Friday, June 22, 2018

Twenty Two Years on June 22nd!😊

Every year these "kids" look younger and younger...😉

Twenty two years ago we began the beautiful, crazy, happy adventure of marriage. I am more grateful than I can ever express in words.

Happy Anniversary, Eileen Janaro! I love you!💗

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mental Health and Technological Power

Recently, two American celebrities died by suicide in the same week. I have written numerous articles that address directly the tragedy of suicide, the frequent underlying struggles with mental illness, and my own experience with Depression.

I am also among those who have lost loved ones. For me, this is an intensely personal topic.

At this time, I find it too difficult to address directly. But I have observed the wider conversation, and it has prompted me to put a few thoughts together on mental health within the context of the peculiar circumstances we live in today.

The news, the blogosphere, and the social media world have chewed over various aspects of these recent suicides and what might have led to them, as well as broader mental health issues.

People are beginning to become more aware of mental illness, at least in general terms. The extent of the problem, however, has also begun to generate reflection about what it means to live a happy life. What do we need to be happy? Why are so many people unhappy? Are we "doing it wrong," somehow?

The frequency of tragic deaths among those who are regarded by our society as competent and successful is one of the circumstances that has prompted people to raise these larger questions. Is the increase in suicide today a sign of a fundamental dissatisfaction with a life rich in material prosperity but poor in personal values, community, and ultimate meaning?

Here we identify an important problem. We need to recognize our distorted and dangerous ideal of human achievement, and revise our isolated, individualistic paradigm of a self-sufficient, autonomous human existence focused on self-generated success.

In fact, living isolated in this society and being measured by its standards breaks people in many ways, including the ravaging of their mental health.

No doubt this is part of the problem. But mental health, like all human health, is subtle and comprised of many facets. We cannot forget that there are also neurobiological propensities that have a hereditary element (among other elements) and that can develop into pathological conditions that need health treatment. It shouldn't surprise us that we see more of this in the ferociously stressful and disoriented society we live in.

I find the need to emphasize the reality of mental illness because too many people still don't see it as a factor at all. That can be a dangerous mistake.

Mental illness is real. Psychiatric care is health care. It might be necessary. It is nothing to be ashamed of. We can ask questions about our understanding of what makes for a happy life and what diminishes happiness and also address the nature of mental illness as a medical problem. These are not mutually exclusive (or even competing) conversations.

At the same time, the problems in our society today require us to consider a new set of factors that we are also prone to overlook. We are living in the midst of an enormous, epoch-defining event—the ongoing, unpredictable technological revolution.

We hardly notice, it seems, that we live in conditions never known before in history. Insofar as we do think about this fact, we tend to consider it to be an unqualified improvement of life. In truth, it is more complicated and ambivalent than we know, and we have hardly begun to grapple with it.

In the "developed world," our ordinary ("normal") lifestyle is vastly extended by the environment of gigantic and
dizzying possibilities opened up by technological power. I am not speaking about some occasional remarkable augmentation of human activity, but rather the immense apparatus that we employ in the basic gestures of engaging with reality in our daily life.

Even a little reflection makes this clear. We start the day using the light switch and the water faucet, but these are just two examples of the whole complex technological infrastructure that shapes our homes and the way we live in them.

Outside the house, technology, its frameworks, and the environments they create shape so much of the way we do things and engage in relationships.

Examples abound. Cars and mass transportation have changed human interaction as much as anything in history. We move our bodies around the world with a speed and ease beyond the wildest dreams of our forebears. This affects the way we experience space and time, places and relationships. Clearly, this is having a profound psychological impact on us, and it will affect future generations in ways we don't even know.

Meanwhile, we turn to more technology to further the extension of power we have already achieved, but also to compensate for the impact of other technology on what we know to be the more stable elements and basic needs of our humanity. Transportation technology has extended the power of our bodies to travel great distances. Not surprisingly, we have sought to extend further and more fully our capacity to communicate over great distances with communications technology.

This represents another expansion of human possibilities at the expense of a certain remoteness and dislocation from basic reality.  Social media and smartphones in part represent the desperation of people trying to be connected while also being uprooted and constantly moving around.

There have been remarkable technological advances in health care too, of course. But the question needs to be asked: Is the whole impact of the ongoing technological revolution generating unprecedented kinds of stress and new (even as yet unknown) challenges to the fragility of human physical and mental health?

We could go on and on, analyzing and unpacking the implications of technology in every facet of life to a point we might find shocking. But we wouldn't remain shocked for very long. The technological environment has become like the air we breathe, in the sense that we easily integrate into our awareness and expectations techniques that enormously extend our sensory capacities and our physical power.

We are scarcely conscious of our "tools." Yet they change us even as we use them. They have stretched the potential of human temporal life and vastly expanded the choices available to us. Yet we lack a sense of direction and find it more difficult than ever to focus our freedom.

We may feel empowered, but we also feel bewildered. We are overwhelmed, overextended by what seems to be the excessive complexity of life, crushed by what we think is expected of us.

And what is the point of it all?

The multiplication of frustrations and the sheer stress engendered by this explosion of possibilities for involvement with the material world give a potentially monstrous scope to human life. This surely must be a factor in the rise of debilitating physical and mental illness in our time.

It can also deepen the lack of real relationships and community in people's lives. The illusion of human self-sufficiency is no longer just the luxury of philosophical speculation, the goal of revolutionary activism, or the opaque aspiration of people in general. Technology has democratized individualism, and taken it to a new level.

Today, the average ordinary individual has so much access to material power (utterly unprecedented access, like nothing in human history) that people easily put into practice the ideology that they can create their own identity and define the meaning of their own humanity. Mass technology has given power the "feel" of being spontaneously available; it seems natural to use it for whatever it can do, if we want it.

When it gets dark, it seems natural to turn on the light. But it can also seem natural to use technological power to produce facile resolutions of deeper problems, to escape from the difficult concrete responsibilities of family and community relationships, to demand extreme attention to work production, to increasingly invade one another's interior space, to allow the images and sensory involvement of television and the internet to replace critical thinking and reflection, to fill our lives with noise to escape the challenge of being with ourselves in silence.

Technology enhances our power dramatically, and we interiorize that enhancement so that the effective exercise of vast power becomes habitual in our daily life. Thus, when we face the more profound problems of life, the problems of being a human person, we easily become frustrated.

These problems do not reduce themselves to the logic of the power that has become so apparently natural to us. We are easily tempted to reduce our humanity to the measure of our power, to censure our real human nature, to reduce persons to "things" over which we have power, and to impose this power by violence—especially against those who are too poor or too weak to resist.

If someone has brittle bones to begin with, and then you compel them to run fast and jump high, they will soon have broken bones. It should not be surprising, then, that people with mental fragility are further injured in a power-dominant society, that mental illness is inflamed and aggravated in this society. As we have noted, the use of power seems natural because it has become the environment in which we live. But it is also used without reflection, and frequently becomes disorienting. And those who are weak often experience it turned against them in violence.

In truth, the use of technology is "natural" (it is an application of human practical reason) but it has to be subordinate to the human person, and the human person has to live in real relationship to God and other persons. If it is to be a constructive force in human life, technology must be integrated within this more fundamental human personal, interpersonal, and transcendent context.

I am convinced above all that without the foundational experience of belonging-to-something-else, to that Mystery that gives value to all of life including "myself," all our technological power just scatters our humanity and uproots us more and more. It makes it harder for us to experience authentic human encounter and relationship.

But we don't even perceive that there's a problem here, which points to the extent to which we have become alienated from ourselves. We are numb to our fundamental human needs because we have become drunk with power to manipulate the world and our own bodies. We forget the concrete reality and intimate aspirations of our personhood.

I do not condemn technology. I love being human, and I love the human vocation to use our personal presence, our reason and our freedom, to build up the world and make it a better place to live in. Technological development is one of the fruits of this human vocation, which is why I want to emphasize the need for balance in the titanic new environment it generates, the need for a "technological ecology" not only for the planet in general, but for us as human persons.

Otherwise, our life in this world will increasingly become collectively sociopathic. This will wreak havoc on what's left of normal human efforts to live reasonable, generous lives. It will suffocate physical vitality and, obviously, be disastrous for mental health. People who have neuro-based sensitivities to mental disorders are going to have these propensities exacerbated (others will suffer repeated traumas, that build up like so many "psychological concussions" until they become serious conditions).

Therefore, the urgent problem of mental health requires us to consider not just "neurobiological illness," nor can it be reduced to just "social problems." It involves both these factors and a lot more.

With all the amazing power we possess, we need a corresponding deepening of our humanity, a deeper awareness of the human person, a deeper solidarity, and a deeper sense of responsibility and compassion.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Long and Cool Evenings

Mid-June is one of the loveliest times of the year in Virginia. It's possible to take nice walks even after dinner (Janaro-style dinner being never before 7:00 PM).

The evenings are long and cool, there are lots of fireflies but not many mosquitoes (not yet!😜), and the sun goes behind the mountains after 8:30 PM.😊

Wednesday, June 13, 2018



I remember the days of running.
They were days upon days of slippery running on glassy ground
under an electric forest, with whispering wirey trees
tangled together into angry knots.
And the birds did not sing
or breathe,
but lay everywhere still,
like colored shadows in the long twilight.
Days upon days, every day the same.
Every day we were running, running away,
feeling forever in a winding tunnel of wind and echoes,
a path of perpetual survival.

"Run, scream,
scream to hear yourselves.
Run, scream,
feel the life inside you and hold hard on it.
Follow the little soft lights.
Stay in the shade,
or you will burn away
and become skulls with empty sockets,
and forever-frozen jaws."

I remember the days of running
with a huge roaring crowd,
all of us with electric shoes that jumped up and down,
each footfall shaking the floor, a great thumping sound,
flooding the room,
flooding our heads.
Sound upon sound, gigantic, total,
always the same, the unceasing clamor,
clatter, crashing rush
of running to save our lives.

"Run, scream, shout the song
with your synthetic throats.
Shout with the dance of the electric feet.
Shout and run and stay with this beat,
because music is dangerous; like fire
it will consume you utterly.
But we are running to survive, day upon endless day,
and we will never change."

One day
I remember running.
It was very early in the morning,
and the blue rain was falling all over my face,
splashing, stinging, vanishing into vapor,
into the florescent cyan mist that was light to my withered eyes.
One day among all the days upon days,
I was running
and I turned my head.
I did not intend to turn my head,
but I could not help it.
I thought I saw something.
My eyes were fixed against the edge of the sky.

"Run, run, and never stop
for in the stillness you will die.
That one over there has stopped and turned:
his face is white.
He says he saw something.
He says he is hearing something.
Now he vanishes and runs no more.
But we run into the day, and the days upon days to come.
We are running with those who survive."
A man was sitting in his lounge chair going through his Twitter feed and it was all the usual stuff, you know, nothing ever changes, but then he saw a tweet from @XX and he always paid attention to @XX's tweets, so he read it and it was just HORRIBLE NEWS! He thought, "Lives keep being snuffed out! What a brutal world we live in. But this is especially unbearable, to be so young with so much vitality and so many hopes and dreams, and to just get killed like that. Why did this happen, why, why?"... but then his lament was interrupted by an inner urging: 'Look look look!' What? 'Look look look! Look there! Look there!' "Wait," he thought, "There's something to see here, if I'm willing to look."
I stopped running one day.
I looked.
There was a flash on the horizon,
not like the dawn that comes every day
mild and sweet and seldom noticed.
No, there was a flash
like the convergence of a thousand suns.

And even as I turned to look and listen
the sky spoke thunder
and white hot light swallowed the earth.

There was no time.
No time to dither or complain,
to flee or to be afraid.
There was no more running
and nothing was the same anymore.
Everything had changed.

Everything, and yet...
There is a strange space of passage, still,
inside this flashing moment.
For who calculates the division of this instant;
who can fathom the depth of its duration?
Who knows how to measure the distance
between the beginning of the end
and the end of the end?
What we know is that the moment has come,
the time is at hand.

I am still here today with my scars
and people call me a "survivor."
But in this gifted interval which I cannot hold,
I tremble and hope and speak of what I have seen and heard.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Grimmie's Green Day

I designed this graphic for June 10, the second annual #GrimmieGreenDay in honor of the late Christina Grimmie. I am so grateful for the tremendous and enduring gift of this amazing young woman, her beautiful music, and her great heart.

Though she was taken from us too soon, her brief life of faith, self-giving, openness, and attention to human persons was an expression—to the very end—of that love which is our only hope against the violence of this world.💚

Sunday, June 10, 2018

After Two Years, Christina Grimmie Means More Than Ever

June 10 marks two years since the passing of Christina Grimmie. What can I say?

I can't explain why this girl has had and continues to have such a powerful impact on my life. I can't explain it.

Okay, true: she was a great "female singer/songwriter/musician"—it's clear that in more popular forms of contemporary music I appreciate especially artists of this kind. She was a YouTuber. She was a Christian. She was a beautiful young person whose life ended tragically.

It's hardly surprising that I am very moved by her and continue to be interested in her legacy.

It doesn't explain why she has shaken my soul to its very core.

There is something mysterious about all of this: something that is greater than music, greater than audiovisual media, greater than my interests, greater than death...

Though I never met her while she was living in this world, Christina is my friend. Even though I am still shocked, saddened, appalled, and grieved by what happened to her, I cannot deny that she has become more and more of a great and powerful and deeply encouraging friend to me in the past two years.

How is this possible? What am I talking about?

It's true that there are still her videos (where she seems to make the screen disappear and really be-with-you and communicate with you person-to-person). There's all her stuff from Twitter and other social media. There is the new music that has been released (and of course the Christina Grimmie Foundation and the continued presence and generosity of her family).

I cannot look at all these things as just stuff she "left behind," as just stuff-from-the-past. And it's not enough to say that she "seems to be with us, still;" it's not enough to say that it's "as if" she is still "with us."

But I also cannot try to pretend she's "still here" in some fuzzy, mythological, spiritualistic kind of way. There is no "magic" that can be invoked. This can't be some kind of imaginative escape from reality, some "alternative universe" we can conjure up. She's not accessible in any physical way, and there is no denying that her life and activity in this world have come to an end.

There is a "finality" about this fact that, as long as we live in this world, cannot be fully understood. It rightly evokes grief and sorrow that are profound but must not be overwhelming. Our human understanding does not "see," even though it probes and wonders and has obscure hints of things.

I am a Christian, of course. I believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. I can say, "Christina is with Jesus." Indeed, my hope is that many who have gone before me are with Jesus.

But if Christina's life is over, how can she "become more of a friend" to me? Am I just learning from her example? That's part of it, but I'm not sure it explains everything.

Christina died on June 10, 2016. Her life in this world is finished. But what is life? When the life of a person is "finished," it is also completed. The person reaches their fullness; they become "who-they-are" in a complete and irrevocable way.

How could we be satisfied by saying that all the good and beautiful things a person did in this world "live on" but the real person who did these things has ceased to exist? That contradicts our entire sense of the value of being human, of loving, of making sacrifices.

I can't be satisfied with that, not just because I'm a Christian, but because I'm a human being. I myself am a human person. I am seeking the fullness of being a person. Every person is a mystery, living with a purpose, seeking a destiny which includes relationship with other persons. Just because I can't put all this under a microscope doesn't mean it's not real. Personhood is more real than any of the things we measure and dominate in this material world.

The person endures beyond death. But how? We seek understanding, even a little bit, a drop, a sign of some meaning we cannot yet fully grasp.

This is what I am "thinking" as a philosopher (if you will) and in any case as a human being (and I am hardly the only one who has thought about it this way): A person endures in the mystery of his or her real self, and in the relationships deepened, fostered, engendered, and nurtured by his or her actions. The person who says "I" endures. The person who says "I love you" endures in that love-for-you. And as the fruits of their actions unfold, the loving person's heart "opens up" to the awareness of people in the world and becomes more accessible.

The person endures (lives!) in completeness and as radically entrusted to the Mystery beyond death. The person also endures as "remaining-in-relationship" through the love by which they gave themselves to others (a gift now fulfilled and irrevocable). Within this interpersonal relationship, this communion of love, they nurture our hope as we continue the journey of this life.

This is a real and powerful relationship.

And if a person gives his or her self unconditionally and concretely, embracing each other person with an openness to welcoming any person they encounter, and if they live and reach the fulfillment of their life in and through that unconditional love, it's not surprising that people continue to "meet" them and experience their love in a personal way even after their death.

They have become forever "persons-with-open-hearts" and there is room for everyone in the fruition of the love they have given, that continues to unfold in the present world.

I don't know if this makes sense to you all. Does it seem rather abstract when we look at the girl who once described her life as "food, music, and video games, all united and lifted up to Jesus"?

Yes, it does in a certain sense. Perhaps that shows how ironic and beautiful and odd and funny it is that we are friends.

[By the way, I think the descriptive imagery she used to talk about herself, her relationships, and God—in the reference I just noted and in other ways and other contexts—was profound, apt, down-to-earth, and humorous all at once.]

What I want to express above all on this June 10, 2018, two years later, is how incredibly grateful I am for Christina Grimmie, for her life, for her person, for the mysterious way that she is a friend to me and helps me, and for the love with which she gave her self—the love that continues to bear fruit.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Abstract, Concrete, Hearts that Love

Here is some recent graphic art:
"Park Bench" -- digital design based on a photo of a park bench.

"Elements, 1" is an abstract expressionist digital design. The theme is "elements."

"Sacred Heart" for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, digital design based on freehand drawing.

"Immaculate Heart of Mary" is a digitally stylized and augmented rendering of a photo of a common Fatima image.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Christina Grimmie: "I Will Always Love You"

I'm glad Christina Grimmie's YouTube page reposted her beautiful rendition of the song "I Will Always Love You" which has an especially poignant and personal sense as we approach the second anniversary of her death.

Christina recorded this in 2012 on YouTube, when she was just 18 years old.

It was the only time she sang a cover with karaoke background music rather than arranging and performing the instrumental parts on her own keyboard. This cover was a tribute to Whitney Houston, who had just died, and Christina wanted to concentrate entirely on the vocals in order to do honor to the great singer who had left her mark on a whole era of popular music.

In the end, however, this was more than a tribute to Whitney. Christina did what she always did, what she couldn't not do. She made the song her own.

By 2012, she had a good microphone, but otherwise there was little in the way of high production for this song. The relative spontaneity of the "early days" of YouTube was still the rule. Nevertheless, it sounds terrific. This is a precious recording entirely because Christina Grimmie sang it, and poured into it her musical genius and passion.

She sang this song with her own unmistakable voice, with her own soulful, melodious resonance, her own combination of strength and sweetness, her own seemingly effortless modulation between soft and powerful tones, and her command of the whole range of volume, dynamics, and the entire palette of sonic nuance her voice could employ.

The voice of Christina Grimmie was unique, inimitable, and—like Whitney Houston—worthy of the word great.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Mighty Waters

We had so much rain over the weekend that there was high water and flash flooding all over our Valley.
But the new week has been dry and cool, with lots of sunshine. At least in my neighborhood, what had become Angry Creek was returning to manageable levels.
Still, this spot was little more than a muddy path in the unusual dryness of last Fall. Relatively speaking, we now have a roaring deluge of mighty waters near Happy Creek Road.
It was big enough to be on YouTube!😉
Further downstream, however, the creek was clearly "happier" and peaceful in June's long evening sunlight:

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Corpus Christi: The Eucharist as God's "Poetry"

For some reason, this post from two years ago (the picture above--an image from the altar of our parish church--and the poem below, which I don't think is one of my best poems) is the most widely viewed post in the history of this blog. 

It could be a search engine accident--i.e. lots of people are looking for "pictures of the Last Supper" or for information about "Corpus Christi, Texas." In any case, many thousands have viewed the page from two years ago.

Perhaps a few have read it.

As I have written elsewhere, the Eucharist is God's poetry, written into the heart of history and the heart of every day.

Here I stammer, straining to see a few shadows and hear a few echoes of the mystery, and to remember the "taste" of His gift.


What is this Love?

What is this Love,
this Love inexhaustible
broken into crumbs,

poured out in earthen vessels?

What is this Love?
Love Creator of the burning stars;
Love Creator of the angels—
     those great, gigantic, magnificent, comprehending spirits.

Love Creator of the human being….
     The glorious human being:
     master of the earth and its things,
     yet a tiny speck under the sky;
     image of God,
     dust and ashes.
     great and miserable,
     hungry humanity, hungry with a thousand hungers….

This is Love's impossible gift;
Love inexhaustible,
     broken into crumbs,
     poured out in earthen vessels.

Love beyond all measure
become a morsel of food and drink
     in our tiny mouths.

Given and given, poured out and broken,
Love to the end, scattered
     beyond the edges of all wandering,
     finding, filling
     the hidden empty starved spaces
     of the most distant secret silent cries.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Human Relationships: Living as "Brothers and Sisters"

Dear fellow Christians: do we really believe that Jesus makes us brothers and sisters in a unity more intimate than anything in this world? Do we really know what it means to live as members of one another in Christ, journeying together toward our common destiny of eternal life and love in the Trinity?

It's so easy, as Catholic Christians, to have a moment in which we recognize, "this is the road for our journey!" but then to walk that road like we are strangers.

I have a very hard time with that. For me, the road is so weird and I get lost all the time, or go around in circles. I can't do this alone. I need something more than polite fellow-travelers on this trip. Even though I constantly fight to preserve the illusion of my "autonomy" and the fantasy of my own self-sufficiency, I know that I need to live my faith together with other people.

So where can I go? The Church, of course! But what does that mean? There's the local church ...what do I find in the typical vibrant American [or insert your country here] parish? There are the sacraments, first of all, -- the fountains of Christian life are given in them. But how is this life lived intensely? Well, the parish has many kinds of groups. I may encounter something here that really changes me. Or I might just find lots of well-intended activity going on. That's good and worthwhile, but by themselves good activities are not enough. After they're over, I get into my car and drive back to my lonely fortress. Is that what the New Testament calls "the fellowship of disciples"?

I need help for my whole life, relationships, everything. I need "community." This is a fundamental human need, and for a Christian this need only intensifies. But let's face it: building and sustaining a real community is the hardest thing in the world. People always end up fighting and dividing into factions. Catholics? Oh boy, we fight more than anybody.

So where can I find intense "Catholic community"?

What about just giving up my mind and my freedom to someone who seems to know it all, some self-appointed "benevolent Catholic dictator" who just tells me what to think and what to do and relieves me of the awful burden of being a human person? I must admit that this option can be very tempting. "Conformity" and "comfort," disguised as "obedience," could shape my notions and my behavior into a formulaic routine, and give me a sense of superiority, but they would also also suffocate my heart -- that depth of me that says, "I am someone, I have been made for a reason, I have aspiration, I have hope, I don't just want to be reduced to a 'part' of a project, not even the cosmic project!"

What else is there for me? Should I just embrace and exalt my aloneness? I could say, "I'm gonna do what I think is 'Catholic' [i.e. whatever I want, as long as I can rationalize it by some veneer of Catholic theology or piety] and just blow off everybody else." For me, personally, that's the short path to the psych ward. Others seem to get by with this attitude, except that it's really crummy for their spouses (who often become ex-spouses) and their children and anyone else who needs them or tries to care about them. Not a good option.

I don't want to be alone. I need people. Clubs and casual friends and the internet are not enough. But being part of some kind of "collective" not only is humanly unhealthy, it also just covers up the loneliness. And there can be a lot missing even from the experience of being in dedicated Catholic groups that work together for the good of the Church. People can share an activity (even passionately) without sharing their lives. Passion for the cause can become a cover for not acknowledging the poverty of my person, for not sharing myself, for not loving and for not being honest about my own vulnerability, my own need to be loved.

I can even "belong" to a "movement," and wear it like a badge, and conform myself to its external style, and do all the "stuff," and still not invest myself. I can cover up the fact that I'm poor and that I need God. I can hide it from others, and from myself. I can choose mere conformity over the struggle to live with others heart-to-heart. It's so much easier than the risk of exposing my suffering to myself and others, and then suffering even more as I discover that they don't fully understand me and they can't fix me.

Portrait of the Artist as a Proud Man
It's also true that I don't want people meddling in my life. I don't want to let them see my faults and then tell me what they think "I have to do." That's because I lack humility, first of all. I mean, let's be real here. I'm a proud man and I don't know how to be humble. I don't like being corrected by anyone else, even (especially!) when their corrections are spot on.

I'm proud, therefore I'm afraid.

But there is another reason for this fear that I have. So often in life, my experience has been that people come along, stand on their platform, rebuke me, and then they go away! It's as if they are saying, "You don't really belong (and we won't really love you) until you correct these aspects of your personality, and you have to do that all by yourself. Then, after you've filled up all your own personal holes, then we will be with you and love you."

I shouldn't be surprised by this, however, because I do the same thing to other people.

We do this so much to one another. Precisely those of us who are most committed to the ideals of community and relationships and solidarity: We do this. It happens in movements and committed Christian communities. It happens (too much) in "Catholic" marriages and "Catholic" families where we pride ourselves on our Catholic values, on how we "do things right" and how we are so different from all those screwed up families and screwed up people out there in the bad, bad world.

How different are we, really? We have an indissoluble marriage, a big family, a good Catholic community, or even an institution or movement "that has been praised by the Pope." But how do we live? Do we live as "brothers and sisters," really? Or, rather, do we live our real lives alone. Then we come out to "help" one another every so often. Then we go back to our own inner shells, to being alone.

Even when we are "together," we can easily live this dialectic of loneliness and invasiveness, reducing our togetherness into a kind of violence and alienation. This happens insofar as we forget about Jesus, insofar as we forget about the Holy Spirit. This forgetfulness can happen even when there's lots of talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Church and the Eucharist and the sacraments and community and the dignity of the human person and all the rest. It's easy to "domesticate" these words into our vocabulary and forget about the mysterious, intimate, concrete realities they signify.

I don't want to belong to a group of people who just correct my behavior and call me "brother," but forget the real Jesus, and therefore don't really, actively love me. That's not the life of the Church. That's manipulation. That's the dynamic of a fundamentalist sect. It's just another form of power imposing itself upon the weak.

Without Jesus emptying Himself on the cross out of love for sinners, for each one of us, for every human person, without Jesus and His love to the end... what are we? Nothing!

With Him, and depending completely on Him, trusting in Him, we really live the mystery of the Church. We are His presence in the world. This is our vocation, and this is what He wants so ardently, for us and for others, because He wants to love. What can I do except beg Jesus to make this happen in myself, my family, my friends, that the Holy Spirit will make this new life grow in me, change me, transform me, taking up all the weakness and the fear, opening up all the selfishness.

When we talk about our relationships within the Church, we use these terms: "brothers and sisters" and "members of a body." Why? Are we just being nice? Why these metaphors, or even better, are they just metaphors? The Church is our Mother. Baptism is a new birth. We are brothers and sisters and more, members of Christ's "mystical" body (and "mystical" means real, but in a mysterious way beyond our understanding). Thus incorporated into Christ's body, we are members of one another.

Is all this just "Christianspeak"? I hope not. Because this is what I want! I want brothers and sisters. I want a family. I want to belong to God, to call Him "Father," and to have the freedom to be with others in my life and say, "I am your brother" and "you are my brother, you are my sister."

You--my brother, my sister--you help me just by the fact that we are together, you help me even when you fail or forget. We live our fidelity to Jesus and the whole of His Catholic Church together, on the daily level. We can help one another to deal with all the junk that comes along every day, and when we look at one another, we'll start to remember that because of Jesus all of this junk has value.

And, if you think I'm being stupid about something, go ahead and tell me, because that's what brothers and sisters do. Of course you might be wrong, but if you think you see something that I'm missing about myself, you'll take the chance. I might get angry, but together we'll work it out (eventually, with patience) and we'll grow. We can look to our elders whose wisdom and example are a gift to us. We can forgive one another for having different personalities and therefore bumping against one another all the time, every day. Because we know we're a family and we're not going to go away and stop loving each other. We are together in Him. Jesus. We help one another to follow Him to the place where our hearts will all finally be at home.

Is it possible to live this way? Is it possible to even begin to live this way? It must be possible, because this is the life that God wants to give us. The Christian vocation is to love every person, of course, but the vitality of that love comes from the unity, openness, and freedom that Jesus gives to Christians who love one another. Thus we are exhorted to
"Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:1-6).
This is at the heart of Jesus's prayer for all his followers:
"...that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:21-23).
Is it possible to live this way, daily, together? It must be possible. It is, more than anything, what the world desperately needs from us. We can at least begin. We can begin to want it, desire it, ask for it. We can begin to live this way, and then begin again the next day, and every day.

As for me, I run away from this life every day. It scares me to death (why is that?). But it's still what I really want. I beg for it. Jesus, I know that this is the only way to live really, to find myself, to walk the steps of each day, to attain my destiny.

Jesus, help me to begin again.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Little Kids Get Big

I couldn't resist this Facebook "memory" from nine years ago today (June 1, 2009).

The little girl on the left (Lucia) is graduating from High School today. The kid behind the cakes (John Paul) celebrates his 21st Birthday today!


Well, as they say, "The days are long, the years are short!"😜😉

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Saint Joan and "God's Girl Squad"

May 30 is the feast day of the peasant girl from Domremy, Jeanne la Pucelle, whom we call "Joan of Arc." She was burned to death on this day in the year 1431 in Rouen in France, after her short, stunning, inexplicable career in the history of late medieval Europe.

Joan gave her life after leading armies, encouraging a king, and baffling her adversaries in her long and famous trial. Finally condemned by treachery, she cried out the name of Jesus as the flames consumed her on the stake. She returned her soul to God after having fulfilled the mission she had received from him.

She was only 19 years old.

Nearly 700 years later, Saint Joan continues to be a national heroine in France, to fascinate and inspire people all over the world, and to be a source of renewed innocence and goodness and courage.

Even today, she is one of great leaders of a singular army that fights for the good on the innumerable battlefields of human hearts, a spiritual army that I like to call (with a little humor but more than a little affection) God's Girl Squad.

While I refer to "God's Girl Squad" with tongue-in-cheek (because, after all, they're just kids), I mean no lack of respect for the awesome reality of this group. I am referring to the two-thousand-year-old group of young women who dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ, and who usually sealed that dedication with martyrdom at a very young age—or else they died young from some excruciating disease or some other thing that brought incomprehensible suffering.

Their short lifespans, however, have not stopped them from continuing to mysteriously "take care of" people in this world, with a very particular tenderness and attention and (I don't know how else to describe it) a very "energetic spirit."

As another one of their leaders, Therese of Lisieux, put it, they "spend [their] heaven doing good on earth."

They are particularly attentive to the weak, the physically weak and the spiritually weak. Not to mention the psychologically weak. We the living can ask for their help, and they will help us. But I think that often they "decide to bother us" long before we even think of asking for any help, or even know who they are.

They are fearless and they are persistent. After all, they live entirely from the infinitely magnanimous Heart of the Risen Jesus.

I'm not joking. These girls are real. Saint Joan of Arc is just one outstanding example. And for reasons that I cannot fathom and could hardly begin to try to explain but that are genuine and significant nonetheless, this is an all-girls' group. Here we find the "genius of the feminine" with a eminent, supernatural vitality. These are girls with the simplicity and joy of little children, the innocence of maidens, the tenacious hearts of mothers, and the authority of queens.

Think of it: Start with the anonymous ones that were probably among Nero's victims in the gruesome year of 64. Then you have Saints Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, Melania the Younger, then others from the Middle Ages along with Joan, and then from all over the earth, from Japan to the Americas to Africa, through the centuries, all the way up through Therese and Elizabeth of the Trinity to Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, who died from osteosarcoma at the age of 18 in 1990.

Chiara Luce, as I have noted before in this blog, first tapped me on the shoulder on March 12, 2012.

Of course that last detail is merely my very fallible self-reflection on my own spiritual journey. I have no doubt that Chiara Luce is my good friend, but I can't make any particular statements about our friendship or any of these other mysterious friends and helpers of my life with any objective authority.

I know they are very "busy" in my life. But I don't see them. I don't hear them.

Rather, I surmise, I follow "hunches," I mark their connection with events in my life even as I find myself swept up into the stories of their lives. I can't prove (even to myself) that the specific help I'm inclined to attribute to the Girl Squad is anything more than a combination of coincidences and my very active imagination.

But, overall, there is something to it.

Catholic tradition and teaching assure us of the reality of the intercession of the saints. We can have confidence that they accompany us in various ways on our journey with Jesus in the Church, and that they touch people's lives all over the world.

Their special presence in our lives is something we can depend on, in faith. It also engages that particular level of reality that pertains to personal relationship, where people experience connection to one another in a manner that cannot be fully objectified or conceptually expressed.

The workings of the heart, of love, are beyond our understanding in this world.

Occasionally these mysterious, grace-given relationships have effects that can be evaluated by rational investigation. An incurable disease suddenly vanishes, and scientists have no explanation for how this was possible. These are the miracles that find their way into the dossiers submitted to the ecclesiastical processes of beatification and canonization.

These are very careful, very rigorous processes. There are people who have enough testimonies to fill a room with old fashioned filing cabinets. Out of these, one or two might be submitted for consideration as a verifiable miracle.

Most of the good that flows from the enormous range of the love of God's Girl Squad would never even make it into the room.

Nevertheless, I'm convinced that these girls are a special group, with a special place in the Heart of Jesus and the communion of saints, and that they "work" in a special and particular way through the love of Jesus that has transformed them.

We have so many examples among the Church's officially declared saints and blesseds, but there must be many others who are not canonized, among whom surely are those who lived in good faith as non-Catholic Christians, or even "non-Christians" (who in this world were mysteriously connected to Christ's life by love, by the vital response of their good conscience, and by their fidelity to the steps of the journey given to them).

There must be many others—even girls we knew in this life as our sisters, neighbors, friends, students, or children—who have gone to God and yet have not ceased to be with us.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

More Illuminated "Digital Manuscripts" From Scripture

Here are a couple of texts and designs I have worked on recently. It is not always easy for me to identify the connection (if any) between the design and the verse itself.

Sometimes I'm just playing around with colors and possibilities. But there are obvious graphic themes (as in the cross design in the verse from 1 Peter below).

I'm trying not to just do the same thing over and over. That is part of the challenge.😊

This last one, of course, is not a text from Scripture but rather a phrase that expresses synthetically the New Testament presentation of an irreplaceable protagonist:

Monday, May 28, 2018

This "Face"

There's a lot going on with this "Face," you know it. That's one complicated human being there.

...But don't worry; it's not all bad!


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Facebook: I've Been Friends With Myself for Nine Years! 😉

Nine years ago yesterday, I made my very first post on Facebook. (I was hardly a trendsetter.) Here's a "throwback" to those days:

Haha, how funny: "Everything you say goes to everybody?" Yes. Yes, it does. You have no idea how true that is. "Someone email..." hmm, what? Where did the rest of that sentence go? I think there used to be a word limit on Facebook.
Word limit ...maybe they should bring that back.😜
It doesn't seem so long ago. Nine years, poof! But it's a different story when we look at the "first pictures" that I posted nine years ago today.
The "current ages" of the kids (not to mention their pictures) from that time put it in a different perspective:

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Where Do Wars and Violence Come From?

"Peace and Security, Number 2" (2018, digital)
We live in a "Global Village" that is growing smaller, in a sense, as the 21st Century moves forward.

When Marshall McLuhan, the noted philosopher of media, coined this term over fifty years ago, he was well aware of its ambivalence.

It certainly was not meant as a guarantee that we were all going to become one big happy family on planet earth. Indeed, it doesn't require much consideration to recognize that the smaller the village, the easier it is to burn the whole thing down. As for being one big family, well... families have fights too.

Will we ever get this business of "being human" right?

I have been thinking about all this while pondering some of the readings from the liturgy this week. The Letter of James is a particularly challenging text in the New Testament. James's exhortations are blunt, direct, and sometimes have a bit of a sting to them.

He's not trying to be rude. Rather, he's hitting hard because he wants to puncture our bubbles of self-deception. He's trying to tell us things we'd rather not hear.

James shines a revealing light on the places in our lives where we tend to feel 'good' about ourselves. He shows us sins where we think we have virtues, pettiness and weakness where we feel great and strong.

James aims at our pride, and its external expressions of arrogance, envy, oppression, and the illusion that we are masters of reality by our own power.
"Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask" (James 4:1-2).

Certainly we have the right (even the duty) to defend ourselves and our civil communities from violence perpetrated against us, if necessary by means of physical force.

But it's so easy to rationalize the degeneration of legitimate force into violence. Even when we have good reason to defend ourselves and protect our communities, how often we end up pursuing revenge or taking advantage of the opportunity to plunder, degrade, and dehumanize the aggressor and everything associated with them.

Thus instead of seeking justice and reconciliation, we respond to aggression with force beyond the bounds of reason and honor, forgetful of the dignity of persons, and without mercy. We turn conflict toward our own selfish advantage and to the pursuit of power.

Violence begets more violence.

The wars that nations fight against one another correspond to all the "less political" kinds of violence that divide peoples, communities, families, and all kinds of relationships.

James tells us that war is rooted in our own hearts, in our "disordered passions," our envy, and our self-aggrandisement.

It's important to remember that human passions—the spontaneous inclinations that arise within us—are not bad in themselves. They belong to the fullness of being human. But our instincts and drives come to fruition only insofar as they are shaped to respond according to the goodness of reality, and integrated within our intelligence and freedom as guided by the wisdom and grace of God.

When we neglect to live in the freedom of God's children, we can become slaves to the powers of this world. The drives, urges, and fears of our frail humanity are so easily manipulated. We find ourselves caught up in the rivalries, the lusts, and the confusion of narrow and superficial spectacles of power that are unworthy of our humanity and that ultimately oppose us to one another.

We fall apart in dissipation and we tear each other apart in pursuit of ideologies and illusions.

This does not bring us freedom. It brings us violence. It always leads to violence.

The violence is only more destructive when we don't see it, when we ignore it, when we become accustomed to it.

We should remember that it's easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we have life "under control." We think we live reasonably contented, disciplined lives and that we are disposed to be benevolent or at least tolerant of others.

We are surrounded by humanly constructed environments that meet our physical needs and comforts in a way that almost seems spontaneous. We think we are peaceful people, when in fact most of us are merely distracted or shielded from the conflict that rages around us and in us.

It's difficult to believe that we are part of this "war." After all, we don't hunger for power. We think we have all the power we need. We presume on the solidity of all the unprecedented power within our reach as we proudly and calmly map out the course of our lives.

James has another reminder for us about this. To all of us who think we have power and boast about our big plans for the future, he says:
"You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, 'If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that'" (James 4:14-15).
Of course, it's reasonable to plan, to dream, to aspire to accomplish things in the future—according to God's willaccording to the wisdom and love that has created and redeemed us.

This is neither a superstition nor a mere manner of speaking. It is the perspective of faith that lives by hope and love—the perspective of living our lives in relationship with God. He is the only source of the peace, confidence, and strength that endures and prevails.

His power is the power of Eternal Love. He has come to share life with us so that we might be empowered to love Him and one that we might be free. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Courage to Keep Living and Working

Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Road to Emmaus
I would feel quite desperate writing about human persons and relationships if I thought we had to depend on our own fragile natural powers to generate a lasting human community.

History has demonstrated again and again our stubborn selfishness and attachment to narrow interests that frustrate the aspiration for justice and solidarity.

But our hope rests in something greater than this present age, the promise of the glory of Eternal Love.

And our hope begins now, because this Love has entered our history, and He has already begun the transformation of our lives. Life has meaning now, because God has come to dwell with us. He has come to be our companion in our world, in our hearts, within our relationships. He wants to be with us, to renew our strength, and to bring us to a fulfillment beyond all our limits and all our measure.

By faith, with hope, in the charity poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we discover a new reason to love our neighbor, and even to love our enemy with a love that endures all things: Jesus is here.

Jesus is our neighbor. And we long for His love to be everything to every person. He brings everything to its fullness. And so we find the courage to keep living, to keep working, to let His love define us, to never give up.
"Faith, hope and charity go together.
"Hope is practised through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God's mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness.
"Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love!
"It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory.
"Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love.
"Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God. [We are invited] to experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world."

~Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 39