Friday, January 11, 2019

Christmas Ornaments and Stuff, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie's Great Love is a Sign for Us

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

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

It amazes me, and breaks my heart.

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

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

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

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

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

I am filled with sorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Christmas Ornaments and Stuff, Part 1

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Wine Study Number 1 (2019 edition)

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

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Light that Shines is HIS LOVE

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

God loves me. What does this mean?

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

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

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

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

They know nothing of how or why they exist.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany: God Reveals Himself

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

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

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

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

COLLECT for Epiphany, Roman Rite:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 4, 2019

2018/2019 Transition Collage

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Happy Birthday to Me? I am Grateful...

Yesterday, I turned 56 years old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am "here" because I am loved.

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

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

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

"O Marvelous Exchange..."

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

Monday, December 31, 2018

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

Happy New Year 2019.๐ŸŒŸ

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

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

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

Happy New Year! God bless you all.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Walking Together "in the Ambit of a Greater Love"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Family Time at Christmas

Let's catch up on some Christmas family things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 28, 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018

He Still Comes to Dwell Among Us

Christmas is an invitation to faith, trust, and love.

In our world that is so violent and selfish, that seems so hopeless in so many ways, God still comes to dwell with us.

Christmas calls us to reaffirm our faith in the mystery of the Incarnation, in God’s definitive intervention into the story of the human race; God making Himself present in the midst of human cruelty, barbarism, blindness, idolatry, and willful ignorance of His compassion and love.

Sometimes Christmas can seem a little abstract, as the world seems to go on in the same way as ever, with all of its conflicts and pride and grasping for power.

We also don't seem to change much. Our lives are still a mess. We've spent another year going around in circles, seeking our own satisfaction, accumulating new grievances, complaining, gossiping, screwing up the relationships that matter most to us, hurting the people we love.

And now it's Christmas and we stress out over gifts and food, and then we go to church and kneel before the infant Jesus because it's what we're "supposed to do." But maybe now it strikes us again, this mystery that we think we know and yet always seen to forget.

God has made Himself small. He has come among us in poverty and need.

The incomprehensibility of God is not that of an irrational, alien cosmic dictator who makes up rules that infringe on our otherwise autonomous self-sufficient personality, and who threatens us with violence if we don't comply. This is the strange idea born of servile fear. Indeed, God is truly incomprehensible, but His is the incomprehensibility of Love.

We have come to pray to God, and here we are gazing upon the image of a baby.

Not because we thought it would be a good idea to represent God as a baby, but because God really became a baby.

We didn't make this up. It happened. God came into the world. He made Himself "small" so that He could enter into our lives.

What does this mean for us? We can only grasp this by faith. We can only live the reality of this by trust and love. Let us ask the Lord to stir up this faith, trust, and love in our hearts.

If we let God into our hearts—the God who has become so small for our sake—we will begin to discover what this is all about. God has come to us. God has given everything. He has poured Himself out in Love. He can do this because He is Love.

And He has come to be the One who accompanies us in our misery and leads us out and beyond all of it. The fullness of the revelation of God’s love is mercy.

This baby is God's mercy. The God who is Love wants to be close to us, to save us. His name is Jesus.

Jesus is the gift of God’s merciful Love to the world, to restore—indeed to transform—human beings into His image and likeness. He is the reason for the joy that calls out to our hearts at Christmas.

He wants to take care of the messes of our lives, to come to us not as a threat to our humanity, but precisely as the One who generates that humanity, who creates love, who creates freedom, who makes me to be my true self.

The "real me" is created and redeemed in the image and likeness of God. The "real me" is not found in distraction and evasion born of fear, or the graspings of pride. The "real me" is made for freedom, for love, for self-giving in a relationship with the God who is Freedom, Love, Gift, who gives Himself to me—and also in relationship with all my brothers and sisters among whom I find Him again and again, the One who comes to be with us, the One who gives Himself away: Jesus, our baby brother.

Let us believe in Him, trust Him, love Him, knowing that all has been accomplished, that in the risen and glorified Jesus and Mary the New Creation has already begun in its fullness.

Meanwhile, let us live our faith in this present age so that we might grow into the fullness of trust and perfect adherence to His mercy, and so that we might witness the gift of God’s love in a world of sin, a world of confusion and violence, a world that is afraid of God, that wants to forget God.

Let us not forget Him. We so often share in the folly of a would-be "self-sufficient," sinful world that strives to live without God, and then groans with the awful anxiety of so much darkness, the dread of being alone, the failures and the guilt that cannot be fixed, and the fear of dying without knowing why.

Yet "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son" and God still loves the world through this irrevocable gift.

The gift is Jesus.

He has come to dwell with us, and He offers Himself to everyone who will receive Him with faith, trust, and love.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Merry Christmas 2018 ... Part 2 ๐Ÿ˜‰

On the Second Day of Christmas we have... the "official" family Christmas card, digitally designed by yours truly:        .

Remember to Keep Celebrating Christmas over the next eight days, and then beyond as we celebrate God's coming into the world to dwell with us and save us.   .

Whatever confusion, shadows, or darkness we find in our environment, our circumstances, or our selves, Jesus Christ is the light of the world.   .

His light shines for us, and leads us along the way.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas 2018

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas 2018!๐ŸŒฒ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŽ Jesus Christ Our Savior is Born!❤ He has come to be with us, in the whole of our lives, in our joys and in our pain.

Today is Day One of the Christmas Octave and the Christmas Season. Don't forget to keep celebrating. The image above is an original work of digital art by me.

You might be wondering where the family picture is. I was ill when we got back from midnight Mass and so I had to go straight to bed. But the "kids" took their own picture, and they are the ones everybody likes to see anyway.

They sure have grown up a lot in the years of this blog. Eileen and I will try to get a picture with the tree too (although we don't look much different from last year).

Wherever we are this Christmas, may we find sustenance and strength in this God who took our weakness upon Himself.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Really??

The lights. The parties. The presents. Time off from work. Well-wishing all around. Isn't it wonderful?

Christmas is almost here. Are we feeling "merry" yet? "Holly-Jolly"? We're trying. Maybe another glass of that eggnog-plus-special-secret-ingredients (you know, the one that's NOT for the kids) might help.๐Ÿ˜‰

We want so much to be happy. Especially now, when everybody else is having warm fuzzy time 'round the fireplace. Everybody on Instagram is smiling at us. We're supposed to be happy.

This time of year can feel like it carries an extra weight, an obligation to be happy even if we don't know how, or don't think we can be happy.

What's wrong with us? Isn't this the season of joy? It's "the-most-won-der-ful-tiiiiime-of-the-year!" So put on a happy face. Suck it up, chump!

We try so hard...

We try to make Christmas joy happen. Or, at least, we try to make something happen that feels like joy. That's understandable. We don't want to be Scrooge. We want to do our best to be cheerful. Sometimes it goes pretty well. Occasionally it's a train wreck. Sometimes we have a total blast.

But there is one thing that always happens, every single year, no matter what.

It ends. January comes, and everybody goes back to work.

Even if we make the perfect Christmas, it doesn't last. Yet, we desire this "joy" with all the depth of our hearts, and not only at Christmas. All year we are searching for it, but we can't capture it. We can't construct for ourselves a happiness that is good enough for our hearts.

During the holiday season, perhaps we try harder. But why? Really! Maybe Scrooge is right. Maybe it is all "humbug."

Although the 21st Century Scrooge knows that his employees work more efficiently if they get an occasional break. He has the statistics on that. Periodic holidays are a factor in the management of human resources. Also, it gives a boost to the whole economy.

To put it simply, Christmas is good for business. 

But is that all we can say about it, ultimately? Maybe it would be better to forget about the whole "joy" thing. It's not practical. Whatever we do, we end up disappointed anyway.

But here's the thing: we are disappointed because we expect something but we don't know how to get it, we don't know how to make it happen.

[Everybody knows more or less what I'm going to say here. But that's not the point. This is not an abstract intellectual exercise. This is a meditation.]

We must take time to remember that the real happiness, the real joy of Christmas, does not have its source in anything we make.

The joy of Christmas is a gift. It is a gift freely given to us. A real wonder. An utterly surprising, amazing, unimaginable gift that has been given to each and every one of us without exception.

It's great to do what we can to celebrate this gift, remember it, enter more deeply into this joy. Our work, our health, our feelings are important to this celebration. But it's not about us creating joy for ourselves.

It's about the fact that joy has come into the world. We have been created for this joy. Joy is our destiny. Joy is here for us, as a gift we can receive and a path we can travel.

Maybe we don't "feel it" this Christmas. We are tired, overwhelmed, sick, or moody. We should ask for help. We deserve help. But if there's not enough help, still these things will pass. There are pains and sorrows in life, terrible sorrows even, but these also will come to an end (unless we insist on holding onto them forever).

However we feel, let's remember, affirm, and celebrate the fact that the joy we long for with all our being has come to us in a way far beyond anything we could have imagined. Joy is present as a gift, as the promise of a fulfillment, and as sustenance here and now for the journey toward that fulfillment, however hard this part of the journey may be.

Even if our hearts are filled to the brim with sorrow, we must never give up.

This Joy is greater than our hearts.