Friday, October 22, 2021

Happy JP2 Day!


Today is the memorial of Saint John Paul II (Pope from 1978-2005) who was a “witness to hope” for our generation, and for today and the future:

Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man’. He alone knows it. So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.

~Saint John Paul II (October 22, 1978)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Marriage Jubilee at the Cathedral

This past Sunday, October 17, Eileen and I participated in the diocesan Mass for married couples celebrating Golden (50 yrs) and Silver (25 yrs) Jubilees at Saint Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington, Virginia. 

A LOT of couples came (as you can imagine from what you see in this picture). We didn't mind sitting in the choir loft. It was a beautiful and inspiring event. We are glad we made the effort to make the trip into "the big city."

Bishop Michael Burbidge met with each couple after the Mass too, and was very generous with his time and attention. We are grateful to the Lord for 25 years of living the sacrament of marriage and raising our family in this wonderful diocesan church community.❤️✝️

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Maria Maria Maria Maria Maria Maria!

Our granddaughter Maria is now three months old, and she's holding her head up. Time for a collage!πŸ˜‰

So alert and curious.☺ But she sleeps a lot too!πŸ’Ÿ

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Catholics in the Russian Ritual and Spiritual Tradition

I have been working on an article about the remarkable Russian priest, exarch, and confessor of the faith (perhaps he may even qualify as a martyr) Blessed Leonid Feodorov (1879-1934). Leonid had a great desire, which he began to realize in his own life, of a reconciliation between East and West in which the Russian Church would keep its special charism and its traditional ("Orthodox") modes of worship and Christian living while also recognizing in a fully Catholic way the Pope's leadership of the Universal Church.

I have decided to share some background and contextual notes that were too long for the final cut of the article (which will be published in May 2022) but which expand our understanding of the ecclesiastical, political, and spiritual factors of Father Leonid's world, and how his hope for unity remains vital in our time and points toward the future.

For centuries there have been “Byzantine Catholic” churches that celebrate ancient forms of the liturgy and observe distinctive traditions while also being in union with Rome. For various complicated political and cultural reasons, however, a "Russian Byzantine Catholic" church did not exist in any way until the 20th century, and it had only a brief time before the advent of the atheistic regime of the Soviet Union. 

Before 1905, Russians who wanted the fullness of Catholic Christianity had to join Polish or other Western churches, become “westernized” (i.e. adopt an inculturation of the faith that was foreign to them), and face harsh civil penalties. Often, the only possibility for a Russian to even become Catholic was to go into exile. As the 19th century came to an end, Vladimir Soloviev’s experience had already made it clear that anyone who wanted to be both a papist and a follower of Russia’s spiritual traditions would have great difficulties fitting in, or even being understood, in Russia. By recognizing, openly proclaiming, and vigorously arguing for the claims of the papacy, Soloviev—a lay man and virtually on his own—tried to anticipate Christian unity by regarding himself as a "Russian Orthodox in communion with Rome." He found himself in a very isolated and lonely position. Nevertheless, he spoke freely and had a powerful influence on some young people in his personal circle, including the 20-year-old Leonid Feodorov. By the time Soloviev died in 1900, the great philosopher had lit a spark that led to a small movement of “Russian-Rite” Catholics who tried to evade the repressive laws of the Empire.

The upheavals of the 20th century, however, changed this situation in dramatic ways. Russia’s 1905 revolution created new possibilities for religious freedom. The overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917 expanded them further, but then the Communist revolution in October 1917 led to a persecution of all religious believers.


This left a small “window” of a few years, during which a remarkable (small but publicly lived) reality appeared in the cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg: For the first time since the Middle Ages, a Russian Byzantine Catholic Church—in full communion with the Pope—was established, with its thousand-year-old Slavonic Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist, its Liturgical Offices, its traditional chant, its calendar and feast days, and everything that would be found in Russian Orthodox Church worship and life—but with prayers for the Pope of Rome restored to the liturgical intercessions, and juridical communion with Rome secured through the Ukrainian Byzantine Metropolitan of Lviv, the great Andrew Sheptytsky. He had received permission from Pope Pius X to take wide-ranging pastoral responsibility for the small flock of Russian Byzantine Catholics—a few former Russian Orthodox priests and some deeply dedicated lay men and women. In May 1917, Metropolitan Andrew established this group as the Russian Byzantine Catholic Exarchate (a kind of “missionary diocese”) and his friend and protege Father Leonid Feodorov became Exarch (with the authority of a bishop, which he retained even though subsequent circumstances prevented his episcopal ordination). From May to October 1917, the new Russian Byzantine church flourished, and engaged in frank, vigorous, and promising diologue with its Russian Orthodox neighbors.

Exarch Leonid had been raised Orthodox, and he had left Russia to become Catholic but was eventually ordained a priest of the Byzantine rite. He returned to Russia after the changes and began his pastoral ministry. He longed for the rise of a Church that was both fully Russian and fully Catholic. He was convinced that the “Great Schism” of Eastern and Western Christendom in 1054 could only be healed by a reunion that retained Russia’s distinctive history of sanctity and profound devotion as it had developed over many centuries within Eastern Orthodox Christianity. He insisted that none of the basic features of Russian church life conflicted with submission to the Pope. In this Leonid anticipated Vatican II and an approach which is common today, but was only beginning to enter the minds of Catholics (with the encouragement of the Popes themselves) and Orthodox at that time.

During these same months in 1917 when the Russian Exarchate was blossoming, the Virgin Mary was appearing to the children of Fatima on the other side of Europe, imploring prayers for “the conversion of Russia.” We will never know what might have happened if Europe had accepted Pope Benedict XV’s Peace Plan issued on August 1, 1917 to end their brutal fratricidal war and turn their hearts to conversion and prayer. Instead, the violence continued, and Russia’s Communist revolution began the horrific era of totalitarian ideologies and the unspeakable crimes committed throughout the world in their name. A century later, we have seen Our Lady’s hand at work in Russia's turning away from Soviet Communism, and we must continue to pray for the fulfillment of her plans for her beloved Russian children.

Exarch Leonid and most of his companions were exiled or sent to the Gulag. Leonid suffered greatly in Solovski in the Arctic, and died shortly after his release in 1934. He was beatified in 2001. A small flock of Russian-rite Catholics survived and remain today in Russia and other parts of the world… a small flock, with a great hope.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Christina Grimmie: “With Love”

Five years, four months… We have sorrow but our hope remains firm. And we are full of gratitude that continues to grow. Remembering Christina Grimmie, WITH LOVE!⭐️πŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’š⭐️

🎢"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."🎢

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Newman and the “Narrow Way”

October 9 commemorates Saint John Henry Newman, a.k.a. "Cardinal Newman," the 19th century pioneer of the English Catholic revival. His courageous and deeply human witness has helped bring countless people to Christ's Church (especially in the English speaking world).

"What shall bring us forward in the narrow way, if we live in the world, but the thought and patronage of Mary.... She will comfort us in our discouragements, console us in our fatigues, raise us after our falls, reward us for our successes. She will show us her Son, our God and our all" (Saint John Henry Newman).

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Beginning of the "New Media" Technological Revolution

Media technology has been around for longer than we might think. Historically, it has brought about a series of explosions in the scope and proliferation of capacities for communication. It is worth considering these events, and recalling the rapid, transformative impact they had on personal and social life. 

The original technological revolution in media evolved slowly for many centuries, until it "came together" within a particular social context and rapidly became a global phenomenon. Hundreds of years later, this form of media is so established that few people could imagine life without its pervasive presence and activity.

Human "extension" through communications media corresponds to the interactive nature of human persons with one another within the possibilities of their environment. We see this dynamic at work in a way that is complex and intricate yet seems almost "spontaneous" to the maturation of ordinary human life when we consider the use of languages, and their development and continuance in the various histories of human communities. I'm not sure if spoken languages fall under the category of "media," as they are so proximate and intimate to structures of human expression. At the same time, they are a system of sounds and gestures that we learn from others ("naturally" in the environment of our "mother tongue") so that we can express ourselves, discuss ideas, formulate conclusions, and reveal our intentions to one another.

More "mediation" occurs when we move one step "away" from spoken words and generate visual symbols to represent words and statements. There have been human communities that use elaborate spoken languages but have no written language, and - or course - for most of human history the written languages that did exist were only accessible to a very small percentage of the population. Yet this basic media form permitted human communication to extend itself through space and time. Ancient civilizations can "communicate" with us even today, insofar as we are able to comprehend the linguistic symbols they wrote and that have been passed on to us.

Writing was a delicate craft, that became more common and more influential along with the materials that made it easier and more durable - from chiseled stone tablets to more lightweight, portable, flexible materials like animal skins, bamboo, papyrus, etc. that could sustain and preserve long-lasting marks applied by natural staining agents, like ink. Writing enabled societies to have sophisticated legal systems, government networks, and more extensive trade. It also transformed stories and many forms of public discourse into a new thing: Literature.

Nevertheless, this had little impact on the daily life of the average (illiterate) person.

What was needed for writing to permeate the whole social communications environment was some method to multiply exponentially the copies of a written text. It seems that the needs and interests of societies played a significant role in the development of "writing technology." The Chinese invented paper sometime in the first millennium, and the (effective though also labor intensive) technique of wood block printing existed by the 7th century (early in the Tang Dynasty). Large scale reproduction and distribution of texts began, which may have had an impact by broadening the possibilities for more people to have access to the "literate class. " It also helped expand, unify, and render more efficient the Imperial bureaucracy of the Tang and Song dynasties, and it fostered the expansion of Buddhism through the distribution of translated Buddhist texts (both Chinese and Korean). Still, classical Chinese writing involved an erudite, exacting and aesthetically beautiful arrangement of over a hundred thousand ideograms. It produced an incomparably great tradition of poetry and literature, and was useful to communications specialists throughout society, but its complexity may have prevented it from becoming an expressive medium for ordinary people in the wider spectrum of life's circumstances.

The Song dynasty was overthrown finally by Kublai Khan in the 13th century, but printing continued. The Mongols - great invaders and destroyers, but also appropriators of the cultures that submitted to them - likely brought printing with them throughout their vast Empire. Chinese and Koreans had already pioneered movable type by this time. Marco Polo records his astonishment at the use of "paper money" throughout Kublai Khan's realms.

It's not unlikely that - via the Mongol invasions as well as the trade on the Silk Road - paper and print techniques spread from China and East Asia to the Islamic world and to Europe. Here printing met the phonetic-based alphabets, which not only had a peculiar simplicity; they also directly symbolized the "sounds" of speech, which implied that in principle anyone who could speak could learn to read and write without necessarily possessing the specialized erudition of Chinese scholars and bureaucrats. While Muslims were printing editions of the Qu'ran by the 14th century, we find in Europe at first a great deal of designs reproduced, and various accessory items like decks of cards. It was only when the desire for learning overflowed from the great medieval universities and extended to other social classes (i.e. the Renaissance) that Europeans felt the need for texts in a way that monastic and university copyists could not provide. 

It was inevitable that a spark would come to ignite the fire that would change the history of humanity. But the clever and tenacious goldsmith of Mainz - Johannes Gutenberg - probably didn't realize the enormous scope of the first "New Media" revolution that his "printing press" would initiate. Gutenberg refined movable type and combined it with the basic mechanical technology used for pressing grapes for  wine and olives for oil (thus the term "press" acquired a new meaning, and to this day it remains a central metaphor for print media). We know little about Gutenberg himself, other than the fact that he printed a famous Bible and died in 1468. But the fetters had been lifted from the printed word, and - as we say in the 21st century - it "went viral."

Pamphlets and books flooded Europe in the 16th century. Print and "publication" became a reality within the human environment, an available modality of communication within reach of everyone who could read (and unprecedented numbers of people learned to read). With the printed word came also a flood of ideas - good ideas and bad ideas - which is a whole story in itself, the volcanic story of change that set the stage for "the modern world" and for the emerging epoch of our time.

Digital technology has flipped us over to new audiovisual modes of communicating, but it has also expanded further the reach of print, or at least the "visual" presentation of print. The "image" is on the rise in today's modes of communication, but the original Media Revolution that filled the world with printed words and made us all readers and writers is not over yet. Indeed, digital image technology has facilitated the "virtual" crafting of typefaces of all kinds, accessible to anyone, that can appear on paper with the click of the print key.

Even though there is no paper edition of this blog, what I am writing here and now still draws on what Marshall McLuhan called "The Gutenberg Galaxy."

More on this topic coming soon....

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Rosary: "His Abundant Mercy From Age to Age"

October 7: Our Lady of the Rosary. 

Original Digital Artwork by JJ. Text from the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for today's Liturgy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Assisi: All of Life is a Pilgrimage

Having begun this week with the celebration of Saint Francis of Assisi, I was moved to read a relevant section in one of my old handwritten journals. It's hard to believe it was 25 years ago that Eileen and I spent three and a half weeks in Italy for our honeymoon in June and July 1996. That unforgettable trip was many things: the beginning of our married life; a great series of adventures we had together; a chance to make common memories in places where we had both previously lived (separately and at different times); an exploration of history, art, and architecture; a series of wonderful meals; many reunions with Italian friends from Rome to Liguria; and of course lots of wrong turns, hassles, inconveniences, exhaustion, and fun. But above all it was a pilgrimage

Indeed, Italy — if one really pays attention — is a powerful symbol of the truth that all of life is a pilgrimage, a journey that ultimately transcends the limits of this world but also encompasses and illuminates all that is good and lovely and meaningful in all the moments and facets of temporal life.

It's hard to believe that we have not been to Italy since that trip. Our three adult children have been there, and the others will probably go during their university studies. I hope that Eileen and I can return some day, to visit again these important and enduring places (and see our friends once again in their homes). In any case, these days — a quarter of a century ago — never feel "very far away" from us. In a way, they laid the foundations for our journey together as husband and wife, our common vocation as educators, our home, and our family life. They helped give concrete shape to our pilgrimage in this world during these last 25 years, and will continue to be vitally important to us for engaging the times to come.

In honor of Saint Francis, I am reproducing below a brief excerpt from my journals regarding our arrival in Assisi. As you will see, I was incurably brainy, even during our honeymoon.😜 Ah well, that's one of the things Eileen has always loved about me, even when — as is often the case — it is more a burden than a talent. She has always helped me to bear it.
"After a week and a half in Rome, we left early on this morning for a new destination in our pilgrimage — Assisi. As the train climbed into the Umbrian hills, we immediately sensed the change in atmosphere. We were leaving the chaos, the noise, and the contradictions (as well as the spiritual and historical vastness) of Rome, and entering into a place of quiet and simplicity of focus. 

"Rome is the second greatest place of pilgrimage in all the world (second only to Jerusalem and the Holy Land), but it is also many other things: tourist center; historical, archaeological, and artistic center; economic and political center; and now also — in these most recent years  — immigration center. The proportions of Rome are everywhere huge: supernatural grandeur, human grandeur, but also "splendid vices" and — today especially — ever enlarging tunnels of physical and personal misery. Assisi is something markedly different. Assisi is a place of pilgrimage ... and nothing else. 

"The first thing that struck me in the train station and that continued to strike me throughout the visit is that everyone visits Assisi as a pilgrim. This does not mean that everyone knows why they have come here. But the whole of Assisi is centered upon one thing, and everyone comes here on account of that one thing. That "one thing" is a man. One man who lived 800 years ago. One human being who fascinates everyone.

"Indeed, every saint generates fascination; it is of the nature of a saint to fascinate (because holiness is true and good and beautiful). But Francis fascinates like no one else. He remains a living icon of Christ and a living icon of the human vocation in its purest and most transparent form, which is simply to love, to love "without measure," to love "madly" — indeed, it is to love without measure because the Beloved is immeasurable, to love madly because the Beloved is good and beautiful beyond every limit of human calculation. 

"We had all of our baggage with us, so we stayed in a small hotel right across the street from the train station, at the foot of the hill where the medieval town rises up to the sky. The window of our room had a perfect view of Assisi. After checking in, we went immediately up the hill (in a bus) to the Basilica of San Francesco, where we attended the high Mass and then visited the crypt, which holds the tomb of Saint Francis surrounded by the tombs of his first and most beloved brothers. I was struck by the power and the palpability of the affection of this most extraordinary companionship of the 'first Franciscans.' 

"Above all, however, I was amazed by the pilgrims. They prayed at the tomb, kissed the ground in front of it, pressed their heads against the grating in order to draw closer, as though they could perhaps rest their heads in the bosom of Francis. Nowhere did I see mere curiosity. Hearts were exposed here, the unfathomable human desire was wrestling its way forward to the surface of those faces that crowded around Saint Francis in the tiny crypt."

~Sunday, July 7, 1996

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"Autumn Impressions 1"

These three works I will call, collectively, "Autumn Impressions 1" - which of course implies that I will continue to pursue this theme. This is Digital Art by JJ - with variations in the freedom of the use of color. It is therefore not based on what we're seeing around here in Virginia right now.πŸ˜‰πŸŒΏπŸ‚πŸ

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Conversion and Vocation of Saint Francis

Today is the celebration of one of the very greatest of all the Church's saints: Francis of Assisi. 

Some years ago (April 2015), I wrote in my monthly column in Magnificat the story of how this "rich young man" began to follow Jesus on a path that would radically change his life and all of human history. There are many well-known parts of the famous story of Saint Francis's conversion and renunciation of his wealth, especially the dramatic moment when he stripped himself, returned his clothes to his father, and knelt before the bishop. The cloak which the bishop used to cover Francis became the prototype for the Franciscan religious habit. What we don't often hear about, however, is the importance of the mentoring relationship of Bishop Guido of Assisi to this extraordinary young man entrusted to his care: how he humbly aided, encouraged, and supported the vocation of Saint Francis.

Here is the text of my article on the conversion story of Francesco Bernardone, the Umbrian merchant who left everything for Christ, only to find imperishable riches and to give a witness that enlightens us even to this day:
The outlines of St. Francis’s conversion from a rich young man and would-be knight to a great saint are well known. We recall his lavish and frivolous youth, his military misadventures, and his return to Assisi in 1205 after imprisonment, illness, and a mysterious experience that drew him to a greater service. 
In these days, at the dawn of one of the greatest vocations in all history, God’s grace worked powerfully but mysteriously to lead the searching young Francis to the awakening of religious devotion. Francis went on a pilgrimage to Rome, and then returned not to his former life of comfort and pleasure, but to a time of solitude in the forests and the mountains outside the city, which led him in the end to the chapel and the now famous cross of San Damiano, where he heard the words of Jesus, to “rebuild My church.” 
Christian and non-Christian interpretations of St. Francis often depict him as a man who left worldly life and its distractions so as to commune in a kind of isolation with God (or “nature”). Historians sometimes portray Francis as a spiritual maverick who transcended all institutions including the Church and her human ministers. But the life of St. Francis was not like the wandering of medieval heretical sectarians or today’s uncommitted spiritualists. 
Rather, St. Francis was always entirely attached to the Catholic faith and obedience to the Church. In the year 1205, when Francis returned from Rome searching for God’s will, he found a person, a friend, who remained a crucial figure in the development of his vocation, a figure whose significance is seldom given its due weight: the bishop of Assisi. 
Bishop Guido is known to history as the man who covered the naked Francis with his episcopal cloak after the young man publicly renounced his inheritance and all his property by returning even his clothes to his outraged father. But Francis and the bishop already knew one another by that time. 
It was Bishop Guido who probably first advised Francis to seek solitude, not to wander but to pray, following the tradition of the desert fathers. After Francis heard Jesus in a vision from the cross of San Damiano, he probably met again with the bishop. By the time his father came with his lawsuit, Francis appealed to the Church’s protection and the bishop’s judgment. Guido knew well already the young man who shocked so many others by embracing total poverty, and who would later draw them to follow his sanctity. 
Some accounts say that Francis, after giving back his clothes to his father, said that henceforth he would call only God his Father. But Francis also knew that God had become man, and that God’s fatherhood would draw close to him through the Church, concretely, through Bishop Guido. The bishop became Francis’s “spiritual father,” advisor, and sponsor as he embraced poverty and gathered his first followers. Guido did not try to manipulate Francis. He supported him as the grace of this new way of life unfolded. He was the ecclesiastical authority, but also a true friend. And it was bishop Guido, in Rome, who first sponsored the ragtag “lesser brothers” to a cardinal of the papal court, where Innocent III met the man sent by God “to rebuild My Church.”

Friday, October 1, 2021

Thérèse: A Child in the Arms of God


"It is enough to recognize one's nothingness and to abandon one's self like a child in the arms of God" (Saint Thérèse of Lisieux).

Thursday, September 30, 2021

When "New Media" Was the Big Idea

The study of media technology, and of its impact on the way we experience events and relate to one another, has been a preoccupation of mine for a very long time. I am a child of the first great electronic media explosion, and as I grew up and grew older I became aware of how much it shaped my perceptions of so many things. My brother and I are both “late boomers” (he was born in 1961, me in 1963). There is a significant gap between us and Anglo-Americans born 10 years earlier: the classical boomers, upon whom “the Sixties” fell like a hammer. We "late boomers" didn't really experience these turbulent times as times of radical change. The West's "Cultural Revolution" had already entrenched and established its ideology and values by the time we were old enough to understand the world around us. (I use this term Cultural Revolution in an analogous and qualified sense; it was very different from the awful drama that took place during this same time in China, but what happened in the West was profoundly uprooting and deeply problematic in its own way, and its consequences are still unfolding.)

Overall, the time period of the Sixties requires a less sentimental, more clear-eyed historical appraisal, which boomers cannot provide and which I'm not likely to see in my lifetime. My point here, in any case, is not to evaluate that period in terms of "what was good" (and there was much that was good) and "what was bad" (which requires precise discernment) and "what was ugly" (which, well... ugly is ugly). My point is that someone born in 1963 didn't experience the particular earthquakes of those times, but simply understood their social and cultural consequences as their given milieu.

This is certainly true about the media revolution. We first opened our eyes in a world in which every house had at least one television set, many (including ours) had two TVs, and more and more were acquiring a fascinating new thing: the color television. Every household also had one or more record players (increasingly “stereophonic”), numerous portable radios, and coffee tables with magazines full of color photographs. 

These were widely distributed new things in the early Sixties, but we were also new, and we grew up with their ubiquity as something taken for granted. I have been told that the first complete sentence I spoke in toddlerhood was, “Winston tastes good” (TV was full of cigarette commercials back then).

Something happened in those years that involved more than just the technology of “talking and moving pictures.” My parents’ generation found all of that in the local cinema. TV brought the audiovisual experience into our homes and placed it at our fingertips. By the time I was born, TV had adapted to the domestic intimacy of its position and had begun to shape the environment of every home. We were not simply given “shows” at times and in places; we had a box in the living room that was “alive” with continuous audiovisual content, and watching “live” news and entertainment at home made us not only spectators but also participants “drawn into” the event and activities of the global village.

In 1965, when Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the New Media,” he was speaking about television. TV was a window in our homes that was open to the world, and it made us feel more and more “involved” with what we saw of that world (for better and for worse).

As a child I saw through that window an astronaut’s boot touch the surface of the moon for the first time. I also saw bombs and fires burning in the jungles of Vietnam, and heard machine guns popping on video footage from the evening news while I played with my toys. And, of course, we watched situation comedies, Saturday morning cartoons, and we remember the advent of children's educational TV: Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, and all that.

As I grew older, we moved from New York to Pittsburgh, and in the early 1970s my father finally purchased that magic-box-of-my-dreams - a COLOR television set. It was a huge piece of furniture with built-in analog speakers and (I think) a 17 inch screen. No doubt the quality of the image on a 1972 color TV would be considered appallingly bad in today's world, but for us it was mind-expanding. The "world-coming-out-of-the-box" looked nearly like the living room where we watched it.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that we watched TV "all the time" when we were kids. Certainly not! For one thing, it was impossible. Television stations didn't even broadcast 24/7 back in those days. They "signed off" around 1:00AM (here in the U.S.A. with the playing of the national anthem). There were only three commercial networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) along with PBS ("public broadcasting" - largely privately funded) and these were spread across 8 or 9 "local affiliate" stations within the range of your antenna. (There was no such thing as "cable" back then.) Still, this was plenty.

And my parents put lots of wise restrictions on our TV time and content, of course (though we did find a few ways to cheat, harmlessly). We also had plenty of other things to do, like play outside, play games, hang out with friends, do experiments, read. I attempted to play many sports, which I loved passionately. Sadly, my lack of talent was only exceeded by my excessive overthinking (even then...😳). Music and art came much more naturally to me. Nevertheless, sports still played a big role in my growing up... thanks to television. My father and I bonded over watching sports on TV in the 1970s. And what a decade it was for sports, especially if you happened to be a Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers fan.⚾🏈😊

But this is not a personal memoir: I am mentioning all these things to exemplify how this "New Media" technology, especially television, accustomed us to regular and convenient access to "extended experiences" of the world, people, and events. The images and sounds of "New Media" had entered the domestic and personal sphere of human beings and had established themselves (as if they had always been around, like trees and mountains) from the time of my earliest memories.

"Winston tastes good," said the toddler JJ in 1964. There were no regular smokers in the family. Print ads for cigarettes were abundant, but I couldn't read yet. It was a television advertisement (the full jingle was "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should") that I had seen and heard... but no, that's not a sufficient way of describing it. It was an audiovisual phenomenon that appeared repeatedly, that "came into my home" and "settled in" along with my toys and our furniture and the people I saw and heard all the time. Not that I mistook the televised image for something that was "really" in the room. Television had its own way of "inhabiting" the environment (today we use the word virtual to describe media communications of all kinds, but I don't think this word clarifies much the peculiar experience we're indicating).

Indeed, television had changed (perhaps even radically) the structure of the home environment. Of course, people would say that you weren't forced to watch TV; that you had control over the medium; that you could choose to turn it on or to turn it off. But human beings don't exactly work this way. Human freedom and human choices are usually made within a context, a realm of accessible possibilities to which people become acclimated. Moreover, humans are social and communicative beings who "extend themselves" (actively and receptively) through the "means" provided by the interaction between their capacities and the resources of their environment.

Television was (and still is) a medium of audiovisual communication that draws us in to certain types of connections with the larger world. It gives a partial presentation of external phenomena, focused on sight and sound while leaving tactile sensibility out entirely. You can climb Mount Everest with National Geographic while sitting on the couch in your warm living room. Indeed, a plethora of experiences are now available by means of a mediated, partial participation. Live events or recorded material of the actions of others can also be "shared" on a much wider scale than ever before. Wider possibilities have also opened up for dramatic presentations.

There is the danger of becoming "unbalanced," in our way of perceiving things if we live like couch potatoes. We need to put our feet on the ground, literally, and engage reality in an integrated fashion. This is all the more true in today's interactive media environment. We must also find space for silence and interiority. The perennial challenges of human living may require more conscious attention and commitment.

The artificial nature of these kinds of media, moreover, cannot be overcome. It will always be a little strange to have access to such vivid images of things that are not immediately present to our sight. That is why communication is implicit to the process. The enhanced visibility of the colored feathers of a Bird of Paradise is possible for me only because it is mediated - not simply by television, but also by the intelligence, intentionality, and hard work of camera people, producers, etc. We depend on the producers of audiovisual content to be honest and trustworthy, and we must therefore assess wisely what is presented to us and the resources that are worthy of our trust.

That was true in the days of my youth, when the New Media was television. We have a double sense of responsibility with today's interactive media, where we not only perceive what others show us, but also share what we choose to present to them. A lot is riding on mutual trust. A lot is riding on the respect we have for one another as persons, and a common commitment to seeking the truth and the fullness of life.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

"National COFFEE Day!"

Someone, somewhere, decreed that this is "National Coffee Day" (every day is JJ Coffee Day, hah hahπŸ˜†πŸ˜‹, but still...). As my contribution to the festivities, I would like to share this illustrative graphic.πŸ˜‰

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Scenery, Saints, & Rock Stars: Avril Lavigne Turns 37

I have been doing lots of saint's days and beautiful outdoor pictures lately, but if you read this blog you know that we range far and wide with topics considered. Music is a fascination I have followed all my life, and it's time to mark another anniversary in the musical world.

Avril Lavigne is one of the "millennial" era’s pop stars that I can’t help appreciating as an artist (in spite of some ‘facepalm-worthy’ periods of her career). She is also a kind of multifaceted, wide-ranging yet concentrated symbolic figure who reflects the dramatic tensions, frustrated longings, and tenacious aspirations of the generation that has grown up with her over the past 20 years. In the secular, aesthetic sense, she has projected a sustained multimedia image that could be called “iconic” (along the lines of what Marshall McLuhan meant by this term in his pioneering media studies). You may have seen her recent GEICO commercials which, for her contemporaries, are self-explanatory - while also being funny enough for everyone else.

Still... Avril Lavigne in a car insurance commercial? Huh?

But before I wander too far into these speculations, let me say “Happy Birthday Avril!” She turned 37 years old yesterday. I am happy for her first of all for a very personal reason: her Lyme Disease remains in remission. And she continues to work to help other people who (like me) have more… ummm… “complicated” cases of this debilitating illness.

Avril seems to be doing okay with her health. Though still drawing somewhat on the theme of “never growing up” (which was - I think - a sad theme in 2012), it’s more tongue-in-cheek these days. Avril’s sense of humor and almost intuitive genius for self-parody are at work, as well as the fact that she is one of those bright petite people who just looks young

Also, she still seems like a child in many ways, not all of them positive ways: there is an impression of a damaged, fractured, interrupted life - like many rock stars and celebrities who become famous in their youth. I feel like Avril is afflicted with a bewildered, broken, half-innocence - obstructed by many distractions but groping in the fog in search of paths forward toward maturity.

I mean no condescension here. I say this with great respect and affection, with some familiarity and much empathy for the obscure sufferings of artists, and a particular solidarity with my fellow Lyme survivor. Avril has often tried too hard to act like a hard-partying, hard-cussing, weird rock-chick rebel; it isn't really convincing in a deep-down way. Underneath, there's a lot of vulnerability, a generous spirit, a loveable soul. I'm always praying for her. I pray too for the puzzled generation she represents, who now find themselves surprised and unprepared for the "middle-aged" life that will soon be upon them.

The word is that Avril has new music coming out before the end of the year. But she doesn’t have to rush it, as far as I’m concerned. She has an amazing singing voice, and I hope she uses it well. And I wish her many more years of creativity and renewed health.🎢

Monday, September 27, 2021

Saint Vincent de Paul On Kindness and Humility

Today we celebrate the memorial of the 17th century French priest Saint Vincent de Paul, who is remembered especially for his service to the poor. Here is some advice from him on kindness, humility, and confidence in God that will nourish all of us:

"We should not worry too much about temporal affairs. We ought to have confidence in God that he will look after us since we know for certain that as long as we are grounded in that sort of love and trust we will be always under the protection of God in heaven, we will remain unaffected by evil and never lack what we need even when everything we possess seems headed for disaster.

"We should make a great effort to learn the following lesson, also taught by Christ: 'Learn from me because I am gentle and humble in heart.' We should remember that he himself said that by gentleness we inherit the earth. If we act on this we will win people over so that they will turn to the Lord. That will not happen if we treat people harshly or sharply. 

"And we should also remember that humility is the route to heaven. A loving acceptance of it when we are humiliated usually raises us up, guiding us, as it were, step by step from one virtue to the next until we reach heaven. This humility was very often recommended by Christ himself, by word and example, and we should make a great effort to master it. Humility is the basis of all holiness in the Gospels and a bond of the entire spiritual life. If a person has this humility everything good will come along with it."

Sunday, September 26, 2021

September Scenery

Most of this month of September 2021 was pretty hot in Virginia. But the Autumn weather is finally beginning (we hope) and there is a good chance we may have a couple of months of mostly nice days to look forward to (though, alas, they will be increasingly shorter days).

I am looking forward to going out more, and getting back to my routine of walking and "hiking" around the neighborhood.

September is a very "green" month around here, but the overgrowth of the long Summer is "ripe" and ready to "fall." I have captured some scenery via photography, digital art, or (usually) some combination thereof. The first digital art picture is "Casa Janaro" as it appears on a beautiful, cool evening like we had today:

Friday, September 24, 2021

Vlogging From "My Front Porch"

It's time for a new episode of "My Front Porch," the latest in a series of reflections poorly recorded on my iPhone and posted to my YouTube channel.

One of the reasons why I don't make more videos is that I don't have the tech savvy-ness or the energy to make them well. As you will see in this video, I have been feeling a bit more worn out lately (nothing new about this - my stamina has gone up and down in this manner for years). I apologize for not being more perky.

I just decided to "do it anyway" and toss it out there, and pray that it will do some good or be useful, somehow. I know that what I am saying needs to be said, so I'm doing the best I can.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Calling of Saint Matthew

September 21: Happy SAINT MATTHEW'S DAY! "As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, 'Follow me.' And he got up and followed him" (Matthew 9:9).

And of course, here is the famous "Calling of Saint Matthew" painted by Caravaggio in the year 1600, which you should gaze upon at least once a year. It etches itself inside your mind eventually: this little room full of characters in 16th century dress, who somehow become "universal" in that moment when Jesus raises his human hand, between the shadows and the light, in that evocative gesture that - ultimately - is directed to each one of us. 

We too are sitting at that crowded table, preoccupied with our own petty schemes. He points to us personally, recognizing us, summoning, offering, awaiting our response.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Martyrs of Korea

September 20 celebrates 103 Korean Martyrs from the 19th Century.

Friday, September 17, 2021

"The Uncertainty of Wealth": Does STUFF Make Us Happy?

"For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that. Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.

"But you,
[Timothy,] man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness....

"Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life"
(1 Timothy 6:7-11, 17-19).

Ah, "the love of money...." Why do we love money so much? Because it enables us to get stuff. It gives us the power to pursue all our often dangerous (and usually foolish) desires. We want to grasp all the stuff we think we need to obtain security, even though in reality it is vain to measure ourselves by what we possess, by our power over stuff, by "rely[ing] on so uncertain a thing as wealth."

Yet today it seems that the sheer quantity of stuff and the rush to accumulate it define the entire horizon of human life. Obsession with stuff has become a kind of social pathology of monstrous proportions. As a result, many people are sad. We "have pierced [our]selves with many pains." 

Many of us humans are dis-illusioned. Our pride has been shaken. We have experienced unimaginable power over things in this world. We have lived "like gods," with the average first-world person taking for granted his or her easy access to a vast infrastructure of stuff that would have utterly astonished the people of Saint Paul's time. (Imagine, just for starters, the light switch...!) Yet Saint Paul's words to Timothy continue to be vindicated.

We have so much power over the stuff of this world. And we are so bored!

Time plods on relentlessly. Everything is reduced to stuff: stuff to do, stuff to move, stuff to say to people, stuff to eat, stuff to read, stuff to achieve, stuff to "experience," stuff going on in the world. It's not so surprising that people are materialists. We are preoccupied with stuff. Indeed, it's no surprise that people are desperate materialists. We are drowning in stuff. Things that once seemed so interesting and full of promise are grasped, devoured, taken apart, and ravaged until they become dull, monotonous, and disappointing. Stuff. Everything ends up in storage bins, in storage facilities, because for some reason we can't just let it go.

Many of us are afraid to let go, because we think, "What else is there?" Our power always runs into limits. We can't stop time. We can't go back to the past. We have misused the material world in pursuit of our foolish and dangerous desires, and now we are staring at ruin and destruction. 

We are not so powerful after all. Are we in fact nothing but weak, fragile, apparently insignificant specks of cosmic dust whirling about an inscrutable, implacable universe? It seems as if all things follow their course and then disappear, and that they have been doing so for millions of years.

But... no! We can immerse our lives (especially today) in the distractions of stuff, but there are those moments when we "come to our senses" and realize that what we really want is something more, something that is beyond our power.... Then we become conscious of the "piercing pain" of our utter impoverishment in front of the Mystery that illuminates reality, that awakens desire and yet eludes our grasping - our effort to reduce the Mystery to something we can dominate. Then we become aware of our need to have our lives changed, to seek, to cry out from our poverty, to decide on an adherence, a fidelity, an allowing-ourselves-to-be-measured-by-Another

In the end, all our self-defining and self-acquiring power only leads to a more profound awareness of our insuperable limits, but also of the inextinguishable human aspiration to go beyond those limits - to endure, to flourish, to love and be loved without limits. But this aspiration takes us beyond our own power; it reveals the need for a relationship with a Mysterious Other. It requires "trust" in something - some One - beyond our "control." The One who is the source of all things, the source of their attractiveness, their fascination, their promise: the ineffable One who is beyond all things, the One who is source of all that is good.

What can we do? We can cry out for that "beyond," or we can give up on finding meaning and goodness in life (but does anybody really, completely "give up"?). We have a dramatic choice: prayer or the void. Prayer or nothingness.

Ironically, we don't have the power to choose "pure nothingness." We don't have the power to destroy our own being. Despair, instead, turns into nihilism, and spends itself in deceit, resentment, and violence. 

Prayer turns to the Mystery and says, "You are here." Prayer turns to God and says, "I belong to You. Rescue me. Save me."

Christians are supposed to know about their need to pray. Christians have encountered Jesus Christ, and have come to know that the love of God gives all things meaning in Him. Still, Christians easily forget what we have encountered; we forget the teaching to which we have been entrusted. So often we turn what is supposed to be a living relationship with God into a set of ideas that spend most of the time "in the back" of our minds while we live in the world grasping for stuff just like everyone else. We may follow some rules ("no stealing") or at least we try to convince ourselves that we are following them, but our hearts are easily taken in by the dominant mentality that measures the value of human existence in terms of riches, wealth, and superficial achievements. 

We must hold fast to Christ, and we must pray. Emotionally and intellectually the experience of prayer can seem dry and insignificant just like everything else we do. Indeed, that is the great lie: that prayer is just more stuff that we do during the day. 

Prayer is, first and foremost, something that God does in us. He whispers in our hearts, opens them, awakens them. If the desire to lift our minds and hearts to God stirs within us - however faint and weak and wretched that desire may seem - it means that God is attracting our hearts. He is drawing us to Himself. 

God calls us to pray everyday. He has given us the words. "Our Father.." To accept God's words and address them to God in obedience to God is already the beginning of the conviction that the "stuff" of the day is more than it appears to be. Hallowed be thy Name / thy Kingdom come / thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Pray! Perhaps it seems "dry" and "distant." Perhaps we don't pay much attention to the words. We should try; we should yearn to speak with God. Often we begin the words and our minds are immediately sucked back into the stuff that surrounds us and that appears so real, the stuff that is perishing all around us. Still, the most fragile prayer is an event that takes place within our hearts. We may feel like we are only "saying-the-words" but in our hearts there is the beginning of the affirmation of eternity

If we are faithful to prayer - to the desire to pray that has been awakened in our hearts - God will bring all the rest: the attention, the conversation, the conviction, the transformation of the way we look at reality. He will do so in His time, according to His plan. But we must be faithful. We must pray. Pray, pray, pray. Even if that means just saying the words and believing and hoping in God. We do not need to fall into disappointment, discouragement, and nihilism. 

Jesus. His very name is a prayer. "God saves." God, save me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Exhaltation of the Holy Cross

"Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

"Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

"Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

~Philippians 2:6-11

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Twenty Years After the Towers Fell

It has been two decades since the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001 that left such a terrible mark on the beginning of the 21st century for the USA and the whole world. We commemorate this anniversary with prayer and sorrow, and consolation and help for those who continue to suffer losses that cannot be forgotten.

"9-11" still shocks and saddens me in some particular personal ways. I know people who lost loved ones on that day, as well as relatives and friends who were among the first responders and who then continued to respond in the days and weeks that followed. Also, New York City was my "home town." Although we moved when I was 9 years old, I remember the city very well and returned frequently. I spent a lot of time there in my youth, and it always felt like "home." My ancestors came from Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to live and work in this city and built the foundations of our family in the USA.

I haven't been back to New York in recent years, but it was one of the "old stomping grounds" of my youth, and it is full of memories.

The person in the picture is me (yes, it is really me—stop laughing!) in the summer of 1983, on the Staten Island Ferry gesturing to the barely visible Manhattan skyline in the foggy distance. It's not just the picture quality here; I recall that it was this sort of cloudy day, though I can't recall who took the picture. Needless to say, we had no selfies back then.

Can you see the two exceptionally tall buildings through the mist, standing far above the others? I remember when those "Twin Towers" opened ten years earlier, in 1973, not long after our family moved from our native city to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For a long time, they were just part of the landscape of New York.

During the course of many visits, I went up to the top and marveled at the amazing views. (It was fun to take visiting Europeans up there; in fact it's fun just taking them to New York, which is not like anything they've ever seen except in the movies). I remember hanging around various parts of the buildings day and night. I walked right past them, barely noticing them as I hurried somewhere else. I saw them from many angles of the Manhattan skyline. I saw them from airplane windows....

It seemed like they would just be there forever. Like mountains.

The nightmare that took place 20 years ago was inconceivable for a large part of my life. We in the First World at the end of the twentieth century grew up with images and/or fears of nuclear war, totalitarian dictatorships, systematic genocide, and the destruction of entire nations. We also knew the peculiar anxiety (which still exists today, and has expanded to other realms of life) of living with ever-increasingly complex and opaque political bureaucracies and the ever-expanding power of technologically sophisticated weapons capable of wiping out millions of people by putting into action protocols that nobody really understood. It seemed almost that the world could be destroyed "by accident," and that political violence in general was becoming something anonymous.

Of course we also knew about "local wars" in the global South. Thanks to the ingenious simplicity and the cheap but durable, portable, and effective AK-47, guerrilla warfare had been raised to a whole new level of destructiveness. Still, those of us who grew up in the First World during the Cold War era tended also to view these wars in large, abstract terms. Great ideologies were supposedly enacting geopolitical strategies through "proxy wars" all over the world. The local revolutionaries and resistance fighters seemed to us (with a few notable exceptions) "faceless" instruments in the global power struggle, and only historical hindsight has begun to allow us in the West to see the immense complexity of human motivations, local rivalries, ethnic conflicts, and sometimes ancient grievances that were behind the allegiances in these local wars. 

Indeed, as the millennium dawned, many of us in rich countries - gaping in awe at our vast technologically sophisticated arsenals and having just lived through a decade in which the Great Enemy (Soviet Communism) had been vanquished, had grown "a bit distant" in our sensibilities regarding the true sources of political violence in this world. Perhaps some of us had also grown distant from another essential, irreplaceable factor in the struggle against evil: our own courage

But that all changed on September 11, 2001. There had of course been terrorist attacks in recent years, but nothing remotely on this scale. Yet it was a group of young men armed with nothing but box cutters, a few flying lessons, and the fury of a suicidal fanaticism, a boundless rage and resentment, and a perversion of their religious sense: the deepest and most implacable human drive that searches for the ultimate meaning of life was twisted by fantasies and nihilism into a violent project to bring down the two tallest buildings in the world into a raging fire of death.

This blasphemous and inhuman horror, along with the personal catastrophes and the countless instances of heroism that followed, proved once again a very old truth.

It proved that the greatest power in the world — for violence and destruction or for valor and courage and solidarity — remains the human heart with its designs, its choices for good or evil, and the ever-renewed gift and vocation that draws the human heart to love and to hope and to begin again.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Christina Grimmie Remains a Great Help to Me in This Time

I haven't posted since June any particular "remembrance" of Christina Grimmie on the 10th day of the month, which has become a custom for me personally.

This does not mean that I have forgotten about her. Quite the contrary. This has been a time of great change and great sorrow for me, as my mother passed away on July 3 even as I continue to grieve for my father's death in 2019.

Both my parents have gone forward toward that fulfilling and definitive encounter with the Mystery. Even in the light of Jesus Christ — who reveals and communicates to us the healing, forgiving, and transforming love of the Mystery, who teaches us to call God "Our Father" by the grace of the Holy Spirit — we still walk by faith in this world and not by sight. Without the accessible presence those we love most in this world, those who have guided us from our first footsteps, there is an unavoidable sense of sorrow and even a new sense of "loneliness." Even though they are "not far" from us, even though it is "only for a season," even as our hope in eternal life grows stronger, still it is difficult to walk this part of the human journey.

We are called to "lose ourselves" in order to find ourselves again in the Kingdom of God, in that inheritance which our Brother Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, offers us a share. It is a mysterious inheritance, beyond our limits in ways we can't imagine, but that we know are good. Life and death are mysterious, but ultimately they are the mystery of indestructible love.

Many who have gone before us — passing beyond the life of this world — still shine for us like lights, like stars that seem distant and yet can be surprisingly warm. They remain our friends who encourage us to persevere, and who wait for us to join them when our labors in this world are done. My parents are now among them, and I have an inkling of their nearness even in the midst of the "loneliness" of going on without them.

There are others whose witness continues to resonate, to reach people and help them to become stronger. The love through which they gave themselves in this life becomes in some way "greater" — as a very particular and personal affection that shares in the boundless love of the Heart of Jesus and in precisely this way (in Him) it becomes more than ever "theirs" personally, as they "find themselves" in Him who in His Resurrection is "the firstborn of many brothers and sisters."

I never met Christina Grimmie in this world. How is it that she is such an important sister in Christ, such a friend to me, such a source of hope and strength in the often-encroaching darkness that threatens us all in these recent years?

Why do I love her so much?

I have reflected upon this (here on this blog and elsewhere), but have hardly exhausted it. But I do love her, and have found her to be a constant friend. There is nothing esoteric or strange about this friendship. Rather, I think it has to do with what we call in the Apostles' Creed "the communion of saints."

And now, in these recent times, as I struggle with grief and loss such as I have never known before, Christina continues to shine on as a bright beautiful star who encourages me to go forward, to not be afraid to love.

Five years and three months after her own tragic death while opening her arms to "welcome a stranger" (as she had dedicated herself to doing every day, with her music and her life, for the glory of Christ) Christina Grimmie is more than ever a great inspiration and a great help to me.