Sunday, November 22, 2020

Christ the King of Love

Jesus Christ is God-with-us, God who pours Himself out in love, who overcomes sin and death, who renews all things in His victory, who reveals the Mystery of God as the Mystery of Infinite Love. God loves us immensely. Jesus Christ is King because He loves us, and because His forgiving, healing, transforming love is our hope, and the hope of world.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Is the Hard Work of "Writing" Still Worthwhile?

If you're a writer, you probably wonder sometimes why you bother doing it. Are you making any difference? How do you know whether you are succeeding at this all-too-often ponderous task?

Every writer feels frustrated at certain times. Writers who invest themselves within the subject matter of their writing are particularly vulnerable to disappointment. Most of what is regarded as literature (as opposed to instructional manuals, technical writing, or purely factual conveyance of information) involves to some extent this kind of "self-communication."

How does one "succeed" in this kind of writing? 

That's a difficult question, which we can only approach in a limited way in this space. It's a question, nevertheless, that often occurs to writers. Perhaps you are a discouraged writer. You know you have something to say, not just to provide information but also to give a perspective that you have developed from your own engagement of life. You verify the objective facts about your subject matter (in accordance with the requirements of whatever kind of writing you are doing). You communicate your own personal experience honestly and openly, while also striving to learn from it and help others to learn along with you. You work very hard at it. But no one seems to be listening (or reading). You feel like a failure.

But the most important and profound success for a writer can't really be measured. It's qualitative rather than quantitative. It is ulitmately personal; indeed it entails in a radical sense the aspiration for person-to-person communication.

Here, however, it can be hard to perceive any kind of clear and accurate "results." Often other people don't recognize right away the value of what might just be a seed planted in their hearts, a small adjustment to the way they look at reality. Of course, the desire to write and to communicate feels the need for response - so we have comments boxes, email, live presentations (perhaps), personal conversations, correspondence, and other possibilities for interacting with readers. Such interaction can be fruitful and helpful, but it doesn't exhaust the desire to communicate that continually motivates the writer's work. The "satisfaction" of success is not found here.

Even writers who receive lots of positive "feedback," appreciation, good reviews, or even awards and fame will find that none of these things are adequate. Indeed, the most enthusiastic and sympathetic readers - who perceive more of what the writer wants to convey (and/or communicate more appreciation for it) - still leave the writer somewhat "dissatisfied." There is a "gap" that remains between the writer's investment of themselves in communicating and the limits of what is understood. Being misinterpreted goes beyond this gap and brings real frustration to any serious writer. 

Whether in essays or art, prose or poetry, writing proves to be a long and difficult labor that we nevertheless undertake because its value is beyond immediate "measurable returns." Even if we consider that what we are trying to express may be more important as a contribution to the awareness of future generations, this remains an aspiration beyond our control, and one that underscores the "loneliness" of our efforts here and now.

The fundamental value of what we're doing, however, is in the truth and worth as such of what we have expressed. The thing that keeps us going, that brings us back to writing and keeps us writing through thick and thin, is the truth of what we are trying to communicate (even, indeed especially, when it's that particularly-difficult-to-articulate "truth about ourselves and our perspective on reality," drawn from personal experience).

That is our task in writing reflections and sharing our own experience. To communicate even a drop of that truth we thereby perceive (in spite of its being mixed in with our vanity, our incoherence, our stylistic idiosyncrasies, and all our other personal limitations) is what makes it worthwhile.

The heart of what we do is something that belongs in the category of witness. Other aspects - like finding the right platforms to promote our writing, expanding our readership, and seeing some level of impact - certainly have their place in our concerns. We want to communicate with other people, so obviously we want more people to read what we're writing, benefit from it, and appreciate it. It's only natural to want these things, and to feel disappointed when they seem to be lacking.

The overabundance of statistics available today don't necessarily give us a picture of the real value of our writing. Electronic media platforms tend to further enhance the distortion that reduces all forms of communication to the status of transactions involving the production and consumption of information. We can't give these things too much weight. We give the "production issues" whatever attention we can, without excessive anxiety, and get help from people who know better the "business side" of things.

What matters most, however, is for us to push through any feelings of failure that will inevitably come at times from this often "dry" (and at present rather unfashionable) task, and to keep writing, to keep offering and sharing who we are and what we have to say. People will receive it and it will have an impact on them. We don't have complete control over how that happens, but the ultimate value of our literary efforts as such is not found in external measurements of success but in our own "witness," in being faithful to setting it forth and expressing it as best as we can.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Thoughts on Family Life and "Apostolic Work"

Can you devote your life to serving the Lord and your neighbor, or more precisely, to a vocational path that focuses specifically on an "apostolate," on evangelization and/or works of mercy, while also being a husband and wife raising a family? 

Yes, you can. 

It's not an easy path, nor is it for everyone as a whole external format that determines daily work and other concrete life circumstances. Everyone can participate in apostolates and organized charitable activities, of course, according to their time and availability. But there are those remarkable families that are full-time missionaries serving in difficult places. Their are others who work with refugees or the poor. 

Then there are people who develop Catholic media, publishing, music, and new forms of outreach for evangelization, catechesis, prayer and spiritual growth; and still others who dedicate their lives to the renewal of Catholic education on various levels, with a variety of methods, within long established academic venues or by founding new schools, universities, and programs. Eileen and I have done something like this, both of us being long-serving teachers dedicated to pioneering Catholic educational institutions, while also raising our own five kids. For us, the teaching vocation encompasses both the distinctive Christian apostolate of communicating the faith (teaching and writing about theological and religious subjects, and involvement in "Catechesis of the Good Shepherd") and the more general humanistic concerns associated with the overall renewal of pedagogy in our time - with classical depth, proven modern educational methods (university liberal arts and Montessori for children) and exploration of new formats for learning (a task which circumstances have forced upon us). It has been for us an enterprise involving the whole family, with our own children among the students and making their own distinctive contributions.

I'm not going to put our family out there as the stellar example of how to live this type of vocation, first of all because we're not finished raising all the kids. We're still working through it, facing new challenges and learning new lessons, praying and giving it our best, being humbled by our weaknesses and entrusting everything to Jesus, through Mary. Our kids are doing well so far (three of them are now adults), and - though we've had the perennial rough patches and awkward times and miscommunications - our family remains pretty close (thanks be to God). But we are still in the midst of "running the race." Secondly, of course, is the fact that our path has been particularly wacky and off-beat (mostly because of me), and therefore not the most regular example of how "the lay apostolate" is lived. (I can't propose myself as an example of anything. I am a wretched, incoherent mess of a human being - a sinner who, when he remembers, begs for and hopes wildly in the infinite mercy of God.)

Nevertheless, I know it can be done. I have seen inspiring examples of families who have done beautifully the tasks of this sort of life. Because I know the immensity of God's love, and because of these many other witnesses, I am willing to venture a few words about it. 

The vocation to the "full-time apostolate" and family life will only develop rightly through a profound humility that pervades both parenthood and the work. This means being rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus that is sustained by prayer - but of course we need this no matter what we do, because life is realized in this way: by abandoning ourselves in trust and love to Jesus, and living as children of the Father in union with Him, led by the gift of His Spirit. 

If a husband or wife, a mother or father (or both) devote themselves to an apostolate of evangelization, catechesis, or works of mercy, they do so because they have discerned that this is God's will. There are lots of different kinds of work (plumbing, engineering, information technology, construction, furniture sales, architecture, pig farming, scientific research, truck driving, etc) that are specified by their contribution to building up the temporal life of this world. These are all good and necessary kinds of work which can be (and God wants them to be) contexts for a vital Christian witness and love. Moreover work itself, offered in union with Christ and out of love for the Lord and our brothers and sisters, is "consecrated" as an effort that will ultimately bear fruit in the transfigured life of the Kingdom of God. The love of God is drawing all of the good in the course of human history toward a mysterious but real fulfillment in His glory.

So, let us remember, we can serve God wholeheartedly and do His will, witnessing to Christ and building up His Kingdom through love, in whatever circumstances He places us. 

Some of us, however, are called to take up more explicitly some of the many tasks specifically involved in making Christ known and loved, by serving Him in various kinds of apostolic works and in caring for the poor and needy. These tasks are the form and content of the work of the clergy and those who collaborate directly with their ministry. But, as Vatican II emphasized so strongly, any baptized Christian can take up "the apostolate" as their particular work, form associations, and take their own initiatives - always, of couse, in communion with their bishop[s] and the bishop of Rome.

So what happens when married people with families (or people who eventually get married and have families) discern a particular calling to a "full-time ministry" or even a broader kind of work that is nevertheless defined by the explicit features of evangelizing, catechesis, pedagogical formation of the integrally Christian human person, or the particular facets of the spiritual or corporal works of mercy? It begs the question to say, "they should have become priests or religious if they wanted to do that stuff." The Lord is clearly calling and equipping lay people and married people to these tasks - often, indeed, people who are not looking for or expecting such a calling.

Indeed, in the context of today's radically secularized society, the lay apostolate can be crucial in extending the witness to Christ into realms not generally accessible to ecclesiastical ministry. It can bring the announcement of the Gospel out onto the roads of the world. Springing from the charisms given by the Holy Spirit to all the Church's members, lay apostolates can take shape with a freedom and flexibility that enable them to generate environments in which Jesus can be encountered on the margins of society, beyond the reach (and even beyond the knowledge) of the more "official" Church ministries.

But can you do these kinds of things and raise a family too? That is the challenge, the complexity of which cannot be denied. It remains possible inasmuch as God wills it and gives the grace to achieve it. The life requires ongoing discernment, and it may not be possible or appropriate for certain periods of time in a family's history. In many instances, the calling might only be temporary. At the right time, for a year or two, some mission could be taken up, after which it might be necessary to return to the stable, rooted lifestyle that is more naturally congenial to the human dimensions of family life in general, with more economic security and less demands on the work-life balance. 

Apostolic work is work. It is hard work, which involves an intensive commitment, but usually brings a smaller material recompense than a "regular job" or career. On the other hand, the sense of purpose and creative personal participation inherent in apostolic work often motivate people to invest themselves very deeply in it for minimal financial compensation. It is important work! But the family also needs to eat, and they very much need the mother and father to be invested personally in the life of the home. These difficulties can be engaged in creative and fruitful ways, when the protagonists really allow Jesus the "space" to be at the center of all their endeavors. And it is true that "God provides" - sometimes in dramatic ways - what we need. 

Insofar as we forget about Christ and stray off in the pursuit of our own ideas, however, we will have troubles. Our devotion to the apostolate can easily degenerate into emotional overinvolvement, controversies, partisanship, and infighting. We too easily drift into bad patterns of taking our spouse and children for granted, and neglecting our place in the family. We also cannot allow our generous and highly interested work-commitment to devolve into a timidness about making our basic financial needs known and making sure the institution takes their responsibility toward us seriously. Sometimes "God provides" by giving us the courage to insist on being paid what we need; in such circumstances an apostolate may discover that they have more resources than they realized.

Always pray and seek to do the will of God. This is all that matters.

A full-time apostolate requires making many sacrifices so as to prioritize family and service together, according to a proper order (because serving one another in the family takes precedence) but also with a loving openness to the demands this work can make on life, a capacity for a kind of "sacrificial flexibility," and a readiness to forgive one another again and again. It is necessary to discern and judge what serves the children and the family as a whole in their vocation to grow in love, and not simply what will maximize the "effectiveness" of the apostolate.

This means, emphatically, having different ambitions than the mainstream secular culture with its idolatry of external activism and material success. In this way of life, you must be doubly on guard against the vanities of celebrity for yourself or for your apostolate. You will have less of the big money but there will be other precious "riches" (in grace and in human things too). You also have to be willing to be a bit "idiosyncratic" (crazy?) for Christ. And above all you must pray pray pray pray and follow the Holy Spirit - because there is no "program" for how to do this. 

There are tips, advice, and suggestions, yes, but every family has its unique qualities and needs, must respond to unique and ever changing circumstances, and receives the graces from God attuned to them as unique persons in that original, irreplaceable communion of love they constitute together. 

It is necessary to walk with Jesus and rely on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, while also remaining obedient to the Church's shepherds and close to the sacraments. 

Here there is so much that applies to every vocation to family life. Jesus in the Eucharist is central to every Christian life and vocation. Spouses, remember too that the sacrament of marriage in Christ has awesome power - we need much more confidence in what He can do through His enduring presence with us at the heart of this sacred bond. Then there is the sacramental grace of confession. We need this because we will fail fail fail again and again and again but we must never give up. God heals us according to His plan, which often doesn't "look" the way we expect it to, or unfold in the way we think it should.

Even in the most varied circumstances and places, we must live our vocation in community. Families need families, trusting in the Lord to weave together from our unity in Him the many threads that make over time the "organic," deeply human connections of friendship. And we must rely on our brothers and sisters in Christ to help support us, encourage us, and sustain us in prayer. 

This is hardly and exhaustive reflection on any of these points. It's just a blog post. But let me end with one final observation: in an adventure such as this, we will discover in ourselves a great, generous sense of humor (and we will need it😉). Humor is the little sister of Wonder, and they are never far from one another.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Saint Gertrude: Living in "Friendship With the Lord Jesus"

November 16 is the feast of Saint Gertrude "the Great," of the 13th century Benedictine monastery in Helfta (Germany). 

She was one of the outstanding women of the medieval Church, a brilliant scholar, a counselor to many, and most importantly a mystic enraptured by the merciful and loving heart of Jesus.

In a vision, Jesus said to her, "My Divine Heart, understanding human inconstancy and frailty, desires with incredible ardor continually to be invited, either by your words, or at least by some other sign, to operate and accomplish in you what you are not able to accomplish yourself. And as its omnipotence enables it to act without trouble, and its impenetrable wisdom enables it to act in the most perfect manner, so also its joyous and loving charity makes it ardently desire to accomplish this end."

Reflecting on Jesus dwelling in her heart, she says, "Your sweetest humanity and unbounded love moved you to seek me in my disturbed state" and, hearing the words of the Scripture of John 14:23, "I perceived your presence in my heart, my most sweet God and my delight. It would be purified from its dross and made less unworthy of your presence...." She desires intimacy with God, who by the grace of her living faith in Jesus has come to dwell in her heart. Nevertheless, she acknowledges her faults and her continued preoccupation with many problems and matters of lesser import (she was a woman of great learning and, especially in her youth, many different interests). Still, God is calling her to himself, beyond any attachment to concerns that cannot fulfill her soul's longing for union with him: "My mind still takes pleasure in wandering and in distracting itself with perishable things. Even so, when I finally return into my heart after some hours, days, or even entire weeks, I still find you there. I cannot complain that you have left me even for a moment."

Moreover, this presence of the Lord is not "passive." Gertrude's dramatic and powerful expression of God's persistence in her own life - the mysterious ways by which God "wins" her heart - gives hope to all of us, even if we do not so clearly experience God's immense ardor for us and his patient determination to purify and transform us: "O devastating coal, my God, you who contain, radiate, and brand with living heat!...O powerful whose operation dross is transformed into refined and choice gold when the soul, wearied by deceit, at long last blazes with an inner and insatiable desire to track down what belongs to it, and which it may receive from you alone: the very Truth."

Gertrude is a wonderful witness to the merciful love of Jesus who accompanies us, who always takes the initiative to call us and move us toward a deeper relationship with him. 

In his General Audience of October 6, 2010, Benedict XVI spoke of Saint Gertrude as "the only German woman to be called 'Great,' because of her cultural and evangelical stature: her life and her thought had a unique impact on Christian spirituality. She was an exceptional woman, endowed with special natural talents and extraordinary gifts of grace, the most profound humility and ardent zeal for her neighbour's salvation. She was in close communion with God both in contemplation and in her readiness to go to the help of those in need.

Although she "often says that she was negligent, she recognizes her shortcomings and humbly asks forgiveness for them. She also humbly asks for advice and prayers for her conversion. Some features of her temperament and faults were to accompany her to the end of her life, so as to amaze certain people who wondered why the Lord had favoured her with such a special love." Yet she lived with "such devotion and such trusting abandonment in God that she inspired in those who met her an awareness of being in the Lord's presence. 

"In fact, God made her understand that he had called her to be an instrument of his grace. Gertrude herself felt unworthy of this immense divine treasure, and confesses that she had not safeguarded it or made enough of it... Yet, in recognizing her poverty and worthlessness she adhered to God's will, 'because,' she said, 'I have so little profited from your graces that I cannot resolve to believe that they were lavished upon me solely for my own use, since no one can thwart your eternal wisdom.'" In gratitude and charity, therefore, Gertrude dedicated herself to making God's love more widely known. She "devoted herself to writing and popularizing the truth of faith with clarity and simplicity, with grace and persuasion, serving the Church faithfully and lovingly so as to be helpful to and appreciated by theologians and devout people." And she wrote of her own experiences in prayer, in particular regarding the love of the Heart of Jesus: "'You wished to introduce me into the inestimable intimacy of your friendship by opening to me in various ways that most noble sacrarium of your Divine Being which is your Divine Heart.'

Her mystical and prophetic gifts and her deep contemplative prayer were not experienced in isolation but always in the communion of the Church, rooted in the Benedictine tradition of liturgical worship and works of love. Therefore, Pope Benedict concludes, her story speaks about "not only things of the past, of history; rather St Gertrude's life lives on as a lesson of Christian life, of an upright path, and shows us that the heart of a happy life, of a true life, is friendship with the Lord Jesus. And this friendship is learned in love for Sacred Scripture, in love for the Liturgy, in profound faith, in love for Mary, so as to be ever more truly acquainted with God himself and hence with true happiness, which is the goal of our life.

Prayer for the day:

O God, who prepared a delightful dwelling for yourself
in the heart of the Virgin Saint Gertrude,
graciously bring light, through her intercession,
to the darkness of our hearts,
that we may joyfully experience you present and at work within us.
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.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

"Selfie, Autumn 2020"

Selfie, Autumn 2020. Just me and the leaves. Most of the first half of November has been unseasonably warm and very pretty in the Valley.

This is not something to be taken for granted. It is also not something that will last. Get ready for the COLD!

Friday, November 13, 2020

Hong Kong Opposition Leaders Resign in Protest

Democratic opposition members have resigned in protest from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council over Beijing’s new ruling that authorizes the region’s CCP-controlled “chief executive” to dismiss Council members without trial if they are deemed to be a danger to “national security.”

Once again the mainland has imposed its judgment and procedures without regard for Hong Kong's constitution, and in violation of China's international treaty obligations to respect the "One-Country-Two-Systems" agreement until at least 2047.

It has been a year since pro-Democracy candidates won a historic landslide in elections for the local-area administrative "District Council," which has no real political power. Nevertheless those elections were seen as a referendum on the Hong Kong protest movement's struggle against Beijing's encroachment.

Ever since, the CCP has continued to encroach more rapidly and openly. Dissent was outlawed by a mainland-imposed "national security law" in June. Then, the Legislative Council election scheduled for this Fall was "postponed." And now four currently seated pro-Democracy LegCo members have been removed from office allegedly in the interests of national security. This prompted the remaining 15 pro-Democracy LegCo members to resign in solidarity with their colleagues and to make clear that Beijing's abuse of power has removed every vestige of legitimacy from Hong Kong's constitutionally guaranteed legislature.

This is a setback, of course, for now. But the air has been cleared. The CCP can no longer even remotely pretend it respects Hong Kong's political structures. It was inevitable, in any case, that those who favor Hong Kong's "self-determination" were going to have to play the long game. There are not many options immediately at hand. Street protests have been effectively muted, and it remains to be seen how law enforcement and the judiciary will handle the many cases that have yet to be prosecuted against recent participants in the movement.

Now is the time for Hong Kong people to cultivate deeper growth and greater vision, whether they continue to live as they can within the region, or are forced into exile, or locked up in prison. Time is not exclusively the realm of those who use power to oppress the weak. Time can also strengthen the patience and widen the perspective of a concrete, non-violent, personalist and communitarian alternative for politics in Hong Kong (and elsewhere in the world of the 21st century that so desperately needs it). 

Time allows the resources of the human spirit to come into play. In time, cries for justice, human dignity, and love will be heard.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Young Ronald Knox "Comes Home"

The young man who would one day be known as Monsignor Ronald Knox wrote his own account of his very moving conversion and entrance into the Roman Catholic Church at the age of 29. 

I have written an article for my monthly published column, in which I attempt to present the broad outlines of a story that has many facets. You can read that article in the June 2021 issue of Magnificat (click HERE to subscribe). 

On the blog, I wish to present a few segments from his beautifully written book, A Spiritual Aeneid (notwithstanding the fact that the more mature Monsignor Knox — who was a prolific author and translated the entire Bible — found this, his first Catholic book, inadequate and even embarrassing). 

Nevertheless here he endeavors to explain the step he has just taken, with what is still the candor of youth and with the savor of the religious controversies (he had been an Oxford fellow, Anglican priest, and leader of the Anglo-Catholic movement) and the historical anguish of Europe in the midst of war in 1917. Knox's quoted text from A Spiritual Aeneid is in BOLD type. I interject a few contextual and/or explanatory notes in regular type which should appear as a medium shade of blue. Most of these notes are also contained within brackets.


I suppose it is inevitable that, after the question “Why did you become a Roman Catholic?” Anglicans and others should proceed to the question “What does it feel like?”

In answer to this, I can register one impression at once, curiously inconsistent with my preconceived notions on the subject. I had been encouraged to suppose, and fully prepared to find, that the immediate result of submission to Rome would be the sense of having one’s liberty cramped and restricted in a number of ways, necessary no doubt to the welfare of the Church at large, but galling to the individual. The discouragement of criticism would make theology uninteresting, and even one’s devotions would become a feverish hunt after indulgences (this latter bogey is one sedulously presented to the would-be convert by Anglican controversialists). 

As I say, I was quite prepared for all this: the curious thing is that my experience has been exactly the opposite. I have been overwhelmed with the feeling of liberty — the glorious liberty of the sons of God. I am speaking for myself, but I fancy not only for myself, when I say that as an Anglican I was for ever bothering about this and that detail of correctness — was this doctrine one that an Anglican could assert as of faith? Was this scruple of conscience one to be encouraged or to be fought? And, above all, was I right? Were we all doing God’s Will? or merely playing at it? 

Now, this perpetual "is-my-hat-straight" sort of feeling is one that had become so inveterate with me as an Anglican that I had ceased to be fully conscious of it; just in the same way you can carry a weight so long that you cease to feel it; instead, you feel an outburst of positive relief when it is withdrawn...

[Knox felt as he had found his home in the Catholic Church.] I used once to define “home” as “a place where you can put your feet on the mantelpiece,” and I am not sure it is a bad description. That is the sense in which, especially, I felt that I had “come home.” Anglicanism (or some part of it) had, like a kind hostess, invited me to “make myself at home;” it was “Liberty Hall” [a literary reference to a place that welcomes people without imposing alien conventions]... and it was not till I became a Catholic that I became conscious of my former homelessness, my exile from the place that was my own. 

It was not that, as an Anglican, I had been overscrupulous about other people’s disapproval: I always rather enjoyed being disapproved of. It was simply that I now found ease and naturalness, and stretched myself like a man who has been sitting in a cramped position. 

“But,” I shall be asked, “what do you now make of Anglicanism, and of your Anglican career?” 

It is not a particularly easy question to answer, but at least some misrepresentations may be worth the avoiding. I do think that I was called by God to minister to Him in the office of a priest; that I went about it the best way I knew, and was solemnly set apart as a religious person by a Body which had every human authority to do so, but lacked the spiritual qualification which is to me all-important, the direct inheritance of the Apostolic mission. The simplest way to put it is that, so far as orders go, I feel about the Church of England exactly what the Rev. R. J. Campbell (in his Spiritual Pilgrimage) says about his earlier ordination.

[Reginald John Campbell (1867-1956) was an ordained Protestant minister and notable preacher who then joined the Church of England. Campbell was "reordained" by what he believed to be valid sacramental bishops with apostolic succession in the Anglican Church (in reality, the succession had been broken in the 16th century, but he didn't know or acknowledge that fact). Campbell viewed his prior Protestant ministry as having a "charismatic" value for the leadership of the Congregationalist Christians he served, but not as possessing an objective sacramental status linked to the apostolic ministry instituted by Christ. Knox seems to be pointing to Campbell's description of his Protestant ministry as a "charismatic" gift of leadership and service ('grace-given' by the Holy Spirit, within the limits of the circumstances) for the sake of Christians entrusted to him who were honestly mistaken and in good faith in their dedication to following Christ. Ironically, Knox uses this distinction to illustrate the value of his own ministry as an Anglican priest, which he now realized was not truly linked to the apostolic succession. Nevertheless, it was "charismatic" and therefore a worthwhile service, and perhaps even — through the good-faith presumption of a validity that in fact did not exist — a ritual context that de facto provided occasions for "spiritual communion" (through intention and desire) with the Eucharistic Jesus who was really present, not at their Anglo-Catholic "Masses" but in the validly offered Masses by (validly ordained) Catholic priests all over the world. Knox himself was "reordained" (i.e. validly ordained) as a Catholic priest in 1918.]

As to the Sacraments I received, I feel as if I had in the past made a large number of spiritual Communions in circumstances where, for practical purposes, I was debarred from communicating sacramentally; that, consequently, if and in so far as I was in a position to receive grace at all, such grace was then given to me as is given in Spiritual Communion — I might have done the same if I had passed fourteen years of my life on a desert island. I have no sense of spiritual poverty — except such as we must all have. 

For the Church of England as an institution, my chief feeling is one of unbounded gratitude to God for having been born in circumstances where I had a schoolmaster to bring me to Christ. Or rather (for “schoolmaster” is too cold a term) I feel as if I had been left in charge of a foster-mother, who reared me as her own child. 

Was it her fault if, in her affection for me, she let me think I was her own child, and hid from me my true birth and princely destiny? I have no word of complaint to make of any rough usage: rather, if anything, she gave me too much liberty, and let me put on airs when I had no right to. And if at last I have found my true parentage, as I now think it, can I forget the kindnesses she showered on me, her care and my happiness in her arms? Such is not my intention; God forgive me if through any fault of mine it should become my act.

“And so,” they go on, “you have found peace?” 

Certainly I have found harbourage, the resting-place which God has allowed to His people on earth... despising the winds, not because no breath of air ever comes there, but because God himself has entrusted the command of those winds to his own Delegate, regemque dedit, qui foedere certo / Et premere, et laxas sciret dare jussus habenas

I do not expect to escape temptations against the faith, such as the imperfect soul is bound to encounter and I have often encountered in the past. Nor do I feel cabined and cramped because intellectual speculation is now guided and limited for me by actual authority, as it has been hitherto by my own desire for orthodoxy. I find in the Church pacem veri nominis, quam mundus dare non potest, tranquillitatem scilicet ordinis; I do not see how it can be unchristian to desire that. 

But if by “finding peace” you mean being laid up on a shelf and, like the housemaid of the epitaph, “doing nothing for ever and ever,” if you mean a sort of senile decay of the faculties, and a fatuous complacency in the existing order of things, then I no longer assent: then, like the irritated gentleman when a complete stranger asked him if he had found peace, I must answer “No! I’ve found War!” 

Did I find, as the days of my hesitation drew to an end, the Church of Rome a smug, respectable institution much lauded by men of the world? Did I, in my morning paper, find fulsome paragraphs telling me of the debt we all owed to the Vatican for its admirable broad-mindedness? 

Rather, if there was a wrong motive (for all political motives to religious action are wrong) which then encouraged me to join the Church, it was that I found the Church, as in the days of the Apostles, “a sect that is everywhere spoken against.” I found that Catholicism in Italy was condemned as denationalized, Catholicism in Germany for its nationalism, Catholicism in Switzerland because it was pacificist, Catholicism in France because it was chauvinist, Catholicism in Spain as a pillar of reaction, Catholicism in Ireland as a hotbed of revolution. 

I found that the imperialist Press, both in England and in Germany, anathematized the Holy Father’s interference [i.e. Benedict XV's various efforts to mediate and help bring peace], now because he was trying to secure the winning side in its ill-gotten gains, now because he was trying to save the losing side from defeat. That [Rome's] influence should react differently in different environments was what I should have expected of the City which was built to be the world’s centre, but what did it all mean, this chorus of dissatisfaction? 

In the first place, it must mean that the Church was something big, something significant — divine or diabolical, it must have some importance in the world, to evoke such antipathy. And in the second place, it had resolute and sworn enemies. The manifestations of its activity might differ, and the limits within which its influence could be traced might be narrower than many people thought, but still it had some effect, and the effect roused the world to fury. 

Disagreements there might be between various sections of the Church — and its critics, heaven knows, have made the most of them — but at least it had one thing in common everywhere, common enemies.
They might respect it for the moment, but in the years to come they would not be slow to join in assailing it, the indifferent, the baffled seekers after a sign, the fanatical opponents — as once before, Pilate and Herod and Caiaphas — sinking their differences in a joint attack upon this defenceless but never insignificant foe. Surely such a cause was worthy of being championed.... 

Now, as I say, if such motives swayed me, they were wrong. It is cowardly to join the Church just because the Church is large, or influential: I had often had the argument put to me, and rejected it. They are slaves, who dare not be "in the right" with two or three. And it is wrong to join the Church because the Church seems to you to lack support which you can give. You must come, not as a partisan or as a champion, but as a suppliant for the needs in your own life which only the Church can supply — the ordinary, daily needs, litus innocuum, ei cunctis auramque undamque patentem.

You must join the Church as a religion, not as a party or as a clan.

[This was the religion — the fullness of the way of surrendering his will to Christ — that Knox encountered with an open heart, after much struggle and inner turmoil in the stretch of time immediately prior to the completion of his conversion: for him it was the decisive step on a road that passed from his Evangelical childhood, to his Ritualist Anglican school days, to his zealous convictions as an Anglo-Catholic priest who wanted to help liberate and bring about the (future) "corporate reunion" of the whole English Church with Rome, to — at last — his personal entrance into the fullness of faith and communion with the Catholic Church in obedience to Christ, and the successor of Peter. In the end, after all his seeking, he went on retreat to a Benedictine monastery and prayed to be able to make his decision. Soon] I knew that grace had triumphed. I neither expected nor received any sensible supernatural illumination: I did not have to take my spiritual temperature, “evaluate” my “experiences,” or proceed in any such quasi-scientific manner. I turned away from the emotional as far as possible, and devoted myself singly to the resignation of my will to God’s Will. Attulit et nobis aliquando optantibus aetas Adventum auxiliumque Dei; in the mere practice of religion, in the mere performance of these (very informal) exercises, I knew that it was all right. 

I am not trying to explain it, but I must try to illustrate it by an example. It was as if I had been a man homeless and needing shelter, who first of all had taken refuge under a shed at the back of an empty house. Then he had found an outhouse unlocked, and felt more cheerfulness and comfort there. Then he had tried a door in the building itself, and, by some art, found a secret spring which let you in at the back door; nightly thenceforward he had visited this back part of the house, more roomy than anything he had yet experienced, and giving, through a little crack, a view into the wide spaces of the house itself beyond. Then, one night, he had tried the spring, and the door had refused to open. The button could still be pushed, but it was followed by no sound of groaning hinges. Baffled, and unable now to content himself with shed or outhouse, he had wandered round and round the house, looking enviously at its frowning fastnesses. And then he tried the front door, and found that it had been open all the time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Christina Grimmie is "Never Giving Up"

It's November 10th. I was listening to this song by Christina Grimmie today. Steady Love.

In whatever mysterious way, I hear these words directed to me personally. They are a witness. They are helping to build something within my soul, something I can't make by myself. 

I'm counting on that "steady love," that love stronger than hatred and evil. Stronger than death. 

Christina's songs are full of "promises" like these. After four years and five months, I still find her convincing.💚

Monday, November 9, 2020

Reality and the "Thinker"

There he is. The "Thinker"!

There is a lot to be said for him (or her, of course--but I will use the masculine pronoun here since our exemplar is Rodin's statue).

The thinker is reflective. He tries to understand the world and himself. He looks at the way things are, how they are structured, how they are distinct and how they go together. He tries to understand himself. He reflects on his own experience and he tries also to understand and appreciate from within the experience of others.

The thinker is often not the same as "the debater"...the thinker can get frustrated with arguing, especially in the combative contemporary forum in which it takes place. It is not that he lacks appreciation for disagreement, or for challenges to his own ideas. It is rather the opposite: he values them too much. If he encounters a coherent challenge to his understanding, he wants time to examine it and if necessary alter his own thinking. In the face of a bad argument, he is often more interested in what the "opponent" is really trying to get at, or what genuine insight might lie behind a poorly formulated position.

This means that the most gifted and articulate thinkers can sometimes be the best debaters. They are able to distinguish and clarify. They are not so much interested in "winning an argument" as they are in joining with their interlocutor in a search for the truth. They don't "beat" their opponent; they "win him over"--and in the process often find their own positions clarified.

Such persons are rare, however. Most thinkers are like Rodin's fellow up there. They are plodders. They are often insecure in their own ideas, and find that grappling with intellectual challenges is a painful psychological process of struggling with doubt, with feelings of weakness and incompetence, and with frustration at the sheer murkiness and dimness of the human intellect. Step by step, with many mistakes, and only with a great deal of time does the thinker begin to grasp truths that are really worth knowing.

The thinker is often a peacemaker rather than a warrior. But he has his own kind of courage: he is courageous in his willingness to suffer the long human journey to truth. There is a secret fire that sustains him.

The thinker, however, considers things in the shadow of a great temptation. It is a subtle, but devastating temptation. The thinker wants to understand everything. He craves intellectual synthesis.

He can even have it, up to a point....

He can know something about the Mystery that is the source of all reality if he is willing to yield his mind to the way of similitude and difference, the way of analogy, where knowledge humbly gives way before a certain darkness, where he adheres to and affirms a transcendent "Other" whose secrets are too great for him. What he sees is only in a mirror, and what he does not see is always the greater.

To be humble before the ultimate truth of reality is his greatest challenge. It is difficult, because the thinker has a quiet, often unacknowledged, but fiercely stubborn pride.

Perhaps this is why Rodin's fellow is looking down.

The hardest thing for the thinker is to look at reality, at the actual life that greets him every day. The real things in life are given their deepest meaning by an absolutely gratuitious Love that has freely chosen to take up and give itself from within the whole business.

Shocked by this Love, the thinker is tempted to withdraw into himself. He struggles with all his mental energy to incorporate this Love into his synthetic project. There must be categories in which this can be contained.

St. Paul spoke to the thinkers of Athens. He intrigued them with his appeal to the "Unknown," but then a strange thing happened. He pointed to an event, to gratuitous Love, to a man who has risen from the dead. Some of the philosophers just laughed at him, but I have always wondered about those who said to him, "we will hear you on this another day" (see Acts 17:32).

How typical of the thinker.

In front of the explosion of Love, he says, "can we talk about this some more? Perhaps you can explain yourself?"

But Love does not explain itself. It says, "follow Me."

There is a story about Thomas Aquinas. It is about something that happened one day while he was deep in
thought in his room at the Dominican friary in Paris - while he was pondering the highest questions and working on his manuscripts (which of course have so much value for the history of philosophy and theology). The Prior of the house told a young novice to find a friar who wasn't busy and tell him that the Prior needed him to go to the center of town and buy fish for the community.

Aquinas was the first friar that the ignorant novice saw. The great scholar, the Magister of the University of Paris, one of the great geniuses of all time, was approached by a novice, who told him that the Prior had ordered him to go out and buy fish.

Without a moment's hesitation or question, Thomas put down his pen and headed for the fish market.

Friday, November 6, 2020

"Our Citizenship is in Heaven"

In today's reading, Saint Paul speaks to the Christians of Philippi, and to us:

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Pascal: "What It Is To Be A King..."

He's paradoxical. He's provocative. Sometimes, he's a bit extreme. But Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) makes you think... and I'm not talking about mathematics or science here. I'm talking about the collection of his "Thoughts" published after his death at the age of 38. 

The Pensées were more like notes or fragments of a book when he died, but they were published and read widely, and continue to be admired for their brilliant French prose, and their profound religiosity.

In fact, reading them is like having buckets of existential cold water dumped on your head. When the world grows fuzzy, when everything is distracted and out of focus, Pascal can be very good reading. He speaks about the human condition with great insight, even when he uses hyperbolic language that can "go too far," or paradoxical articulations about human interior dividedness that draw much from his passionate Jansenism. Yet even when he stretches things thus, he always has a point. You can't simply dismiss his challenge to face the evasiveness and duplicity of your own life, and the cheap distractedness of the dominant mentality and so many cultural trends. 

Pascal refuses to allow you to be comfortable with any self-sufficient worldliness, with the forgetfulness of the human need for God. With poetic eloquence, he draws a picture of the human condition according to the volcanic incoherence of human behavior, of "the grandeur and misery of man." Thus, he is existentially provoking. And he speaks to human problems today as much as those of his time.

"Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole dignity and his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now, the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its Author and its end. But of what does the world think? Never of this, but of dancing, playing the lute, singing, making verses, running at the ring, etc., fighting, making oneself king, without thinking what it is to be a king, or to be a man" (Pensées 146).

Topical, indeed. We are all still taken up with the question of "who is to become king," without thinking much about what it really means to "be king," and putting it in perspective: the person who wears the crown will be neither our savior nor our ruin. We are made for God. He is in control. Our identity comes from Jesus, the King of kings, and not from our tribes or our chiefs. We follow Jesus. We trust in Him, come what may.

Pascal's text is also a finger pointing at me, certainly. I want to say that I can think of my self, God, and my end, while also giving attention - critically, of course - to the relative values of playing the "lute" (especially the "electric lute") and singing and writing verse and playing ball. I tell myself that I'm trying to recognize the human values that are all wound up with the ambivalence and excess of these activities in today's society. That's what I want to do, but I'm also lured sometimes by the distractions, the cleverness, the spectacle. Being a Christian "in the world" is a vocational duty, but I am far from doing it well. I need more prayer, more attention to the word of God, more asceticism, more remembrance of Christ, more openness to the grace of the sacraments, more awareness of belonging to God, more desire to do His will.

Pascal is a "reality check" on all pretenses to compromise, to settle for mediocre Christianity instead of striving for a greater conformity to Jesus Christ.

In another text, the great French prodigy of math and science, the genius of invention, the passionate religious penitent lays before us all the paradox and ultimate helplessness of human reason's effort to establish the measure and value of human existence. The rhetoric exhorts us to look beyond ourselves, to listen to Another...

"What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!

"Who will unravel this tangle? Nature confutes the sceptics, and reason confutes the rationalists. What, then, will you become, O men! who try to find out by your natural reason what is your true condition? You cannot avoid one of these positions, nor adhere to one of them.

"Know then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Humble yourself, weak reason; be silent, foolish nature; learn that man infinitely transcends man, and learn from your Master your true condition, of which you are ignorant. Hear God" (Pensées 434).

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Shine Like Lights

"God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.

"Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life" (Philippians 2:13-16).

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Election 2020: Dear Catholics, Where Will We Find Wisdom?

This article does not seek to condemn anyone. It is my reflection on today's U.S. election in light of certain tendencies in our historical period and challenges that I and my fellow Catholics in particular must face. 
My intention is to look at the larger context and raise rhetorical questions that may be helpful for others, for their own consideration, and out of love for Jesus Christ above all and His Catholic Church, for all people, for the world, and for my country. To my Catholic brothers and sisters and to everyone who reads this: I hold you in the greatest esteem. I am not seeking argument but simply sharing my mind because my desire to love Christ compels me to raise these questions. My heart remains open to all of you.

There is no secret to what I think about abortion. 

Anyone who thinks about it at all must acknowledge that an abortion directly kills an innocent human being. 

It is an objectively grave sin. A society that tolerates such killing as a way of solving problems is corrupt. It is failing in its responsibilities in justice and love to protect human life and care for human persons in need. Moreover, the promotion of access to abortion as a human right is a particularly ugly way of asserting that some human beings possess the right to kill other human beings. 

A relationship that by its nature is constituted by a singular intimacy and vulnerability - nothing less than the relationship between a mother and the child in her womb - is desecrated and trampled upon. Legal abortion is a form of institutionalized violence in our society, where all too often the mother is preyed upon by direct or indirect forces that pressure her to have her child killed by professionals, by an entire industry that lies to her and denies that there are any viable options. She is isolated and denied the help she really needs and deserves from the child's father, other family members, the community, and society. 

Abortion reveals the monstrous selfishness, superficiality, harshness, cruelty, and greed that we increasingly are in danger of falling into without even realizing it, as we command vast material powers in the service of even our most ephemeral whims and preferences. These selfish attitudes, these many ways of abdicating our human dignity, are paraded about in our culture as virtues: autonomy, self-sufficiency, empowerment, individualism, control. But even on a self-interested level, we ought not to be fooled. Power, left to its own logic, always ends up in the hands of those who are stronger, who use it to oppress, enslave, and dehumanize the weak. This has nothing to do with freedom.

We should work to make abortion illegal and facilitate opportunities for mothers and their unborn children to be protected and cherished. Period. This is a human imperative. But abortion is not a phenomenon that stands in isolation from all the other evils of the world.

I think it is important for us as Catholic Christians in the USA to be realistic about the country we live in. Legal abortion and all the negligence and hard-heartedness that follow from it did not come out of nowhere. We live in a culture that prioritizes power and things over persons and relationships; abortion is terribly congenial to our enormously self-centered and self-acquiring way of life. And we must remember that both of the current political power groups in the United States serve and promote this way of life. Neither has any interest in being guided by the light that the gospel sheds on temporal realities. 

The dignity of the human person is profoundly obscured in our culture, and this obscurity is the reason why abortion became "legal" and remains "legal" here and throughout the affluent world. In the current political culture, there is no sense of responsibility for the common good of our own people, the whole region of "America" (which belongs to Our Lady of Guadalupe), and the world - including our very fragile planet. The earth today has ecological problems so glaring that it requires a particularly crass ignorance to deny them. There are no facile solutions to any of these things, but it is stupid and childish to pretend they don't exist. We live in a dangerous new world where wisdom must prevail over power.

We need wisdom, even just to live in this world. Where will we find it? 

The political system in the USA presents a serious temptation for Catholic Christians. We are given two options for candidates, from two parties, both of which are driven by the deceit and vanity of the powers of this world. The temptation is to begin by choosing the "less bad" candidate (the one who claims to oppose abortion). But then it is so easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the contest, the superficialities, the bright lights, and the falsehoods. We are in danger of forgetting the political principles and demands of Catholic Social Teaching, and adapting ourselves to the worldly ideology of the power group that has promised us that they will work toward the end of legal abortion. 

The result is that Christ's prophetic voice is muted in USA society, or worse, the worldly power co-opts His voice and claims to represent Him. Today we see the spectacle of so many USA Catholics who cheer and praise Caesar while denouncing the Vicar of Christ when he preaches the faith or gives exhortations in ways that challenge Caesar's worldly aims. 

This behavior does not come from God.

Abortion will never be ended in this way. 

Now it is especially important to be vigilant about what shapes our understanding of the world. On prolife issues, Caesar is "courting us" as never before. Many think that "change is within reach." Whether or not particular legal changes come in the future, we are all going to have to keep thinking, praying, doing penance, and seeking God's will about how to move forward in contributing to the good of our nation and the world.

On election day, everyone gets to make their own prudential judgment about their vote, and also about the attitude they take up (or renew) in relation to the person they vote for. Some Catholics, other Christians, and others of good will may decide to cast their votes as a way of expressing the beginnings of a larger political initiative. 

This is their right

They will need an abundance of patience, persistence, and realism-for-the-long-run, since they have chosen the path of contributing to the building of a new political culture, in part by building a new party that aspires to view the human person - at every stage of life from conception to natural death - in the light of the truth. Christians know that this is ultimately the light that the Gospel sheds on the temporal needs of human persons and societies, even though non-believers can recognize, affirm, and collaborate in seeking these temporal goods as authentic human social and political goods. There are many challenges on this road, however, and many ways of ending up in a ditch. Nevertheless, people who choose to embark upon this path deserve respect. A project like this might seem impossible or quixotic. But nothing will ever happen if some people don't try to begin, however tenuous and flawed that beginning may be.

The USA is a remarkable country, and its political system was the fruit of much thinking about how to build a peaceful society among people of vastly different opinions regarding the most fundamental realities. It has always had a lot of problems, some of which it has been able to overcome, at least in part. Much good has been accomplished in two and a half centuries, overall, but every political system has its limitations and is going to be challenged in new ways.

The USA government has always functioned by ignoring (sometimes even condoning) some evils, but also by certain good presuppositions its people held in common. In the ongoing transition over the past century to the new "global epoch of power," these presuppositions have worn dangerously thin. US people still have many generous sentiments and enormous material wealth. It is a comfortable place to live, but its vision has been corrupted by individualism, consumerist materialism, and the worship of money. We have much freedom, but we don't know what our freedom is for, so we waste it on self-indulgence. 

Will a candidate whose judgment is overwhelmingly shaped by this money-idolizing, self-indulgent mentality stop abortion? 

A nation that wallows in this corrupt vision will never bring an end to abortion. And Catholics who think they can somehow serve both God and mammon with enthusiasm as long as they vote against abortion will never see the end of abortion in their country. Perhaps we should begin to ask ourselves: Have we trusted for too long in the possibility of "winning a war" against the cultural dissolution of the affluent world by using its own weapons: violence in discourse, power politics, and other dehumanizing tactics?

Was this "wisdom"?

I don't know how many Catholics are ready for these hard questions, but they are inescapable. Of course, people should vote according to their conscience, and that might lead them to vote for the candidate who they think will do less harm, but it is a cause of sorrow to see Catholic Christians duped by demagoguery and putting their hopes in false political messiahs. 

We must examine ourselves: Do we think that we can pillage the earth, be gluttonous and slothful and distracted by every vanity while we ignore the cries of the poor, ignore the plight of our neighbors, ignore refugees, ignore all the immense suffering and indignities of humans in need, strut about in our pride and arrogance and call ourselves great, as long as we make abortion illegal? Do we cry "Hail, Caesar" and "Down with the Pope"? 

I humbly submit that we Catholics in the USA are much tempted and in real danger of doing this. I speak as a fool, begging forgiveness for my own sins, trusting in the God who is our Father and loves all of us through Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Grant Them Eternal Rest

Today is All Souls' Day, as we enter this month of November dedicated to praying for all the faithful departed.

Lord, grant eternal rest to all our beloved dead, and bring them into the fullness of your joy. Praying especially for my beloved father, as well as three faculty colleagues (and dear friends), and many others who have "fallen asleep in the Lord" over the past two years in our community. We commend them to God our merciful and loving Father. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they Rest in Peace.

"If we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also
live with Him.
We know that Christ,
raised from the dead,
dies no more;
death no longer has power over Him"
(Romans 6:8-9).

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Church Triumphant Accompanies Us

Today we ask for the intercession and companionship of all who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, all of the Church Triumphant, that we who are still on pilgrimage might persevere in the midst of the world, struggling against obstacles, enduring burdens, in all things loving God and our neighbors, so that His glory might shine and so that every person in our lives might be touched by His mercy.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Meeting "Jesus and His Friends" in the Communion of Saints

It is the last day of October, the Vigil of the Feast of All Saints according to the Roman liturgical calendar, "All Hallows' Eve" they used to call it in English (hence Hallow'een even today).

I want to give the "last word" of the month to that blessed girl we just celebrated, and to one of her great concerns, young people like herself — not just people who were young in 1990 but youth of every generation:

Chiara Badano fought bone cancer for two years. She suffered a lot. She persevered by being drawn into the depths of the suffering of Jesus. Such depths often draw forth the language of paradox.

And so she speaks about herself as "nothingness" (literally nulla in Italian, "nothing") while at the same time "offering" this "nothing"-that-is-herself (one of the mysterious ways that Jesus has transformed suffering and death from within) and basically "asking for the moon"! She asks for the Holy Spirit to come upon young people, to give them the awareness of the precious gift of life and enable them to live every moment in the fullness of God.

What audacity! Human beings can't make up these kinds of things from their own imaginations. This is from God.

And yet (again, like Jesus) she remains deeply human, concerned about her friends, about the future, about those who are suffering. From what I can tell, Chiara was specially drawn to accompanying suffering people even as a child. She gave much time to young people who had problems, her schoolmates with their many difficulties, the girl in the hospital with depression and drug problems.

She had great hopes for young people.

But she was no fool. She didn't condemn her generation; rather she suffered with it, trusting in the infinite mercy of Jesus and seeking to be with Him especially in His accompaniment of those who are "on the margins," indeed those whose own minds and hearts are troubled, confused, broken, and even far from God. As she once said, "I can find Him in the distant ones, in atheists, and I must love them in a very special way, without interest" (i.e. I think "without interest" means without demanding or expecting to experience being "loved back" by them).

As an old cynic like me would put it, "she knew her generation was deeply screwed up." She never said things like that, but she spent lots of time with others her age and knew what they were going through.

She was also sustained and enlightened by the charism of the Focolare movement, and the friends who shared with her its profound pedagogy and "style" of Christian life. I don't know much about the Focolare movement (from what I do know, I am in awe of it — which is not to say that I think their people have never had any problems). I have belonged to the Communion and Liberation movement for 30 years, even if I am something of an oddball among the thousands of "students" of the great 20th century "teacher-of-humanity" Msgr Luigi Giussani (I am an "oddball" everywhere, it seems). Ecclesial movements are great sources of grace for the Church and the world in our times. Their members are not perfect. We journey by imperfect roads toward the perfection of our God and His Son, Jesus.

All that being said, Chiara Badano strikes me as a living example of the distinctive spirituality and graces God gives through Focolare. The people who live the charism of Focolare within the Church are in a privileged position to help us understand more fully the gift that Blessed Chiara is for the whole Church and the world. Today they collaborate with the current ecclesiastical authorities and the Chiara Badano Foundation set up by her parents. Click here for the website. "Meet" Chiara for yourself.

My reflections about my adopted, spiritual "kid sister" are only my own efforts to communicate about a "personal relationship" which I find hard to define, and about which I am far from being an authority (or even "the-one-in-charge" in any sense — perhaps I am really the "kid brother"😉).

Getting back to the subject of "young people," the old cynic can't resist speaking again: "If youth in the 1980s were messed up, boy-o-boy, youth in the 2010s-2020s are really really messed up!"

Well... the old cynic has a point...

...but only insofar as he constantly forgets about what might be called the "mystical practicality" of the love of Jesus Christ. What does that mean? In part, it could mean that "the New Evangelization" is going to "look" different in some ways from what we — the Catholic intelligentsia — are expecting.

I have always cared about young people. First I was a young person (and I was screwed up — recently I referred to it as "drowning"). Then I encountered Christ and found the joy of following Him in the Church (and in this one sentence I have condensed a long process that included more screw-ups... and still does!😉). Then I became a professor in order to "teach" young people, and I became a husband and father with my own young people under my roof. I worked very hard, too hard.

Then I got my butt kicked!

"Retired" before the age of 50 to the ranks of the "disabled."

I have slowly been opening up to the mysterious course of my own life, to God's love for me, to His goodness. I wrote a book about some of this, ten years ago. I'm still learning more about how "belonging to God" and "living every moment in the fullness of God" are where we find the meaning of life, and not in the successes and failures of our projects.

I have "met" a surprising variety of people — many of them young people — over the past decade, and some of them are not the kind of people I would have gone looking for.

In the days leading up to the Spring equinox of the year 2012, I first "met" Chiara 'Luce' Badano. I had never heard of her before in all my life (she had just recently been beatified, but I didn't know about it). I met her quite accidentally, while surfing the internet. I still don't know what led me to her website (the same website I have linked above). But there I was, on that website, reading this incredible story and looking at this girl's face!

It was "one of those days" that shook me deeply. At the end of that day, I wrote about it on my blog, though I didn't know quite what to say. It was a really personal event, an encounter. She sort of "showed up" in my life and said, "I'm here" with a heart like a big open space where I could pour out my soul. I was scared, I was overwhelmed, but that was okay. She wasn't going anywhere. She was listening, and... how to describe it?... involved, in a gentle way.

Here's what I wrote that evening. It's still in the blog archive:

Since then, lots and lots of people all over the world have "met" her in similar ways, and she has brought "light" ("luce") — the "light of Christ" — into the dark places of their lives.

Yes, someone can become a great friend to your life even if you don't "meet" them until after they are dead.

The apparently enormous and complicated processes by which the Church takes up a "cause" for "canonization" have their roots in this fact, and are sustained by it. It starts with people who are drawn by someone's life — not only during that person's life but especially after their death. People are changed by their encounter with this person, and they share their experience with others. What it develops into from there is God's business. There are lots more saints in glory than there are official feast days on the calendar. They all get covered tomorrow, in the Feast of All Saints.

As it happens, there are quite a few young people who are being considered for beatification and canonization (just recently a 15-year-old boy who died in 2006, Blessed Carlo Acutis, was beatified — I want to learn more about him). You can meet these people and learn their stories on the internet. They are young people who died in accidents or from afflictions. There are even some who were inspired by Chiara Badano to embrace their own sufferings.

This group of Jesus and His friends — His young friends — is "updating" all the time. To be honest, the closer they get to the present day, the harder it gets for me to deal with it on a human-emotional level. When they get close to being contemporaries of my own kids, it hits me at a gut level that's pretty overwhelming. No doubt the parents of these kids receive extraordinary graces. That was certainly true for Chiara's parents, but that doesn't mean they didn't go through a lot of suffering. Their own beautiful testimony does not imply that they were exempted from grief.

I still have lots of fears, at various physico-psycho-spiritual levels, besides the ordinary aversion to death that is natural to our humanity. When I write about these things, I don't want to be superficial, much less pretend that I could handle anything like this. Of course, there seem to be many more kids who die tragic deaths than those who die saintly, inspiring deaths. In any case, I hope I can have compassion for the sorrow of the parents (and in a special way for the fathers).

Live this moment in the fullness of God. The focus is here.

I would like to ask some of Chiara's old friends from this world — if I had the chance — whether she was the kind of person who facilitated "people meeting other people." I have never heard anyone say that she was a "networker" in the old-fashioned sense — someone who brought people together. I know she had a lot of friends and acquaintances as a teenager, and apparently they had plenty of house guests. Certainly she brought the people around her closer to God and closer together.

I will venture to say that, for me, she has been something of a quiet but determined networker. I'm still rather awkward at following her lead. But she doesn't give up. I'm a little nervous about where she may want to take me, frankly. But, I must live a little beyond my nerves, at least. If I think she is giving me a "nudge," I intend to follow through with it. She prompts me to go beyond myself and helps clear the way. There are some specific instances where I think this has happened and continues to happen.

Having said all that, I don't have much to offer in terms of a "testimony" in any conventional sense.

Whatever particulars I may hint about, even to myself, in my own mysterious connection with Blessed Chiara cannot count for much — my thoughts and attempted interpretations of any details are just smoke and wind. It's me and what I pull up from my subjectivity, which is a cluttered place, not noted for its reliability. I claim nothing, assert nothing, refer to nothing worthy of more regard than a roll of the dice. But for me, personally, it's a serious thing (even though an enigmatic thing). And sometimes, in life, one has to gamble...

So I "bet on" what seemed to be one of those nudges four years and a few months after March 12, 2012, not far from the Summer solstice of 2016, when — again on the internet — I read about another young person. It was the terrible story of the death of a girl, under very different circumstances (which are unbearable to think of, coming as they did from sudden, unprovoked violence). It had just happened, and the news was everywhere. Famous people were lamenting her loss, and it sounded so appalling. But I got a gentle nudge or a tap on the elbow or something, and I can't say I "heard words" but if I had to articulate what came to me at that time I would say that it seemed like Chiara was there, saying, "look, look, there is the light of Christ!" So, I looked. I can't say I was "convinced" immediately, or that I even knew what I was supposed to be looking for. But in time I began to see many things, and I saw another unforgettable face, and — yes — the light of Christ shined brightly there.

As I said, my thoughts on this are smoke and wind. Maybe it's just coincidence or my overactive imagination that puts these two girls together. But on a subjective level, I go with the sense that Chiara had a hand in getting my attention to a very different story about someone who wasn't even Catholic, who I had to look at with some attention before beginning to see the "extraordinary-within-the-ordinary" that shaped her whole young life. Indeed, it could be said that it was her "offering-of-life" to a Christ-centered mission that ultimately led Christina Victoria Grimmie to open her arms to welcome the stranger who killed her on June 10, 2016.

Chiara Badano is not the only person in the last ten years who has become my friend after her death. 

There are a few other "coincidences" that I have noticed with Chiara and Christina, and what they mean to me. These girls both had a special love for those who were on the margins, who were suffering, or broken in various ways (or "oddballs" like me). For both, cancer was a major factor in their sufferings (with Christina it was her mother). I'll admit, I like to "look for coincidences" once I see that there is some foundation for them. I used to wonder if there was any "reason" why I met Chiara in the middle of March. What happened on March 12 that has anything to do with Chiara? Why March 12? Well, that's Christina Grimmie's birthday. In fact (unbeknownst to me at the time) Christina turned 18 years old on the day I first read about Chiara dying at the age of 18. 

I can't help noticing these things.

In any case, it's clear that these girls are not entirely unalike. I'm inclined to think they are friends now, and even collaborators in the communion of saints with their immense compassion for young people... and others too. My sense is that both of them continue to be a great help to me.

I often speak of friendships with those who have gone before us, who have finished the race and kept the faith. Such "spiritual companions" — and their prayers — are important to our journey in this life. Tomorrow we will celebrate, affirm, and ask for the prayers of all the members of the heavenly Church. Tomorrow we include everybody who is not on "the list," and those who are not likely ever to make any kind of list.

Blessed Chiara Badano knows well these unusual saints, and I think she continues to seek to draw more future saints from unusual places, and even from great distances and out of the midst of great troubles. Her role will grow greater in the years to come, and she will have no shortage of collaborators helping to "light the way" that leads to eternal life. She is immersed in the heart of Jesus, and knows the mysterious depths of His fullness.