "one day will just follow upon another" for gazillions of years of a vast future. Such is the horizon of youth, even for young people who know that no one's days are guaranteed. We all feel especially the strangeness of death when it takes someone in the flower of their youth.

In many ways, I still feel young, and I'm starting to realize that "being young at heart" is more than a cliche. It is the task of gratitude, and it is the anecdote to the emotional immaturity that afflicts me and so many of my generation. It grows in tandem with a realism about the "normal" course of human life and the mystery of God's plan for each individual person's life that corresponds to his or her unique identity.

More and more, I have begun to feel the "vastness" of my own past, the volume of life that I have already lived. I am enriched by many memories even as I am haunted by the awareness of how much time I have wasted.

What remains ahead, especially for someone of my health? It's not something I want to dwell on. I can only do my best to take care of myself, and trust in God that the time ahead will be enough for me and for those who love me. The span of what is "enough," of course, remains a mystery. It always has been a mystery. It always has been a gift, and it is a gift right now.

It is a gift that I awaken to another day. Rather than be overcome by the creeping cynicism of my time of life, I prefer to reconsider and reaffirm my priorities.

Today, I have to judge. I have to act.

Jesus first, above all things, in all things. Jesus, asking for my love. I do love Him. I pray to recognize Him more, ignore Him less, love Him in action with less ambiguity and more simplicity and directness, love Him in all the ways He gives Himself to me.

Beyond everything that constitutes what we would call daily "spiritual" activities (which are essential for any Christian), my life still travels the roads of this world. Here I have to live my life and attend to my responsibilities. Though these mundane realities are themselves deeply charged with mystery, it is possible to articulate much about them, and to consider the duties, possibilities, and questions that they continue to provoke.

Most of life is in the little things, of course. Still, although I know I cannot number my days, there remain horizons that it's only reasonable to ponder. What do I see on this part of my journey, and how does it shape today and whatever days might follow from the merciful hand of God?

I am a man, a husband, a father, a companion to my wife, a paternal authority, guide, and example to my children. I am also--in various ways and to the degree that I am able--a help to others. Whether as a friend or mentor (or both), a supporter, or a source of encouragement, I recognize that on the journey of my life there are others who walk with me, and some who, in a particular way, have been entrusted to me, to the attention, affection, and solicitude of my heart. And I likewise have been entrusted to them.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, my family, my friends, and the many kinds of companionship that often arise in spontaneous and unexpected ways (especially in our times)-- all call upon my daily fidelity in truth and love, appropriately, with discretion, with purity of heart. Here I find the daily struggle to regard the person in front of me above my own selfishness and whims, my own power to manipulate, my own unresolved frustrations and anger.

And though I live with many limitations of health, I remain committed to responsibilities and goals of my profession. Disability (and consequent early "retirement") notwithstanding, I do what I can to keep writing and to live according to my vocation as a teacher and scholar, a "theologian" (God have mercy on me) and philosopher.

Nor do I wish to neglect the artist, poet, and musician that are rooted in my earliest years and that still stir in me. For too long I have set aside my artistry, but in my present circumstances and time of life I find it awakening once more. If nothing else, I want to support and encourage creative young people (starting with my own kids).

I know something of the peculiar suffering of artistic people and the pressures and stresses that often accompany their gifts. Words are the tools of my craft, and poetry is my art (though I find it very difficult). Music, which was as necessary to me as air in my youth, struggles to reawaken, if not through much diminished former skills, at least in the ear and the heart. Drama and cinema, as art and not simply "entertainment," call forth my appreciation and critical skill.

There is much to live for. Indeed, it is more than I can handle on any one day. The vocation of each person's life has its priorities, and I pray that I might attend to them properly and be less distracted. This too is a daily challenge and a daily struggle, full of trying and failing and beginning again. Always begin again. Never let discouragement win. Never give up.

I am surprised by each day, surprised by life. Sometimes it can be hard. Some days are harder than others. But I am glad and grateful to be still alive on this earth today.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

VIDEO: "Deep Topics" Episode 1

Here is a short video which I have titled "Deep Topics," but if you look at who is peeking over my shoulder, you can guess that laughs are in store.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Insecurity and the Search for Solid Ground

The human being has this terrible insecurity deep down inside of his or her life.

I know I do. Since I was a child, my introspection, obsessiveness, and anxiety have convinced me that I cannot trust in myself. I cannot be confident about my opinions of myself. I cannot be confident that I am seeing reality in the right way.

I don't usually feel very well-grounded. Often I suffer powerful anxiety that seems disproportionate to any immediately perceptible provocation. I try to "keep it to myself," but when it breaks through the surface it reveals to others (and to me) something of the fragility and anguish that remains in me, that I would rather ignore.

Although I have peculiar neuropsychiatric issues here, I don't think that this problem is unusual. We all deal with it on some level. We all search, sometimes desperately, for secure ground upon which to stand in reliable "safety," with a self-sustained confidence that gives us a sense of control over things.

For many years, I attempted to trust in a kind of "Christian ideology." I attempted to impose a conception of what was "necessary to be a good Catholic" on the awful ambiguity of my life. It required a fair amount of rationalizing, interpreting, and good old fashioned fibbing to stuff the mess of my life inside this box so that it would not haunt my sense of self-confidence.

Alongside of this, of course, God was at work, I was praying, seeking Him, and genuinely desiring (in however wobbly a fashion) to do His will and to trust in Him. Yet the ultimate uncertainty of my ideas constantly undermined my confidence.

Illness has forced me to face the need to rely on other people. Yet this reliance cannot become an escape from the responsibility of being a unique human person called to grow in understanding and love, to give of myself.

What a relief it would be to bury my freedom, and simply conform myself to the judgment of others. There is the temptation here to seek an unhealthy "safety" in the personalities of other people, to root myself in other people's coherence, as if the reason why I ought to follow the guidance of my wife, my doctors, my friends, my confessor and spiritual father is because they "have it all together" and I don't.

But this kind of attachment-based security doesn't hold up either, because it becomes clear enough--sooner or later--that the other people I put my trust in are weak human beings too, with flaws and limitations and failures of judgment. A crisis ensues in which my security crashes, or else it holds together only through a further irrational submission of my personality to the psychological and emotional manipulation of the (now increasingly domineering) others who seek from me a level of trust beyond what they deserve.

Nevertheless, I live in communion with these other people. We are called to help one another. How is this possible? Where are the roots of the trust that can enable me with all my fragility to live as a human person in communion with other human persons? How can I be confident and self-possessed in a real human community which is guided by the service of authority, by those who are called to assume responsibility for the common good, for its continuity with the past and readiness for the future?

The foundation of life, the dynamism of its expansion and vitality, is trust. Where are the radical roots of a genuine secure, human trust?

For me, there is only one answer. I have to trust in Jesus. This, for me, is not only a spiritual but also a psychological necessity.

I am grounded in Jesus. I cry out to Him and beg for that certainty, and to keep my life centered on Him. In the Church He lives as a Presence for me now: as a way, as gestures, as a companionship. And other persons are given to me by Him to help me to insert myself into that life. It is He who works through them. It is because of His love for me that I can trust them. Even if we make a mistake, I can trust that He is behind us to catch us.

Look at this great mystery: Christian Marriage. Let's be frank here: I drive my poor wife crazy. There is nothing surprising about that after 20 years. But through all the messiness, through the bond that holds us and makes us "one," Eileen and I do help each other.

And together we carry out the task of shaping an environment (kooky, flawed, but also--we hope--full of faith, hope, love, intelligence, and openness) in which our children are growing and maturing as persons.

It's not because we are coherent. It's because marriage is a sacrament. It's grounded in Him. 

From here, it becomes possible to perceive that my relationships with my other companions are grounded in Him, in the communion of saints; that my relationship with every human person is grounded in Him who is the Savior of the world; that my relationship with reality is grounded in Him who is Lord of all creation.

Beyond any pathological condition, there is that radical anxiety, that radical fear of uncertainty, that afflicts us all. The healing we all need comes from Jesus. This is why He says, "believe in me."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Kateri Tekakwitha: A Girl Who Still Shows Us the Ways of Love

On this feast day of the flower of North America, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), I'm posting the story I published two years ago in MAGNIFICAT (July 2014).

In every place and time, when the Gospel is preached, courageous young women rise up who follow Jesus with all their hearts. Their beautiful (and often mysteriously brief) lives are a shining witness, and their light brightens the path for those around them and for those who come after.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

You Are Precious to Him

"Jesus loves you always,
even when you don’t feel worthy.
When not accepted by others,
[or] even by yourself sometimes,
He is the one 
who always accepts you.
Only believe, you are precious to Him.
Bring all you are suffering to His feet,
only open your heart
to be loved by Him as you are.
He will do the rest."

~Mother Teresa

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Love and Mercy, Today, for the Whole Mess of My Life

We are more than halfway through this year of 2016. And I am already beginning to see the approach of my "mid-50s." There are so many memories to look back upon.

And I must face the truth: I have made a great bungle of my life.

I have failed at nearly everything, and when I have succeeded it has been by the energy of pride and ambition, the self-promotion of vanity and hypocrisy, the desires for what I want, for what pleases me and gives me comfort, for what gratifies my ego and fosters my sentimental illusions.

Illusions. So many illusions. But relentless time begins to make them crumble. I begin to taste the temptations of the later years of life: desperate self-justification, bitterness, envy, cynicism, despair.

However it may look to others or to my own self-deception, there can be no denying that my life has been a mess.

And I cannot use "illness" as an excuse. On the contrary, my greatest failures and (worse) hypocritical, posturing pseudo-"successes" are in the ways I have understood and responded to suffering.

But wait. Stop. Am I not a good man? I pray. I try, at least sometimes. I do believe the advice I have given to others, "Keep praying. Keep trying. Move forward. Never give up!" I haven't given up. Right?

I do try, and when I fail I get up and try again. But so often it's all just tepid. It's half-hearted. It's all tinged, everywhere, with selfishness. Yes, I have loved! But always there is, somewhere, the weight that pulls at least some of that love down from the level of a gift to the level of a transaction. I give of myself, but because I am expecting to get in return.

I have loved, really and honestly, but not with an entire purity of heart. There is always some part of my heart that is calculating and maneuvering so that whatever I good I do, it always ends up being about me.

Too often this selfish tinge is what gives energy to the motivation to love. When I can't see what's in it for me, my love is small and weak and driven by duties that I rationalize away as much as possible.

I look back on 53-and-a-half years of being a proud, irresponsible, vain, lazy, foolish man. It didn't have to be this way. My life could have been so much better!

I suppose it could have been worse, but I can't take credit for that. The grace and the calling and the beauty of God have been so abundantly showered upon me in my life. If I have accomplished anything truly well, if I have loved rightly and truly given myself at all (beyond the murky mixture of my own obscure motives), it is because of the action of this grace in my soul.

Grace and mercy.

What of all the failures of the past? God in His mercy will turn all of it to the good, if only I trust in Him and love Him, now, today.

My love will still be tinged with selfishness, but the miracle is the wonder, the fascination, the recognition and response to God that He begins to engender within my poor love by His healing and transforming grace.

The real story of my life is the mysterious story of what His grace and mercy are accomplishing in me as I beg for His presence, as I seek to adhere to Him and trust in Him and let myself be embraced by Him who has become flesh. Jesus Christ.

I am truly sorry for my foolish life and I am determined to keep trying to do better, to grow as a person, to grow in understanding and love and doing good. But my hope is not in any power that I can give to myself (I should know better by now), much less in an inventory of what I'd like to imagine I've accomplished in my long and mixed up past (God help me!).

My hope is in Him. My hope is in Jesus Christ. By His grace, I hope to adhere to Him whose redeeming love is greater than my weakness, who has loved me from the beginning, who never gives up on me.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Path in a Park

This image is from a photo that I augmented, edited, and recast in a "painting" style (sort of "impressionistic," perhaps), working with tools from Paint[dot]Net open photo editing software. If nothing else it's an artifact of one of the ways I use to relax my brain.

Monday, July 4, 2016

America: "A Renewed Spirit of Fraternity and Solidarity"

The United States of America turns 240 years old today. Today is a day for Americans to relax and celebrate and watch fireworks. It is also a day to be grateful to God for so many amazing blessings He has bestowed upon us.

I chose as my reflection for today a section of Pope Francis's speech that he gave at the historic convening of a joint session of the United States Congress on September 14, 2015, wherein he addressed crucial issues of our time involving religion and violence, freedom, solidarity, and cooperation in relation to the American experience. 
"A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.
"But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.
"We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.
"Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.
We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent.
"Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.
"The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity, and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.
"In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.
"Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
"Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).
"If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life."

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Somme: A New Bloodbath Begins (July 1, 1916)

'Those about to die' head over the trenches.
I'm two days late.

I have set myself the gruesome task of noting some key moments in the Centenary of Infamy. Let us return once again to France, in the year 1916.

Recall that the German army had initiated an offensive at Verdun on the Meuse river in February that turned into a six month blood-drenched stalemate. With the hell of Verdun still swallowing the young lives of French and German alike, the allied forces nonetheless decided to go ahead with their plan to open an offensive of their own to the northwest, along the Somme river.

The plan drawn up the previous year had called for the French to lead the offensive with support from the British Expeditionary Force. But since the French were too busy dying at Verdun, the majority of the offensive was given over to the British.

It began on July 1, 1916. Now it was England's turn to plow headlong into the futility of trench warfare, to hurl an entire generation of young men at the unprecedented relentless fire of machine guns far more sophisticated than the Maxim gun first pioneered by the British themselves in their own colonial wars. Now the "devil's paintbrush" turned its deadly strokes on them.

On that first day of July, one hundred years ago, the British suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, a third of them fatal. The "Battle of the Somme" would eventually draw blood from a million men on both sides before the end of the year.

Too often we must note that famous definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Poor mad Europe in the summer of 1916. These were the same people, the same leaders, who -- two years earlier -- prided themselves on being the most advanced civilization in the history of the human race, invested with the responsibility to impose order on the whole world.

And now, a hundred years later. we think we are wiser. We think we know better. We think we are stronger and more humane.

Over what monstrous abyss might we be standing, even now, proud and blind and ready to tumble into new and unimaginable forms of madness?

A generation of unknown soldiers without tombs.

Friday, July 1, 2016


On July 2, I turn fifty-three-and-a-half years old!

ME: Hey Josefina, tomorrow is my "half-birthday." Whatcha gonna get me?

HER: ...a half of a card.

Whoa! SIZZLE! Fried by Jojo. I deserved it. I asked for that one!

She's still small enough that I can carry her on my back sometimes.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Christina Grimmie: Shine On, Bright Beautiful Star

The goodbye salute, from her room to the screens of millions of people all over the world.
I wanted to find a few words before the end of this month to express at least some part of the awful grief that cast such a shadow over America in that bloody second weekend of June 2016. This grief has been something I have shared as it has unfolded over the ensuing weeks. Though it hasn't been immediate for me personally, of course, it has also been something more than remote.

In particular, as a musician and promoter of independent music, a participant in the new media and interactive telecommunications revolution that is happening in our time, and simply as a father, my heart is broken and at the same time deeply, mysteriously touched by the awful events that took place in Orlando the night before the mass-murder at the Pulse nightclub, and the responses from around the world that continue to pour in.

Above all, I want to honor the luminous young person who died that night of June 10, but who, for a few short years, brought a singular gift and an extraordinary personal presence to the world of music and the world of the internet.

Simple beginnings in the summer of 2009
Christina Grimmie started to sing covers on YouTube in 2009, when she was 15 years old. She was a girl from New Jersey with an electric piano keyboard and a webcam, making videos in her room and uploading them to her own YouTube channel.

At the time, homemade videos that other people could actually watch were starting to catch on thanks to advances in internet speed and the quality of computer cameras. And other viewers were able to respond in YouTube's own "comments" section, as well as through links with other social media.

Thus young people, who are so often the ones who discover new possibilities, began to post homemade videos and to watch the posts of their contemporaries. Most of the videos that went up were only interesting to their small circles of friends (and this alone was enough to make it great fun). But there were those who used the medium to share some truly high quality creative work in areas like music, comedy, short cinematic productions, etc. Others just had a knack for putting up appealing videos that people watched and shared.

These YouTubers attracted tens of thousands of views and regular subscribers. The "YouTube star" was born at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. So was the "YouTube fan." Most of us older folks didn't even notice.

Christina Grimmie didn't set out to become a YouTube star. But she was a girl full of music, bursting with music, and she had a very special, soulful, and mellifluous voice. She also had something else, an indefinable gift, a charisma that enabled her to reach through the screen and connect in a striking and vivid way with viewers.

The views (and soon the subscribers to her channel) multiplied rapidly. Christina was a natural genius for the kind of audiovisual interaction that YouTube had begun to make possible.

She made followers all over the world feel like they belonged to something special, and that they were participating in her aspirations to develop as an artist. In fact, they really did help, with their requests, their comments, and their enthusiasm.

In a couple of years, her singing voice had become something really unique, authoritative, powerful, versatile, wide-ranging, and bold. I'm not especially a fan of mainstream pop-style music. But Christina took banal songs from pop-charts, brought her special vocal and keyboard magic to them, and totally knocked them out of the park. And she just kept getting better and better.

Soon she had over a million subscribers. Other possibilities opened up and she began to make studio recordings of songs she had written herself.

"Rawwk Fingers," the official Team Grimmie hand salute
Meanwhile, when she wasn't singing and expertly playing her keyboard, she was talking to her viewers, making them laugh, inviting them to share in her goofiness and wacky observations. As time went on she became more creative and more hilarious. She named her faithful viewers "Team Grimmie," invented special words, goofy spellings, and hand gestures. She built up a connection between herself and the team, and gave them credit for her own success. And they had a great deal to do with spreading her music through social media and building up the team through their interaction with her and one another.

Christina covered pop hits and sang love songs, but something distinguished her from most of mainstream music. I don't know what to call it other than a straight, upfront, unaffected joy and innocence. She was funny and stylish but never crude or indecent. Her videos were entirely "clean," but not in a laborious or self-conscious way. She was just being herself, and she had all this light shining out of her, and it was this light and its gentle warmth that she shared more than anything. She was so lovably human, but also "different" because her foundation was something greater than herself.

Though she never proselytized, it was no secret to any of her followers that at the center of Christina Grimmie's life was her faith in Jesus Christ. She was throughout her life an Evangelical Christian who lived her faith deeply and intensely but also with joy and humility. She occasionally mentioned her faith as though it were a very natural thing, but people understood that it was everything to her. This is what I perceived, and everything that was said after her death confirmed it: she loved Jesus. She really loved Jesus. This love was her freedom and the deep source of her light, and she sought to shine it even more widely and deeply into the often dark, obscure world of mainstream entertainment.

After her death, Twitter followers went back to this tweet from 2013 and retweeted it all over the world again.
This is why she turned to mainstream television in 2014. She was already a YouTube sensation when she tried out for the celebrity-coached talent show The Voice. (Her initial "blind audition" has become one of the legendary moments in the history of the genre of these TV talent shows.) She sang her way through the whole season and made the final round, finishing third and winning the hearts of some of the biggest celebrities in music as well as countless TV fans of all ages.

After The Voice she did more concert tours and recorded more of her own music. But she continued to remain engaged with her YouTube base, which grew to over three and a half million subscribers. She not only kept posting videos and live streaming with her "frands" (as she called her loyal followers), she also dedicated much time to them after live shows so that she could meet them in person, speak to them, and hear their stories.

It was at one of these meet-and-greet sessions after the concert in Orlando, Florida, on June 10, 2016, that a deranged man approached Christina and opened fire from two Glock pistols, then turned a gun on himself after being tackled to the ground by her brother and bandmate Mark Grimmie. Christina died shortly thereafter.

She was 22 years old.

Little is known about the killer, and I cannot bring him out of his own shadows. Some might see this as an example of the dark side of social media, but I think it's much simpler: people with great hearts who love courageously always leave themselves vulnerable to danger. This has been true since the beginning of the world. It's important to take prudent precautions, but when the goal of a person is to give his or herself to others, there will always be a risk. Many questions have been raised once again in our national discourse about what "prudent precautions" can be taken to reduce the violence that killed Christina Grimmie and then, the following night, killed 49 more people and injured many others in a three hour reign of terror at the Pulse nightclub. These are good questions, but I do not want to raise them here.

I only want to note, once again, that love is always a risk. But it's a risk worth taking. Christina knew that risk; she knew that God Himself had taken the risk for her, and for every person, so that love would win the victory, so that love would be marked with the promise of the resurrection.

Christina used to greet her frands with open arms when they approached, and so too on that fatal night she opened her arms to embrace the man who was about to kill her, and thereby rendered herself completely defenseless against him.

It was the defenselessness of love.

I will close on this note, with the beautiful words of one of her own songs, entitled With Love.

You called me out and taught me tough
With love, with love.
You fought my flaws, my teeth, my claws
With love, with love.
Cause every time I'm slipping away from myself,
You're the one that moves me like nobody else.

Cause when I'm down and I'm done,
And I'm coming unplugged
When I'm ready to fall
You're the one always holding me up
With love.

Your tongue won't tie; you'll always find
The truth, yeah you do
But still you smile despite the lines
I drew for you.

Cause every time I'm slipping away from myself,
You're the one that moves me like nobody else.

Cause when I'm down and I'm done,
And I'm coming unplugged
When I'm ready to fall
You're the one always holding me up
With love.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Morality and the Face of Mercy

"Christian morality is not the titanic, willful effort
of one who decides to be coherent and who succeeds,
a sort of solitary challenge in face of the world.
No, this isn’t Christian morality;
it’s something else.
Christian morality is an answer,
it is a moved answer in the face of the astonishing mercy,
unforeseeable, in fact, “unjust” according to human criteria,
of One who knows me,
knows my betrayals and loves me anyway,
esteems me, embraces me, calls me again,
hopes in me, expects from me.
Christian morality is not to never fall,
but to get up always,
thanks to His hand, which takes us."

~Pope Francis

Friday, June 24, 2016

Twenty Years Together

Eileen and I celebrated our 20th Anniversary on June 22. We had a lovely but pretty laid back day, which was just fine with both of us.

Honestly, it doesn't "seem like only yesterday." A lot of life has been lived. We have lots of memories. Yet, in contrast to many of our friends, it seems like we are still "early in the game." We have a kid in college, we have teenagers, and we have a... well, we have a Josefina (who is always "outside the box").

People my age often have in-laws and grandchildren and other adventures with their twenty-something- (or even thirty-something-) aged kids. These are experiences I still cannot even imagine.

God willing, we have plenty to look forward to in the future, and then also maybe (if time and health permit) we can visit Rome again as happy old folks and feel the Mediterranean sun on a beach while we eat linguine with fresh clams.

I thought that, in honor of our twentieth, I would revisit the photography of the years and give you a few peeks. This time, I am posting (as much as possible) pictures of just me and Eileen without the kids. Since Eileen is not a person who relishes being in pictures, it's not easy to find photos of just the two of us, but I have done my best.

What follows is a nice little photo album. I'm sure my own parents (who actually read this blog) will enjoy seeing these.

Wedding picture, June 22, 1996.
Wedding reception, June 22, 1996.
Sometime in 1996, early on.
Skipping ahead to around 2000. We're in Northern California where Eileen's folks live.
This is the summer of 2001. Again at Eileen's parents' house, at that time in the Bay Area. Always loved these visits.
The early 00's, when it was no longer possible to have pictures without kids, but while I was still clean shaven.
January 2004. Eileen is holding Teresa, who is about 13 months old.
June 22, 2004, our eighth wedding anniversary.
Spring 2005 (John Paul's first communion) and Fall 2005 (with Agnese).
Christmas 2005. This was one of the pictures that did not go out with Christmas cards that year. We're both laughing!
June 2007, at the parish picnic. A lot has happened since the previous picture. Josefina was born and back home after
her seven month odyssey in the hospital. My health is about to collapse, and Eileen will continue with great courage.
Easter 2008, during a difficult year. We decided that I should "retire" and Eileen would then begin the certification (and Masters degree) in Montessori Education that undergirds her present career. Here we didn't know how things would work out.
Christmas 2010. Eileen is teaching and all five kids are in the program. Somehow, I managed to write a book.
Summer 2011. Eileen has finished the work for her M.Ed. I've been writing a "blog" for several months.
Easter 2012.
2012 or 2013? At a Nats game. John Paul is with us too. He's taking the picture.
Christmas season/early 2013.
Christmas time 2014/2015.
Six months ago, at Christmas. I had to wear a summer jacket because it was so warm.
Easter 2016
We're hoping to do some more fun things this summer, so maybe we can get an updated picture soon.

Eileen Janaro, you are beautiful. Thank you for these past twenty precious years. I will always love you!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thomas More: "A Taste of Your Holy, Blessed Spirit"

Give me, good Lord,
a humble, lowly, quiet, peaceable, patient,
charitable, kind, tender, and merciful mind,
with all my works
and all my words
and all my thoughts
to have a taste of Your holy blessed Spirit.
Give me, good Lord,
a full faith, a firm hope, and a fervent charity;
a love for You, good Lord,
incomparably above the love of myself;
and that I love nothing to Your displeasure,
but everything for the sake of You.

~Saint Thomas More

Monday, June 20, 2016

Friday, June 17, 2016

We Weep Wet Tears

We weep wet tears
while blood red roses bloom in the sun.
Life drains out from our eyes
and we feel like drops disappearing
in the ruthless rush of endless waters
pouring down a cold dark hole.

But our hearts know that it is not so.
We do not vanish into the arid night.

We each have faces
loved into our own shape.
And I know the unrepeatable jewel that is myself,
holding it in the light of love
for my brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Time for Silence, for Mourning, for Listening to God

I have no words.

I have read so many words in these days, as if somehow we might be able to use our voluminous and conflicting words to forget the terrible fragility of human life, the awful vulnerability of our brothers and sisters and our own selves. We are so easily broken and dissolved, and nevertheless we are entrusted to one another. We are responsible for one another.

I have no words of my own for times such as these. They are too jarring, too painfully close to our broken hearts, too incomprehensible....

I need to listen again to what was spoken long ago, to listen as though I am hearing it for the first time:
"Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13).
Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:21-22).
"If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20-21).
Whoever loves God must also love his brother, his sister. Do we even know what this means, or how to even begin to love like this?

This is a time for silence, for grief, for sorrow, and for listening to God.

Can we not mourn the fallen, console the sorrowful, and clear away our own noise to make space for God to come?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Saint Barnabas the Apostle (June 11)

"The Church in Jerusalem...sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord. Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians" (Acts 11:22-26).

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Forgiveness: Is It Really Possible?

Deep down, people don't believe in forgiveness. We may talk about it, but in our hearts we don't really think it's possible.

Why is this? It's connected to the deep alienation, the terrible loneliness that we suffer from and that nevertheless we think we must foster and validate in the name of individualism.

We are under the illusion that we must radically establish--each individually and by our own power--our personal being and value. But if I see "myself" as consisting in an autonomous project of self-definition, a project that I carry out alone, I will run into my own limitations everywhere. I will always fall short. And if I am truly alone, what can I do when I fail, other than condemn myself and suffer the condemnation of others.

Thus we become desperate. We try to bend reality itself, so that we can define our failures as success, and demand that others do the same. This can only be brought about by a refusal to look at the heritage of human experience, and the dynamics of real life and its inherent direction. We end up doing violence to ourselves and others. This violence, in turn, must be justified and redefined. We try to extend our redefinition of humanity into the realms of politics, society, and culture, and even to suppress those who dissent. The truth is that we are afraid to be alone with the horror of what we have made of ourselves.

But perhaps our society may begin to notice that redefining the standards of what it means to be human, among other things, doesn't work. We still bump into our own limitations, everywhere. We who claim to be "free" are in fact a society obsessed with guilt, terrified of failure, and full of self-loathing. We flee into addictions in a desperate effort to distract ourselves. To put it simply: we are not happy.

But what if I am not "alone"?

What if the core of my person consists in "belonging-to-Another"? What if my real life is in fact a relationship with the Source of all meaning and goodness? And what if I begin to realize that my very be-ing in this moment is the result of the fact that I am being loved by the One who is Infinite Love?

If this is true, then I am "good" and my humanity is a gift. A precious gift. I am precious to Someone. And when I fail, I can seek forgiveness. I can hope that the One who is Good will make me good. This hope is written on my heart, and I do not need to suffocate it. There is forgiveness.

We do not need new definitions of humanity and new social totatitarianisms to impose them. We need the prayer for forgiveness. Each of us and all of us need the prayer and the hope for forgiveness. We need forgiveness and mercy from the infinitely merciful One who always holds our hearts with love. And we need to forgive ourselves, and (this is especially important) to forgive one another.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016