Saturday, September 21, 2019

Tax Collectors and Sinners

"As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, 'Follow me.' And he got up and followed him" (Matt 9:9).

Happy SAINT MATTHEW'S DAY!



Here's a picture some guy painted in Rome. One of those long Eye-talian names, "Pastafagogio" or somethin' like that. It's pretty good, huh?😉

#AWorkOfGenius #OneOfTheG.O.A.T. #CARAVAGGIO

Yes, I know it's Caravaggio. Today is a good day to ponder this epic, soul-gripping painting

I have spent lots of time with the original at San Luigi dei Francesi church in Rome. It's in a mini side chapel in a corner so dark that you can't really see the (already dark) painting without some artificial light.

Don't worry, there's a machine that turns on a light. As I remember, it had to be fed 200 Lire coins every thirty seconds or so. Obviously, it's some denomination of the Euro today (but my son told me that it's still there).

When you go to Rome, see its shadows and hints of light, its collection of faces and postures - tax collectors, sinners, perplexed bystanders, you and me, Peter, Jesus...

Bring plenty of coins.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Love Overcomes the Vanity of All Things

I have been asking lots of questions within my soul in these recent years. So much has happened that it's bewildering, so much secret pain has been revealed - in others more than in myself.

Dear God ... ...

I know these are not the kinds of questions that can be adequately answered with words. They are the kind of questions that can only be endured. They are more than compatible with the unreserved assent of faith... but they are not comfortable.

Lately, I often feel the weight of the fragility, the temporary nature of every thing in this life. And this does not come with some kind of stoic resignation. There is a great sorrow in it.

Getting old means I see it in myself in so many ways. And I saw it especially over the past year, watching my once vigorous father slowly die.

We have had several tragic deaths in our community this year. There are larger problems in the world and in the Church that have shaken us up. Of course, there have been joyful moments, inspiring moments too.

It's taking its toll on me. I'm trying to hold on, but more and more I just feel like I'm gasping for air, like I'm nearly out of gas, I'm spent. Emotionally more than physically. There are things I can do for this, therapeutically speaking, up to a point.

What remains is the struggle to keep saying, "Yes" every day, and to say it with love. I'm not giving up. Sometimes, when I write, it helps me to remember who I am, why I exist, what moves me to say "yes" to today, to engage life in this world even if "all is vanity" - because "all is gift" too! Here's where "the questions" stand in front of the Mystery.

There remains a hope in me, not one that I can generate from any effort to be optimistic, not one that comes from me or from anything bound to this world that is passing away.

It has its source in that man who rose from death, who transforms death into the beginning of a new world, a new creation, whose love renews all things. That man: Jesus Christ.

For me it's a difficult, sometimes desperate hope, sometimes obscured by so many anxieties; yet still, I remember that I have been loved by this love that is greater than death. I have been loved by Jesus.

Here is something that ought to be an especially convincing and compelling feature of living in the communion of the Church.

In many places in the Church this witness to Christ's amazing love has been obscured, and this points to some basic problems that we must all grapple with regarding our relationship with God and with one another.

Overall, for me, however, I have been very much blessed by the witness of others. I have known people who, even with all their problems and their fragile humanity, have a joy, a passion, a love that reaches me and speaks to me of a new kind of life, a new world where all the goodness and beauty of things is transformed, renewed, and fulfilled.

It is the love greater than death, that shares itself and begins to change everything, even our sorrows, even our mourning over the vanity of all things.

The Church living in history means that we have been loved, concretely, by other persons with this kind of love, the risen love of Jesus. Sometimes they let us down too, but really there is nothing surprising about that. Humans are flawed and weak. What strikes us is that, in the midst of an ordinary, peculiar, often frustrating human community, there is something else. It is this human, yet different, love that embraces us.

And the love remains, continues, endures our efforts to frustrate it, and even grows! The Church is a place where we can encounter the Source of this new, radically dynamic love and be changed by it. It shapes us even when we don't feel it and this perishing world seems to have swallowed it up.

Sometimes love may "seem" absent from our psychological experience of being "in the Church." Perhaps we are closing ourselves off, holding onto our pride or resentment. But perhaps it is because love has gone deeper, to work secretly in the hidden depths our ourselves.

If we feel like we can't "find" that love, we need to "ask" and "seek" and hope and endure the darkness with eyes and heart open.

For me, I know that I am loved by God. He has touched me in Jesus Christ, through his Spirit, in his grace, through baptism and the sacraments, and through the love of others.

I feel like I would be betraying myself if I denied such a fundamentally important factor of my life, no matter what may obscure it in a given situation, no matter what hidden paths it takes. I have seen enough to know that this mysterious love is present and always worthy of my trust. I can still say, "look, here is a sign, a light, a reason for hope."

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Buena Festa Della Famiglia di San Gennaro (Janaro)

Today is the Feast Day of the Great Ancestor of the Janaro Clan, the original Saint Januarius, fourth century bishop and martyr.

I'm sure he must, somehow, be related to us, what with the "Naples" tradition and all. Surely my Neapolitan ancestors participated in the 1500-year-old devotion to him. Indeed, according to Legend (and I should know, because I made up the legend) he is the special patron saint of the Janaros.

After all, why not? The spelling difference is not such a big deal. No doubt both names are rooted in the Latin "Janus," the god of the gateways, after whom the first month of the year takes its name ("January"). 

So Happy Janaro Family Feast Day!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Why Do I "Teach"? What Keeps Me Motivated?

In a recent post ("On My Work" - see here) I considered the status of my "work," my temporal vocation, my ongoing engagement in academic life and the teaching profession.

The exercise of my profession is hindered and limited by disability, but it remains important to me. The energy that I have is focused on doing what I can to fulfill the task I took up 25 years ago (after many years spent in preparation for it). Forced now to live "in retirement" (and often in bed), I can't work a job nor predict how I will feel from day to day. This is frustrating, and yet I am determined to do what I can and to "keep going."

Why do I teach? For that matter, why do I study, why do I try to learn, to understand reality? What is the motivation that sustains it?

I have always pondered the great questions of life, the mysteries of being human, and the Mystery who holds us and all things in existence and calls our hearts to seek the "ever-greater," the "Infinite." I also wanted to help others on this path.

I am a Catholic Christian who has been drawn into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the Church. By calling and circumstances, I carry out my human vocation with a more explicit and direct service to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I also find through faith an openness to every person, a passion for the humanity of every person and a light that illuminates the whole of reality. Faith requires me to recognize the preciousness of all human things and all of creation, and to find hope and meaning in every circumstance.

Hope searches for truth, goodness, and beauty wherever they can be found, and perseveres even in suffering and in the endurance of evil and violence. The vitality of hope is sustained by a loving adherence to the One who is Love, who has endured all things and reveals Love's infinite mystery by "being-with-us" to the end, beyond our limits and even our rejection of Love and our struggle against it. ("Love your enemies..." "Father, forgive them...")

I studied theology and also philosophy and history, and I remain a professor ("emeritus") at a university that takes a Christocentric, "Catholic" integrated humanities approach to learning. As I said before, health problems restrict me from active teaching (which I miss a lot), but I'm engaged in research, writing, and creative projects in various ways, depending on my fluctuating condition.

Notwithstanding the many possibilities new media technology has opened up for connecting with people, I often feel very lonely. (This is a form of suffering - and I wrote a whole book about suffering and its value known through the eyes of faith, which makes a difference even to people like me who are weak in faith and low on patience.)

I often feel very lonely.

However, it gives a certain kind of perspective. So many people are lonely, or confused, or stressed out. We are desperately searching for solutions to our problems and/or distractions and ways to kill the pain. I certainly do plenty of this, but it's never adequate to escape the desire that burns in me to share so many things that I have learned and continue to learn.

It's not just my big ego (though that's part of it, of course - my life is such a mess). I don't know if I ever have a perfect, pure intention for anything I do. I spend my days subconsciously (sometimes even consciously) trying to make deals with God. I'm definitely a sinner, but the Lord has still entrusted me with a mission, and it continues to draw me through these days, as it has since my youth.

This mission has to do with communicating what I "see and hear" along the whole journey of this life, whatever experience and understanding I gain about what it means to be human. I suppose this is what being "a humanities teacher" is all about. And how or when this communication "succeeds" is not something I can measure in the brief scope of my own time in this world.

I'm called to be faithful to this vocation, even if I feel like I'm not saying it very well, or no one is listening, and the hairs of my beard just grow whiter as the days pass by. I'm called to be faithful. So I pray for the grace to keep trying, and doing what I can, entrusting the fruition to God.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Cross of Love and Salvation

September 14. "Exaltation of the Cross," which is God's love for the world.
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Friday, September 13, 2019

A Song for Hong Kong


The newly-composed, virally-learned anthem of the Hong Kong Protest Movement has been sung openly by large crowds of people peacefully gathered in public places all over the region in the past two days.

This is a historic moment. People have begun calling it "Hong Kong's National Anthem."

A musician who uses the pseudonym "Thomas" or "T" began circulating a "marching anthem" with words on the Protesters' Internet. Individuals and groups recorded vocals, and their contributions were "mixed" the way many songs are made today in music studios (but with production software that is accessible to anyone; you probably have it pre-installed on your iPhone).

The result was the first video linked below. The 2 million views since August 31 are just on this anonymous YouTube channel; it has circulated in various ways. For once, something has "gone viral" that really does deserve widespread attention.

I don't know who did the English "translation" (or rather "versification") in the subtitles; it's clumsy and wordy compared to the original, but it does give us English-only-speakers an idea of what they are singing. The language, by the way, is NOT Mandarin. It is Cantonese, which is the popular language in Hong Kong and in that whole area of South China.

I don't know either of these languages, but I know that this distinction is very important to the people - among the many things that Beijing wants to impose on HK is the "standardized language" of Mandarin (at least, this is what people fear).

Watch and listen to the original video here:


This first video is remarkable enough in itself. But the truly amazing story is exemplified by the second video linked at the end of this post. In less than two weeks, thousands of people have learned to sing this anthem and are singing it in public.

People have gathered in streets, parks, and shopping malls to sing this song. Ensembles and soloists have performed it or posted videos. At a local FIFA soccer match on September 12, not only did the crowd boo the Communist Chinese National Anthem (which was recently imposed on them "by law"). They sang this anthem, "Glory to Hong Kong."

At halftime, they sang it again, just to make sure Beijing heard it loud and clear.

Hong Kong has a peculiar history (I'm boning up on it, don't worry). The region was barely inhabited when the British established the colony as a sort of military/mercantile base there in the 19th century. Cantonese immigrants came, did the grunt work of building the town for the British, and thereafter constituted the vast majority of its population.

After the Communist victory on the mainland, people fled from all parts of China to British Hong Kong. Then they were passed back to China in 1997, under an agreement they had no say in making.

Hong Kong has always been a distinctive place - a meeting point "between East and West" - and if they have not always been a distinctive "people," they are being forged into a new people by the events of this past decade. These events are an organic rising up to meet the challenge of a repression that is trying to subvert and destroy the natural evolution of local political, juridical, and social institutions.

The Hong Kong people call this their "revolution," but it's not a revolution in the destructive or ideologically imposing sense of that term. The people do not want to tear down what they have already built; rather, they want the defense of persons and communities, and the reasonable reform and development of already-existing institutions that mediate a common life lived in an open human space, a place where freedom is possible.

I can't argue with people who think that's worth defending - who take risks in order to be free to tend their own garden. This is what makes history. And after hearing this anthem and seeing and hearing these people, I have hope for them, that - whether now or in a future that is beginning now - they will prevail. The world will be enriched by a new, vital contribution from the Hong Kong people. It already has been.

And none of these people will forget what has begun in these days. They have more than a movement now. They have a song. A crowd can be dispersed and a movement suppressed. It's nearly impossible, however, to remove music from people's hearts. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Flaming City

"The Flaming City" #NeverForget911 #DigitalArt 
Eighteen years ago, Manhattan was burning.

It's a bit mind boggling to think that kids in the USA turning 18 after today weren't even born when the terrorist attacks of "9-11" took place. For a Young Senior like me, it's hard to wrap the mind around this generation-and-a-half GAP in the adult world.

When I think about it, I realize that I was around 8 months old when Kennedy was assassinated. For today's newly minted legal adults, "September 11, 2001" has a similar kind of whole-life-epoch-defining significance that "November 22, 1963" had for my generation growing up (the date rolls right up in my head effortlessly, even though I have a hard time remembering people's names or why I left the room five minutes ago).

Obviously these are two different events, with different implications, but both were national catastrophes that deeply marked the experience of political and social life for the generation that grew up in their shadows.

I'm trying to get some perspective for myself, to empathize with what 9-11 "feels like" for kids today ... including my own kids (John Paul is the only one who has any memory of it).

On another, more basic level, 9-11 was a moment of brazen, unmasked evil that killed thousands of people, brought terrible suffering to families and friends that continues to this day, directly impacted countless people (some of whom I know personally) and our whole nation, and indeed shocked every human being on the planet who hadn't entirely lost their conscience.

Then (like now) there was an 80+ year old man in Rome who had seen many brazen evils in his life. The next day, he spoke according to his profound human experience and in the manner befitting his office. He knew well that nothing he could say would "make the suffering go away," but he also knew that it was necessary to remember that evil - for all its terrifying and totalitarian pretenses that seem to overwhelm history - does not have the last word.

Here is what Pope John Paul II said the next day:
"To the President of the United States and to all American citizens I express my heartfelt sorrow. In the face of such unspeakable horror we cannot but be deeply disturbed. I add my voice to all the voices raised in these hours to express indignant condemnation, and I strongly reiterate that the ways of violence will never lead to genuine solutions to humanity’s problems.
"Yesterday was a dark day in the history of humanity, a terrible affront to human dignity. After receiving the news, I followed with intense concern the developing situation, with heartfelt prayers to the Lord. How is it possible to commit acts of such savage cruelty? The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people. But faith comes to our aid at these times when words seem to fail. Christ’s word is the only one that can give a response to the questions which trouble our spirit. Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail, those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say. Christian hope is based on this truth; at this time our prayerful trust draws strength from it."

Monday, September 9, 2019

"Rose Study, Number 10"

Number ten in my "Rose Study" digital art series. I have been puttering away at several "rose study" pieces, so they should be finished soon. 

This one is fun:


Saturday, September 7, 2019

We Become Our True Selves By "Asking"


God of might, giver of every good gift,
put into our hearts the love of your name, 
so that, by deepening our sense of reverence, 
you may nurture in us what is good 
and, by your watchful care, 
keep safe what you have nurtured. 
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. Amen.

The Collect Prayer of this past week once again turns us to God, who is the source of all reality in its being and goodness, the source of our hearts and of the very freedom by which we enter into relationship with Him and are brought to fulfillment in Him.

We can pray this prayer of grateful dependence, which is not an enslavement because God is the One who gives us our very existence as persons, our uniqueness, our dignity. We remember that dependence on God is the only real freedom, the only liberation from our indigence and apparent insignificance that leads to wisdom and enduring life.

He who is the giver of every good gift has given us a promise. He will awaken, sustain, and protect our freedom as He guides us to the realization of our true and definitive selves as persons in relation to Him and one another, sharing in His infinite life, infinite goodness, infinite love.

Why would we want to paralyze ourselves in a powerless mistrust of the all-Good God? What would that leave us with? O harrowing loneliness!

No. Let us ask with boundless trust: "Put into my heart love for You, deepen my awareness of You as the real center of my existence, nurture my adherence to You and all things in the goodness they have from You, and keep me safe until the fulfillment of Your promise."

"Ask and you shall receive," the Lord has promised. So let's ask, keep asking, return to asking again, never stop asking through all the darkness, the obscurity, the failures, the pain, the distractions, and the solitude of this life's journey.

Ask

Never give up asking God to give you His love. His grace empowers the "asking" itself, opening up our freedom and enabling us to adhere to Him.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

"A Meek and Humble Heart..."

Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997. 22 years later, we celebrate another feast of Saint Teresa of Kolkata.


She'll always be 'Mother Teresa' to me. I'm a long way from humility, and I read too many books. But I'm learning to smile. 

"Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing."
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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Justice and Anger in Hong Kong's 'Anonymous War'


Justice and Anger in Hong Kong's Anonymous War: reflections of a not-very-knowledgeable but sympathetic old man from far away...

By JJ

The school year in Hong Kong has begun... with a massive student strike. As the ongoing civil protest movement enters its fourth month, it begins to look more and more like an unprecedented series of events that will only be understood in retrospect.

It may indeed be many, many years before we begin to see the significance of this widespread, sustained popular uprising. Immense energies have been expended by people from every sector of society, and new modes of collaboration have been invented that have generated large coordinated purposeful actions, without the emergence (as yet) of any leadership. Media and communications technology are playing a big role in this apparently "faceless" movement, as protesters plan activities on the internet, gather at agreed-upon locations, and engage in creative and provocative demonstrations.

This is supposed to be a "nonviolent movement." It certainly appeared that way in June, when millions took to the streets in opposition to a bill proposed in the Legislative Council that would have authorized extradition to mainland China of alleged criminals for prosecution.

As the Summer passes, however, a fierce and complicated struggle is being played out in this unique city (and on video screens the world over). For those of us who watch from afar, it has been inspiring, but also frightening and perplexing. Since 2014, we have been seeing the historic rise of a generation of courageous young people willing to risk everything by taking a stand for the noble cause of human dignity and freedom, and against the machinations of the world's largest, most controlling and soul-suffocating dictatorship.

We are, of course, rooting for these freedom fighters. Oh my, yes! But we are also worried about them. We are seeing more and more videos of barracaded protesters - clad in black, wearing gas masks, and some of them hurling projectiles - facing off against an ominous deployment of police in full riot gear (looking like a dystopian Darth Vader army) pumping preposterous quantities of tear gas, pepper spray, and other "non-lethal" (but far from harmless) materials into the crowd. In some videos, groups from the protester side break through their barriers and charge at the police lines with long metal poles, and we see scenes of hand-to-hand combat with police batons.

As I noted in a previous post, "the revolution is being televised." Videos of huge peaceful protests and hand-to-hand "human chains" illuminating the night with cellphone lights are awesome. But the "battle scenes" are more alarming, and they give the impression that this is not going to end well.

Make no mistake: the police and Hong Kong's pro-Beijing government are responsible for initiating and escalating this situation of conflict, beginning with the first cannister of tear gas they fired at defenseless protesters peacefully assembled five years ago at the start of what became known as the "Umbrella Movement." Since then, there have been continual tensions between government officials and large groups of dissenters. The long, snake-like arm of Beijing barely even tries to hide its egregious manipulation of everything it can reach.

Reporters (other than those associated with the Chinese propaganda machine) have provided for the world a context that explains the widescale public outrage against the HK law enforcement sector's brutal tactics. International human rights organizations have condemned ongoing acts of police repression. Also clear is the tightening grip of Beijing's claw trying to suffocate what remains of the civil institutions of a free society in Hong Kong. Now, faceless groups of (mostly) young people are desperately trying to fight back. But it's not an "even fight."

It's remarkable that Hong Kong's democracy movement has remained mostly nonviolent for so long. But during this long hot Summer, protesters (some of them, at least) have grown increasingly angry and aggressive. This is understandable but it's a reason for concern.

What is happening to the focus on the core principles of nonviolence - its reliance on self-discipline, sacrifice, bringing evils to light, and the conversion of enemies into friends? This most radical level of nonviolence, of course, is very difficult to sustain in a prolonged conflict. It is especially frustrating when the enemy (the Chinese Communist Party) is unnaturally stubborn, or worse, offers false friendship. Many people are likely to give up altogether in the long run, and it would be harsh to blame them. They just want to live their lives in whatever space of freedom they can carve out for themselves. But widespread disillusionment will defeat the cause. Beijing and its local puppets are counting on it.

It would appear that some desperate Hong Kong people, driven by a deeply ambivalent anger that mingles burning frustration with the fires of their passion for freedom and justice, are seeking to fight violence with violence, to return hatred for hatred. This cannot bear good fruit. And it only plays into Beijing's hand.

Others might seek to reframe their struggle in terms of legitimate self-defense against an alien regime. They might try to include the justifiable application of proportionate physical force when necessary (some already appear to be inclined toward this option). In principle, when all other means have proved futile, an argument can be made for armed resistance in accordance with strict criteria of justice, restraint, the requirements of the common good, and other aspects of what is known as the "just war" paradigm. The use of force to defend against and repel an unjust aggressor is not "violence," as long as it is not aimed at the degradation of enemies as human persons (many Western "conventions" of warfare, such as humane treatment of POWs, etc find their roots here). In any case, it's very difficult to carry out consistently in practice.

Here the current present movement in Hong Kong has a basic problem. It lacks the leadership and positive social coherence required (at the very least) to assume "public authority" for directing the use of force. There are unifying themes and aspirations (and in the CCP a deplorable, unscrupulous enemy) but there is no leadership. Indeed, in the late-night conflicts, the masked protesters themselves are unidentifiable even to one another, and the crowd dressed in black may include undercover police, embedded reporters, and possibly agitators with their own agendas. Some of the recent protest "disruptions" have crossed the line between demonstrative civil disobedience and lawless vandalism. If reports are true that some protesters smashed up city infrastructure such as subway stations, that would be most unfortunate. We have all seen the horrific videos of police storming a subway station and beating everyone in sight; the public has a right to demand that perpetrators of this outrage and all those responsible be brought to justice.

But individuals wearing masks have no right to escalate the level of anarchy by further acts of violence. We hope that such actions come from fringe elements, or perhaps even 'fake protesters' planted to deliberately perpetrate violence in order to smear the movement - it's hard to believe that Beijing itself has not infiltrated the protest and put its own paid agents in the streets, as well as among the police.

All the anger and desperation that are being vented now can be appreciated by people in free societies and their governments, even if they lead to mistakes and some unruly behavior in the streets. But Hong Kong's protest movement must resist the temptation to go to war. There is little room for even the semblance of error in this direction. Without a structure of verifiable accountability, physical force too easily degenerates into open violence (this is precisely the point protesters are rightly trying to make regarding the behavior of the police). If this happens, the anonymous resistance will devolve into guerrilla warfare, which is even harder to direct, more likely to turn toward vengeance and destruction, break into factions, perpetuate increasing cycles of violence, and get a lot of people killed.

It should be noted that thus far no one had died as a direct result of actions by either side in the past three months. This is astonishing (especially to those of us living in the USA, who have become sadly accustomed to the bloody casualties of increasingly frequent random acts of violence in streets, schools, and public venues). In Hong Kong's "Summer of unrest," there have been many injuries, but no fatalities ... yet. That does not mean that the violence lacks intensity. It is deplorable that so much of it comes from civil agents whose office it is to protect the people. But their tactics are at the service of authorities who are ultimately answerable to Beijing's politburo. The HK government's violence and manipulation are enacting a political script. Under the pretext of perpetuating a strange conception of the 'rule of law,' it aims not to kill but to repress political dissent and create a climate of fear and conformity while mainland China carries out its agenda to gradually take over the city.

In the streets, nothing the protesters have done thus far comes anywhere near justifying the ferocious behavior of the Hong Kong Police, who seem to think that crowd-control is best achieved by 'preventive first strikes' that are outrageously disproportionate to anything a crowd could conceivably do. They do the opposite of "de-escalating" potentially volatile situations. On the contrary, those who are deployed at demonstrations seem to provoke more danger and conflict. If the people have lost patience, it's because they have been goaded and prodded relentlessly by a police force that answers to no one... or worse, one that does the bidding of Beijing.

The protesters are also not easily distinguished and held accountable, which only strengthens the pretext of those bent on indiscriminately repressing them. Clearly some of protesters are far from being angels. But it's difficult to identify who might be responsible for objectionable actions or tendencies. It's hard to gage the spirit of the protest movement, its strength, or what internal disagreements might lie behind its united front. The people are anonymous. They have been driven to it for their own safety's sake. We don't know them. Often they don't even know one another. Who knows what direction they will take if they survive the current crisis? Now more than ever, the protest movement needs people who think things through.

Agnes Chow Ting
We do know the leaders from the pro-democracy groups, especially those who emerged from the 2014 student led "Umbrella Movement." Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow Ting, and other brave young people have grown up in the last five years (just like our own kids).

They have tried the political process and have been stonewalled. They are participants and supporters of the current movement, but are not its leaders. Some were recently arrested in a gratuitous fashion, as if the government - frustrated by efforts to crush a movement without visible leadership - just couldn't resist the urge to focus the blame on a few faces. We can be sure that the government and its CCP masters will eventually find scapegoats who will have much to suffer, and who will need our prayers, concern, and advocacy. We may be able to help them. We can at least recognize the courage of their stand, their witness to the value of the human person.

Even though it lacks conventional leadership, the Hong Kong protest movement has remained clear and unified in affirming its demands (see below), which seem eminently reasonable: they want the real autonomy secured by the treaty that established Hong Kong's current status in 1997; they want free and fair elections of their own government, an independent investigation into police brutality, the legitimization of their movement, and the complete unambiguous withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative agenda. Beijing, however, has also openly made its view clear: Hong Kong is "a Chinese city" and it had better get used to being run politically like any other Chinese city.

Ay, there's the rub.

Because Hong Kong is not like any other Chinese city ... not yet. It was separate from the China of Mao Zedong's revolution and its ravages, and from the China of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. It has only been under Chinese control (a very peculiar, delicately negotiated control) since 1997. Here is where the origin of the tensions can be found.

Hong Kong today supposedly holds a "special autonomous status," which China agreed to preserve "for fifty years" (i.e. through the year 2047) back in 1997 when the former British colony was handed over to Chinese control. This is what accounts for the "one country, two systems" explanation of Hong Kong's status. Theoretically, it is 'part of China' while retaining its own economic system (and status as a global financial center), its own framework of civil liberties (including freedom of press, assembly, and religion), and its own domestic political and juridical institutions.

The agreements that led up to the handover in 1997 involved a collection of awkward negotiated compromises between Britain and mainland China. The whole process leaned heavily on the "promises" of a Leninist one-party-State whose reputation for lying and cheating is notorious even by modern political standards. Not surprisingly, the Chinese Communist Party-state rigged Hong Kong's supposedly autonomous politics from the start. Beijing effectively controls the selection of Hong Kong's "Chief Executive" and the majority of its Legislative Council (there are processes through which this is done, but Beijing has them firmly under control). Less than half of the LegCo is elected by the people. Pro-democracy candidates dominate here, but at best they can only be a temporary brake to slow down the speed of Beijing's determination to swallow the city into the one system of New China.

Protest Movement demands, circulated on the internet
Can this protest movement do anything better for Hong Kong's future?

The New China has harnessed the engines of material prosperity (without scruples) while preserving one key feature of Marxism: subjection and control of persons, subsuming of the personality to a collectivist identity. This identity, in turn, is (thanks to Lenin) interpreted and imposed by an elite group, the Party dictatorship, which - in vast China - has effectively become a pervasive quasi-imperial bureaucracy.

This so-called "Communist Party" endures on the strength of a fierce nationalism that feeds (like a parasite) off China's ancient traditions as much as its current material powers. It aims to impose its version of Chinese nationalism throughout its domains. It promises material comfort and prosperity within an exaltation of the supremacy of the Nation-State as defined by the Party. Quite simply, China today embodies the ideal of Fascism. This is the monster that Hong Kong's protesters must grapple with. What hope do they have?

No matter what they do, they will probably lose the current battle. Many will go to jail or be otherwise socially marginalized. But if they can resist the temptation to turn to violence, their stand will be remembered and honored. They can use the time to learn from mistakes and to search for the roots of human freedom, for the source of the human person - that which gives the person an inviolable dignity that cannot be subordinated to any ideology.

Herein lies Hong Kong's path to freedom, the hope of Hong Kong people for a free society. It is a long, arduous path, but it remains possible.

It is a path for all of us. Hong Kong people can help to point us in the right direction.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Welcome to September

We are two thirds of the way through this strange year of 2019. Though for now the heat is still with us, the feeling of the "Change of Seasons" is in the air.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

On My Work (Fall 2019)

It’s a new academic year. That is always meaningful for me. I thought at the beginning of this year 2019-2020, it would be interesting to put to myself the question, “What do I do?”

When people ask this question, the “bottom line” is usually directed to the proverbial “putting bread on the table,” and understandably so. Now that it has been a decade since I retired from classroom teaching, I am finally getting to the age where my Emeritus status is no longer utterly peculiar. I am retired from the workforce, a “pensioner” before my time for health reasons after a long period of adult life intensively immersed in stressful, difficult, and absorbing work. The nature of the work is one of the things that broke my health, but that story has been told elsewhere.

Though I cannot hold a regular job (and I am grateful for the provisions in place - to which I contributed extensively in my working years - that have helped support us), I am not by any means “idle.” Teaching is so much more than a job; it is a profession in the classical sense. It is, in the human realm, a vocation, a whole way of life that entails preparation, the conferral of distinctive qualifications, and a level of commitment that orients and forms the mature personality. (I think if we had a more personalistic sense of the nature of human work, we would see that the dignity of “profession” - as a formative basis for different kinds of contribution to human life as interpersonal communion - applies widely to all kinds of fields of human endeavor, and is one aspect of the personal dimension of all human work.)

I am still very much engaged in the academic life: in the university culture, in scholarship and writing. I hope to make some enduring contribution to my own time, and leave some legacy for those who come after me.

What do I do? I am a teacher, by profession. This means being always a scholar, which is really a fancy way of saying "always a student." I am always trying to learn, and to communicate what I learn to others and hopefully inspire them to learn more.

Limitations, ironically, open up new possibilities. I have some energy for research and writing, which I try to use well. Currently, I have a regular column in Magnificat, this Blog (8+ years running), and other materials that I produce and distribute through digital media and graphics. It's interesting for me to consider that I am probably reaching more people than ever in these ways, even though I can no longer give regular lectures or "be productive" in a manner more consistent with my talents and education.

I do what I can. Most people my age are acquainted with their fair share of frustration and failure. We all suffer in different ways, and given my circumstances I can only be grateful for what I am still able to do, however unconventional the methods and unpredictable the patterns may be. Even on the worst days I am still capable of reading (or at least "listening"). Being slowed down has made me more aware of the patience required to learn anything really well.

I do have a number of ongoing research projects that I follow at my own pace. I don't know if I will be able to make any important contributions through these efforts, but I hope I can at least point in certain directions and encourage others to pursue further certain important themes. I have areas of focus that come under the more general heading of "reflections toward a personalist and communitarian theological and philosophical anthropology." They include theoretical efforts to elucidate further the foundational elements of a Christ-centered Christian humanism, as well as concrete studies of the nature of communications media, the impact of globalization and the explosion of technological power, China and East Asia and their historical and current relationship to the West, aesthetic values in contemporary culture, music and art...

When I write it down, it looks like a lot. But these are all connected to the important ecclesial themes of evangelization, inculturation, and dialogue.

If I use "the part of my brain that still works," I find that I have much to learn and share with others, much to ponder (which I can do even on days when other activities need to be set aside), much to remain engaged with, and to hold in solidarity and compassion.

For the rest, I am still learning how to be patient with the peculiarity of my own sufferings. Though I struggle with it, this is probably the most important "work" I'm called to carry out.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Saint Augustine in the Third Millennium

The great Saint Augustine, whose feast we celebrate today, remains one of the most "accessible" of the first millennium Fathers of the Church. This is all the more true given the fact that he has had a contemporary interpreter: none other than our previous Pope Benedict XVI.

In the five Wednesday General Audiences he devoted to Saint Augustine in January and February 2008, Pope Benedict presented an erudite summary of Augustine's vast work as well as some beautiful personal reflections on what he has learned from the great Latin Doctor.

Here are some words from Pope Benedict that struck me today:

"When I read St Augustine's writings, I do not get the impression that he is a man who died more or less 1,600 years ago; I feel he is like a man of today: a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, who speaks to us with his fresh and timely faith. In St Augustine who talks to us, talks to me in his writings, we see the everlasting timeliness of his faith; of the faith that comes from Christ, the Eternal Incarnate Word, Son of God and Son of Man. And we can see that this faith is not of the past although it was preached yesterday; it is still timely today, for Christ is truly yesterday, today and for ever. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, St Augustine encourages us to entrust ourselves to this ever-living Christ and in this way find the path of life" (Benedict XVI, General Audience 1/16/2008).

"Faith in Christ made him understand that God, apparently so distant, in reality was not that at all. He in fact made himself near to us, becoming one of us. In this sense, faith in Christ brought Augustine's long search on the journey to truth to completion. Only a God who made himself 'tangible,' one of us, was finally a God to whom he could pray, for whom and with whom he could live. This is the way to take with courage and at the same time with humility, open to a permanent purification which each of us always needs...

"Even today, as in his time, humanity needs to know and above all to live this fundamental reality: God is love, and the encounter with him is the only response to the restlessness of the human heart; a heart inhabited by hope, still perhaps obscure and unconscious in many of our contemporaries but which already today opens us Christians to the future...

"Saint Augustine defines prayer as the expression of desire and affirms that God responds by moving our hearts toward him. On our part we must purify our desires and our hopes to welcome the sweetness of God (cf. In I Ioannis 4, 6). Indeed, only this opening of ourselves to others saves us. Let us pray, therefore, that we can follow the example of this great convert every day of our lives, and in every moment of our life encounter the Lord Jesus, the only One who saves us, purifies us and gives us true joy, true life"
(Benedict XVI, General Audience 2/27/2008).

Some texts from Saint Augustine:

"Who shall bring me to rest in You? Who will send You into my heart so to overwhelm it that my sins shall be blotted out and I may embrace You, my only good?.... Behold, the ears of my heart are before You, O Lord; open them and say to my soul, 'I am your salvation'. I will hasten after that voice, and I will lay hold upon You. Hide not Your face from me" (Confessions, book I:5).

"You had shot at our heart with the arrow of Your love, and we bore Your words transfixed in our breast" (Confessions, book IX:3).

"Late have I loved You, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved You! You called, You shouted, and You broke through my deafness. You flashed, You shone, and You dispelled my blindness. You breathed Your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for You. I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace" (Confessions, book X:27).

Monday, August 26, 2019

Late Summer's First Cool Air

August is nearly over. A new academic year begins this week at our school and many other universities in the USA.

The heat has broken (at least for a few days) and we have been enjoying some mild temperatures. The days are growing shorter, with sunset before 8PM now.


And here are the colorful clouds just before the early sun breaks through and scatters them (at about 6:45 AM in the morning).


The “Happy Creek” is low, but still flowing on this pretty day.


And here is my favorite Sycamore tree in the neighborhood, on the far edge of a horse field. I usually pay more attention to it in Winter, when its bare white branches make such a striking impression as they reach for the sky.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

“Grant Your People to Love What You Command”

The Collect for this Sunday and the 21st week of “ordinary time” is a theologically rich prayer. 

Notice that we ask God to grant us love for His commands. It is God who empowers us to move toward Him, to want to obey His will.

Let us always remember: the Christian life is grace. Ask for grace! Thus the Church prays:


"O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever, Amen."

Friday, August 23, 2019

Hong Kong People Never Give Up


Hong Kong people refuse to give up! Considering all the circumstances, their continued dedication to the course of non-violent protest is remarkable and inspiring.

We are in the midst of the 30th anniversary of the series of events that led to the liberation of Eastern Europe, the melting away of the "Iron Curtain," and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

I remember well these events (including the "Baltic Way" action of August 23, 1989, which inspired this most recent gesture by Hong Kong demonstrators).

The results of 1989 in Europe seemed impossible ... until they happened.

Hong Kong's young people are seeking "the impossible" today.

I can't imagine how they might prevail against the immense political iron fist of China's "Partystate," but this amazing Summer of 2019 may be one step in a long struggle that may yet contain many surprises. Even apparent defeats may lay the foundations for a better future. It is often thus in history.

For now, the Hong Kong demonstrators (with some exceptions among fringe elements) appear intent on an intelligent, persistent, non-violent approach. From what I can see, there are various groups with diverse views collaborating in the protests. 

They will need heroic patience. At best, they probably are facing a long period of resistance, which is likely to become more difficult, less popular, and more lonely before a breakthrough appears.

Through it all, they must hold fast to their one ineradicable advantage: their humanity. The greatest challenge of non-violence is to persevere even when all seems lost.

Dear Hong Kong people, persevere!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Glorious Crown

"You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, 
a royal diadem held by your God" (Isaiah 62:3).

The Blessed Virgin Mary, lowly servant, heavenly Queen, Mother of the Lord, our mother.

Salve Regina!

Unknown artist, Mexican folk art

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

You Are Never Alone

"Know that you are never alone...

"Jesus made himself like us, and for this reason, we have Him next to us, to cry with us in the most difficult moments of our lives. We look to Him, we entrust our questions to Him, our pain, our anger... God our Father has answered our cries and our questions, not with words, but with a presence that accompanies us, that of His Son.

"Jesus on the cross was not alone. Beneath that scaffold was his mother, Mary. 'Stabat Mater,' Mary was under the cross, to share the suffering of the Son...

"We are not alone, we have a Mother who from Heaven looks at us with love and is close to us. Let us cling to her and say to her: ‘Mother,’ as child does when it is afraid and wants to be comforted and reassured.

"We are men and women full of defects and weaknesses, but we have a Merciful Father to whom we can turn, a crucified and Risen Son who walks with us, the Holy Spirit who assists and accompanies us. We have a Mother in Heaven who continues to spread her mantle over us without ever abandoning us."

~Pope Francis

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

"In the first creation He gave me myself;
but in His new creation He gave me Himself, 
and by that gift restored to me 
the self that I had lost."

~Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)


Monday, August 19, 2019

Celebrating Through the Rest of August


The Christian life is full of encounters with real persons who inspire and assist us in so many ways. The observance of the liturgical year gives us the chance to renew these encounters. Every season has its feasts, so that we alays have something to look forward to. Look at what's coming up in the days ahead:
●Tuesday, August 20 - Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
●Wednesday, August 21 - Saint Pius X

●Thursday, August 22 - Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary (on the eighth day after the Assumption, we honor Mary's unique place as the "lowly servant" exalted by God, who is called "blessed" by every generation).
●Friday, August 23 - Saint Rose of Lima
●Saturday, August 24 - Feast of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle
●Sunday, August 25 - is SUNDAY!
(Remember, every Sunday is a holiday)
●Tuesday, August 27 - Saint Monica (mother of Augustine)
●Wednesday, August 28 - Saint Augustine
●Thursday, August 29
- the memorial of the "Passion of Saint John the Baptist" (whose birthday we just honored in June).
Right now it's a busy time for celebrating our heroic brothers and sisters in Christ over the course of two thousand years. These great men and women are our friends in the "communion of saints," and they continue to accompany us on our often difficult journey through this life until we arrive at the fullness of maturity in Jesus Christ and join them in the eternal blessedness of God's kingdom.

May the Lord lift up our hearts and give us joy in these days, and in every day.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Your Promises Surpass Every Human Desire

"O God, who have prepared for those who love you good things which no eye can see, fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love, so that, loving you in all things and above all things we may attain your promises which surpass every human desire. 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. Amen."

This is the very rich, hopeful, profound Collect ("Opening Prayer") for the current week of the liturgical year. The Collect prayer varies from week to week (and also differs for feasts and saint's day celebrations); in the Sunday liturgy the priest prays it after the Gloria and before the Scripture readings.

It's one of the places during Mass that can easily feel like a "commercial break," where we might drift off into thinking about brunch or football or some other thing, but it's worth it to listen, participate with mind and heart, and return to these texts during our own personal prayer time.

These texts - often based on ancient prayers and always focused on the theme of the week or day in the liturgical calendar - can help give focus to our worship and our own meditation. They also shed light on how we live our daily life with Jesus and in communion with one another in the Church.

The truth about life is that we are not alone. We belong to God, and we are "members of one another" in Christ's body and children of God in the human family.

We have a destiny that gives purpose to our life, toward which we journey every day even in the midst of the most ordinary circumstances and concerns. We are made for a happiness beyond anything we can imagine, that everything in life "points to," where every moment finds its real meaning and fulfillment: the Mystery of the God who is Absolute Love, who gives himself to us that we might share his unfathomable, inexhaustible joy.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Mary Lives!

Wishing everyone a happy and holy and joyful Feast of the Dormition and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary!

Mary helps us in everything. She goes before us in glory, soul and body, already now into the fullness of the New Creation. Her splendor is the beginning of the complete realization of God's loving plan for the world.

Today we remember the Woman who is full of God, and whose "yes" to God has become the acceptance of each one of us as her child.  Each one of us is loved by a real Mother, with a real nurturing tenderness, affirmation, and patience that touches our every day - even if we don't realize it.

We pray that the Mother of God might be gratefully acknowledged, honored, and relied upon by every human person, because in the solicitude of her intimate maternal love she embraces each one.

We pray especially that all baptized Christians will recognize that she is their Mother, and allow her - within the mystery of the workings of the Holy Spirit - to help them attain the fullness of Christian faith and life.

Those of us who live in the Americas ought to become more familiar with the very special gift Mary has given us in the middle of this continent, a gift that "mediates" (in some way) the "presence" of her glorified humanity.

We have seen many pictures of the mysterious cactus cloth cloak worn 500 years ago by an indigenous Mexican man. He was a simple, ordinary man. If it were not for this cloak, history never would have noticed Cuauhtlatoatzin, the man called "Singing Eagle" among his own people, who took the names "Juan Diego" at his baptism. He lived an obscure, humble life until that morning of the Winter Solstice - December 12, 1531 - when she found him on a hillside and gave him a sign of herself, impressed upon his cloak. It endures, undiminished, to this very day.

Look at one of the pictures of the image on Juan Diego's garment. There she is...not a myth, not a "mother-goddess," not a scientifically unusual painting by some anonymous brilliant artist, but the wonderful miraculous icon of the Woman who lives in all her humanity, and carries us through all our days.

She is the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God - the true mother of the God who came to dwell among us, to share our humanity, to save us and transform us. She is the Woman who crushes the ancient serpent under her feet, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. She who is alive in every way communicates her tender love to us, especially to all of us who "dwell on this land." She brings healing.


Mary is the New Eve.  The New Paradise.  The beginning of the New Creation. The young girl from Nazareth who said Yes to God.  She is the Mother of Mercy.

She is our mother. And we are the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, children of God, destined to share His glory forever.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Saint Maximilian Kolbe: The Inner Conflict

"The real conflict is an inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?" (Maximilian Kolbe, writing shortly before his arrest in 1941 - he died in Auschwitz on August 14, 1941).

Monday, August 12, 2019

We Are Already a New Creation in Christ

The journey of faith makes you a new creature, who has "the dignity, the certainty of your destiny and the capacity to operate in a new and more human way."

This new humanity means "a different experience of the sentiment of yourself, a different perception of things, a different emotion of the presence of others, a different impetus and density in relationships, a different gusto in the troubled dynamic of work, an outcome that was inconceivable, unimaginable before" (Luigi Giussani).

According to Luigi Giussani (who is essentially reminding us - with certain emphatic notes - of the teaching of the New Testament), our belonging to Jesus Christ transforms us in a way that already begins in this present life. We change in a way that impacts our experience of reality and ourselves, while not ceasing to be mysterious. We are changed in the depths of ourselves and in our engagement of reality, especially in the realm of interpersonal relations with others and with God.

In our "journey of faith," in this life, we glimpse "signs" of God's power working in our lives, and such indications can bring consolation and encouragement. But in this life - as classical Christian spirituality has always said - we are not meant to seek the consolations of God but the God of consolations, He who is the Source of all that renews and transforms us. 

These signs are not meant to cause us to "pause in life" (so to speak) and attempt to "capture" the transfiguring power of God in some sort of analysis that we could then "possess" (conceptually or imaginatively) as the source of our confidence. God's plan for us remains a mystery always beyond us. We journey toward Him, and He who is Mystery carries us in this journey, He who in Jesus reveals Himself as the Mystery of Love drawn ineffably "close" to us.

We are a "new creation" in Christ, even in this life, not because we adhere to our conception, our own securely mastered definition and self-referential criteria for measuring "new creaturehood." We are a new creation because, in the living and journeying of all of life - everything we go through, everything we feel, everything we suffer - we adhere to Him, we trust in Him, we love Him who has first loved us.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie: "Why Gain the World...?"

Three years, two months. Christina Grimmie, thank you for not losing yourself. Shine on, bright beautiful star!⭐♫