Monday, June 19, 2017

La Belle Jeune Femme Retourne à la Maison

After five months, a great experience of linguistic and cultural immersion, lots of new friends, fabulous food, adventurous travel, unforgettable experiences, some chic accessories, and a good tan, Lucia is finally coming home from France!💗


A candid moment during her visit to Paris a few weeks ago.

Friday, June 16, 2017

"I Wail With Anguish of Heart"

I am a sinful man. Lord have mercy on me. I am a sick man with a mind full of insight but weighed down by affliction.

To bear this long, tedious, unremarkable suffering--not worthy of pity or warranting complaint, dull, not heroic, incomprehensible to myself and everyone else--is probably the most essential task of my life, and will bear more fruit than anything that I aspire to accomplish.

Here are some excerpts from Psalm 38 that I pondered today.

I am bowed and brought to my knees;
every day I go about mourning.
All my frame burns with fever;
all my body is sick.
I am numb and utterly crushed;
I wail with anguish of heart.
My Lord, my deepest yearning is before you;
my groaning is not hidden from you.
My heart shudders, my strength is spent;
the very light of my eyes has failed....

Do not forsake me, O Lord;
my God, be not far from me!
Come quickly to help me,
my Lord and my salvation!

~Psalm 38:7-11, 22-23

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

We Remain Beggars

So many sorrows wash over us with the passage of time. Still we endure through all the desperation. We search for meaning, in the expectation that it might be found.

We search in times of sorrow and also in times of prosperity and success.

In this life, even our most sublime moments are merely "anticipations." The seeking, the hunger, the desire, and the need of our hearts remain, crying out for the fullness of love. 

We remain beggars, but with a promise of fulfillment that grows through what life gives us, deepening in us both the longing and the hope for Love's ultimate embrace.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Christina Grimmie Remembered the World Over, One Year Later

Christina Grimmie continues to reach people and inspire them with her great heart, her great music, and her spectacular voice, as well as the legacy of all her videos, her image, her smile, the "Grimmie green," and the love of the Team Grimmie people all over the world who continue to work with her family and close friends to make her remaining recorded music available and better known.

Her posthumously released full length album, All is Vanity, is now available. (Click HERE)

This graphic is my small contribution to a very large memorial marking this first anniversary of the night of June 10, 2016, when violence and love looked at one another, face to face. Violence brought murder and sorrow and grief, but love did not cease to be love!

"Love never ends."

Love is sublime. Love blazes back to life. Love shines on.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Wild Swans and the Long Sorrowful Song of China

Jung Chang's memoir was one of those books that I had been "meaning to read" for a long time. Wild Swans was first published in 1991. I had an old paperback copy lying around getting dusty on top of some other books on one of many shelves.

I recently wrote an article that required me to look at 20th century China, and I remembered this book and actually found it (that doesn't always happen in our vast, uncatalogued library😜). I ended up reading the whole thing.

I always thought I knew this history of China and its characters, and all their brutality and crimes.

I. Had. No. Idea. 😰!

Jung Chang tells the story of China from the end of the 19th century until about 1980, as experienced (vividly) by three women: her grandmother, her mother, and herself.

It's a story that begins in the Manchu Empire, passes through the revolution of 1911-12, the ensuing disintegration, the brutal Japanese invasion, the (often corrupt) regime of the Nationalists during the civil war, the Communist victory and all the madness that came after leading up to era of Deng Xiaoping.

Chang went to Britain in 1978, perfected her English and earned a Ph.D., married a British historian, and decided to stay in the West.

We should all be glad she did.

Chang gives us a rare view of a harrowing historical period in a country whose history we scarcely know but whose presence in the world today is critically significant.

When I was a little kid, "nothing" in America was "made in China." We had some things from Taiwan, which America still regarded as the "official" China (I even remember calling it Nationalist China). But an immense fog covered the mainland, and all we knew was that things were very bad beneath that fog. It covered over a place called Red China.

Then, I remember, the President of the United States visited China. We all saw pictures in the media of a jowly Richard Nixon meeting with a grandfatherly-looking old Chinese man who called himself "Chairman Mao." Of course, everyone knew that Chairman Mao had done lots of scary things (even The Beatles knew that "carrying round pictures of Chairman Mao" was off the deep end). But Nixon and Kissinger and company told us that things were going to get better.

So much for my memories.

Jung Chang has richer and more complex memories. She grew up in China during this period. She gives us a picture in which concrete experience opens up into a panorama of the whole: she gives us China with its beautiful mountains, forests, and rivers as well as its ecologically ruined landscapes; China with its deep traditions and its ossified habits; China full of good people, dedicated people including Communist officials who really believed they could build a better society, and also corrupt people, ruthless people, bad people.

She also conveys what it was like to grow up enraptured by, in awe of, and ready to die for a man who effectively demanded worship from a quarter of the earth's population and who is still today venerated as the father of his country. She recounts how, gradually, even while keeping up appearances out of fear (along with so many of her compatriots), she began to discover that this man was in fact a psychopath who was responsible for the deaths of 70 million people.

Mao Zedong was a ruthless, monstrous fraud intoxicated with his own power and with perpetuating destruction and violence.

But Wild Swans is not written as a systematic, intensively researched expose of Mao and deconstruction of the "Mao myth" (Chang does that in her 800 page biography Mao, The Unknown Story published in 2005). Wild Swans is the story of three women and their fathers, husbands, and children. It is the story of a Chinese family held together by love, loyalty, honor, and honest (even if badly mistaken) commitment to the alleged ideals of the Chinese Communist Party. It was a family with its fair share of flaws and ugliness and regret. And it was a family that was agonizingly ripped apart beginning in 1966 by the chaos and mayhem that Mao called his "Cultural Revolution."

By the end of the book, I felt ripped apart. It is a riveting, intense, heart-rending account written in beautiful English.

The book is not a "conversion story," except insofar as Chang discovers and adopts (in some measure, and in her own way) the ideals of Western secular humanism. It's not about Christianity. Chang does not indicate that she has any religious convictions, but she does have a deep devotion to classical Chinese literature and the most noble elements of its ancient culture. She clearly has the capacity to mediate this perspective to the West.

White Swans is a very intense book. I would only recommend it to people who have a disposition to read about some really really sad and really really awful stuff. I'm not sure that it was good for me to read it at this time, but I can't unread it now (I am not ready for her Mao biography -- I need to "recover" from the existential shock of Swans, and go back to some "lighter reading" about the comparatively small blunders and ordinary incompetence of the good old-fashioned monarchies of Europe).

I should also read and reread some classics and some more history of China. It's so easy for a Westerner to forget about this mysterious place that seems so far away (even though many of our products are made there today). In fact, China is a profoundly human place and we in the West must remember it and know it better.

Jung Chang's justly famous memoir is 26 years old now, but it remains timely. It's still "officially banned" in China even to this day, though it has been widely read by anyone who can get it. Perhaps it's even more important for a generation that knows nothing of this history. It is a great story told with beauty and pathos. It is an ardent, compelling, devastating book.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Three Hundred and Sixty Two Days

My ten year old daughter and I have had a lot of deep conversations about life and death, good and evil, and the love of Jesus this past year. The other day it was just brief and simple.

Me: What music would you like to listen to?


Me: ...ok.

Josefina: But don't cry, Daddy!

Me: ... ... Sometimes tears are good, Jojo ... ...


Christina Grimmie, March 12, 1994 - June 10, 2016. We will always love you. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Christianity is a New Life of Communion With God

It is common today to view Christianity as a collection of external rules that more or less interfere with real life, that is, with the part of life that interests and engages us as human persons. What a grim business! No wonder people are not attracted to it.

We Christians must beware that we do not allow this kind of moralism to become our own view of Christianity. We must remember that Christianity is a new life, a supernatural life, a life of communion with God. Through baptism, we have been given a participation in the Divine life, and through grace this life grows within us and transforms us. God gives Himself to us; He draws us into a personal relationship with Himself; He leads us to our destiny which is to share forever in His glory, to behold and to love forever the One who is the fullness of all goodness, to belong to Him forever.

Eternal glory has already begun, secretly, in the very heart of this ordinary life, because God dwells in us, and God is at work in our lives. 

So why are we so dull, so unaware, so unresponsive to God's work in us? 

Because we need the light of the Holy Spirit to recognize the path He has laid out before us. Christianity is not external to the real concerns of our human life. It illuminates them and opens us up to their true meaning. But this only happens if we live the relationship with God that He continually desires to deepen throughout our lives.

And how can we live and grow in a relationship with Eternal Love except by asking for Him to change us, asking for Him to empower us to love Him more, asking Him to enable us to see the Church as the instrument of His love, and her teachings and sacraments as the road of love that really corresponds to our life? 

I want Him to "come" into my life, deepen my relationship with Him, and make me more aware of His presence. This is why I must ask, continually, for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be renewed within me. My heart realizes the fullness of its actual impetus for life only insofar as it becomes a living, loving, begging prayer for God's grace.

Come Holy Spirit! Transform my heart!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"Yes, Lord, You Know That I Love You"

Jesus said to Peter, " 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you'....

Luigi Giussani remarks on the event recounted in John 21 in a striking way:

" 'Yes, Lord, You know I love You.'

"All my human preference is for You, all the preference of my mind, all the preference of my heart; You are the extreme preference of life, the supreme excellence of things. I don’t know, I don’t know how, I don’t know how to say it and I don’t know how it can be but, in spite of all I have done, in spite of all I can still do, I love You.

"This yes is the birth of morality, the first breath of morality in the dry desert of instinct and pure reaction. Morality sinks its roots into this Simon’s yes, and this yes can take root in man’s soil only thanks to a dominant Presence, understood, accepted, embraced, served with all the energy of your heart; only in this way can man become a child again. Without a Presence, there is no moral act, there is no morality."

(Quoted from Luigi Giussani, Generating Traces in the History of the World. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010. See pp. 60-61.)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Agnese Graduates High School

Our oldest daughter graduated this afternoon with the Chelsea Academy Class of 2017. We are so proud of our dear Agnese, who has grown into such a lovely young lady.

I hope her grandparents see this post. They, like us, have many memories of that joyful, smiling face over the past 18-and-a-half years.

Here's just one flashback:

When she went on stage to get her diploma, I could see that she was still the same little girl.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trust in God and Never Give Up, No Matter What!

When we are suffering, we are called to trust in God and abandon ourselves to Him, and to offer our suffering in union with Jesus on the Cross.

This can give us great consolation in our sufferings. Sometimes, however, we don't feel anything like consolation. Indeed, words like "trust," "abandonment," and "offering" can seem strange and overwhelming and remote from the crushing pain that is pressing upon us.

In truth, these things are attitudes of the heart that are not always the focus of consciousness during the actual experience of suffering. They are habits to be cultivated, with dogged persistence, by perseverance in prayer, accountability to other trusted persons, and by the sacraments. In this way we begin to develop consistent dispositions of abandonment, trust, and sacrifice, which are more important than any subjective spiritual experience of consolation or security.

One realizes this especially in mental suffering. Unlike physical suffering, which can be in some way "objectified" by the mind, psychological suffering cuts right through the mind, so that the person enduring it often is not consciously aware that their pain is "really" pain.

In mental illnesses, there are deluded perceptions of worthlessness, distorted sources of anxiety, but often also the continued (false) impression that what is in your mind is under your control. The result is that you attribute the failure to have psychological control to your own lack of character. It is easy to conclude that you have nothing worthy to offer to God in any of this, while you are actually going through it.

But abandonment and trust are real things. They grow by being lived, and (mysteriously) by enduring the stripping away of obstacles to them. Certainly living a life of abandonment to God and trust in God entails walking the path God has given us: prayer, the sacraments, adherence to God's wisdom and goodness, pastoral guidance as well as help from the perspective of others through whom He shows us His mercy, the effort to be merciful ourselves, to carry out works of mercy, and to forgive others. Stay with these things. Even if you don't have a coherent handle on all of them, do what you can and pray -- whatever prayer you can muster! -- to grow closer to God.

In mental sufferings, there is sometimes a hidden voice that whispers, "Don't try to be close to God, you hypocrite. Distance yourself from Him. You are not worthy." These are lies. Don't let them discourage you from hanging onto God even if it's by what seems like the last tenuous thread that links you to Him. When you hear that evil voice, you pray the name of Jesus and you call on Saint Michael. Don't listen to the Liar. Let Jesus and Mary and the Holy Angels drive that monster away. You just hang on!


Prayer doesn't have to be fancy. We don't have climb some mountain of interior profundity before we can begin communicating with God. He has come to be with us. We can turn to Him with whatever we've got.

To help us get a handle on communicating with God in prayer, we have "prayers" from Scripture and the various streams of the vast Christian tradition. These are not formal speeches or magic incantations. They are the simple, small steps we can take to learn prayer as the expression of trust and abandonment, to learn the "grammar" of the language of the heart. 

I want to mention one practice in particular: the morning offering. It can take various forms, but its essence is to begin the day (as much as possible, "literally," i.e. when you first wake up) with a prayer in which you acknowledge and assent in freedom to the reality that Jesus Christ is the source, the "substance," and the fulfillment of everything that you do and everything that happens to you in the day.

Some twenty five years ago, I was at one of those unforgettable gatherings with the great Msgr Luigi Giussani, and the topic of discussion was something that sounds rather deep -- the "decision for existence." I asked Fr. Giussani how I could make the "decision for existence" in my daily life, and his response was not a philosophical discourse, but something surprisingly simple. He said, "when you wake up every morning, say the Angelus."

And so I have, for the past quarter of a century. The Angelus itself is a kind of "morning offering" (meditate on the prayer, or--in this season--on the Regina Coeli), although I usually follow it with the morning offering prayer to Jesus in His Sacred Heart and a few other prayers. I wouldn't do any of this if I did not have at least the beginnings of trust in God, and the desire to be united to Him in Christ Crucified.

And through the years, it has worked its way into my awareness during the day, in moments of trial, and even in the midst of psychological turmoil.

Prayer. Absolutely essential. No matter how you feel.

When I say "Never Give Up" I mean this: Never Give Up on God!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Jeanne La Pucelle: La Grande Fille de Dieu

15th century images of "Joan the Maid" (or "Joan of Arc" as she has come to be known in English). The one on the left is from a sketch made soon after the victory at Orleans in 1429 in the margin of a Parisian book, probably based on contemporary descriptions.

I love that stunning group of kids from every time and place and circumstance that light up history even as they continue to stir and inspire us with their beautiful courage. There is no marvel quite like the Girl God Squad.

United by an intense passion for Christ and an utter devotion to the mission He entrusted to them, these girls lived but brief lives in this world. Yet each has left an enduring, luminous mark from her own time to the present.

I think this is not just a matter of historical memory. God keeps sending these girls on missions of all kinds. As friends, helpers, little sisters, they remain very much involved in our lives even as they behold the glory of God in His kingdom.

As one of them, Thérèse of Lisieux, promised before her death in 1897, "I shall spend my heaven doing good upon earth."

Renée Falconetti's famous portrayal of the protagonist in Carl
Dreyer's classic 1928 silent film La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc.
What can we say about La Pucelle, Joan "the Maid" of France, who cried out the name of Jesus as she was being consumed by the flames at the stake on May 30, 1431? She continues, nearly 600 years later, to watch over her own people, and to give hope to the renewal of faith among them that is taking place. She also inspires people everywhere who fight against evil, who defend the poor, or who answer God's call with generous hearts and persevere in the most desperate circumstances. She has been a muse for artists, sculptors, poets, filmmakers, and writers (even having an unlikely champion in the usually comic and cynical American Mark Twain).

What is the secret of this nineteen-year-old girl, and all of her sisters from the earliest martyrs to kids whose names we may not even know today, but who will be known and loved in times to come?

Let the great poet of Jeannette of Lorraine have the last word, the great Charles Peguy:
Car il y eut une si grande quantité de grâces,
qu'elle égalait le sable de la mer, 
et qu'elle ne pouvait pas même se mesurer.
 [For there was so much grace,
that it equaled the sand of the sea,
and it could not even measure itself.]

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Land of the Living

As we enter the "summer season," the weather is still on the damp side. I have been experimenting with more photo editing software and filters that produce something resembling artistic accents and flourishes.

For example, these daisies look "painted."

As does the "lonely farmhouse in the rain," below:

The software and filters provide diverse opportunities for appearance, but the final product is not simply automatically generated. It requires a good amount of creative attention. Generally, however, I find these kinds of efforts refreshing, as long as I don't go crazy and overdo things.

I also have more ways to experiment with the graphic presentation of text. These are hardly what one would call "classical" settings, but they are fun to compose. I may eventually develop more of a feeling for what "works" in graphics.😉

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Are We Open To "God's Surprises"?

These words from a sermon several years ago are worth contem-plating as we prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit in this season.

"Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control. [We feel more secure] if we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences.

"This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision.

"We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own.

"Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness--God always brings newness--and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand; Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim the Gospel.

"This is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own day.

"The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfillment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good.

"Let us ask ourselves today: Are we open to 'God’s surprises'? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit?

"Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?

"We would do well to ask ourselves these questions all through the day."

~Pope Francis (Homily for Pentecost, 2013)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Of Birds and Cats in Springtime

Adult blue jays this morning were harassing Reepicheep (you probably remember that's the name of our cat--don't blame me for that idea 😉).

But they needn't have worried: their little fledgling was safe here in the grass. Found it with my zoom lens:

I don't blame the birds. I'm rooting for them, actually. Reep would snap up that little birdy in a second. But what would she do with it? Put it on our doormat as a "trophy" ...or something. Which, really, is not helpful to anybody! 😜

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

We Must Remember Every Day that God Loves Us

I must remember every day that God loves me. 

This is difficult, or at least it seems difficult, for a person with the limitations of physical and especially mental illness. There is a daily struggle to break out of self-absorption.

Living with life-restricting physical and mental illness, however, has also made me sensitive to how much this is a problem for everyone. We all have suffering, and most of us don't have a very good "handle" on it. And we are all bewildered in various ways, confused, "messed up" in our understanding of life.

Even the healthiest people have heads full of junk: junk accumulated from incomprehensible painful experiences, from the betrayal or simply the failure of other persons, from frustrated efforts and unfulfilled aspirations, from the smallness and frailty of being just one small human being in an enormous, clamorous, relentlessly demanding and seemingly unforgiving world, from the basic distortion of their relationship to reality that everyone has thanks to the heritage of original sin, and from their own sins and self-centeredness.

It's a miracle that any person can experience the fact that they are loved.

Yet it happens. We live in a world of miracles.

God loves me, yes. I would not exist in this moment if He did not love me. He is the Someone who is closer to me than I am to myself, and yet also the transcendent Mystery. I am made for Him. The deepest longings of my heart are drawn to Him.

I must remember this every day, with conviction and gratitude.

But there's more.

God has revealed Himself as Love. And the God-who-is-Love has given Himself to me and for me, for all of us: He has come to dwell among us. God is present for us in this moment, not only as our Creator, but also as Someone who has a name and a face and a history in this world.

Jesus Christ.

Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and through the decisive companionship He has thus established with the whole life of each one of us, we can encounter Him. If we follow Him, we will discover that He changes everything. 

With all my incoherence and forgetfulness, I cannot deny that He has grabbed hold of my life. In His way and in His time--and even in the face of my own stubbornness and foolishness--He is changing everything. 

He changes all my relationships. He changes my solitude. He changes my suffering. It's not necessarily a change in "the way I feel about these things." It's not that "now I feel good all the time" (I don't). He changes the realities themselves; He has entered into the stuff of life because He claims everything for Himself. He is present. He is at work in my life and in the life of every human person.

I must remember every day that God loves me. God loves us in Jesus, concretely. Jesus loves each one of us, and He has come to be with us.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Shakespeare Outdoors!

On the left, Prospero and Ariel (played by GUESS WHO?); on the right, Ariel in her scary costume (made by her mother) in Shakespeare's The Tempest performed by the JOHN XXIII MONTESSORI CENTER'S Elementary Program under the direction of Mrs. Eileen Janaro. I took only a few pictures with my phone. Mostly I sat back and enjoyed the show. It was great fun, and I'm sure Jojo was not the only kid to get excited about Shakespeare. 😊

Friday, May 19, 2017


I noticed online the Interesting Media Development that Facebook is now live streaming a game every week for free in cooperation with -- another sign that every internet platform is incorporating various aspects of live, interactive, audiovisual media. "New Media" (a term originally coined by Marshall McLuhan in reference to television) keeps getting newer all the time.

As for me, I watched the Nats on cable and put up with the commercials. For whatever reason, it didn't help their luck.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Can There Be Joy in the Midst of Suffering?

The Christian life is supposed to be characterized by "patience, endurance, and joy" (see e.g. Colossians 1:11). This may lead some Christians to think that if they experience suffering as something obscure, disorienting, or overwhelming, they are somehow not "being Christian enough."

Is it necessary for Christians to try to churn up cheerful, sunny feelings and the appearance of psychological tranquility when they are in the grip of physical or mental sufferings? Are they somehow "doing it wrong" if suffering weighs on them, i.e. if they experience suffering as suffering even after they ask for the Lord's help?

Certainly not. It is true that emotional states are often related to a person's attitudes and priorities, and that they should not be ignored in any character assessment. They contribute to human experience and expressiveness, and they flourish in connection with natural human development, with a reasonable and properly human engagement of life. But emotions themselves can often be the locus of suffering for a variety of reasons that are not related to a person's decisions or actions or to anything else under their control. Moreover, there is a mysterious depth in the relationship between joy and suffering in anyone who adheres sincerely to the crucified and risen Jesus. Unfortunately, too often Christians feel pressured to conform to a rather superficial psycho-emotional profile even while enduring relentless and disorienting afflictions. And when they cannot hold up this artificial conformity they feel like they have failed to trust God enough, and are even tempted to discouragement.

Thus, it is important to clarify what we mean when we speak about Christian joy and patient endurance in the context of bearing sufferings. Of course, these things are real; they are capacities founded on the new life that we receive in the Holy Spirit when we are baptized into Christ. If the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we have the radical potential to endure our trials "joyfully" and patiently, to live them within the redeeming death and resurrection of Christ.

The grace of the Holy Spirit enables us to bear up "under" our difficulties with an awareness, a determination to keep going forward toward the goal that gives meaning to all of it. Concretely speaking, this is a "supernatural" goal, eternal life, the fullness of maturity in Christ, which means that patient endurance is the fruit of the working of supernatural grace. It cannot, therefore, be reduced to any merely natural psychological or emotional state.

This grace, this life in the Spirit, is a gift. Certainly it calls for the cooperation of our freedom, but it first of all elevates, empowers, and attracts our freedom. And if we allow grace to work, to engender the cooperation that is both a further gift of grace and the most profound realization of our own personal freedom in action, we are made more and more like God, living in His love.

It is the light of the Holy Spirit that enables us to recognize the destiny to which we are called. We grasp the reason why we must "never give up," why we must keep going forward. But this is a grasp in faith and love, which may not manifest itself clearly in our regular ways of understanding. Hence there can be "dark nights" and all sorts of strange and secret paths on which people are patiently bearing their burdens, especially when those burdens involve the cognitive and emotional incoherence that so often accompanies suffering on the natural human level. 

It is important to emphasize this supernatural grace of the Holy Spirit by which we are enabled to bear willingly and faithfully any kind of crazy problem with patient endurance. Of course the grace that gives us a participation in God's own eternal life is working also (in its own time and its own ways) to heal and perfect our human nature. The whole personality of the Christian is being mysteriously transformed in Christ, and aspects of this mystery can sometimes "break through" on the mundane human level in striking and beautiful ways. Thus it is not surprising that we meet people in the world who possess Christian joy and patient endurance in suffering in a way that is obvious, that is visible and "tangible" to pretty much everyone.

How great and significant such Christian witness is in this world! It always strikes us with the freshness of a reminder of the fulfillment we seek, of the promise that is the root of our hope. It reminds us that in this present age, life in the Spirit (the life of grace) is "already" the beginning of eternal life, which is destined ultimately to heal and transform everything.

The presence of profound Christian joy in a suffering person's life, however, is usually not so "externally" obvious. It is the secret daily sustenance of so many humble people in their apparently unremarkable human struggles and pains. It cannot be simply reduced to any set of human emotions or personality traits. The joy engendered through a living relationship with Jesus and a firm hope in His mercy has strength and vitality beyond what we can perceive in others or even in ourselves.

But if we look with sufficient faith and attention, we may glimpse signs of this joy and loving endurance even in exceptionally hard and unusual places. We may find it mixed with the symptoms of the burdens it bears. We may be distracted from it by the rawness of the wounds that are borne, the physical or mental ugliness of the affliction, or the peculiar, confusing, and unconventional modes of love that have characterized the holy fools throughout history.

All God looks for is an open heart. He'll work with anything that doesn't oppose Him. If He could make children of Abraham from stones, He certainly can take badly broken human beings, failures, oddballs, beggars, crazies, and raise up exotic masterpieces of holiness.

Never look down on any human being. God loves each and every one of them with a persistence and an intensity beyond anything we can imagine.

The life of grace is a "process," and it takes a unique shape in each person's life, and in accordance with their concrete vocation, the burdens they bear, and the sufferings they must endure. It is a process of maturing, and it takes time. For most of us, it takes a long time to work through all the obscurities and ambivalence of our weak humanity.

But the Holy Spirit is at work in us, and is the source of our strength and our growth.

Let us therefore not be discouraged by our own weakness. Rather let us turn and return to our loving Father every day, place our trust in Jesus, and keep moving forward.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

100 Years Later: Fatima and the Prayer of the Gospel

May 13, 2017!

Here we arrive at a bright moment in our Centennial, a moment that indeed is more present in significance and impact on the Church and the world than ever.

As we join Pope Francis in marking the 100th anniversary of the first visit of the Virgin Mary to the three shepherd children in the fields of the village of Fatima in Portugal, we begin a season of remembrance which is not simply recalling past events, but living the presence of Him who is the Son of Mary, who is Lord of history and who chose to intervene in the midst of the great evils of the world through the tenderness of His loving mother.

Mary came in a very particular way and entered the experience of little children (as the canonization of the young Jacinta and Francisco reminds us) during the period from May to October of 1917. She transformed their experience by presenting the full witness of the Gospel, letting them see both the tremendous mercy of God and the stubborn resistance of human beings bent on their own destruction.

She asked them (and us) to make sacrifices for sinners, to live the mystery of her Son's passion in a personal solidarity that would bring His saving presence to a desperate world.

And she asked them to pray. She asked them, and all of us, to enter more deeply into the whole of the Gospel, to be with Jesus in a more profound and intimate way by "praying the Gospel" in union with her own heart.

She asked us to pray the prayers given in the Gospel (from the words of the angel Gabriel, of Elizabeth "filled with the Holy Spirit," and of Jesus Himself) and to fill our minds and hearts with the Gospel, to learn to dwell with Jesus the way that she did. She asked us to join with her in her own great pilgrimage as she accompanied Him from the moment of the Incarnation to the fulfillment of the beginning of the New Creation in the glory that He has shared with her. We journey together with her, with hearts and hands and voices.

This is the Rosary.

Fatima is about Jesus. It is about growing closer to Jesus through His mother, the Theotokos. It is about growing closer to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary--her "heart" which is her utterly unique personality shaped by her singular experience of God's Love. She wants so much to draw all of us into the embrace of this Love, this tenderness that has transformed her into our mother.

She will teach us to become little children again.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Joseph Ratzinger: The Word of Mary's Heart Changes History

Pope Benedict XVI, while he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, shared some profound reflections on the meaning of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These may help us as we prepare to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mary's first visit to Fatima:
"In biblical language, the 'heart' indicates the center of human life, the point where reason, will, temperament and sensitivity converge, where the person finds his unity and his interior orientation. According to Matthew 5:8, the 'immaculate heart' is a heart which, with God's grace, has come to perfect interior unity and therefore 'sees God.'
"To be 'devoted' to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means therefore to embrace this attitude of heart, which makes the fiat—'your will be done'—the defining center of one's whole life. It might be objected that we should not place a human being between ourselves and Christ. But then we remember that Paul did not hesitate to say to his communities: 'imitate me' (1 Cor 4:16; Phil 3:17; 1 Th 1:6; 2 Th 3:7, 9). In the Apostle they could see concretely what it meant to follow Christ. But from whom might we better learn in every age than from the Mother of the Lord?"
In the message of Fatima, Mary says that "'my Immaculate Heart will triumph.' What does this mean? The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Savior into the world—because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time.
"The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: 'In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world' (Jn 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Her Witness of Love Endures

It is impossible to forget Christina Grimmie. There is more new music coming soon. Meanwhile, on this May the 10th, after 11 months, her witness of love endures and continues to touch hearts.💚

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How Are You, JJ?

The cartoon version.
So, how's it going, JJ?

I'm hanging in there. Slowing down (which is always hard for me to do). Reducing screen time because, really, the LED light bothers me. Soft light is better, natural light, of course, is best.

Reading old fashioned books. For whatever reason, I'm on a "monarchy" kick. I just finished a lengthy biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the amazing 12th century lady whose influence spread all across Europe.

Since Lucia is presently living in a house built from the stones of one of her ruined castles, I thought it would be fun to get better acquainted with Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, sometime Queen of France, sometime Queen of England, mother of four kings.

What did I learn? Basically, that human beings really haven't changed all that much.

I'm also reading a large biography of the present Queen of England (got hooked by Netflix's excellent series, The Crown). And then, of course, reviewing my favorite dynasty: the ardently Catholic, often wacky, sometimes daft, sometimes heroic, occasionally holy (at least once), and always ingenious Habsburgs.

Sometimes I just don't have the energy to concentrate. But there's always music. I'm very grateful for music.

Perhaps I can rework some topic blog posts from the past and post them in the coming days. 😊

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

These "Disorders" Don't Just Affect Your "Mood"

I have been swimming against the current for months. I think it has been worth it. It has been necessary for many reasons, but I am going to drown if I don't find a shore where I can rest, or even just some calmer waters....

Sorry for the metaphors. It's all I've got right now. My friends, I wish I had control over this whole mess.

Depression. Bipolar. They call these things "mood disorders."

The term "mood" is not strong enough. It's tempting to want to change it to something like "losing-your-freaking-mind!" but that would scare people too much. However, the word "mood" makes one think of things like "jazz" ... and that just doesn't carry the weight and the awful nature of what we are dealing with here.

People have to understand that this kind of pain is beyond the range of anything ordinary, but also that it's not uncommon, it's human suffering, and that although there are no easy solutions, there is help and hope.

Sometimes, patience can be very hard. Let's help one another--whatever kinds of trials we face--to keep hope alive.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Kate the GREAT!

Catherine of Siena, Catherine the Magnificent, Kate the Great've been so good to me. Thank you! 😊

Happy Feast Day!

And just a note, folks: sometimes the words of this amazing lady can seem overwhelming, but we should understand that she does not want to make light of sufferings (which she had in spades) but rather to give us HOPE in Christ crucified, that God will get us through and bring us to Him.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The "Written Word" Goes Around the World

There are all these creative possibilities for communication that have developed or have been refined in the past six years, and here I am... still blogging.

Maybe I should do more videos or something.😜 But whatever I do, I'll keep writing. Writing remains powerful and irreplaceable.

The development of written languages was the original "social media revolution." Ironically, the explosion of "new media" technology, far from replacing the written word, has expanded its use in all sorts of ways.

The "basic blog" is practically old fashioned. I am working (slowly) with pushing my limits in some other areas. Nevertheless, when I was on my high school newspaper staff doing "paste-up" in 1979 we never would have imagined something like the "basic blog" in our wildest dreams. If we ever even thought of such a wildly distant year like 2017 (!) we assumed there would be colonies in space, with artificial environments that functioned according to the intricate calibrations of ENORMOUS computers!! 😳

As it turned out, we're still imagining space. Meanwhile we fill the earth with our thoughts and pictures and sounds and we have become masters of the craft of communication.

Still, from blogs to comboxes to Twitter and Facebook to memes to messaging to online journalism to Amazon (books? bigger. than. ever.) to Wikipedia, Gutenberg, etc to the amazingly resilient e-mail -- the written word is everywhere like never before in history. As with the development of all human things, we can see in writing today new levels of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

That's all the more reason for people who aspire to the good to "stay in the game"!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April Flowers

Here are some up-close looks at a few of the lovely blooming things that we have seen over the past week in our beautiful valley.

And this one wins the best picture award, though I must say that bee photobombed this shot. I didn't even notice it when I was taking the actual picture.

Nature at work: